July 11, 2006

Stars and Barred


From The Wall Street Journal: Conservatives and Immigration: The debate on the right about freedom, culture and the welfare state. (via TIA Daily)

No issue more deeply divides American conservatives today than immigration. It's the subject on which we get the most critical mail by far, no doubt reflecting this split on the right. So with Congress holding hearings on the issue around the country, perhaps it's a good moment to step back and explain the roots of our own, longstanding position favoring open immigration. ...

The most frequent criticism we hear is that a newspaper called "The Wall Street Journal" simply wants "cheap labor" for business. This is an odd charge coming from conservatives who profess to believe in the free market, since it echoes the AFL-CIO and liberals who'd just as soon have government dictate wages.

Our own view is that a philosophy of "free markets and free people" includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right. Far from selling their labor "cheap," they are traveling to the U.S. to sell it more dearly and improve their lives. Like millions of Americans before them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as their skills and education increase.

We realize that critics are not inventing the manifold problems that can arise from illegal immigration: Trespassing, violent crime, overcrowded hospital emergency rooms, document counterfeiting, human smuggling, corpses in the Arizona desert, and a sense that the government has lost control of the border. But all of these result, ultimately, from too many immigrants chasing too few U.S. visas.

Those migrating here to make a better life for themselves and their families would much prefer to come legally. Give them more legal ways to enter the country, and we are likely to reduce illegal immigration far more effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could. This is not about rewarding bad behavior. It's about bringing immigration policy in line with economic and human reality. And the reality is that the U.S. has a growing demand for workers, while Mexico has both a large supply of such workers and too few jobs at home. ...

When border patrol agents don't have to chase down people coming here to work, they can concentrate on genuine threats, like gang members and terrorists. The real choice is between throwing more resources at an enforcement-only policy that has failed, or a larger reform that's had some past success in reducing illegal border crossings and meeting the demands of our economy and of human dignity.

As I've said here in the past, I advocate open immigration (not "open borders" as some leftists do). So I'm glad to see that The Wall Street Journal continues to strongly argue for open immigration. The editorial notes that immigration is a divisive issue for the right but also asserts that the "conservative silent majority is pro-immigration." In contrast, John Hawkins at Right Wing News recently conducted a poll of right-leaning blogs, and the results by a large majority favored a more restrictive approach to immigration.

So for what it's worth, as an addition to the cartoon, here are some of my brief observations on the issue.

Are there things we can all agree on? Certainly border security should be a priority, especially after 9/11, right? And we should respect "rule of law" and not encourage illegal behavior, right?

Yes, all true ... generally speaking. But the specifics of the immigration issue are crucial. Unfortunately, much of the opposition to "illegal immigration" seems to evade the full context, namely that the right to immigrate is restricted by government quotas and that that artificial restriction is the primary cause of the problems related to illegal immigration. Worse still, judging by complaints I've read about the prospect of raising the limit on immigrants allowed into America, some people are simply using the phrase "illegal immigration" as a euphemism for "too many immigrants."

Notice that we don't commonly talk about, say, "illegal homeowners" or "illegal students." Why? It's not because homeowners and students are fanatics for rule of law. It's because there are no government quotas limiting the number of home buyers and education seekers. If there were, if only a small number of houses were permitted to be built every year, if only a small number of people were allowed to attend school, then we'd be hearing about "illegals" who forge construction documents and smuggle students in station wagon dashboards.

I also find suspicious the frequent invocation of "rule of law" by some opponents of illegal immigration. It's as if they think "rule of law" means to always obey the law no matter how unjust. From that perspective, blacks escaping Southern slavery and Jews fleeing Nazi Germany were all violators of the "rule of law."

But "rule of law" was a phrase originally used to distinguish between the rule of men, such as the whim of a king or corrupt ruler, and the rule of law, where the government itself along with the citizens are governed by a clearly defined and fairly enforced set of rules that apply equally to all. Invoking the "rule of law" against immigrants coming here simply to work and better their lot is unjust and wrong.

Likewise, sneers at the word "amnesty" are telling, for shouldn't any derision depend on whether or not the law from which one receives amnesty is just or not?

For some there is clearly an ugly anti-immigrant sentiment driving their opposition to "illegal immigration." But I suspect many people are primarily concerned with America security in a post-9/11 world. My hope is that the anti-immigrationists are truly the minority.

UPDATE:: From FoxNews last week: Immigration the Hot Campaign Issue Across America.

Posted by Forkum at July 11, 2006 05:38 PM