EspañolThe fact that we have millions of illegal immigrants in this country and that more are entering every day by breaking the law is, in my eyes, an abomination. It is one of the greatest and most urgent tragedies facing America, and one that must be faced head-on without any compromise. I agree with my fellow economics student Milo King, with whom I write for our Gains from Trade blog, that we should target a policy to eliminate illegal immigration entirely. So join me in making the case for open borders.
“Don’t Use ‘Illegal Immigrants’!”
On my campus, we have posters that attempt to foster attitudes of inclusion toward various out-groups. One of the phrases we’re told we shouldn’t use, out of political correctness, is “illegal immigrant,” because apparently it’s offensive. That’s one that always makes me wonder why in the world the phrase is offensive. In fact, I think that not using the phrase “illegal immigrant” is offensive. Contrary to the words of Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (“no human being is illegal”), these immigrants in the United States are indeed here illegally. To deny that fact is to deny the existence of the terrible laws that are enacted to keep them out.
By refusing to call them illegal immigrants, we’re sweeping the problem of the illegality of their stay under the rug — we’re denying that the law is depriving them of their pursuit of happiness and we’re forgetting the most important part of the discussion — that the laws must change. It’s not enough to apply band aids to the problem while having their status remain, at the end, “illegal.”
US Americans believe in the rule of law. They believe in peace, order, and stability. These are indeed very desirable characteristics of a society. Unfortunately, somewhere along the history of United States, the citizenry was tricked into believing that believing in the rule of law meant believing in the actual legislation passed in the United States.
If we are to accept that legislation defines what is moral in the United States, then it indeed makes sense to rally against illegal immigrants as outlaws. It is then that the argument “illegal is a crime” takes on meaning. It is for this reason that pro-immigration leftists are afraid to call these people “illegal” – because it implies that they are somehow bad people.
Yet this is not so. It is in fact our moral judgment that informs the content of the laws, and not the other way around. Therefore, saying “X ought to be decried because X is illegal” is intellectually dishonest at best, and obfuscatory and fraudulent at worst. It begs the question: “why is the legality of something the determinant of its morality?” The answer: it’s not.
Allow me an example. Imagine that a hopped-up government made Christianity or homosexuality illegal (or anything else that is especially dear to you — take your pick). Would the US traditionalists come out in large numbers to protest against the “illegal Christians?” They wouldn’t even need to change their signs; just reuse “Illegal is a Crime” . But of course we see that this would be an absurd law completely out of line with most US Americans’ understanding of morality. As such, breaking this law might not be just perfectly okay, but it might even be an admirable deed, for an unjust law is no law at all .
If we deny this principle, then we are confronted with the question of whether violating Jim Crow laws was a bad thing, since, after all, they were the law. The answer is a resounding no. I applaud the brave people who fought against government-mandated racism. The people who violated the laws could properly have been called “illegal integrationists,” since they were breaking the law, in accordance with their and our conscience.
I claim, then, that the outrage directed at calling people “illegal immigrants” should not be directed at the phrase itself, but at the people who created the policies that led to the need for such a label.
The Case for Immigration (Or, Rather, Against Restrictions)
Of course, so far I have not made the case for why immigration is a fundamentally acceptable action (morally and otherwise) — as opposed to the current state of affairs, where immigration is considered immoral by default and only allowable in a few cases the government deems appropriate (as if it could decide on the “proper” amount of people who need to be let into the country). I will begin by making a direct case for the morality of immigration and then address some counterarguments.
We begin by asking what immigration is. Immigration is the movement of people from one country to another for the purpose of living there. Immigration restrictions prevent immigrants from moving from one country to another. What immigration restrictions do is they prevent willing property owners in one country from allowing people from other countries to enter their property and work for them. There is no proper moral foundation for this government control.
The Direct Case
Do we believe the government can legitimately prevent a neighbor from coming onto our yard? No. Why are immigrants different in any way? They would be coming to the United States and living in an apartment they rent from someone willing to rent it out to them. No problem there. They would be signing a voluntary contract of employment with an employer who is willing to hire them. Nothing wrong with that either. A person who believes that the government shouldn’t be able to prevent two willing adults from cooperating with their resources for peaceful ends can provide no moral foundation for immigration restrictions.
“But they are taking our jobs!” No, they’re not. It’s an unfortunate that in our language we can label jobs as “ours.” Jobs do not “belong” to anyone – you don’t have a property title to your job. Your employer can (or at least ought to be able to) end your employment at will. Your neighbor in the United States can “take” your job perfectly morally. Your employer can replace you with a machine. You have no title to the job.
As such, even if immigrants were to come here and indeed “take” your job, you’d have no moral claim to it. It is not in any sense “yours” besides the fact that you chose to work there and your employer agreed. To claim otherwise is to claim that the government has the right to dictate the hiring practices of businesses.
In either case, the argument that immigrants lower US wages or take their jobs is shaky on economic grounds . Plus, how come the government suddenly knows the “correct” amount of labor that each sector of the economy needs? When did it gain such powers? When did the conservatives begin believing in the economic powers of socialist policies?
Opponents of free immigration argue that immigrants tend to have higher rates of crime. This argument is mainly taken up by the political right, so I will ask them an analogous question about gun control. Suppose that some guns are related to crime. That is, while most gun owners are peaceful, if we allow for gun ownership, then some of the guns that are bought legally might eventually be used in a crime. Therefore, we should ban guns. Does this sound fair? No. So why should it make sense in the context of immigration?
Most immigrants do not want to come to the United States to cause crime; they want to come here to work to achieve the American Dream (often harder than some US Americans, but don’t tell them, or they’ll get so offended they’ll want to use government guns to prevent the immigrants from coming into the country!).
Further, even if we accept that the current illegal immigrants tend to have higher rates of crime, it must be noted that black US Americans have an even higher rate of crime. If we ought to deport illegal immigrants for their tendency to crime, then we should want to deport black people back to “wherever they came from” even faster!  I’d like to note that the policy of deporting an entire group for the crimes of a small sub-section is a form of collectivism, where the individual is judged by statistics pertaining to his ethnic/racial/social group.
Editor’s note: immigrants have far lower crime rates than individuals native to the United States. The National Bureau of Economic Analysis places them at approximately one fifth.
They Threaten Our Culture
Some people are worried that if we open up immigration, we’ll be flooded with people coming from God-knows-where who cook weird-smelling foods, talk in languages we can’t understand, hang rugs on their walls, and dry their clothes on clotheslines. Scary stuff.
The first question I suggest asking is that if the United States is truly as exceptional, as we believe it is, then how is its culture so prone to dilution? It seems that opponents of immigration argue that US Americans themselves will see the shish kebobs the neighbors are cooking and forget about their own good US burgers and mashed potatoes.
It also must be noted that there is no “right to a culture.” That is, if another culture influences or even takes over your own, there is no moral justification for using guns to prevent this (for that is what government intervention ultimately is, the use of coercion to prevent the peaceful actions of individuals). To claim otherwise is fairly scary.
Aha, but They Mooch Welfare!
A seemingly good argument against immigration could be made by arguing that immigrants want to come to the United States and become dependent on the welfare state. This has several flaws, however.
First of all, this is a fault of welfare policy, not of immigration. One possible solution is to simply not give welfare benefits to immigrants. Another is to remove the welfare state entirely, or to cut it back drastically. To argue that immigration should be restricted because the welfare state is too big is confusing the harm in the situation, which is the welfare state. In fact, the right, if it so wills, could use immigration as leverage to cut back welfare and achieve three things at once — the third being immigrants being thankful to them.
If all else fails and you really insist on keeping the welfare state, then giving immigrants proper documents and making them jump through the same hoops as US residents to receive welfare should solve that problem.
But the logic of immigrants as welfare moochers is seen as truly bad when we apply it to states within the United States. Shouldn’t we also restrict movement of citizens from poor states to richer states with larger welfare systems? They might want to get welfare! (Oh, and remember they will also steal their jobs!)
They’ll Be Communists Who Vote in Crazy People
Perhaps the immigrants will come in and have crazy ideas about how the country should be governed; they’ll be crazy commies or something!
This, too, is on shaky ground.
First off, if we take the criticism seriously, then we should also ban movement between red and blue states, so that the dirty hippies/commies/right wingers/those-people-you-don’t-like can’t come in and change our state. This is not negotiable. Accepting the “bad politics” critique of immigrants must lead to an acceptance of intrastate movement bans. Furthermore, many immigrants come to the United States specifically because they want to work hard and earn a living .
They Should Just Go to the Back of the Line
Why? If we’ve worked to show that the line is illegitimate in the first place (as is shown in this article), why send them to its back?
This an argument for which I used to be in favor, in fact. My parents and I are here on a visa (full disclaimer!), and so my parents have often gotten angry at amnesty proposals which would make illegal immigrants be able to stay in the United States legally.
“Why should they, who hopped the fence, get to stay and we should have to live in fear that we might not be able to renew our visa in a few years? We’ve stayed here legally all this time and we’re spurned by the law!”
Sadly, this is the sort of thing that government intervention does to various groups in society. It sets them against each other, as government action tends to be a zero-sum game.
Simply because the government has been violating a legal immigrant’s rights by denying them the ability to peacefully stay in the United States doesn’t mean that it should also do so for illegal immigrants. Imagine a policy that mandated that all people with black hair must have their arms broken. The black-haired people then say, “but this isn’t fair, what about the blond-haired people? We’ve had to suffer, why not them too?” Would the logical conclusion be to bust their arms as well? No!
It’s a pity that the legal immigrants in this country have often taken a back seat in the public view, but to take this out on the illegals makes no sense. I wish not to restrict the freedoms of my neighbor simply because my own have been denied!
This same logic is exhibited by the conservatives when there were calls against the 47 percent who do not pay federal income tax. Many of these people, who are supposedly anti-tax, saw this as disastrous: so many people are getting a “free ride!” But that’s not the conclusion to reach. It’s not that the people who have not been harmed need to start getting harmed; it’s the people who have been harmed that need to stop being harmed. It’s for this reason that, when asked about half of US Americans not paying federal income tax, Ron Paul smiled and said “we’re half-way there!”
Again, an analogy: imagine that there is a group in society that has been denied their rights, and to regain them they must stand in “The Line.” One day, Congress decides to take a portion of this violated group and grant them their rights immediately. Should we reject this in the name of equality? In the name of equal violations of rights? Not at all; lucky them! Let’s pass the same law for everyone in the violated group!
The main thing to ask oneself when thinking about immigration is whether the reasoning used to argue against immigration, if applied to people in the different states or counties, might sound unreasonable. For a great example, see “Save Fairfax.”
As I have shown, the argument against immigration fails on all grounds. If you are still not convinced but are interested, I highly recommend browsing the OpenBorders.info website, which is chock-full of useful information, including the estimate that open borders could very well lead to a doubling of world GDP.
It’s time to end the disgrace that is “illegal immigration,” and to make it just “immigration.” I will not stop using the phrase “illegal immigrants.” Every time I use it, I will think of the honorable men and women who come to the United States to secure a better life for themselves peacefully through hard work — the American way.
This piece was originally featured in Turning Point USA.
Notes and References
 I do not mean all those who call themselves conservative/right/traditionalist. I’m sure there are some people on the right who aren’t using these signs.
 See Suppression of Native Wages
 This argument is unfortunately not my own creation, but was taken from Deportation to Africa
 In the interest of full disclosure, there was a recent study that showed that foreign-born residents of the US tend to have less-libertarian views than Americans themselves: U.S. Immigrants’ Attitudes Toward Libertarian Values
There are a few words of caution I would give about this. First of all, the study looks at some political opinions that might not be representative of the overall libertarian mindset. That is, the questions asked do not include a lot of things about which libertarians care.
Further, it is reasonable to expect that the attitudes of some immigrants may be shaped by the attitudes of some US Americans toward immigrants. For example, if it is the American left which favors increased immigration, immigrants might be more favorable to leftist ideas. If the right began to be greater supporters of free immigration than the left, the views of immigrants might shift right.
Also, it is questionable that the views of the immigrants are bad enough to want to ban them from entering. And, once again, I am sure we can find divergences of opinion between states, which would suggest we ban movement of unfavorable individuals across state lines.