Here are the points that I understand:
- Illegal immigrants consume services that are funded by taxes, without paying taxes into that system.
- Illegal immigrants provide competition with Americans for low paying jobs.
- Illegal immigrants represent a security threat to the US.
- Illegal immigrants are breaking the law.
- Immigration is constitutionally guaranteed
- Immigration is economically
Second from an economic perspective, restriction of trade usually makes all parties to the restriction poorer. This is true if the trade is goods being traded and a high tax applied to them, or if the trade is services. Coming to this country to work is trade. Imposing restrictions on immigration is the exact same thing as imposing restrictions on trade. If you understand the benefits of free trade, then I see no way to imply that those same benefits don’t also apply to trade with Mexicans. Artificially restricting that trade serves no purpose other than to do us harm by making us poorer.
Now let me respond to the points that I understand from the conservative argument.
First, that illegal immigrants consume taxpayer services without themselves paying taxes is true. But this is an indictment of fiscal policy more than of immigration policy. Those services were specifically set up to serve those who couldn’t afford to pay for them. We have public education I this country for the purpose of ensuring that everyone, including those who can’t afford it, can get an education. We have Medicaid to ensure the indigent get medical attention when they need it. A huge number of American born citizens simply are exempt from taxes due to their income level. This, correctly, does not qualify them for deportation. What it indicates is that a system designed to provide services, for free, to people will attract more people to it, including immigrants. I think a safety net is a rational thing. But when people (regardless of their national origin) start trying to live there, the safety net may be a bit too comfortable. The purpose of a safety net is to prevent catastrophe, not provide a safe place to live forever. Our “safety nets” come fully furnished and plumbed. And as a result, they attract people to them. Should this at all be a surprise? That immigrants are living for free off of taxpayers is an indictment of the policies that support that, not enforcement of immigration law.
Second, it is also true that illegal immigrants compete with Americans for jobs. But all jobs face competition. All business faces competition. And that’s good. Because competition is the tool that has raised our standard of living well past that of every other nation on the planet. Restricting competition, at any level, is foolish. In the debate that I listened to, one of the panelists mentioned that if immigrants were competing with high dollar jobs, there would already be laws in place to restrict it. And he’s (unfortunately) right. Physicians and lawyers, and many other professions have licensure laws that restrict the supply of workers and thus raise wages. I find that to be equally harmful. Trade should be free. Immigrants provide competition for jobs. Yep. Welcome to the world. It’s takes a lot of effort trying to prevent something that occurs naturally. We might as well pass a law forbidding the sun from dieing on a couple of billion years.
Third, illegal immigrants most certainly can provide a security threat to the US. And for those who wish to come here with non-peaceable goals in mind, I am fully in support of restricting their entry. The constitution provides for peaceable assembly. It does not proscribe any requirement to protect the assembly of those who wish to do us harm. If immigration policy were exclusively focused on that standard, then I would have no qualms with enforcing it. But immigration policy is, instead, trying to enforce things that are unenforceable. And even if they were enforceable, they hurt us when they’re enforced.
Fourth, it’s true that illegal immigrants are breaking the law. But when a law violates our core principles and, in practice, does us harm, then that law is a bad law and has no moral authority. Such laws should be abolished. And while I can’t condone the violation of the law, the violation of laws without moral authority carries significantly less moral gravity as the violation of other laws.
In summary, I simply am unconvinced by what I understand as the conservative argument in favor of imposing restrictions on immigration. Perhaps there is some part of the argument that I’m missing?
Update 4/20/09: I presented this argument to one of my conservative friends. He commented that he doesn't think that the process for coming to this country should be the same as getting citizenship. He is, of course, scared that if citizenship becomes too easy, then immigrants will be seen by politicians as a voting block.
I think it's reasonable to be stricter on the requirements of being a citizen. But I think it's wrong to restrict people from coming. living, and working here, even if they're not citizens.