Friday, July 23, 2010

The Immigration Debate Heats Up

John Stossel, who in the past has steered clear of these sorts of issues, tackles immigration this week. (For Stossel fans who haven't yet caught on, his weekly columns mirrors the subject matter of his weekly show on Fox Business.) Stossel comes down in favor of a more streamlined process to allow more people to come to the United States to live in work. It's not quite open borders, but it's close. As to be expected on a conservative site, the reaction to Stossel's piece in the comments has been overwhelmingly negative.

There are the usual accusations that illegals commit more crimes (rebutted in the article itself), the usual claims that this generation of immigrants is different from the last and won't assimilate, and the accusation that are illegals are felons (which is most definitely not true, as being in the country illegally is not a felony and perhaps more importantly, is only a crime because we say it's a crime, not because it's an inherently bad act.) What always strikes me about the immigration debate is not the number of ignorant complaints, but the number of reasonable ones which have seemingly natural libertarian solutions.

If your complaint about illegal immigration is about border security and our ability to track who comes into the country, the simplest solution is to let more people in legally. If your concern is illegals trespassing on private property to enter the country, the simplest solution is to allow more people in legally. If your concern is the rule of law, both in regards to employers and employees, the simplest solution is to allow more people in legally. Even if your concern is about the sheer number of Mexicans coming across the borders, a more open borders policy would make it easier for Mexicans to come to the United States to work and then to return home. With the borders so tight, many Mexicans who'd rather not come to the United States permanently, wind up staying here because it's so hard to cross the border to return home or come back to the United States.

That immigration opponents oppose these more free and open measures indicates to me that "border security" does have a racial, if not a distinctively "America first" connotation.

Also interesting is this remark, made by someone named Ray in the comments:

I usually agree with Stossel on most things but he's a little off on this one. We have always regulated the number, rate and type of person who has been allowed to legally immigrate to America. In some cases it was a very loose regulation because we needed people to do things like build railroads, highways, skyscrapers etc. With today's terrorist, drug cartels, kidnappers and other criminal elements the need to regulate is even more important. The need to know who is here and why is critical to our personal, economic and national security.

It's a nice point except for the fact that it's not true. Historically, the United States has not had restrictions on immigration. In fact, for the first hundred years or so of the nation's existence there were virtually no restrictions on who could come to the United States, despite several different periods of strong anti-immigrant fervor. The Page Act of 1875 restricted the entry of convicts and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was a racist restriction on the Chinese, but other than that there were no quotas or serious barriers to entry until 1921.

What's interesting is that the same conservatives who invoke fidelity to the founders and our nation's traditions tend to ignore the founders and those traditions when it comes to immigration. And of course, many of those same conservatives who will also pay lip service to big government never seem to be in favor of downsizing if not outright scrapping the immigration bureaucracy. Why national health care regulation is bad, but a byzantine system of regulation for immigration is good is beyond me.

I've mentioned it before, but the immigration issue is one that always lights a fire in me, in part because I'm a student of history and in part because the immigration backlash seems so downright reactionary. It's again one of those issues where ideas seem to take a backseat to overheated rhetoric. You don't need to be an open borders advocate to realize that a thoroughly militarized 1,000 mile border is a tremendously insane waste of money.


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