What Immigration Problem?
by Sheldon Richman
by Sheldon Richman
Arizona, Alabama, and Georgia have each enacted stringent laws aimed at curbing illegal immigration. Before saying more, let’s be clear about the alleged problem. What is an “illegal immigrant”? It’s simply a person — possessing natural rights, mind you — who comes to the United States without the permission of the U.S. government. Now isn’t it curious that in this country, which began in rebellion against and secession from an empire, people are upset about other people moving around without government permission? In revolutionary times the smuggler of goods was a hero, and the customs agent was a villain. If we were true to the best parts of our heritage today the “illegal” would be a hero, and the border agent would be a villain.
This shows how far we have slipped from America’s substantially libertarian origins. This is really quite sad.
Imagine if we Americans needed government permission to move from state to state. We’d be appalled at the hassle, not to mention the grave interference with our freedom. Would we put up with it? I hope not.
Then what is the justification for having an elaborate, presumptuous, tax-financed bureaucracy whose purpose is to determine who may live in this country? Rights belong to all human beings, not just to Americans. Note that the Constitution expressly protects the rights of persons, not just those of American citizens.
But, we are told, a country is not a country without secure borders. Why? This premise goes unexamined.
A country is defined by its traditions and attitudes rather than by its border checkpoints and armed guards. It is disheartening to hear people claim to believe that America is not synonymous with government and yet favor harsh measures to “secure our border” and stop free migration.
All the economic arguments for stemming the flow of immigrants fall when examined even casually. The nativists can’t quite get their story straight. Are the newcomers ambitious go-getters trying to “take our jobs,” or are they freeloaders planning to collect welfare? Those who are afraid of the former fail to understand that people not only produce when they hold jobs, but also consume. Newcomers expand the market and the division of labor, which Adam Smith taught us is the path to higher living standards. Some opponents of immigration bring up the current high unemployment as an objection. But that is purely a government-produced phenomenon, and it has nothing to do with immigrants. Seriously, scapegoating does not become us.
As for any government-financed services that immigrants might use, let’s not forget that they also pay a good deal in taxes. There’s no reason to think they are a net drain on the welfare state.
But that is really beside the point. If we don’t want people living off the taxpayers — and this should apply to American citizens as well — we should transfer welfare services to private charity and the free market. There is no good reason for government — the essence of which is physical force — to be running schools and hospitals, which are the tax-financed facilities most likely to be used by immigrants. I really see no moral difference between a citizen and a noncitizen taking advantage of a government program. The most objectionable aspect of government largess is not whoaccepts it but how the politicians obtain the resources that they then distribute. Taxation is robbery.
Finally, there is a good deal of worry on the Right these days that immigration is making “white America” a thing of the past. Those who hold this view say earlier immigration presented little concern because most newcomers were European and could assimilate into American culture. But this is selective memory in the first degree: virtually every group from Europe was at one time spoken of in the same degrading and alarmist terms as are today’s Latino and Muslim immigrants. In fact, as Thaddeus Russell documents in his fascinating book, A Renegade History of the United States, almost every European immigrant group — including Italians, Irishmen, Poles, and Jews — were initially not considered to be white! As a result, many of the new immigrants felt close to blacks and African-American culture. Only with the passage of time were they admitted into the ranks of the white race by the establishment.
The more things change, the more things stay the same.
Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org ) and editor of The Freeman magazine.