Sunday, June 27, 2010

Immigration: A Problem in Need of Principle Application

Some issues currently before the American people as "problems" befuddle me. Abortion, gay marriage, drugs. How and why people get exorcized over these issues is sometimes frustratingly unfathomable to me. I remind myself that people who see these as issues of high priority--as issues at all of any priority--are operating under a completely different set of premises and values than I, but this is often an unsatisfactory anodyne to what ails me.

Immigration is just such an issue. So much vitriol, so much bluster, so much money! And for what precisely? What are the principles motivating those so upset over immigration? That immigrants use things once they get here? That some immigrants commit crimes? That the immigrants capable of getting around the obtuse and illogical legal immigration system do so? These aren't principles so much as gripes.

Every country has a right and duty to defend its geographical political integrity--from external political threats. But from private immigrants? This is issue number one. So there are no invading armies crowding the borders of the republic, but what about criminals? The government must honor all extradition treaty obligations with legitimate governments. If fugitives from other countries seek safety in our bosom they ought to be expelled back the justice awaiting them. What about those who committed crimes but served their sentences? This is a matter where I think there is some legitimate issue for debate. Other countries around the world have bizarre and unjust criminal codes that condemn people for non-crimes while other countries let murderers out of jail after absurdly short periods of time (i.e. at all). I think a case by case approach should be applied for tough questionable cases. I do not think it unreasonable to bar those previously convicted of murder, rape, and larceny past some set value of stolen property. Those who commit crimes here before attaining citizenship ought either to be dealt with under our justice system, sentenced, then deported (if their crime is not serious enough to warrant a life sentence or the death penalty), or, if a minor felony, simply deported back to their country of origin providing that that is not a death sentence.

What about employment “theft” and the use of hospital emergency rooms and state welfare aid? These are "issues" only insofar as someone cares about maintaining state economic interventions and welfare programs. There is no way to avoid paying some form of tax in almost every state in the Union, so the idea that even the most illegal of immigrants is paying no taxes is a canard. Now, they might not be paying as much as a native citizen of the republic in the same position, but it seems to me that if one has a problem with that state of affairs then the immigrant is not the direction in which to direct one's ire, but the laws that make such a situation possible.

Jobs, outside of the government, are the creation of employers. They are not public goods or commodities, but are privately held and offered. The labor market in this country is, in principle, a free one. That being said, it is heavily regulated. There is a well known price floor in place in the market for labor, more commonly referred to as the minimum wage. Like every other market with price floors and ceilings set to levels above or below the market equilibrium of supply and demand, buyers and sellers will sometimes ignore the rules to conduct business that is mutually beneficial and not harmful, yet illegal. Immigrants, often reared in societies far less abundant than ours, are often capable of living far more economically than native Americans and are willing and able to offer their labor at rates below those of many other people. Like most competitors today who find themselves in a position demanding a choice--change or fail--many Americans competing with immigrants, particularly illegal ones, strike out for a third option. Simply, proscribe the competition.

Think of the labor market in the same way you would about any other market, except in this market, the collusion which is squashed by anti-trust laws in nearly all other markets is encouraged in the form of Union protections. Direct price controls are frowned upon in nearly all markets except for labor where price floors exist nearly everywhere (and price ceilings are sometimes discussed and proposed quite seriously). The American Republic has often been committed to protectionism of its domestic markets in a wide variety of manufactured items. And so it has been of its labor. It's not the result of a host of seedy behind-closed-doors lobbying activity, but the dangerous democratic rumblings of the vox populi.

But for those who claim to only care about security, how do we secure ourselves from criminals and terrorists from abroad or at our borders? Criminals and terrorists are always going to try to do things either patently illegally or attempt to pretend lawful behavior to avoid suspicion. This is always the case and it is not what characterizes the vast majority of immigrants historically or currently. We spend vast sums of money to set up systems and employ our fellow citizens to prevent these two small classes of people from entering the country and wrecking havoc. But those systems and fellow citizens not only having to hunt down the criminals and terrorists over a vast border, they have to do it amidst a much larger population of people technically breaking the law to immigrate to the United States for just and upright reasons. Why? Because of the current harebrained scheme of national quotas and visas that penalizes everyone. Does it even have the redeeming feature of keeping criminals and terrorists out? No. The quotas and visas are irrelevant to criminals and terrorists who simply ignore these laws along with every other law that gets in their way. Or they will comply to a point to avoid harassment ala the 9/11 hijackers.

The national quota and worker/student visa system should be abolished. It serves no legitimate end. Immigrants coming from afar will have to enter through sea ports or air ports and are subject to old-fashioned methods of making sure they are who they claim to be and/or not infected with horrible contagions. Without a quota and visa system, the current mess on the Mexican border should almost entirely evaporate as far as concerns people interested in making an honest living go. It’s far safer, cheaper, and easier to enter a known border crossing to undergo an identification confirmation and medical examination than to hike through the desert with hardcore criminals. As for the criminals, they will suddenly find themselves as isolated figures in the desert easy to handle for the resources already appropriated for the purpose. No more endless sea of humanity to hide in. The key is to not drive honest decent people into the arms of rapacious unsavory criminals in order to achieve non-objectionable ends. No citizen of the United States has any right to interpose themselves between prospective employers and employees except in a case where someone's legitimate individual rights are violated.

If U.S. citizens wish to complain that their welfare systems cost too much money because people use them (shocking that free money offered to people sometimes gets grabbed) then they should reconsider why they have such programs in place to begin with. They are objecting to behavior. There can only be two reasons: 1) They don't like the idea of people getting handouts, in which case, they should work on getting rid of the government handout system; or 2) They don't like the particular person getting the handout. The first complaint is based on a principle, the second is not.

So it's clear that I think the hullabaloo surrounding immigration is a lot of confused, prejudicial, muddled nonsense. But naturalization of immigrants is a legitimate province of the government. The government and the republic broadly ought not to encourage or foster a dangerous pluralism. What do I mean by that? The republic always has and should continue to encourage the immigration of those who want to make a new start; those who want asylum from tyranny; those who want to take the opportunities and responsibilities of freedom by the horns and succeed. It has never been the policy of the republic to encourage the immigration of monarchists, aristocrats, criminals, communists, or anyone else not supportive of human liberty and dedicated to the principles of individual liberty from which the republic was born. It is a very mild restriction, but one the republic should hold to very firmly.

E pluribus unum is our motto for a reason. American pluralism is a wondrous achievement and we bask rightly in our incredible variety as a people, but when it comes to the truly important fundamentals of our political creed and our unity as a people, we have been and must be together. Not as a collective mass without thought--never that. But we can be united in our devotion to the liberty and freedom the revolution was fought for and which has been reaffirmed in blood numerous times ever since. United around our constitution, that stolid, rarely changing yet alive and breathing and real document. United around each other because now, as always, Franklin's injunction that we must all hang together or assuredly hang separately is absolutely true. And united around our ability to absorb--happily absorb--those who see our society, our example, and want in. Those around the world staring at the United States of America on small television screens, or hearing about it on crackling radios, or being told about it around a campfire under starry skies. To all those aspiring people wishing to escape poverty, wishing to help family and friends, wishing to achieve that which would be impossible anyplace else--anytime else--it is to this republic they have always flocked and continue to flock to even in this troubled age. A goal, a dream, a vision--by the millions, people bring them to our shores. Few lands in history could ever claim to be a land of immigrants. It's not an accident. Immigration requires a maximum effort. There has to be a reason to leave and there has to be a reason to go to a particular place. It's always easier to stay put. And yet to us they come, from all over. We must open ourselves to them while maintaining our republican way of life. Becoming a walled camp, worrying about which particular people are getting handouts, and blaming our employment woes on others is not us. That sort of thinking is not America at its best. When an immigrant risks everything to come here, it is not a small, insulated, petty country he holds before him. Nor should it ever be.

To that end I propose the following amendment to our constitution.

PROPOSED IMMIGRATION AMENDMENT to the Constitution of the United States

Section One. All foreign aliens, unless convicted of crimes to be defined by the Congress of the United States, or infected by such illnesses as shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall not be prohibited from entering the United States or its territories and remaining indefinitely unless said foreign alien commits a felony against a Federal law or a law of the several States;

Section Two. All foreign aliens not otherwise excluded by prior criminal activity in the United States or its territories, or by prior criminal activity in their countries of origin, the extent of which shall be defined by the Congress of the United States, shall be naturalized citizens of the United States in pursuance of the following;

Section Three. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall, continuously, reside in the United States or its territories for a period not less than ten years;

Section Four. All foreign aliens wishing to become citizens of the United States shall declare their intention of becoming a citizen by swearing to and signing an oath, publicly witnessed by at least two officers of government, State or Federal. No foreign alien shall become a citizen until this oath is sworn and signed. The oath shall be: "I swear that I shall always uphold and protect the Constitution of the United States and its republican form of government. I swear I shall always affirm and protect the individual rights of all citizens of this republic. I swear by my life and all that I hold dear, that I shall never levy war against this republic. Never will I swear allegiance to any foreign prince, potentate, or people against this republic. I swear that so long as I am a citizen of this republic I will maintain, with my life if necessary, its laws and its liberties;"

Section Five. Any foreign alien wishing to become a citizen of the United States cannot do so by contracting a state of marriage with a citizen of the United States;

Section Six. Foreign aliens, whether seeking citizenship or not, who have children in the United States, shall not become citizens. All children of foreign aliens born in the United States or its territories will be citizens of the United States and enjoy all the rights and privileges guaranteed to the same;

Section Seven. Congress shall make no law restricting foreign aliens of any nation from immigrating to the United States or its territories, nor shall it harass foreign aliens from any nation, seeking citizenship or not, unless the United States are at war with said nation, and only so long as a state of war exists shall this prohibition be ignored;

Section Eight. All Federal laws concerning naturalization and immigration passed prior to the adoption of this amendment shall be void. All foreign aliens in the United States or its territories at the time this amendment is adopted shall be eligible for citizenship under the provisions of this amendment retroactively regardless of their prior compliance with the previous, now void, naturalization and immigration laws;

Section Nine. Congress shall make all laws necessary and proper for carrying the foregoing powers, provisions, and proscriptions into effect immediately.


Mike said...

I'd be concerned about two major things in your hypothetical Amendment:

1. Section six. What's the point of this? The parent of an "anchor baby" should just have to meet the requirements like anybody else. Why would there be a perpetual denial of citizenship to anyone not already a citizen who begets a child in the U.S.? Isn't it enough that they accrue no special priority under the new scheme?

2. Section Eight would itself be unconstitutional as an Ex Post Facto law. However, on a fundamental theory of objective law that the law always prescribes the maximum conduct of an individual that the government can require, Section Eight could effectively supersede existing immigration law if aliens already present chose simply to adhere to the new requirements. In any case, there would be some structural issues between this and other constitutional provisions that would have to be addressed before this could be effective.

Otherwise, great article!

Alexander V. Marriott, ABD said...

The point of six was to reaffirm two things: 1) being born in the United States makes one a citizen of the same and 2) being the parent of a citizen would not be a way to gain citizenship around the previously stated mechanism.

As for eight, I don't see it as being ex post facto because it is merely stating what is already obvious, i.e. that existing inferior law (that is, not constitutional) is no longer in effect and that all people who can demonstrate continuous residence for 10 years at the time of the amendment's adoption can gain citizenship pursuant to the article covering the oath, as opposed to having to wait another 10 years.

The ex post facto clause refers to proscribing behavior in the past that when engaged in was perfectly legal. For instance, the British government might proscribe writings against the Stuart monarchs, that were legal before the restoration, and then retroactively prosecute everyone who wrote against the Stuarts before the law was passed. The clause was designed against such repressive legislative abuses. Section eight on this amendment is designed to retroactively harm no one. A similar clause exists in the constitution regarding who was eligible to be president since not everyone at the beginning of the government was not actually born in "the United States."

Jim May said...

I'd say that section five is redundant given section three; the latter specifies the path to citizenship -- a minimum length of physical residence -- and doesn't mention marriage.