More than any subject on Coyote Blog, my immigration posts have engendered more disapproving comments than anything else I have written. I won't repeat my position except to say that I don't care if immigration is currently illegal, because my point is that it should be legal. In short, my stance has been that our rights do not flow from the government but from our basic humanity, and therefore activities like association, employment decision-making, and property purchase should not be contingent on citizenship. Its one of those arguments where I wish many on my side of the argument would shut up -- If the best argument you can muster for immigration is 'who will pick the lettuce', you are not helping very much.
For the first 150 years of this country's history, our country was basically wide-open to immigration. Sure, there were those opposed (the riots in NYC in the 19th century come to mind) but the opposition was confined mainly to xenophobes and those whose job skills were so minimal that unskilled immigrants who could not speak English were perceived as a threat. It was only the redistributionist socialism-lite of the New Deal and later the Great Society that began to make unfettered immigration unpopular with a majority of Americans, who rightly did not wish to see the world's poor migrate to the US seeking an indolent life of living off of government handouts.
But, as Congress debates a series of immigration plans that make not sense and don't seem internally consistent, I will propose my own. I hope that this plan will appeal to those who to date have opposed immigration because of the government handout problem. I am sure it will continue to be unappealing to those who fear competition in the job market or who don't like to be near people who don't speak English very well. This is an elaboration of the plan from this post:
- Anyone may enter or reside in the US. The government may prevent entry of a very short list of terrorists and criminals at the border, but everyone else is welcome to come and stay as long as they want for whatever reason. Anyone may buy property in the US, regardless or citizenship or residency. Anyone in the US may trade with anyone in the world on the same terms they trade with their next door neighbor.
- The US government is obligated to protect the individual rights, particularly those in the Bill of Rights, of all people physically present in our borders, citizen or not. Anyone, regardless of citizenship status, may buy property, own a business, or seek employment in the United States without any legal distinction vs. US "citizens"
- Certain government functions, including voting and holding office, may require formal "citizenship". Citizenship should be easier to achieve, based mainly on some minimum residency period, and can be denied after this residency only for a few limited reasons (e.g. convicted of a felony). The government may set no quotas or numerical limits on new citizenships.
- All people present in the US pay the same taxes in the same way. A non-citizen or even a short term visitor pays sales taxes on purchases and income taxes on income earned while present in the US just like anyone else. Immigrants will pay property taxes just like long-term residents, either directly or via their rent payments.
- Pure government handouts, like Welfare, food stamps, the EITC, farm subsidies, and public housing, will only be available to those with full US citizenship. Vagrancy and squatting on public or private lands without permission will not be tolerated.
- Most government services and fee-based activities, including emergency services, public education, transportation, access to public recreation, etc. will be open to all people within the US borders, regardless of citizenship status, assuming relevant fees are paid.
- Social Security is a tough beast to classify - I would put it in the "Citizen" category as currently structured (but would gladly put it in the "available to everyone" category if SS could be restructured to better match contributions with benefits, as in a private account system). But, as currently configured, I would propose that only citizens can accrue and receive SS benefits. To equalize the system, the nearly 8% employee and 8% employer social security contributions will still be paid by non-citizens working in the US, but these funds can be distributed differently. I would suggest the funds be split 50/50 between state and local governments to offset any disproportionate use of services by new immigrants. The federal portion could go towards social security solvency, while the state and local portion to things like schools and medical programs.
With this plan, we return to the America of our founding fathers, welcoming all immigrants who are willing to take the risk of coming here. We would end the failed experiment of turning citizenship from a voting right into a comprehensive license that is required to work, own property, or even associate and be present within the US border. Since immigrants today who are "illegal" pay no income or social security taxes into the system today (they do pay sales and, via rent, property tax), this plan would increase tax revenues while reducing some welfare state burdens.
I think if you asked many prospective immigrants, they would agree to this deal - no handouts, just a fair chance to make a living and a life. However, immigrant advocacy organizations are hugely unlikely to accept this plan, as most seem today to have been co-opted by various Marxist organizations who are opposed to anyone opting out of the welfare state (it is no coincidence that the recent immigration policy protests all occurred on May Day, the traditional Soviet-Marxist holiday).
Finally, I would like to offer one thought to all those who worry about "absorbing" ten or fifteen million new immigrants. First, I would argue that we have adopted many more immigrants than this successfully in this country's history, including my grandparents and probably yours. Second, I would observe that as recently as the last several decades, we managed to absorb 40 million new workers quite successfully, as I wrote here:
Check this data out, from the BLS:
- In 1968, the unemployment rate was 3.8%. 22.9 million women were employed in non-farm jobs, accounting for 34% of the work force.
- In 2000, the unemployment rate was 4.0%. 62.7 million women were employed in the work force, accounting for 48% of the total
- In these years, the number of women employed increased every single year. Even in the recession years of 1981-1983 when employment of men dropped by 2.5 million, women gained 400,000 jobs
This is phenomenal. After years of being stay-at-home moms or whatever, women in America decided it was time to go to work. This was roughly the equivalent of having 40,000,000 immigrants show up on our shores one day looking for work. And you know what? The American economy found jobs for all of them, despite oil embargos and stagflation and wars and "outsourcing".