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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Against Immigration Controls

Apparently both parties, with Republicans in the lead, have embarked on an anti-immigrant frenzy. The hysteria has been fueled for some time now by daily broadcasts in all major networks and gravely sounding members of Congress discussing the “crisis on our borders”, “our bankrupt immigration system”, etc. The virulence of this sentiment makes Le Pen in France seem like a cosmopolitan liberal.

Yet liberal principles require a drastic reduction of immigration controls. Foreigners flock to our shores because there is demand for their labor. The same principle that supports free trade of goods and services -- the law of comparative advantages -- applies with equal force to freedom of movement. Freer immigration would alleviate world poverty and allow people in our country to redirect resources toward more efficient activities. Every single argument for strict immigration controls is flawed:

1) Sometimes we hear that if we don’t control immigration we will be invaded, that is, foreigners will keep coming to this country indefinitely and we would be unable to support them. But that argument ignores the simple economics of immigration flows. Foreigners come because they find jobs. Once there are no more jobs for them, once the market becomes saturated, they will stop coming. For who wants to move from the comfort and warmth of their culture, say in Hermosillo, Sonora, to a hostile, impersonal place like Phoenix, Arizona, where they don’t understand the language and feel unprotected and lonely, unless they have economic opportunity?

2) Another argument is that immigrants, if they don’t find jobs, will free-ride on the welfare laws. Well, that’s easily solved: open immigration for people seeking economic opportunity, on the condition that they will not be allowed to draw welfare benefits (or, better yet, abolish welfare, but I don’t wish to argue that point.)

3) “Immigrants will take American jobs, since they charge less.” Well, so will someone moving to Arizona from Florida who charges less. Why is it all right to be out-competed by a fellow citizen but not by a foreigner?  "Being a foreigner" is a morally non-invokable trait for this purpose (allowing the person to work.)

4) I omit discussion of the communitarian arguments (“we need to protect our culture,” etc.) who sound to me really bordering on xenophobia.

Perhaps we should have immigration controls to screen out terrorists and the like. But the so-called economic refugees, who cross the border at the Rio Grande at great peril to their lives just to seek a better future for themselves and their families in our country, are, to my mind, true heroes.

Posted by fteson on November 29, 2005 at 12:37 AM in Fernando Teson | Permalink

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Comments

"The virulence of this sentiment makes Le Pen in France seem like a cosmopolitan liberal."

Can you provide support for that?

Posted by: Bob H. | Nov 29, 2005 12:48:21 AM

This NYT article from this morning suggests Bush is actually trying to do something different from his party colleagues:
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/29/politics/29bush.html?th&emc=th

Posted by: Dan Markel | Nov 29, 2005 9:31:56 AM

"Another argument is that immigrants, if they don’t find jobs, will free-ride on the welfare laws. Well, that’s easily solved: open immigration for people seeking economic opportunity, on the condition that they will not be allowed to draw welfare benefits"

But what if this does not happen or if such a rule is unenforceable?

I support open immigration but only if a) immigrants are forever banned from welfare and b) illegals or criminals are subject to immediate deportation.

However, neither of these is done or enforced. So in practice, we have this ridiculous system whereby controls on LEGAL immigration are strict and controls on ILLEGALS are lax.

How do we change the fact that some politicos benefit as the number of illegals increase? How do we change the fact that bans on welfare are hard to enforce once the immigrant population gets large enough?

Finally, why can't we even make a fairly simple change in laws to favor legal immigrants with training and skills over immigrants who are brought over because their relatives are already here? It is the latter policy that has been a disaster. You get higher numbers of unskilled and welfare-prone immigrants and much more system abuse.

Posted by: nn | Nov 29, 2005 1:04:49 PM

Intellectual honesty, eh? All I see is fancy footwork.

Change the welfare laws first. Otherwise, the economic argument is a sham.

Where I am (Central America, but it used to be New England) we don't have an influx of eager workers and an economic boom, we have ruinous social costs, overwhelmed police departments, disastrous inflation of housing costs, and English as a second language. We seem to be paying the economic and social costs of rampant immigration but getting none of the benefits.

When we can see that the welfare changes are working, then throw open the gates. But not before.

Posted by: big dirigible | Nov 29, 2005 1:24:59 PM

The right to associate with whom you want, to own and live on the property you choose, to negotiate with whomever you please to sell your labor, are all rights that we have as humans, not via the state. These rights in effect pre-date, rather than flow from, the state, and as such should not be subject to citizenship test. My extended defense of open immigration. I live in Phoenix and love the Mexican influence here. In fact, this would just be another dreary suburbia without it. Unfortunately, I am starting to feel like the only anglo in Arizona that still defends open immigration.

Posted by: coyote | Nov 29, 2005 1:44:34 PM

The best treatment of the whole issue is Michael Barone's "The New Immigrants", which puts it all into perspective. And I tend to be with the WSJ on immigration in general, but totally frustrated by the implementation.

The right-wing "immigration reform" zealots actually DO come across as a bit mean-spirited, kind of like "I got mine now because grandma came over in 1905, now shoot holes in the inflatable rafts of those awful Messicans". I'm rich and inside the castle, pull up the rope, quick so we don't have to share the goodies with anyone else.

But where this all hits the iceberg is partly in bad law, such as the last immigration bill sponsored by Teddy K, which gave us a set of "emergency political prisoner" exceptions that you could steer the Titanic through, but even more, the handling of the issue by the courts. When the only recent recorded uses of the 14th Amd Privileges and Immunities clause are to prevent states from establishing reasonable residency requirements for collecting benefits, and every "public interest" law group out there is busy filing class action suits on behalf of immigrant welfare rights groups promoting multi-lingualism as the baseline for the New America, when people are incentivized to cheat the rules by sneaking in to deliver the baby so it is a citizen, and so on, we despair.

We say "enforce the laws!" Right- unless some attorney succeeds in finding the right judge to declare the laws unenforceable on specious outcomes-based grounds.

It seems to me that Bush's approaqch is about the only practical sort-of solution, needing to be followed up with fixing some laws.

Posted by: Kurmudge | Nov 29, 2005 1:49:43 PM

For me it comes down to simple mathematics:

We can certainly have a robust socially active Government that provides a major social welfare system. But we cannot have that in the context of a massive population of users of that system who, as illegal immigrants, do not contribute to it. Its a tragedy of the commons problem on a massive scale.

If you want free and unopen borders based on the economic argument, then the welfare system has to be scaled back or put "off limits" to those who do not pay taxes and contribute to it.

Posted by: Imhoteop | Nov 29, 2005 2:18:02 PM

"Anti-immigrant frenzy"? Please. Being anti-illegal immigrant is not the same as being anti-legal immigrant. To conflate the two positions, along with the cheap Le Pen comparison, shows your essential lack of seriousness.

"Foreigners flock to our shores because there is demand for their labor." But the demand is not for Mexican or Honduran labor as such. The demand is for labor at below market rates. The demand for cheap labor without benefits or even the most basic security. The demand is for exploitation.

"The same principle that supports free trade of goods and services -- the law of comparative advantages -- applies with equal force to freedom of movement." But the comparative advantage comes by breaking the law. By this logic I could have a comparative advantage as a car salesman by stealing cars.

"Once there are no more jobs for them, once the market becomes saturated, they will stop coming." Really? And how exactly will "they" know when there are no more jobs. On the contrary, "they" will continue coming as long as their destination is better than where they are coming from. As long as life, meaning not just economic opportunity but education, the environment, leisure, travel, etc, are even slightly better Here compared to There then "they" will continue to come. So your solution is that once Here is as bad as There then "they" will stop coming. Sorry but I do not find that very attractive.

Yes illegals charge less for their labor. When another American moves to my area they do not necessarily charge less since they are obliged to obey the same laws. Once again you overlook the essential fact of any discussion of illegal immigration. They are illegal. They do not obey the laws by definition. In any situation, even in the simplest game, the player who disobeys the laws or rules will always beat the player who obeys the laws and rules.

"I omit discussion of the communitarian arguments (“we need to protect our culture,” etc.) who sound to me really bordering on xenophobia." You dismiss these valid arguments because you have an entirely economic view of human nature. But people are more than economic actors and our communities are more than collections of atomized, hyper-rational decision makers.

Our communities, large and small, cannot be reduced to a set of transactions. Our language is more than a medium for negotiating the buying and selling of goods and services. Our traditions and customs are not simply excuses for greeting cards. They are valuable and worth preserving. To deny this is to negate that which makes us more than mere consumers and producers, that which gives us value immeasurable in dollars, that which connects us to something larger than ourselves.

Posted by: Thomas the Wraith | Nov 29, 2005 3:15:16 PM

The arguments presented for open borders above are ridiculously simplistic, even if one considers only the economics, but Man is not just an economic animal. Since we have the greatest country on Earth, and Mexico is a third world hellhole, maybe we ought to pay at least some attention to the culture you disparage so readily.
Coyote:
I like tacos and tequila as much as anyone, but if you really want the Mexican influence, try living down there a while. You can experience being shaken down for bribes by every public official from the cops on up, suffering from all the diseases associated with gross pollution and lack of sanitation, and resenting the Americans for stealing your land.

Posted by: Rick | Nov 29, 2005 3:25:12 PM

While we're at it, let's do away with the minimum wage laws. It won't affect most workers and it will lower the incentive for illegal workers to come here.

Posted by: AST | Nov 29, 2005 4:49:40 PM

As others have noted, Europe has proven that there is a kind of Tragedy of the Commons when open immigration and generous welfare states collide. Make welfare too comfortable and you'll get swamped with sullen, disaffected freeloaders.

The corollary, as many have stated here, is obvious: cut welfare and you can open the borders.

Benevolent, caring socialist France gets angry, violent, idle delinquents, yet we here in cutthroat capitalist America get enthusiastic, hard-working patriots. Why?

I remember an Australian social services worker visiting the US on some kind of work-study program saying something very interesting: "The American welfare system is a travesty, yet I get the feeling most Americans like it that way."

If word on the street is that America is a hellhole for those on the dole we're getting just the reputation we need to attract the people we want, those who will uphold their end of Emma Lazarus' social contract: "... yearning to be free."

As for those who come for the welfare checks, let them find conditions here so miserable and appalling they return to their countries of origin and complain bitterly about how grossly unfair the American welfare system is. Heh heh heh. We couldn't buy advertising that good.

Posted by: Laika's Last Woof | Nov 29, 2005 8:04:43 PM

If you really want to fix the illegal immigration problem, go to the source. Mexico is a poor and beleaguered country that is apparently unable to tone down its population growth and provide a sufficiently robust economy. It cannot cost more than taking care of our current problem to give them some infrastructure support and some diplomatic nudges towards stronger political/economic reform. Perhaps we could even funnel some of our trade deficit to them, couple reform on their part with preferred trader status on ours. I trust Mexico alot more than China anyway. That would do the trick. After all, despite the longer, less protected border, we really do not have problems with illegal Canadian immigration.

But that's a long term and unlikely solution. For some reason people just do not see helping the country as congruent with helping the immigrants.

As for open immigration, I think you're missing a key point. You say you would allow them in to work for us, then exclude them welfare. That entails excluding them from the political system as well, seeing as giving them the vote would give them the power to get welfare. Well then we would end up with a caste system, a whole class of people without rights (how can rights be defended when a conviction means a deportation and when they do not have political rights?), poor people no less. It's almost like a lesser form of slavery, and sooner or later it would get nastily inhumane so that we would be forced to accept them into society, swamping us, or it would turn to violence. Make them full citizens or keep them out, the only middle ground should be naturalization or visitors.

Posted by: William | Nov 29, 2005 8:29:48 PM

What a childish post.

"Sometimes we hear that if we don’t control immigration we will be invaded, that is, foreigners will keep coming to this country indefinitely and we would be unable to support them."

Your argument ignores the fact that this is not Star Trek or some libertarian fantasy world. In our world, there are bad people, including, for instance, those who rule Mexico. They are deliberately sending us people in order to make money. In order to keep that money flowing they are trying to gain political power inside the U.S.

You, in your ignorance of how things actually have worked throughout history, support that.

Click my link and look through my archives to find out just how wrong this argument is.

Posted by: TLB | Nov 30, 2005 1:25:50 AM

William:

You don't exclude "them" from welfare. You exclude "us" from it, or at least cut it enough that if you're on it you'd rather be in Mexico. It's called a "race to the bottom" and as luck would have it is the cure for the "tragedy of the commons".

The terrible damage to people's lives and society done by welfare is done regardless of its recipients' immigrant status. There is no reason, therefore, to discriminate.

On a similar topic, a foreign aid "infrastructure support" package for Mexico is just another welfare program writ large. History has proven time and again that foreign aid buys only corruption. Mexico has already proven it, remaining impoverished despite vast natural wealth. Funneling yet more wealth to Mexico will only create more corruption.

The best we can do is save Mexico one person at a time, by opening the borders and giving people a chance to make something of themselves beyond the reach of their corrupt, confiscatory former government.

Your fears of creating a "virtual caste system" are unfounded: first, anyone born in the U.S. is a citizen. Second, any non-citizen convicted of a crime will have had their rights defended in court prior to said conviction, thus deportation is no impediment to the upholding of the defendent's rights -- unless deportation occurs before conviction. However, no one here has suggested the suspension of the presumption of innocence in the case of non-citizen defendents, so your argument is a straw man.

Posted by: Laika's Last Woof | Dec 3, 2005 1:46:39 AM

I really appreciate this article. It has given me some good ammunition to fuel my arguments against some of the immigration reform policies being presented by our politicians. I suggest everyone take a look at the following website:http://www.vdare.com/fulford/jencks.htm. There is an article by a gentleman named James Fulford, and he makes some interesting arguments in favor of immigration reform, even with some unneccesary racial connotation. I myself have responded to him, if you feel like I do after reading his arguments, I suggest you do the same.

Posted by: Francesca Louis | May 22, 2006 9:16:17 PM

preview of immigration!!

Posted by: jackie | Feb 20, 2007 3:01:23 PM

My neighborhood on the far Northside of Chicago is being destroyed by the illegal alien onslaught.

This is a 25 to 1 Democrat area with $500k homes and even the liberals are getting fed up.

The cops have been clamping down on the Mexican illegal alien scrap metal collectors, who have been stealing Weber grills and wrought iron chairs from people's backyards for their metal scrap value.

Our schools are being overwhelmed. Our parks are becoming a repository for massive amounts of Corona beer bottles and neighborhood dog owners are afraid to go there anymore.

No wonder, Liberal Republican Congressman, Mark Kirk and Liberal Democrat Congressmen Rahm Emmanuel (a major fund raiser for the DNC)and Melissa Bean are now sounding more hard line on this issue than Tom Tancredo.

Boy! Some liberals just don't get it!

Posted by: politwriter | Dec 1, 2007 4:29:02 AM

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