Saturday, June 23, 2007

Immigration Hysteria and Confusion

A pundit on a show this afternoon has compared the act of coming to the United States illegally to the act of forging a check or robbing a bank. Such a comparison is symptomatic of the hysterical confusion which surrounds the question of immigration. It also highlights the tremendous amount of xenophobia and subtle (if not obvious) racism on the part of those so concerned about the immigration of millions of people from what is essentially a corrupt economic backwater (Mexico) to a prosperous much freer country, the United States.

A bank robber forcibly steals money which he has no right to and a check forger defrauds people by passing himself off as someone with access to money. They both operate on the principle that they have a right to the financial rewards earned by others simply because they have the ability to do so and possibly get away with it. What is an immigrant doing if they enter the country without waiting or even applying for the proper paperwork? What principle is animating them? Is it the principle of the bank robber, to steal the productive affluence of others? How can this be? Some would say that illegal immigrants from Mexico are mostly very poor and use state and federal welfare services which they technically have no “right” to since they are not citizens, and thus, are in fact acting under the same principle as the bank robber. This is a confused and muddled mess of an argument. State and Federals agencies and programs give away money pilfered through taxation largely from the most productive people in the economy in order to subsidize the poor. Should it surprise anyone that the poor, whether domestic or foreign, should be attracted to free money and services? This is not the fault of the poor per se, though they are certainly no saints, but the fault of those who think it is good policy to pay the poor for being poor and to offer them rewards which others, not the poor, have earned. As most of those bleating the loudest about this alleged problem never stop to point this out it can only be assumed that they support the principle of taking from the rich and productive in order to give to the poor and unproductive, and are thus most responsible for attracting immigrants who are coming for reasons other than to enjoy a life of free economic opportunity and free of political repression.

This brings us to another issue which is of course intertwined in this whole immigration debate, but which should be extracted and clarified. Citizenship entitles one to a whole host of things in American society, including the right to vote. Currently the easiest way to earn citizenship in our republic is simply to be born within its boundaries. For immigrants the task is much more difficult, not only are there irrational quotas restricting the numbers of people who can apply for citizenship depending on where they come from, but there are numerous steps in a process which takes years and stacks of paperwork to complete. But what is the purpose of this process? Allegedly it exists to allow the person to immerse themselves in American culture and demonstrate an overwhelming desire to become an American. These are laudable goals certainly. However, it is in no way clear how, exactly, restricting the numbers of immigrants at all, let alone by where they are immigrating from, aids the process of attracting people who are interested in embracing the American dream and the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality before the law. Also, immersion in American culture is delayed by the fact that this process adds tremendous expense to people making a tremendous move, hampers their ability to find gainful employment (finding an employer willing to sponsor them), and leaves them uncertain of their futures, particularly if they are not able to get restricted numbers of work visas and other important documents and permits. Citizenship should not be denied or delayed for those who are clearly trying to lead productive lives in the United States. For those not looking to become citizens, but merely wish to work here, they too should be embraced, not as golden geese who will lay golden tax eggs, but as productive human beings who are not leeches on anyone.

The problem as far as immigration is concerned is the influx of either outright criminals, or of those who are not interested in leading productive and independent lives. The only cure for this latter problem is to make sure ours is a society which does not indulge and reward such people. If this is to continue to be a country with a government and people that wishes to engage in such behavior then those who support that cannot and should not be surprised by the people they attract. Fortunately, a great many immigrants (like a great many born Americans) are still desirous of leading productive, independent, and fulfilling lives, and are desirous of living in the country founded on the principle that they should be able to do that in liberty and freedom to the best of their abilities.