Sticking with the Cinco de Mayo theme, immigration has been a big issue of late down here in the Southwest. Last election cycle Arizona passed a law limiting benefits to illegal immigrants. This last few months have seen the "minuteman project", ostensibly to have private citizens help "defend the borders" and which got surprising support from America's most famous immigrant Arnold Schwarzenegger.
I have a number of friends who passionately support these efforts. I am forced to say that not only do I disagree with them, I am actually embarrassed by the Minuteman project. Michelle Malkin makes the argument that these are good people and not crazed racist KKK crazies. OK, I am willing to accept this (for most of them) but this just makes it worse, wasting the patriotism and labor and time of people to such a wrong-headed end. (Matt Welch is less willing to believe they are just happy misguided soles).
At the end of the day, the vast, vast majority of people crossing the border are looking for a job. That's it. They are not terrorists or foreign spies or criminals -- they are ordinary people looking for a job, often to support their family. This is why I find it an incredible waste that we have Arizona's private citizens, many of whom probably lament the slacker mentality of recent American generations of kids, standing around along the border making sure that people who are looking for a job in this country don't find one.
Of course, these Minuteman folks won't say that is what they are doing. They are saying that they are:
- Defending the borders. A Government's job is NOT (repeat NOT) "defending its border". A government's job is to defend its citizens.
In 1939, if a country was next door to Nazi Germany, defending its
citizens probably meant defending the borders. Today, though, next to
Canada and the Mexico with whom we have been at peace for 150 years and
with whom we share a common market, its harder to argue that defending
our citizens requires having a Maginot Line at the border.
I am sure that our southern border is vulnerable to terrorists crossing, but I am equally sure that the minutemen did not find a single one. Here is the real problem: Because we force Mexican immigration to cross illegally across the open borders, terrorists trying to use the same approach are masked by thousands of others crossing the border. By making free passage of Mexicans across the border illegal, we shift them out of monitored border crossings and onto the frontier, where they mask true criminals and terrorists. Think of it this way - would you rather try to find a single terrorist who is alone in an empty stadium or one of 60,000 people at a football game?
- Enforcing the rule of law. Maybe, but why not start with sitting beside the highway and writing down license plates of speeders too? At the end of the day, enforcing current immigration law is as hopeless as was prohibition, the war on drugs, and enforcing the 55 mile-an-hour speed limit.
- Protecting American jobs. I would not be at all surprised to find a high degree of overlap between the Minuteman supporters and the anti-NAFTA crowd. The fear that "immigrants might be willing to do your job for less than you are willing to do your job for" has always been a strong part of anti-immigration movements. The fact of the matter, though, is that this takes a very static view of the world. The economy is not a zero sum game with competition for a fixed number of jobs. New sources of labor can spur economic growth that creates new jobs. The best example of this was in the last three decades, where a totally new, sometimes unskilled, work force of 40 million people showed up at industry's door suddenly looking for work: women. I told the story here (towards the bottom of the post), but the bottom line is that these new workers made the economy stronger, and now, with a generation or two behind them in the work force, women are really the backbone of entrepreneurship today in this country. Besides, if we don't allow companies to legally hire immigrant workers, businesses in this global economy will just pick up and move to Mexico.
- Reducing cost of government services. As a libertarian, I am very sympathetic to the argument that you don't want immigrants coming in and being able to immediately live off our safety net at taxpayers expense. In my mind, though, this has historically been a problem of poorly crafted law rather than immigration per se. It certainly would be possible to craft an intelligent immigration policy that allowed access to social services in steps. By the way, shifting illegals into legal guest worker programs would likely increase tax revenues by bringing these folks into the system.
- Preventing Hispanics from becoming the dominant ethnic group in the Southwest. Yes, I am positive this is a concern of many of these folks, just as the Italians in Boston at one time were worried about being overrun by the Irish. It barely dignifies a response, except to say that if you are really concerned with the number of permanent Hispanic residents, then a guest worker program might actually reduce the number. The reason is that many Mexicans still love their country but want work. If they were allowed to freely move back and forth, they would do so. But, since the border is the riskiest point for them, once they get in the US, they are reluctant to ever leave again.
We have got to have an intelligent immigration policy that
- Allows for free movement of guest workers across the border, with few limits on total numbers allowed.
- A clear and fair system for guest workers to move up over time towards full citizenship
- A clear and fair system of tiered access to social services as immigrants progress from worker to citizen (e.g. emergency services access to all, but welfare/social security require full citizenship).
- Includes a taxation system on guest worker labor that causes these workers to help pay for the services they use.
Postscript: I want to propose a thought experiment. Most everyone considered the Berlin Wall a travesty. Now, keeping all the facts about East and West the same, make one change: suppose the wall was built instead by the West to stem the flood of immigrants from the oppressive east. Would the wall suddenly become OK? Even if the reality on the ground for an East Berliner (ie they can't escape) remained unchanged?
Border walls in Nogales, AZ and Berlin, Germany:
Oh, and from this site, here is the Montana-Canada border "wall" and a "checkpoint"