Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Regarding Immigration

As the election season progresses beyond any hope of being salvaged, it is probably appropriate that I explain my thinking regarding immigration.  This is one of the issues for which no party has a satisfactory policy.

To start with, let me say that immigration policy is entirely unlike abortion policy.  If the fetus is in fact a human person (which it is), then it is wrong to murder that person, with no exceptions, and it is matter of public interest.  If the fetus were not a human person, abortion would be as much a personal decision as a haircut, and it would be the business of no one but the woman seeking the abortion.  The in-between positions are just nonsense.  These include the assertion that only women should have a say about abortion -- all women, not just the woman seeking the abortion.  That doesn't work: it's either everyone's business, or no one's business; either it's public, or it's private.  Likewise with the "politically moderate" exceptions to abortion of rape and incest.  They make no more sense than it would to criminalize the abuse of five year olds, except for those children who were conceived through rape or incest.  Most things in politics are not all-or-nothing in the way abortion is, and immigration policy certainly is not.

Immigration policy is more like economic policy.  In economics the two extremes might be taken to be a planned economy under the total control of a central authority, as in Communism, and a complete Laissez Faire Capitalism, governed only by supply and demand.  We know from history that both are prone to enormous abuses, and that neither really works.  Economies under central control lack the creativity and flexibility needed to thrive, and unimpeded Capitalism is unstable, subject to both cycles of booms and busts and to monopolization.  As a result, even the most enthusiastic supporters of Capitalism now generally accept the necessity of bankruptcy protection and federally insured deposits, and usually prohibitions on price gouging, dumping, and insider trading; as for Communism, following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the adoption by China of more-or-less free markets, it is hard to find anyone except North Korea seriously advocating that system.  There is practical unanimity that the best system must lie between the two extremes, although plenty of squabbling remains about exactly which compromise solution is best.  And, of course, the compromise that works best for Texas might not work best for Sweden.

On one extreme of the immigration debate are those who seem to think that each country has an obligation not only to let in anyone who wishes to come, but also to assist them in their travels, ensure them food, clothing, shelter, medical assistance, and a job as soon as they arrive, give them full citizenship, and expect absolutely no conformity to the culture of their new country.  Although this position seems to be popular with many clerics, it is still obviously hogwash, since it would mean that no nation could defend itself from being washed out of existence by an invading horde -- and the diversity of cultures we get from having separate and distinct nations is a good that should not be casually and carelessly discarded.  It should also be pointed out that it is naive to assume that the people who make use of the generosity of others will necessarily show generosity in turn -- particularly if they have not been asked to accept the culture of their new homeland.

On the other extreme are those who are willing to give the government absolutely anything it needs or says it needs to prevent illegal immigration and to deport illegal aliens who are already here.  Absolutely.  Anything.  That's the sort of talk that makes any would-be dictator's mouth water, because to get rid of 11 million illegal immigrants we would need to become a full-fledged police state.  That is far too high a price to pay for the 96.6% of American residents who are not illegal aliens, let alone the 3.4% who are.

Just because the best solution must lie between the extremes does not mean that every solution between the extremes is good.  In fact, our current system is between the two extremes, and it is perhaps the worst possible solution.  We make it only moderately difficult for people to cross the border illegally -- just hard enough that they are invested in being here when they arrive, having either endured hardship or paid what to them is a substantial sum of money, or both.  Once here, as long as they do not draw attention to themselves, they might be able to stay for decades, meaning of course that they put down roots.  If they attract the attention of law enforcement, though, they are subject to deportation.  Deportation may not sound like such a bad thing if your picture is of being deported from a holiday destination after violating a local taboo while on vacation, but think instead of the deportation from Anatevka at the end of "Fiddler on the Roof".  For those who have made substantial investments or put down roots, it is a real punishment indeed.

What this set of circumstances means is that illegal immigration is not seriously impeded, providing a steady supply of low-income workers to industries that choose to pay wages that do not attract American workers.  Even "better", because illegal aliens do not want to attract the attention of law enforcement, they are not likely to report unsafe working conditions, missing pay, or other abuses, allowing their employers to cut even more corners.  There is no way I believe all this is a coincidence.

My preferred alternative would be the polar opposite of what currently exists.  We should make it very difficult for anyone to enter the country illegally, but we should be much more lenient on those who have already come and put down roots without engaging in violent crime.  If someone does meet the criteria for having "put down roots" -- perhaps by having been in the U.S.A. for 10 years without being charged for a violent crime -- he should have the option of renouncing his foreign citizenship and becoming a permanent U.S. national.  As a national, rather than a citizen, he would be ineligible to vote or hold elected office, and unlike those born in American Samoa, he could never apply for citizenship, but otherwise he would have all the same rights as a U.S. citizen.  Or perhaps he could also be banned from holding any government job other than serving in the military, although I would probably allow that to be upgraded to full citizenship if he serves 6 years in the U.S. military.

We have the right, even the duty, to control our borders, but we need to do so in a way that avoids doing more harm than good.

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