Those who oppose more open immigration generally have three arguments, to which I have varying levels of sympathy:
- It's illegal! Illegal immigration violates the rule of law. I have always thought this argument weak and circular. If the only problem is that immigrants are violating the law, then the law can be changed and its now all legal. Since this is not the proposed solution, presumably there are other factors that make more open immigration bad beyond just the fact of its illegality. I am positive I could come up with hundreds of bad laws that if I asked a conservative, "should I aggressively enforce this bad law or should I change it," the answer would be the latter.
- We will be corrupting our culture. I am never fully sure what these arguments mean, and they always seem to carry a touch of racism, even if that is not what is intended. So I will rewrite this complaint in a way I find more compelling: "We are worried that in the name of liberty and freedom, we will admit immigrants who, because of their background and culture, will vote against liberty and freedom when they join our democracy." I am somewhat sympathetic to this fear, though I think the horse may already be out of the barn on this one. Our current US citizens already seem quite able to vote for restrictions on liberties without any outside help. If I were really worried about this, I might wall off Canada before Mexico.
- Open Immigration or Welfare State: Pick One. I find this the most compelling argument for immigration restrictions. Historically, immigration has been about taking a risk to make a better life. I have been reading a biography of Andrew Carnegie, which describes the real risks his family took, and knew they were taking, in coming to America. But in America today, we aren't comfortable letting people bear the full risk of their failure. We insist that the government step in with our tax money and provide people a soft landing for their bad decisions (see: Mortgage bailout) and even provide them with a minimum income that in many cases dwarfs what they were making in their home country.
My problem with conservatives is that they are too fast to yell "game over" after making these arguments, particularly the third. There are some very real reasons why conservatives, in particular, should not so easily give up on finding a way to allow more free immigration. Consider these questions:
- Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who I can and cannot hire to work for me in my business?
- Should the US government have the right and the power to dictate who can and cannot take up residence on my property (say as tenants)?
My guess is that many conservatives would answer both these questions in the negative, but in reality this is what citizenship has become: A government license to work and live in the boundaries of this nation.
I can't accept that. As I wrote here:
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...
I can accept that there can be some
minimum residence requirements to vote in elections and perform certain
government duties, but again these are functions associated with this
artificial construct called "government". There should not be, nor is
there any particular philosophical basis for, limiting the rights of
association, speech, or commerce based on residency or citizenship,
since these rights pre-date the government and the formation of borders.
Citizenships are club memberships you happen to be born with. Some
clubs, like the Norway club, have truly awesome benefits. Others, like
the Malawi club, offer next to none. Membership in each club is kept
limited by club members, who understandably worry about the drain on
resources that new members might represent. Wishing the U.S. would
extend more memberships in 2008 isn't going to get you very far.
for whatever reason, most of us are in a place where we think labor
market access and citizenships ought to be bundled. A Malawian can't
come work here, we think, without the promise of a club membership,
which is nearly impossible to get. This is an incredibly damaging
assumption for two reasons: (1) memberships are essentially fixed in
wealthy democratic societies (2) uneven labor market access is a major
cause of global inequality. Decoupling the two leads to massive gains,
as we see in Singapore, without the need to up memberships.
another way to think about it: Clubs have positive duties toward their
members, including those of the welfare state. But the negative duty
not to harm outsiders exists prior to clubs, and denying people the
ability to cooperate with one another violates their rights in a very
basic way. Our current policy is one of coercively preventing
cooperation. In saying "we can't let people into this country unless we
confer upon them all the rights and duties of citizenship," you are
saying that we need to violate their right to move freely and cooperate
unless we can give them welfare benefits. But that's backwards.