The Electric Commentary

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


In an effort to distract folks from the war in Iraq, immigration is now the topic of the day. Oh well.

Some people, conservatives mostly, are concerned about the state of the "rule of law" when it comes to immigration. My question is, when the rule of law begins to degrade is it generally the fault of the people or of the government? The best example I can think of is the drug war, which makes a mockery of the FBI and federal law in general, and turns a very high percentage of the population into criminals (and felons, at that). People will only follow laws that they respect, and have little power to undermine the rule of law. Government, on the other hand, can craft all sorts of complex and contradictory laws. They alone have the power to make legislation into a joke.

The fact that we have so many illegals here is a shame as they are easily exploitable, but the solution is not to toughen up our borders. It is, instead, to expand our gates. I should point out that Thomas Friedman wrote essentially the same thing in this morning's NYT (behind the wall, of course).

Immigration is no different than free trade, and tough immigration barriers are an impediment to the gains of free trade. The more human capital that we can get in this country, the faster the country will grow and prosper, and poor immigrants are often among the most hard working and diligent, so I say give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. Unless you think that is a stupid sentiment, of course.

Many cite September 11th; The ultimate red herring in this debate. Immigration had nothing to do with 9/11. As a rule, poor Mexicans tend not to work for Al Qaeda. This entire line of argument misstates the effects of porous borders. Here's a handy chart:

People who want to be here and will do whatever it takes and jump through whatever regulatory hurdles are presented to carry out their mission - Al Qaeda

People who would like to work in the US, because it beats working in Mexico, but not if they have to fill out a bunch of cumbersome paperwork, pay cash that they don't have, wait for years, and ultimately have their fate determined based on whether or not the Washington D.C. area Starbucks ran out of Maple Scones today - Mexicans

When you talk security, you are not discussing a problem at the margins. Terrorists will get into the country. "Forms in triplicate" will not deter them. Poor, migrant workers seeking a better life can be dissuaded at the margins, with bureaucracy.

In attempting to thwart terrorism, conservatives instead put up an artificial trade barrier. They condemn people to a worse life simply because they had the misfortune to be born in Mexico, and they raise the price of our food in the process.

On the surface it may not seem like I disagree with them to a large extent, but the difference in incentivizing legal immigration by keeping illegals out vs. incentivizing legal immigration by letting more legal immigrants in is huge.

My solution is more cost effective, it is better for the rule of law, it is better for the economy, it is better for both the US and Mexico economically and for security, and it is better for the individuals attempting to make their lives better.

Militarizing the border any further is bad for international relations, it is extremely wasteful, and diverts resources from true national security problems.

However, more than anything else, my solution can actually work. "Better enforcement" even if it was somehow morally preferable, is simply not pragmatic. We would eventually wind up with the functional equivalent of a second drug war. To some extent we already have one. We should learn from that mistake.

I am not in favor of throwing open the borders willy-nilly, but if someone wants to try and make it in the US, it should be a one day affair, not a one year affair.

More, from the Coyote Blog:

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?


  • That teebee guys seems pretty confused. It's tough to argue with that. I like that you ask him "when the rule of law begins to degrade is it generally the fault of the people or of the government?" and he replies "Yes." He also seems to think you and JIJAWM are saying immigration fosters free trade when in fact you are saying immigration IS free trade. It's international trade of local services. And it's good. It's a shame your well thought out response was greeted with pure idiocy. You seem to be the only person on the net that objectively looked at the issue and came to a logical conclusion.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:23 PM  

  • F**** blogger. I hit preview, then post and lost my comment.

    Anyway, good points Paul.
    I also think more legal immigration would be good, but that it needs to be coupled with increased enforcement against illegal immigration. Otherwise you just wind up with more immigrants getting aid benefits that the gov't gives legals as well as more immigrants overall. It would take an awful lot to affect the great disparity between the U.S. and Mexico & other countries that draws most illegal immigrants. Heck many might come just for the opportunities for their children, especially if they could get a free education.

    Two problems with immigration though:
    First, it does place quite a bit of a strain on local gov't resources in those communities with large numbers of poor immigrants. Ironically as the social service programs that many liberals favor increase, so does the cost of the immigration that many also favor. As I said at the Badger Blog Alliance, the lack of a safety net for many illegal immigrants is probably a big part of what keeps them motivated.
    Second, the current trends in illegal immigration and laxity in enforcement of strongly favor latin american countries & Mexico because of their proximity. I think it would be better to have increased diversity of the immigrant pool, not only for the benefits that diversity brings in culture and abilities, but also because people in many parts of the world are worse off than those in Mexico and would thus benefit more from being allowed to immigrate.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 2:25 PM  

  • What was your solution? Speed up the process so that it only takes a day?

    By Anonymous Phil, at 12:47 PM  

  • Something like that, yes.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 3:33 PM  

  • Good luck with the taking only a day thing. Every attempt to reduce the immigration or work backlog by reducing processing time is protested by immigrants' rights advocates arguing that rejected applicants did not get due process and from the anti-immigration side. Just like everything else it is the people who would exploit the system for its weaknesses that cause much of the problem.

    By Blogger Scott H, at 7:18 PM  

  • I think that the poor immigrants that come to America give more power to the poor Americans, so for that reason I support the immigrants that are NOT convicted felons. I say jail the immigrants that are felons and those that hire those felons.

    Most of all I say, “Power to the poor.”

    By Blogger Inheriting Syria, at 1:52 PM  

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