Immigration and the "Legality" Issue

I know some may be bored with my immigration posts, so if you are, that's cool, you can ignore the rest.  I have done something of late I normally don't do:  I have tuned into conservative talk radio for bits and pieces of time over the last several days to get the gist of their arguments to limit immigration.  The main arguments I have heard are:

  1. Illegal immigrants are breaking the law
  2. We should not reward law-breaking with amnesty.  We need to round these folks up that are breaking the law and teach them a lesson.  Or put them in concentration camps if that were logistically feasible
  3. We don't like first generation Mexican immigrants carrying the Mexican flag in parades. (though we love it when 4th generation Irish carry Irish flags in parades)

A recent commenter on my post defending open immigration, which is superseded by this pro-immigration post I like better, had this related insight:

1.  YOUARE ILLEGAL
2. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
3. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
4. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
5. YOU ARE ILLEGAL
6-10000000 YOU ARE ILLEGAL

DO I NEED TO WRITE THIS IN SPANISH SO THAT THE ILLEGALS CAN
UNDERSTAND. IF YOU CAN READ THIS THEN YOU DID PASS THE BASIC ENGLISH
TEST THAT IS RREQUIRED OF ALL LEAGAL MIGRANTS !!!

OH, BTW,  I HAVE THE RIGHT TO SAY THIS, BECAUSE I AM LEGAL!!

It sure is comforting that us "leagal migrants" have to pass a basic English test, or we might come off as idiots when we post comments online.  But you get the gist.  My first thought is that this is certainly a circular argument.  To answer my premise that "immigration should be legal for everyone" with the statement that "it is illegal" certainly seems to miss the point (it kind of reminds me of the king of swamp castle giving instructions to his guards in Monty Python and the Holy Grail) The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.

Many people writing on this topic today lapse into pragmatic arguments ala "well, how would we pick the lettuce without them?"  Frequent readers of this site will notice I seldom if ever resort to this type argument (except perhaps when I argued that immigration might be a solution to the demographic bomb in medicare and social security).  My argument is simpler but I hear it discussed much less frequently:  By what right are these folks "illegal"?

What does it mean to be living in this country?  Well, immigrants have to live somewhere, which presupposes they rent or buy living space from me or one of my neighbors.  Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?  Most conservatives would (rightly) say "no,"  except what they really seem to mean is "no, as long as that person you are leasing a room to was born within some arbitrary lines on the map.  The same argument goes for immigrants contracting their labor (ie getting a job).  Normally, most conservatives would (rightly again) say that the government can't tell you who you can and can't hire.   And by the way, note exactly what is being criminalized here - the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work.  Do you really want to go down the path of making these activities illegal?  Or check out the comment again above.  She/he implies that immigrants without the proper government papers don't even have speech rights, rights that even convicted felons have in this country. 

By the way, I understand that voting and welfare type handouts complicate this and can't be given day 1 to everyone who crosses the border -- I dealt in particular with the issue of New Deal social services killing immigration here.

Our rights to association and commerce and free movement and speech flow from our humanity, not from the government.  As I wrote before:

Like the founders of this country, I believe that our individual
rights exist by the very fact of our existance as thinking human
beings, and that these rights are not the gift of kings or
congressmen.  Rights do not flow to us from government, but in fact
governments are formed by men as an artificial construct to help us
protect those rights, and well-constructed governments, like ours, are
carefully limited in their powers to avoid stifling the rights we have
inherently as human beings.

Do you see where this is going?  The individual rights we hold dear
are our rights as human beings, NOT as citizens.  They flow from our
very existence, not from our government. As human beings, we have the
right to assemble with whomever we want and to speak our minds.  We
have the right to live free of force or physical coercion from other
men.  We have the right to make mutually beneficial arrangements with
other men, arrangements that might involve exchanging goods, purchasing
shelter, or paying another man an agreed upon rate for his work.  We
have these rights and more in nature, and have therefore chosen to form
governments not to be the source of these rights (for they already
existed in advance of governments) but to provide protection of these
rights against other men who might try to violate these rights through
force or fraud.

These
rights of speech and assembly and commerce and property shouldn't,
therefore, be contingent on "citizenship".  I should be able, equally,
to contract for service from David in New Jersey or Lars in Sweden.
David or Lars, who are equally human beings,  have the equal right to
buy my property, if we can agree to terms.  If he wants to get away
from cold winters in Sweden, Lars can contract with a private airline
to fly here, contract with another person to rent an apartment or buy
housing, contract with a third person to provide his services in
exchange for wages.  But Lars can't do all these things today, and is
excluded from these transactions just because he was born over some
geographic line?  To say that Lars or any other "foreign" resident has
less of a right to engage in these decisions, behaviors, and
transactions than a person born in the US is to imply that the US
government is somehow the source of the right to pursue these
activities, WHICH IT IS NOT.

Disclosure:  A number of my great-grandparents were immigrants from Germany.  When they came over, most were poor, uneducated, unskilled and could not speak English.  Several never learned to speak English.  Many came over and initially took agricultural jobs and other low-skilled work.  Because the new country was intimidating to them, they tended to gather together in heavily German neighborhoods and small towns.  Now, of course, this description makes them totally different from most immigrants today that we want to shut the door on because...um, because, uh... Help me out, because why?

PS - And please don't give me the "government's job is defend the borders" argument.  Government's job is to defend its people, which only occasionally in cases of direct attack involves defending the borders.  I am sick of the rhetorical trick of taking people like the "minutemen" and describing them as patriots defending the border, when this nomenclature just serves to hide the fact that these folks are bravely stopping unarmed human beings from seeking employment or reuniting with their families.  And I will absolutely guarantee that the borders will be easier to patrol against real criminals and terrorists sneaking in when the background noise of millions of peaceful and non-threatening people are removed from the picture and routed through legal border crossings.

  • Ryan Cupples

    So if we remove all government involvement in granting the rights of freedom of commerce, what happens when one of the parties involved fails to complete their part? Do we then go to the government to seek 'justice'?

    I agree philosophically that yes, we should be able to deal with those that we want to deal with and the above mentioned rights should be granted via birth, but it seems like there's some nightmare of actually implementing this... and when that's done, what's the point of borders at all?

    I'm almost on the same page as you, but I don't see how it could actually be practical. I feel about it almost as I feel about communism and such; properly done, fine, it COULD be great, but I just don't think it can actually happen.

  • Steve

    Coyote,

    I'd argue that some borders are more arbitrary than others, and that borders and lines on maps should have significance. The border between post-colonial African colonies/countries is a little different than the border between Michigan and Ohio. I suspect you're an admirer of federalism. How is state sovereignty, which is to be respected under federalism, different than national sovereignty? State governments aren't supposed to be able to limit inalienable rights, but they are able to limit who you contract with (in the case of intra-state commerce). Is this a legitimate (if unwise) exercize of power, or an illegitimate abrogation of our inalienable rights?

    Also, if the rights protected in the Constitution (or natural rights) are indeed universal human rights and to be applied without regard to national origin or citizenship, doesn't this have dramatic consequences for how we should approach foreign policy? Shouldn't a limitation of the freedom of association in China or North Korea (or Canada) be viewed as the same as an unlawful limitation on this right is Jim Crow Mississippi? How is it possible to take a traditional libertarian "stay-out of foreign entanglements" if we view these transgressions in the same way?

    I hope I don't appear too contentious. These are questions I haven't formed a concrete opinion about myself, and I'm asking them in hopes of eliciting a response that will help me crystalize my own thoughts.

  • Dan Campbell

    I agree in great part with your arguments for unlimited immigration. I am all for people seeking a better life and improving themselves. I actually do like the hispanic immigrants. They work hard and are earnestly striving to make a better life for their children.

    The problem comes when too many people go for the gold and the system is overloaded. So many people are getting into the country who have minimal modern work skills (no matter if they are from Mexico or anywhere else) that the economy can't handle such an overload of unskilled labor. We end up with mobs of day laborers hanging out on corners waiting for a chance to work; and worse, mobs of people on welfare sucking on the public teat.

    So I have to ask myself, why does their right as humans to commerce and property (seeking a better life) trump my right as a human to commerce and property (to maintain my better life), just because I have property and they don't? My involuntary contributions (gov't taxes) go to welfare & entitlement programs to feed, house and educate the excess people who have not gotten steady or good-enough jobs. With more and more people flooding across the US borders, those social programs will demand more and more money from me and other taxpayers who perhaps would like to spend it on ourselves (who earned it) rather than on people who, despite their willingness to work, are dependent on gov't handouts (and didn't earn it). Does their existence obligate me to give then money?

    You wrote, "the illegal activity these folks are guilty of is making a life for their family and looking for work." No, the illegal activity is crossing the border without permission. The reason they performed the illegal act was to get work, etc. A crime committed for humanitarian reasons doesn't obviate the crime. Is it illegal to shoplift food from a grocery store? That the person was hungry and needed food does not make the shoplifting any less of a crime.

    We can say that borders only exist as a human construct and shouldn't be there because all humanity has a right to feed and better themselves, but humans construct them for a reason. It's the old grasshopper and ant Aesop fable. If you owned a farm and spent countless hours working and raising food, then when it was ready to harvest, your hungry neighbors came and stole 2/3 of it, would you say "well that's ok because they have a right as humans to better themselves", or would you be mad as hell and put up a big fence and hire guards?

    To make the above metaphor more applicable to the current debate, let's say you run a successful farm and some of your neighbors who are unemployed ask you for work picking the lettuce. You need lettuce pickers, so you hire them and share the resulting harvested food with them. But more and more unemployed neighbors come looking for work. You hire as many as you can, but there comes a point when you can't economically hire any more. You and your productive workers will suffer economic and food losses if even one more person is taken on. Are you obligated to give that person, and more who follow, bunk space and a share of the food when they are not going to help produce more food?

    Defense of US borders IS defense of people. Defense of borders is supposed to prevent the flow of unneeded unskilled workers who will arrive to further swell the abovementioned mobs of unemployed day workers and who will cause our (yours and mine) taxes to go up as they enroll in public assistance programs and do not contribute to the economy. It's economics, not patriotism.

    The big deal with the illegal immigrant amnesty is the setting of precedent and example. If an illegal immigrant knows that amnesty is granted periodically, he only has to tough it out a few months or a couple years at most until he is granted his green card. If he knows that he will never be granted legal status, that he could be taken up and deported at any time no matter how long he stays here, he may be less inclined to go that route. Granted, it may not make much of a difference at decision time south of the border, but it may make a difference once he is here and living under the constant threat of deportation. He may voluntarily decide to leave rather than live under those conditions. So yes, the "it's illegal" argument is vALID. Why should we reward people who knowingly violate laws by granting them the very thing they violated laws to get?

    As for whether immigration laws should be there at all, the answer is that like it or not, we live in a democracy. If the majority of people want to have immigration laws and guarded borders, then that's what the minority is going to have to accept. If the majority decide to have open borders, then they will be opened. Until that glorious day, the law is that people do not get in without proper documentation and those who violate that law, including those who hire illegal immigrants, should face the consequences of their illegal activity. Laws are not an option based on your personal belief system. You either live with the system or you get the majority to change it.

    Thanks for giving me the opportunity to rant. I really enjoy your blog. It has actually changed my mind of some issues. Not this one, but others. :) I came here from overlawyered.com when you were guest editor and have been reading it since. I like your style of reasoning.

    Dan Campbell
    9th place in the coyote brackets
    Alexandria, Va

  • Max Lybbert

    I started listening to talk radio during the Iraq invasion because my local NPR outfit ran BBC newscasts regularly. Then a conservative radio station came to town, and I've been listening to them more. However, this immigration debate has made it painfully clear that most talk radio shows are based on the premise of getting large numbers of people to talk out of their ass (some people would say that applies to blogs, but I pick the blogs I read carefully, I'm not at the whim of station managers and call screeners). I'm looking for something else to do during my drive time now.

    /* The marginally more sophisticated statement that "it is illegal and making it legal would only reward lawbreakers" would seem to preclude any future relaxation of any government regulation.
    */

    One of the biggest causes of three-strikes laws, or mandatory death penalties, etc. is the practice of granting parole or pardons, or other forgiveness to people twenty years down the line. Strangely, the public responds to this kind of mercy by trying to take it away.

    I've understood this argument (the "don't reward them for breaking the laws") to be an outgrowth of this same attitude. I'm too young to remember the amnesty given out in 1986, but when I lived in California I knew large numbers of Hispanics who expected the government to announce another amnesty eventually.

    For the record, I'm fine with a guest worker program, but I oppose amnesty (when "amnesty" is defined as moving illegals to the front of the citizenship line). I am also fine with permitting illegals to get in the back of the citizenship line, and granting citizenship to those that qualify according to the laws.

  • http://chrisyeh.blogspot.com Chris Yeh

    Hey Warren, I wrote about you in my blog and managed to get someone else to link to you. Spread the coyote love!

    http://www.samizdata.net/blog/archives/2006/04/a_little_bit_le.html

  • http://politics.lel-hosting.com/ Matt

    Considering that I've seen previously-reasonable and sane people propose that even legal visitors to the US be universally required to wear ankle bracelets 24/7 like criminals under house arrest, and the Constitution be amended to strip citizenship from any native-born American whose parents weren't citizens at the time of their birth (this would definitely include my mother...and thus depending on how recursively it was interpreted, would possibly include me as well), I think we've long since departed the realm of logic and reason and entered the land of paranoid fantasy.

    Honestly, I don't think the muslims rioting and burning down embassies over a cartoon drew as much visceral hatred out of the woodwork as the recent street rallies by Mexican immigrants.

    Supposedly these people advocate a return to the presumption of assimilation...and I'm all for that. But if they're for assimilation, why are they foaming at the mouth about how foreigners are presumptively criminals?

  • Mark Horn

    I am a US Citizen. Let's (temporarily) assume that the US Gov't does assign me my rights as listed in the laws of the land. One of those rights is free association. If I'm free to associate with anyone, then why can't I buy services from Mexicans? Why can't I rent an apartment to someone who was born in Mexico? (Feel free to substitute any place else.)

    Even if my right of free association is granted to me by the US Gov't, it still negates immigration laws. How can my right to free association be free if most of the 6 billion people on this planet are restricted from associating with me? That seems like restricted association to me and that seems to violate my constitutional rights.

    That being said, I do not believe that my rights are granted by the constitution, but rather endowed by my creator. The purpose of the laws of this land *should* be to make it hard for anyone else to deny me those rights.

  • Scott H

    You make some good points about the legal-illegal argument, but your later argument seems to stem from an awfully idealistic notion of what nations are. To follow your logic out fully people basically have the right to anything they want so they can go live anywhere and do anything.

    As a nation we have a right to act collectively and to exclude or include those we don't want to include in our nation, just like any other group. Do the boyscouts have to let child molesters join? Do families have to let homeless people stay with them? Do colleges have to let in anybody? Although the negatives of allowing strangers into the groups in these cases are more more obvious, the debate over immigration is essentially the same. The U.S. has the right to exclude people from membership / citizenship and admission if we as a people decide that we wish to. Remember, the main way we get to act in our collective interest on many issues is through the gov't.
    Your logic would reach to say that the U.S. should have to let in every person with a contagious disease or criminal tendencies or violent behavior just because any one individual here might want to associate with them. The right to exclude immigrants is in keeping with the rights of freedom of association, only the association is chosen through a collective choice rather than individually.

    In short, the problem with the immigration debate is moreso with the likely erroneous perception of the harms of immigration; the problem is not with basic rights of humans to live whatever they want.

    As a side note, you shouldn't take this as a rant against immigration, I'm not. I just find the rationale for this portion of your argument very flawed.

  • Scott H

    You make some good points about the legal-illegal argument, but your later argument seems to stem from an awfully idealistic notion of what nations are. To follow your logic out fully people basically have the right to anything they want so they can go live anywhere and do anything.

    As a nation we have a right to act collectively and to exclude or include those we don't want to include in our nation, just like any other group. Do the boyscouts have to let child molesters join? Do families have to let homeless people stay with them? Do colleges have to let in anybody? Although the negatives of allowing strangers into the groups in these cases are more more obvious, the debate over immigration is essentially the same. The U.S. has the right to exclude people from membership / citizenship and admission if we as a people decide that we wish to. Remember, the main way we get to act in our collective interest on many issues is through the gov't.
    Your logic would reach to say that the U.S. should have to let in every person with a contagious disease or criminal tendencies or violent behavior just because any one individual here might want to associate with them. The right to exclude immigrants is in keeping with the rights of freedom of association, only the association is chosen through a collective choice rather than individually.

    In short, the problem with the immigration debate is moreso with the likely erroneous perception of the harms of immigration; the problem is not with basic rights of humans to live whatever they want.

    As a side note, you shouldn't take this as a rant against immigration, I'm not. I just find the rationale for this portion of your argument very flawed.

  • Max Lybbert

    Thinking this over some more, I think the premise of the original article is slightly wrong.

    /* Does the government have the right to tell me who I can and can't transact with?
    */

    Or, as another commenter said:

    /* If I'm free to associate with anyone, then why can't I buy services from Mexicans? Why can't I rent an apartment to someone who was born in Mexico? (Feel free to substitute any place else.)
    */

    I have several friends in Brazil, and if I wanted to pay one of them to create a graphic for a website, I'm free to do so (subject, maybe, to tarrifs). If I wish to sell my old Dungeons & Dragons rulebooks on eBay, and a Briton wins the auction, I'm pretty free to go ahead and ship the product. My ability to transact with foreigners is not directly tied to immigration.

    In fact, if I wish to rent an apartment to somebody living in Mexico City, he's free to pay for it. He may not be able to get into the country, but he's able to sign the dotted line and send me a monthly check (and sublet, for instance). It's only if he wants to physically come across the border that immigration and visa laws come into effect. So while immigration laws may affect *why* somebody wants to transact, they don't really affect transactions.

    OK, what about hiring. Well, hiring contracts generally require physical presence, so of course they are more affected than my website graphic. But, then again, I'm allowed to pay a Mexican working in Tijuana to do a job for me.

  • markm

    I'm still waiting for one of those people who chant "Illegal immigration is breaking the law" to prove that he has always driven the speed limit and never even got a parking ticket.

  • http://www.donothaveone.com TC

    US History Review, or The Real Reason We Dont Want Them Here?! :)

    It was the first day of school and a new student named Pedro Martinez,
    the son of a Mexican restaurateur, entered the fourth grade.

    The teacher said, "Let's begin by reviewing some American history.
    "Who said 'Give me Liberty, or give me Death?' "

    She saw a sea of blank faces, except for Pedro, who had his hand up.

    "Patrick Henry, 1775."

    "Very good!" apprised the teacher. "Now, who said, "Government of the
    people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the
    earth?"

    Again, no response, except from Pedro: "Abraham Lincoln, 1863."

    The teacher snapped at the class, "Class, you should be ashamed!
    Pedro, who is new to our country, knows more about its history than you
    do!"

    She heard a loud whisper: "Screw the Mexicans!"
    "Who said that?" she demanded.

    Pedro put his hand up. "Jim Bowie, 1836."

    At that point, a student in the back said, "I'm gonna puke."
    The teacher glared and asked, "All right! Now, who said that?"

    Again, Pedro answered, "George Bush to the Japanese Prime Minister,
    1991."

    Now furious, another student yelled, "Oh yeah? Suck this!"

    Pedro jumped out of his chair waving his hand and shouting to the
    teacher, "Bill Clinton to Monica Lewinsky, 1997!"

    Now, with almost a mob hysteria, teacher said, "You little shit. If
    you say anything else, I'll kill you!"

    Pedro frantically yelled at the top of his voice, "Gary Condit to
    Chandra Levy, 2001."

    The teacher fainted, and as the class gathered around her on the
    floor, someone said, "Oh shit, we're in BIG trouble now!"

    Pedro whispered, "Saddam Hussein, 2003."

    Finally someone throws a eraser at Pedro, someone shouted "Duck"!
    The teacher asked "Who said that?

    Pedro: Dick Cheney 2006!

  • http://powerandcontrol.blogspot.com M. Simon

    Mexico and the US of A are integrating.

    The only question is what is the best way?

    I like the idea of adding 5 or 10 million Americans every 10 years or so.

    However, I'm open to suggestion of the best way to accomplish the end result.

  • james

    What happens when the whole country is all screwed up like LA? Everyone wants to be away from there now- the gangs violence drugs.... what makes you think the mexicans are going to make my neiborhood a good place to live? One out of three pisoners in federal prison are illegals

  • C. Clark

    If you are in favor of protecting our security and sovereignty her is a great way to do it. Help build a fence. Here is an overview of the project:
    Chris Simcox, President of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps (“MCDC”), today announced plans by the MCDC to work with local Arizona land owners to build border security fencing on private land along the border with Mexico. Two construction companies to date have offered to inaugurate groundbreaking, coordinate volunteer construction crews and donate the use of the necessary heavy construction equipment.

    The groundbreaking will begin in Arizona on Memorial Day weekend, unless in the interim President Bush deploys National Guard and reserve troops to immediately secure the out-of-control southern border.

    The fencing will be built with privately donated funds, engineering and labor and will be used as an example to educate the public about the feasibility and efficacy of fencing to secure America’s borders from illegal incursion by aliens and international criminal cartels. A non-profit organization dedicated specifically to this purpose will facilitate and administer donations for construction of the fence. Monetary and in-kind contributions for this effort will go directly into building materials for this private, volunteer fencing project.
    Simcox says those involved in the planning hope to keep costs near $150 per foot.
    Go here to read all the details:
    http://www.minutemanhq.com/bf/
    Go here to donate for the fence:
    https://secure.responseenterprises.com/mmfence/?a=571
    Go here to volunteer to help build it:
    http://www.minutemanhq.com/bf/volunteer.php
    This will force the media and the politicians to pay attention if nothing else.

  • Hugh

    Firstly you are either ignorant or you have fallen victim to "political correctness" because you use the term "illegal immigrant" when you should use "illegal alien", I suspect that because you have not had to immigrate yourself, you are unaware of the distinction?

    Now why not setup a Google alert for "Nuevo Laredo" and then begin to read about the future of your own country? because this is an example of what is attempting to gain access to the US and their task is made far easier by lax border security.

    People in Mexico should have no more rights to enter, live and work in the US than people from any other country, to suggest that they should is racism. There are numerous ways that an individual from another country may gain the right to live and work in the US, sure these processes could be improved and simplified and I am all for that.

    However anyone entering US territory without passing through and being approved by an immigration officer becomes an "illegal alien" and this is a simple fact of law and history. The US has (by some estimates) 20 million such individuals within its borders.

    Because they have entered illegally nobody knows anything about their criminal history (if any) whether they are convicted child abusers, pimps, gangsters, drugs and arms smugglers, do they? Furthermore the lax border is being used right now, by a great number of non-Mexicans from Colombia, El Salvador and many of these are ruthless gangsters who have no fear of what we call "law and order" and indeed regularly place a "bounty" on the heads US border patrol officers.

    As someone why entered the US legally and lives here legally I take great issue with this, because the southern states are unprotected from this and far too many (including you Sir) prefer to view this as some philosophical discussion, greatly distorting the harsh reality.

    Hugh

  • Bob010

    You confuse immigration with illegal aliens.