Lest We Forget

Thanks to an election-year conversion by the President of the United States, 800,000 young people born outside the country will now be spared the threat of deportation. That’s a good thing. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that the biggest victims of American immigration policy are not the ones we deport; they’re the ones who never got to come here in the first place.

The President defends his new policy as humane. Put aside the question of where his humanity has been for the past three and a half years and ask yourself what’s so humane about protecting the children of relatively rich “illegals” (that is, the ones who have had the opportunity to earn American wages) while we continue to bar the door to their desperately impoverished cousins.

Regarding the beneficiaries of this new policy, the President says that

These are young people who study in our schools, they play in our neighborhoods, they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag …

Why is any of this relevant? When did visibility become a criterion for moral status?

This is indeed a time to celebrate and I don’t want to diminish that. But I do have two questions for the President:

  1. What morally relevant criterion protects the rights of the relatively rich foreigners who are already here but allows us to continue trampling the rights of the desperately poor foreigners we’re continuing to turn away at the border?
  2. Now that you’ve at least admitted it’s a bad idea to throw current residents out, what are we going to do about the folks you’ve thrown out over the past three-and-a-half years (and the ones your predecessors threw out before that)? They were, after all, studying in our schools and playing in our neighborhoods at the time. Will we apologize and invite them back?
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106 Responses to “Lest We Forget”


  1. 1 1 Roger

    Pres. Obama was elected to represent Americans and to obey the law. Those should be his moral principles. He has betrayed us. You are asking him to represent foreigners and further violate the law. If that is what you really believe, then why don’t you propose amending the Constitution to put the United Nations in charge of the USA?

  2. 2 2 Jacky

    Hi Steve,
    While I totally support your ultimate goal of open immigration, but I have some reservations on how exactly will this work in a welfare state society. In an libertarian anarchist society, surely there is no problem (govt doesnt even exist!), but let’s admit it, we are living in a welfare state (less so than europe, but still substantially so). After a person has become a citizen, it is impossible to expel him/her? So while we can only admit people who already has secured a job in the US, there would be companies exist just to employ overseas people so that can then come in. And once they come in, they will be collecting doles? Of course, some would say, then bring down the social welfare! But assessing political realities seem to be the job of a US president, not just basing his decision on idealogies?

  3. 3 3 Harold

    I always find these issues very interesting, particularly the “near” and “far” strangers issue.

    The first point is your mention of the “rights” of foreigners being trampled on. Surely we must first establish if these rights exist, and what they are? To suggest we are trampling on their rights pre-supposes that they have a right to enter the USA, which most Americans would dispute.

    Is there a morally relevant criterion whereby foreigners are treated differently in any respect?

  4. 4 4 Jack

    Would a more rational approach be to have reciprocal immigration policies? For example:

    Slate.com:

    For instance, Article 27 of the Mexican constitution states: “Foreign citizens cannot own land within 100 km of the borders or 50 km of the sea; however, foreigners can have a beneficial interest in such land through a trust (fideicomiso), where the legal ownership of the land is held by a Mexican financial institution.”

    Washington Times:
    Under the Mexican law, illegal immigration is a felony, punishable by up to two years in prison. Immigrants who are deported and attempt to re-enter can be imprisoned for 10 years. Visa violators can be sentenced to six-year terms. Mexicans who help illegal immigrants are considered criminals.

    The law also says Mexico can deport foreigners who are deemed detrimental to “economic or national interests,” violate Mexican law, are not “physically or mentally healthy” or lack the “necessary funds for their sustenance” and for their dependents.

  5. 5 5 Dave

    I more ore less agree with Jacky. The only thing I would say is that the whole welfare system is wholly unsustainable anyway – it will collapse one day probably in my lifetime. Open the borders and either we will have net productive entrants allowing a continuation of the existing welfare system….or net consumptive entrants who will just make it all unravel faster.

  6. 6 6 Bob_Mac

    Yes, it would seem necessary that an American welfare lifestyle would need to unattractive enough to minimize the incentive to trade a third-world hard-working poverty lifestyle for an American non-working lifestyle no? Am I missing something?

  7. 7 7 Ken B

    @Harold:
    I think you ask the key question. Is there a difference between ‘near’ and ‘far’ morality? You can make a good logical argument there shouldn’t be. But it rarely convinces anyone. Steve’s umbrage here is impressive. Will it change any minds? I think not.

    Morality ultimately flows from emotions and gut responses. We try to use logic to extract simpler more uniform rules but I am not sure we ever quite succeed. I’m not even sure we *should* succeed. Attempts in the past have been … suboptimal.

    Haidt has a lot relevant to this in his book.

    As an example Steve seems to not notice why this ” they’re friends with our kids, they pledge allegiance to our flag” IS a relevant moral factor for most and is not just *visibility*. They are part of an affective community; they have become ‘near’ and made us ‘near’ to them.

  8. 8 8 Mark

    One of my biggest disappointments in the republican party is their (mostly) hardline stance on immigration. Bush’s stance on immigration reform was mostly right, but he ran into objections from many in his party. He also ran into opposition from the democrats whom didn’t want him to be able to make the political claim of doing the right thing.

    But now Obama has via executive order, halted the deportation of young undocumented immigrants. I agree that this is a good first step, and hope that this can soon be extended to all undocumented immigrants.

    However, I am very uncomfortable with the fact that part of the President’s will to do this is nothing more than political pandering towards the latino vote. There is a cynicism to his decision to do this in an election year, and I dont like that he made an end-run around congress to do this.

  9. 9 9 Ryan P

    In re #1,

    Opponents of things that might be called “amnesty” complain that they encourage more people to enter by causing potential immigrants to update their priors about how likely they’ll be prosecuted. Surely supporters should think the same thing? From a Bayesian point of view, refraining from deporting some current immigrants is helpful for would-be immigrants, at least prospectively.

  10. 10 10 Ken B

    It’s worth asking if Obama’s patently opportunistic and partisan approach is the best way to advance the debate. Libertarians may huff and puff and stamp their feet but fundamentally you need to change minds. Making this a football in an election campaign that looks to be very nasty may not be the best way to work for more lenient immigration. It is not like a court decision on gay marriage for example. The court, and the constitution enjoy a moral authority that no partisan politician can command.

    I am also struck by how few libertarians care about the power grab implict in this. Obama has effectively implemented a line item veto.

  11. 11 11 nobody.really

    Some amusement parks charge no admission. You pay ride-by-ride, and enjoy the environment – such as it is – at no incremental cost.

    Alternatively, there’s the Disneyland model.

    For better or worse, the US operates on the Disneyland model. We can offer a variety of amenities to people inside the gates – because there are a finite number of those people.

    Now, what would happen to the experience of going to Disneyland if the operators opened the gates to all comers at no incremental cost? I expect that rapidly the experience would come to resemble the experience of open amusement parks. Landsburg’s remarks seem to overlook this dynamic – either because Landsburg has failed to recognize it, or because it offends his values.

    No, the borders of the US will never be impenetrable. But the US can take actions that limit illegal immigration. In particular, the US can, and does, strive to make the lives of undocumented aliens unpleasant. The depressed wages and living conditions of undocumented aliens are as much a part of our immigration policy as border guards. And every time we adopt a policy that alleviates the problems for undocumented aliens, we make it more attractive to become one.

    The alternative is for US citizens to trade in the experience of living in Disneyland for the experience of visiting an open amusement park. You may find virtue in such an exchange. But you’d have to be fairly insensible not to recognize the trade-off.

  12. 12 12 Michael

    I wrote a rant about this a few days ago (hey, at least I admit it!):

    ***start rant***

    My position on immigration has “evolved” slightly over the years. The more the rules on immigration are tightened, the more they are used to keep out intelligent foreigners who obey the law. Then every few years, we reward those who break the law with amnesty.

    The heck with that. Throw open the doors to anyone who isn’t a moron, a psycho, or a criminal — not as citizens, since I think citizenship should be held to a higher standard, but as legal residents. Require resident aliens to have insurance (home, auto, and health), so that American taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill, and disallow most forms of welfare to non-citizens for the same reason. In other words, if you want free stuff, stay home; if you want to earn stuff, come here.

    Once the rules are in place, concentrate on enforcing the “No moron/psycho/criminal” rule with an iron fist — er, boot, the better to kick them out of the country — and leave the hard-working, law-abiding, relatively intelligent immigrants alone. You can even have a one-strike law — commit a felony, and you are deported to your home country and prohibited from entering the United States again. Let your insurance lapse or require public assistance, and you are sent back to your country, though you may return once you have proof that you are insured and don’t require public assistance.

    Oh, and get rid of the “reuniting families” preference if the family in question is (you guessed it) a moron, a psycho, or a criminal.

    ***end rant***

  13. 13 13 Ken

    Jacky,

    It’s not a welfare state, it’s a special interest state. It’s why the special interests in the teacher’s union doesn’t teach the Federalist Papers, which deals directly with the special interest dangers of a large government (like the monopoly on the “education” system), but teaches the New Deal and FDR as idyllic, despite its massive failure.

  14. 14 14 David

    This Executive Order is not what it is advertised to be.

    1) It is an Executive Order which means that come January 20, 2012, it can be removed as if it has never been.

    2) The Executive Order and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) memo which implement it provide enough unclear loopholes to allow individual DHS officers to reject applications for prosecutorial discretion, which is to say that individuals could go turn themselves into immigration in an attempt to take advantage of this break in the system, only to find themselves deported.

    3) It provides only prosecutorial discretion. That means those individuals who meet the criteria of the Executive Order and DHS memo, can go to the government and say, “Sorry, I entered the country illegally, but I now qualify for this new program.” and report all of their personal information to the government, and take a chance on being deported, in exchange for getting a temporary work permit.

    4) The press releases talk about both education and military routes out, but the Executive Order provides no discretion for currently serving members of the military, only for those who are already honorably discharged. It is, and has been, illegal for undocumented aliens to serve in the U.S. military, so there should be none of these and any that there are, are subject to being deported for bad moral character since they obviously lied about their identity and citizenship status in order to serve.

    5) The Executive Order only applies to those who have met the criteria as of the date of the order. That means that nobody is being given incentive to behave in any new way, because any future behaviour will not affect status under this order.

    The bottom line is that relatively few people have been made eligible for anything, those that are included are eligible for little, and this could easily be converted into a database to round up those that apply. If I was an immigration attorney my advice would be to stay away from this unless you are in already in removal proceedings.

    In my view, this is a naked political ploy to do as little as possible while creating the possibility to talk about how much the administration has done to try to help immigrants in an effort to appeal to people who support more immigration.

  15. 15 15 Harold

    Many people who are otherwise in favor of light regulation are not in favor of free movement of labor. Is this the same as, say, unions not being in favor of free labor, or is there some different market failure in this case? Many comenters here would criticise the union leader for protecting his members at the expense of other workers. What is the difference with immigration? If the USA citizen is justified in claiming a moral basis for restricting immigration, then why not the union leader for restricting dilution of his own “in group”?

  16. 16 16 Andy

    I agree with Michael, I would love to live in the US (I am Swedish) but I can’t get a visa. I have never been on benefits and am very valuable to the company I work for (judging by my salary). I would happily accept the conditions put forth above.

  17. 17 17 Ken B

    @Harold: I’m not sure union leaders are criticized for this. And they are of course agents of their members. A clearer example, with no agent overlay, is at hand. Steve has on this board expressed a preference that his daughter get everything for free. He has expressed no such hope for you or me. Not even about his latest book! Indeed he has passed up chances to email us a free Kindle version of his book. I don’t think anyone has questioned his morality over this. Near != far.

  18. 18 18 Harold

    Ken B – I am pretty sure union leaders are criticised for putting their members interests above the general good. If not criticised as individuals, at least their goals are criticised by many libertarians. They are criticised not least because some think that their protection of their workers actually does their workers harm in the long term.

    I think the family aspect has been excluded by Steve from these comparisons – he has said that we should each care about ourselves and families more than strangers. I think to get into that particular can of worms would be a different discussion, so for now I am happy to accept that we care about those we know personally more than strangers. It is whether we care about one set of strangers more than others that is at issue. At least I think so, or perhaps that is at the heart of the whole issue.

  19. 19 19 Ken B

    @Harold: Oh they’re criticized. I’ve done it! But not I think for the supposed moral failing of prefering their members but more for prefering themselves, or short-sightedness. I don’t hear ‘oh the union president wants to benefit his members, that’s kinda immoral’ very often!

    Excluding one’s family by fiat is arbitrary. If SL can draw a dotted line and say ‘the rules differ on each side’ then why cannot others have other dotted lines? (I even bet different cultures at different times count ‘family’ differently.) Why not multiple dotted lines? Family, neighbours, countrymen. Steve cannot avoid the issues of near != far so easily.

  20. 20 20 Roger

    It appears that no one agrees with Steve that this is a time to celebrate.

  21. 21 21 Zazooba

    I have met many people who say they are in favor of unrestricted immigration, but I have never met one who is actually in favor of it.

    Here is the key question: Is there any limit to the number of immigrants you would allow into the country per year? Would you be ok if 10 million immigrated ever year? 50 million? 100 million? Really?

    Probably a billion people would like to immigrate to the US. Would you be ok if a billion people immigrated over the next, say 10 years? Really?

    I have never met anyone who said they would be ok with a billion immigrants in the next ten or even 50 years, so I have never met anyone who actually favors unrestricted immigration.

    Since we are all, then, immmigration restrictionists, the only questions is how much we should restrict immigration. Oddly, people who claim they are in favor of open immigration never want to answer this question. Are you willing to answer it?

  22. 22 22 Ken B

    @Zazooba: You have identifed my pet peeve on this issue. If you say you favour unrestricted immigration on principle then you get to claim some sort of moral high ground. But as you note, the claim is unjustified.
    My stock example is the unrestricted German immigration Denmark experienced in 1940. I often hear the objection “But most of those soldiers were drafted and forced”. True. But that’s an objection to forced migration, not immigration!

    Just to head off the misquoters at the pass, I favour a more lax immigration policy than we have. But not unrestricted, and not on principle.

  23. 23 23 Zazooba

    @KenB

    How should we choose among potential immigrants? Is it reasonable to prefer those whose immigration will most benefit existing citizens? If it can be shown that some identifiable group of immigrants would be harmful, on average, to existing citizens, should those immigrants be excluded?

    Should people who disagree with the existing rules be able to force more immigration on the country?

  24. 24 24 Zazooba

    @Michael

    “Require resident aliens to have insurance (home, auto, and health), so that American taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill, and disallow most forms of welfare to non-citizens for the same reason. In other words, if you want free stuff, stay home; if you want to earn stuff, come here.”

    Do you honestly believe this is a tenable proposal?

    If we make the more reasonable assumption that immigrants will quickly gain access to full American-style welfare, would you advocate denying immigration to those would, on average, go on welfare in large numbers?

  25. 25 25 PrometheeFeu

    @Jacky:

    I am a legal immigrant and as part of the process of my admission in the United States, my sponsor had to sign a contract with the Feds that if I went on welfare, she has to pay that money back. (until I’ve paid income taxes for 10 years) Such a thing could be done across the board.

    Also, while ending the welfare state is quasi-impossible, it seems quite feasible to limit it to citizens.

  26. 26 26 Zazooba

    @Mark

    “But now Obama has via executive order, halted the deportation of young undocumented immigrants. I agree that this is a good first step, and hope that this can soon be extended to all undocumented immigrants.”

    I’m confused by the phrase “undocumented immigrants.” Do you mean any immigrants that do not carry their immigrant documents with them? I have never heard of such people being deported. Why would their lack of documentatino be a problem?

    Do you mean to exclude immigrants who are here illegally but carry documents saying they are here illegally, since they are … documented? I can’t believe that is what you mean.

    Isn’t “undocumented” really a euphemism for “illegal”? And a misleading euphemism? Why is it such a probleme to use accurate terminology? Might I suggest that it makes the anti-immigration-law-enforcement position sound like exactly what it is?

    Don’t you really

  27. 27 27 PrometheeFeu

    @Zazooba:

    I am actually in favor of unrestricted immigration and your example is thoroughly unconvincing. Sure, a billion people might theoretically like to move to the US. But there is a difference between that and actually moving. Moving is expensive. Immigrants have to give up their lives back home. They may not have enough money to move their families. They might not have the skills to be successful in the US job market. And there is the self-regulating effect of the housing market. Immigrants will have to bid up housing which will make immigrating less attractive.

    Consider it this way: there are some places in the US that are economically vastly superior to others. San Francisco and New York come to mind. If everyone moved there, that would be a significant problem. But not everyone moves there, despite open borders.

    So your argument doesn’t make sense. If a billion people actually showed up, that would be a sign that we could accommodate a billion people. But most likely we can’t and market forces will ensure that we won’t even with open borders.

  28. 28 28 nobody.really

    It appears that no one agrees with Steve that this is a time to celebrate.

    Not so — Happy Birthday, Modigliani!

  29. 29 29 Zazooba

    They key here seems to be your assumption about whether all immigrants are good for the current citizens.

    Many comments point out the deletorious effects of low-skilled immigration into a welfare state where a wave of new poor people would quickly overwhelm the welfare system. But welfare isn’t the only issue. While the commenters here are too polite to bring it up, other immigrant groups might bring with them violent and uncooperative cultures that would be a net negative for the country.

    Steve appears to be assuming all this away, assuming that all immigrant groups are, on average, wonderful people who will peacefully play in his neighborhood and study in his schools.

    Before we irreversibly change the nature of this country by welcoming hundreds of millions of new immigrants, shouldn’t we be reasonably sure this this assumption is, in fact, true? Can anyone think of any group of potential immigrants who might, just possibly, be a net negative to this country? Perhaps some immigrants will bring with them some of their native culture that will make the US more like their native countries. Can anyone think of any countries in the world we do not want to be more similar to?

  30. 30 30 Dmitry Kolyakov

    I personally agree with Michael and Andy above.

    But for the issue of “young undocumented immigrants’” amnesty one’s exact stance on the immigration reform shouldn’t even matter. It is one thing to discuss the imperfections of the current legislation and a wholly different thing to use state resources to reward people for breaking existing laws.
    There are indeed many people in the world who would like to immigrate to or work in the US. They can be divided into 3 broad groups:

    1.Those who can satisfy the relevant criteria and want to invest their time and effort into the immigration formalities – the legal immigrants
    2. Those who either do not satisfy the criteria or see better use for their efforts than navigating the immigration procedures, but also respect the US laws and hence stay home

    3. Those who are none of the above – they do not fit the criteria, but they break the law to come to the country.

    How can anyone but those with vested interests support a decision that discriminates against the first two law-abiding groups in favor of the third?
    The legal immigrants (group 1) sacrificed a lot and played by the rules – why should they end up with the same immigration status as those who did not?
    Our “young undocumented worker’s” childhood friend (group 2) who decided not to swim the Rio Grande at the last minute and came back home to become a law-abiding good member of his society – why should he be treated worse than someone who went ahead and has been breaking US laws for several years in a row?

    And last but not least, this is a clear invitation to all future illegal immigrants. Thinking about getting a decent education at home, than being sponsored for a work visa and then after many years of work and paying taxes getting a green card (if you are lucky)? Do not be a fool – go ahead and cross the border – uncle Barrack will take care of you…

  31. 31 31 Zazooba

    @PrometheeFeu

    We have some agreement. You think a billion immigrants is too many because it would completely overwhelm the US and have obviously negative effects. You are an immigration restrictionist.

    So what is your maximum number, then? Why is that the maximum? What negative effects will occur if we admit more than that?

    BTW, I don’t find the billion number obviously unreasonable (not immediately, but over, say, twenty years). I think America is wonderful place. I would be surprised if half of China, Africa, and the poorer parts of South America and Mexico wouldn’t like to move here.

    I don’t see the difficulties you raise as being a significant barrier to such immigrant’s desire for a much better life. Travel is not that expensive. In bulk, they could be transported for a few hundred dollars each. They wouldn’t have to leave their culture becaused hundreds of millions of their own people would come with them. The US would, of course feed and house them temporarily because immigrants (according to the open borders advocates) do not strain our social system. Also, they bring their own labor, so they could build their own housing. Hundreds of millions of people in Africa live in hovels — replicating such housing en masse here should be no problem. A prefab structure of similar quality can probably be manufactured for a thousand dollars in bulk. Surely we could afford that. They wouldn’t have to move to San Francisco. We have lots of open space out west where their prefabs could be pitched. Land prices are dirt cheap out west. A weather-proof house out west with guaranteed food for life — if I were an African I would jump at that opportunity.

  32. 32 32 William Newman

    I’m enthusiastically in favor of freer immigration. Alas, I’m not convinced that this is it. Conditionally allowing some people to exercise a freedom as a political favor, while still withholding that freedom from most others, is not particularly free, though of course in the small it can be very nice. Moreover, letting an executive unilaterally expand the executive’s power can be very dangerous.

    In the small, this is freer immigration, yay. Looking at the marginal benefit from the free exchanges involved, this tends strongly to be very good for the immigrants and somewhat good for the population already here. Good, good. Alas, it’s not clear to me that it outweighs the problem of selectively granting freedoms to a political constituency. That is a concern I would have even if the policy change had come from ordinary governmental mechanisms, as e.g. by passing an immigration bill with this effect; but this was not done that way, and that brings another concern. I am very apprehensive about the larger-scale effects of imposing such a policy not by act of Congress, but by the President claiming a right to do so unilaterally. The downside of weakening the rule of law is very large.

    Compare the events leading up to the “Glorious Revolution”, when James II was picking and choosing which religious groups to tolerate by selectively refusing to enforce the laws privileging the Church of England, notably the Test Act. (Roughly: first he extended his favor to the Catholics who were his supporters, then to various dissenting Protestants in England that he hoped to gain support from. But he never ceased persecuting dissenters in Scotland, where his authority was strong enough that his political calculations were different.) In the very small that was an increase in religious freedom: individual cases that would have been prosecuted instead were not, yay. However, I think two larger issues were more important. First, it was not principled tolerance renouncing the power to control religion, merely a change in who the King chose to persecute at that time, retaining the power of the King to change further at his pleasure. Second, it was the King unilaterally appropriating from Parliament that power of religious favoritism, and more generally rendering ineffective the power of Parliament to set policy by passing laws.

    Of course, in the case of James II, my concerns about the rule of law were arguably misplaced. In the runout, the attack on the rule of law had the nonlinear effect of nonlinear effect of helping precipitate regime change which strengthened the rule of law. But that’s an exception, not the usual pattern. History is full of examples of examples of powerful executives self-promoting themselves to set policy by decree, and it does not reliably turn out to have net positive nonlinear effects.

  33. 33 33 Ken B

    @PrometheeFeu:
    Operation Weseruberung. Explain.

  34. 34 34 Ken B

    @PrometheeFeu: Weserubung. Sorry.

  35. 35 35 Zazooba

    @PrometeeFeu

    “Also, while ending the welfare state is quasi-impossible, it seems quite feasible to limit it to citizens.”

    Unfortunately, this assertion has been proven to be incorrect. Hospitals MUST treat eveyone who comes into their emergency rooms, no questions asked. Schools are forbidden to ask about immigations status. Many universities give preferences to immigrants over native born Americans.

    Also, just as a larger issue, a majority of Americans are not going to support allowing illegal immigrants to starve.

  36. 36 36 Doctor Memory

    Zazooba: I would worry more about your argument if it was likely that a billion people would want to immigrate to anywhere in any measurable amount of time. But since nobody is suggesting that we subsidize their initial transportation (and many if not most people seem to prefer to stay near to where they grew up except in the direst of circumstances), I do not lose sleep wondering if the entire population of (for instance) sub-saharan Africa is suddenly going to show up at our doorstep and demand library cards.

  37. 37 37 Doctor Memory

    (Or rather, I should say: “in any amount of time relevant to national budgeting concerns”, since it’s certainly possible that a billion people might mirgrate somewhere over the course of a century or two.)

  38. 38 38 Ken B

    @DoctorMemory: I don’t worry about that either. But the point under dispute is whether there should be unrestricted immigration as a matter of principle. Because the alleged principle is brandished as a weapon, and Zazooba objects to *that*.

  39. 39 39 Zazooba

    @Doctor Memory

    A recent survey found that roughly half of Mexico (50 million people) would like to emigrate to the US. All of them could get here within too much trouble in a few weeks.

    Would that be ok with you?

    And I repeat my original question: what is the maximum number of immigrants you think should be admitted per year? Give me a number. Why is that the maximum, i.e., what bad things happen if we admit more?

    Perhaps you are arguing that the maximum admitted should be the maximum that can physically get here each year. If so, please say so, and say what that number is. Obviously, that number is many times higher than currently immigrate here. If half of Mexico drove to the US border over the next month and asked for permission to enter, would that be ok with you?

    Or, to make the hypothetical clearer, say that all the do-gooding American billionaires pooled all their money and offered to pay for the transport of a billion immigrants to the US over the next ten years, would you be ok with that? If not, why not?

  40. 40 40 Michael

    (Me)

    “Require resident aliens to have insurance (home, auto, and health), so that American taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill, and disallow most forms of welfare to non-citizens for the same reason. In other words, if you want free stuff, stay home; if you want to earn stuff, come here.”

    (Zazooba) Do you honestly believe this is a tenable proposal?

    I don’t think the current situation is tenable, and I am willing to try something different.

    I would prefer that ICE’s resources were spent on tracking down and deporting illegal immigrants who view Americans as suckers or potential victims. Since such resources are finite, that would necessarily mean less attention to foreign citizens who earn honest wages, pay their bills, and keep out of trouble. I think we have every right to secure our borders as much as we wish, but I recognize that our costs increase faster than our security does, and like every supply/demand curve there is a crossover point. At some point, keeping people out costs more than letting them in.

    In some respects, it’s like the war on drugs. I don’t use illegal drugs, and I think rather less of people who do, but my antipathy doesn’t extend to wanting to pay for the incarceration of pot smokers. I would rather cops track down and incarcerate people who are violent, commit fraud, steal things, or damage property. That doesn’t mean I want 310 million people hopped up on PCP roaming the streets, it just means that the chance of that happening is a lot less than the chance of going bankrupt trying to police it.

    On the other hand, if someone can show that it is more cost-effective for society to have stricter laws for immigrants (or potheads) than it is to be more lenient, then I will of course adjust my position accordingly.

  41. 41 41 Zazooba

    @KenB

    Thanks.

    In a nutshell, many open border advocates argue that people who want to restrict immigration are EVIL. But, EVERYONE is in favor of restricting immigration. I have yet to find a person willing to say that no amount of immigration is harmful. And when you can get them to be honest, immigration advocates really only want a modest amount of immigration that allows them to feel international, but leaves the things they know and love intact.

    Some libertarians who think in terms of unfettered markets pretend they can live with unfettered immigration, but, to justify this, they need an Ellis-Island-fantasy that all immigrants are just 19th century Jews and Italians waiting to beceom good Americans.

  42. 42 42 Zazooba

    @Michael

    Well said.

  43. 43 43 Zazooba

    @KenB

    The converse of the fact that I have yet to find a true open borders advocate is that I have yet to find an anti-immigrant advocate who is against all immigrations. Immigration restrictionists merely think the number admitted should be lower than the current number and immigrants more carefully chosen.

    Therefore, there, the issue is not binary, it is continuous. Hence my insistence that people give me “their number.”

  44. 44 44 Martin-2

    Zazooba – I appreciate that when you ask people people for “their number” you accept answers like “the number of people who wish to immigrate and fulfill these requirements”. Before I realized this I thought you were being obstinate.

  45. 45 45 nobody.really

    Hence my insistence that people give me “their number.”

    If you haven’t been dating much lately, you may find that people are more inclined to give you their e-mail addresses.

    Or a bogus e-mail address. Some things change; some things don’t.

  46. 46 46 Advo

    The obvious result of free immigration is a massive influx of low-skilled and unskilled workers, leading to a drop of the lower part of the wage structure to third-world levels.
    As a highly qualified person Steve would of course not be affected by it, in fact, he might greatly benefit from the extremely plentiful supply of people willing to work for him for 3 dollars a day. I realize, of course, that from an overall, utilitarian standpoint you can argue that the massive decline in living standards of less skilled American workers would be offset by a modest increase in living standards of a far greater number of third-world immigrants.
    I wonder, though, if he would be similarly in favor of free immigration if the result would be that HIS lifestyle would drop from first to third world.

  47. 47 47 Zazooba

    @Advo

    And all those immigrants will vote. Guess what kind of policies they will vote for? I’m sure they will all vote straight libertarian.

  48. 48 48 Doctor Memory

    A recent survey found that roughly half of Mexico (50 million people) would like to emigrate to the US. All of them could get here within too much trouble in a few weeks.Would that be ok with you?

    (a) I’m sure that if you surveyed them, at least half of the population of the USA would like a free pony. Doesn’t mean they’re signing up for riding lessons in anticipation of it. I’d like a more robust measure of their likelihood of migrating than “told a survey taker that they’d like to.”

    (b) The phrase “without too much trouble” is creaking under the weight of carrying the rest of your hypothetical. A migration of that scale (which, btw, would AFAIK be the single largest in human history by a very wide factor) would cause rather a lot of trouble in Mexico long before a single migrant crossed our borders. Do you really think that the sudden exodus of even a tenth as many as your 50M number would not have an effect on the mexican labor market that would get factored into the calculations of the remaining 45M?

    (c) But in the end: no, I have no objection whatsoever to the idea of the population of the USA increasing by 50M. We are one of the least densely populated major countries in the world, arguably the single least dense if you factor out the uninhabitable parts of Russia and Canada. I see no reason why we couldn’t absorb that many people.

    The closest you’ll get to agreement from me here is that if 50M people showed up in Texas or Arizona all at once, that would clearly be a humanitarian disaster. But it would also be a disaster if San Antonio were to be hit by an asteroid, and both scenarios are purely in the realm of science fiction.

    You simply are not being as clever as you think you are by insisting on “a number.”

  49. 49 49 Steve Landsburg

    Doctor Memory: You win comment of the week.

  50. 50 50 Zazooba

    @DoctorMemory

    OK we are getting somewhere.

    50M is fine with you assuming away the short-term dislocations, although you admit that if the influx is too sudden it would be a humanitarian disaster.

    But you are still dodging the issue by quibbling about unimportant aspects of the hypothetical. The focus is on the effect on the US and whether there is any amount of immigration that is too much. This is not a qeustion of the logistics of how they get here or even whether they actually want to come here.

    So answer the question. Assuming no short-term dislocations. (For concreteness, assume billionaires pay for everything to get them here and set up infrastructure for them equal to the infrastructure they enjoyed in their country of origin so they would be no worse off here). Is there any amount of immigration by any immigrant group that you would object to? If so, what is that number and why would you object?

    To be even more concrete, say 100 million Mexicans, plus 300 million Africans, plus 300 millions Indians, plus 300 million Chinese, plus 300 million South Americans were to show up next year with all their infrastructure from their home countries. Further assume they are all dirt poor and uneducated. They all get to vote the minute they arrive. Are you ok with that?

  51. 51 51 Seth

    I agree with restriction-free immigration in principle, but, no offense here, I have stopped listening to anyone making claims about immigration if that person has not lived in the Southwest, where–let’s face it–most of the immigration occurs.

    I grew up in San Bernardino and Los Angeles counties and lived there until quite recently. Now I live in Central New York. It’s quite cute when people around here talk about immigration and diversity.

    Two points here that concern me:

    1. The Latin immigrants today are not like my grandparents, predominantly Ibizan Hispanics who came over in the 30s legally and wanted their families to assimilate. (My first-generation mother speaks nary a word of Spanish.) The predominantly Amerindian immigrants today seem to have less interest in assimilating, which is fine by me, but it also seems to create pockets of poverty and crime. Hard to move into the middle-class when you no longer care about the American dream. Certain Amerindian groups have refused to assimilate into Spanish culture in Latin America, and it’s been 500 years. They won’t assimilate here, either, and they bring with them their separatist La Raza mentalities.

    This is all to say that I support open immigration insofar as I believe that people come here wanting to work, make money, and perhaps even learn to love America. But after growing up in So Cal, I can’t kid myself: there are plenty of immigrants who don’t come here for any of that. I worry about balkanization, which, again, is fine by me as long as the places being balkanized are economically successful (like most of the Asian enclaves: Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, et cetera). But if the enclaves are poor and crime-ridden, that’s a different story.

  52. 52 52 Zazooba

    By the way, the obvious, honest, and perfectly reasonable answer is:

    “Of course I would object to that. It would be a disaster for Americans living here now. It would completely change the country to the detriment of people living here now.”

    You can go two ways:

    “But that isn’t going to happen, so I’m not worried about it.”

    But that leads to the question:

    “So, we all agree that some level of immigration is too much. So, we should determine what the maximum level of immigration is. What are the factors that make immigration good and what make it bad? Which groups should we prefer immigrate and which not? Etc.”

    I suspect the polite poeple here don’t want to go down that road, so they just ignore the whole question by pretending immigration has no downsides. what could possibly go wrong?

    The second way to go is the way Steve appears to want to go:

    “Yes, a billion immigrants would be just great! More people mean more intelligence and more innovation! All groups of immigrants are exactly the same and will very quickly be Americanized by some unspecified mechanism! All those dirt poor and uneducated immigrants were only dirt poor and unedcuated because they hadn’t been exposed to the magic of American society! I know with utter certainty that nothing could possibly go wrong!”

    If that is what you think, then say so. Then we can start a conversation with a clear framework. You can then show us why you are certain nothing will go wrong and convince us all. Or, if you think there are dangers, you can lay those out and show why their probabilities are low enough and the benefits large enough.

    Or, Steve may be saying (indeed pretty much has said already):

    “Foreigners have just as much right to the bounty of America as you do. You are being selfish for not sharing it with them. Large scale immigration may have very well have severe negative consequences for you and your descendants, but I don’t care because I don’t care about you any more than I care about non-Americans.”

    If so, fine. Come out and say so.

  53. 53 53 Zazooba

    @Seth

    You make a good point about Amerindian immigration.

    Most people assume the Mexican immigration is by people with significant Spanish, i.e. European heritage. That isn’t the case as best I can tell. There is a lot of Amerindian immigration of people with little or no European heritage. you can even see the striking facial features of the Aztec (Mayan?) temple carvings in them.

    Good point about La Raza (“the Race”) and balkanization. That doesn’t worry you? I remember vividly the headiness of the 60s and 70s when we were marching into the consensus taht we were all racially equal and there would be no discrimination based on race and ethnicity. You aren’t concerned that the US might degenerate into squabbling ethnic groups all out for themselves because of immigration? You aren’t concerned that the immigrants might not be willing to pay for the social security of old whites who oppressed them by [insert oppression story here]?

  54. 54 54 Zazooba

    @Seth

    “I agree with restriction-free immigration in principle, but, no offense here, I have stopped listening to anyone making claims about immigration if that person has not lived in the Southwest, where–let’s face it–most of the immigration occurs.”

    Great introduction — the “no offense here” clause is spot on. You raise very real concerns (based on ACTUAL experience) about things that could, in the long-term be devastating to the US. And yet you raise it so timidly and with the preface that you hope no one is offended.

    It sounds like you are well down the road to realizing the dangers of unrestricted immigration, but you feel compelled to have the opinion that “Hey, its ok, because everything will probably be ok, and it would be impolite to think about all this seriously, so, go ahead, lets not raise a fuss about this immigrant stuff.”

    The culture that made America great may very well be wiped out by its niceness. I hope not, but it may go that way. But shhhh, don’t talk about it too much. That would be impolite.

  55. 55 55 Doctor Memory

    Zazooba: Wait, so I object to the uselessness of debating what would happen if 50 million people showed up on our doorstep, and your response is to raise the ante and demand that I consider the possibility of a billion migrants showing up with all the supporting infrastructure already waiting for them?

    Again, this is really nowhere near as clever as you seem to think it is. I have rarely seen an argument more in need of a good dose of Occam’s Phaser.

    Suffice it to say: I believe that the best judge of where a person should live and look for work is that person him or herself. I do not think that there is any level of immigration that is economically or logistically capable of happening that I would object to, and I don’t find considering the hypothetical of a factor-of-100-over that to be interesting or illuminating. I find arguments based on the supposed national or genetic character of the migrants to be automatically suspect at best –replace ‘mestizo’ with ‘Irish’ in Seth’s post and it would have vanished without a ripple in the blogophere of 1875, were there such a thing — and I think any argument about the “dangers” of un- or lightly-restricted immigration need to immediately step up and provide a convincing reason why it didn’t “wipe out” our country and culture for the first 150 years of our history before I spend any mental effort taking them seriously.

  56. 56 56 Zazooba

    @DoctorMemory

    “I do not think that there is any level of immigration that is economically or logistically capable of happening that I would object to.”

    So, it sounds like you concede that some level of immigration is too much, but that you don’t think we will actually see that level. Fair enough.

    What, specifically would make the unrealistic level of immigration objectionable?

    Why are you so averse to admitting that there are some objectionable consequences of immigration? Shouldn’t an intelligent discussion of immigration consider the downsides? Shouldn’t we demonstrate to ourselves that the negative consequencs of immigration will not occur at realistic levels?

    What is your high-end estimate of realistic immigration numbers if an open borders policy is instituted? At what level do negative factors become significant? In order to make the statements you have made, you need to know at least those two numbers, so you do have these estimates, don’t you?

    Or, if you want to simply argue from sentiment, fine. But don’t pretend you have objective evidence to support your position.

  57. 57 57 Zazooba

    @DoctorMemory

    “and I think any argument about the “dangers” of un- or lightly-restricted immigration need to immediately step up and provide a convincing reason why it didn’t “wipe out” our country and culture for the first 150 years of our history before I spend any mental effort taking them seriously.”

    Can we agree that historical immigration had at least *some* negative consequences? The mafia, perhaps? The negative effects of European immigration on American Indians, perhaps? Can you bring yourself to admit *any* negative effects of immigration at all?

    BTW, This is a standard method of cross examining an obstinate witness — get them to refuse to acknowledge even obvious facts. An overly obstinate witness loses all credibility.

  58. 58 58 Roger

    Doctor Memory, you have admitted that you favor allowing immigration at levels that would be a humanitarian disaster. Fortunately, our elected officials are not so foolish.

  59. 59 59 dave

    i thought the mafia was caused by the prohibition of alcohol and not immigration. do you think american indians are better or worse off today than they were before european, asian, african, australian, and south american immigration? theyre doing dna tests on first nation peoples up here to decide which came first, the raven or the eagle..everybody was rather shocked with the results…as it turns out..everyone is an immigrant to north america after all.

  60. 60 60 Zazooba

    @DoctorMemory

    “and I think any argument about the “dangers” of un- or lightly-restricted immigration need to immediately step up and provide a convincing reason why it didn’t “wipe out” our country and culture for the first 150 years of our history before I spend any mental effort taking them seriously”

    A few examples that spring to mind:

    1. American Indian culture was virtually wiped out by European immigration. So we have seen, right here on this continent an example of a culture being wiped out by immigration. So we know it does happen. Is it time for you to spend some mental effort taking the issue seriously now?

    2. Kosovo and the Serbs. The Kosove problems were caused by large-scale immigration of non-Serbs into the Serbian province of Kosovo. The immigrants did not want to assimilate to Serbian culture and instead rebelled, killing various Serbian officials. We retaliated against the Serbs and supported the immigrants. When the immigrants became plentiful enough, they drove the remaining Serbs out of Kosovo and burnt all their churches. Serbian culture in Kosovo was wiped out in just the last 20 years. Time to take this seriously yet? (I may have some details wrong on this one.)

    3. Israel is so concerned about the preservation of its culture against immigration that they are expelling African immigrants as we speak and have built a 500 mile fence to keep out other immigrants. They have a very restrictive immigration policy and do not grant citizenship lightly. Does that suggest to you that just maybe actual immigration at actual levels can be a problem?

    These are only a few instances that come to me off the top of my head.

  61. 61 61 Doctor Memory

    Zazooba: The number of immigrants that decimated the native population of north america was, to a first approximation, one. The first smallpox carrier they met was the beginning and, effectively, end of their ‘immigration problem.’ Further problems had rather more to do with the odd cultural (or perhaps genetic!) inability of the suddenly dominant europeans to abide by their own signed treaties: if you want to file that under the heading “dangers of immigration” I can’t stop you, but I’m not losing sleep at night over the possibility of La Raza herding me and mine onto reservations.

    (Yes, yes, yes, an immigrant carrying a fatal, untreatable, highly communicable disease would be a problem. But we live in an era of cheap airfares and “ecotourism” — patient zero for the next epidemic is as likely to be a returning tourist as a migrant.)

    The mafia is an even worse example: did organized crime exist before the great Italian and Irish migrations? Has America, on the whole, benefitted from those migrations?

    To put it mildly, I’m not overly fussed about your assessment of my credibility, and I’m not giving ground to your “reasonable” arguments because your motivations are drearily obvious. Sleep well.

    Roger: at least pretend to pay attention occasionally, will you?

  62. 62 62 Zazooba

    @Dave

    “i thought the mafia was caused by the prohibition of alcohol and not immigration.”

    The mafia started in Sicily and Italy and was brought to the US by Italian immigrants. It took advantage of prohibition because it was well-suited to the task. It remained a strong force in the US after prohibition by taking advantage of gambling, prostitution, and racketeering. It dominated the waste management industry on the east coast well into the 70s at least.

    The mafia was very difficult to eradicate because of the tight knit family ties of the Italian immigrants and Italians’ tendency to defend their own. It remains powerful in Italy where corruption is still a way of life. After more than a hundred years, it appears we have it on the ropes here in the US.

  63. 63 63 Advo

    There is a very obvious justification for prohibiting free emigration.
    The United States of America has A LOT of very expensive public infrastructure that was paid for by existing inhabitants (mostly by taxes). That includes roads, bridges, public buildings, but also the existing administrative infrastructure and things like the accumulated know-how and administrative culture of the state.
    (In a company, you might call it “goodwill”).
    The total value of this is somewhere in the many trillions, and every American “owns” a part of it by dint of being a citizen.
    A large part of why people want to emigrate to the US is precisely because they wish avail themselves of these investments which US taxpayers have built up over the course of CENTURIES.

    In a world with free migration, there wouldn’t be 50 million people immigrating into the US, it would be more like a billion.
    People would immigrate to the US until the living standards they can expect in the US are substantially the same as those they have in their home countries, i.e. immigration would continue on a grand scale until the US is a country with most of the population living a third-world lifestyle. The situation is not comparable with the immigration during the 19th century and before, when large areas of land were free for the taking for new immigrants (from the natives, of course) and when travel was considerably more expensive than today and when there was no satellite TV and internet.

    In a situation of unrestricted immigration, what exactly is the incentive of American taxpayers for making any investments into public assets of any kind?
    Any increase in public capital resulting in an increase of the median living standard will lead to another 100 million or so immigrants entering the country diluting ownership of said public capital (in practical terms, crowding the roads and overburdening the administrative infrastructure and services).

  64. 64 64 Harold

    It is possible in principle for there to be a scale of immigration that would be bad for current USA residents, at least in the short term. It would be possible in principle for there to be immigration of a type that would be bad for the USA long term. It would be possible for squirrels all over the USA to simultaneously attack us and bring on a disaster.

    We can all agree that the third is so unlikely that we do not require a policy to deal with it, and it would be pointless to discuss the number of coordinated squirrels required. This is Doctor Memory’s position, as I understand it, and he is justified in not getting into a numbers game. However, it is a widely held view that the first two are likely in practice as well as in principle, as Zazooba and others demonstrate.

    Two questions therefore arise. 1) Is Doctor Memory or Zazooba right? This is an empirical question. 2) What are the moral positions if so? This is an ethical question.

    I will not adress the first for now, so back to moral rights. Do we have the moral right to prevent immigration if it keeps many people worse off to make us better off? To put it in terms of an example, did the Native Americans have a moral right to prevent European immigration?

    Doctor Memory may reject this as a nonesense question of the same type as the number of squirrels, but for those that think the above scenarios are likely in practice should address this point.

  65. 65 65 Zazooba

    @Harold

    Exactly.

    But so far, DoctorMemory hasn’t given any evidence that there would be no effect from open immigration. So far, he hasn’t even said how many would immigrate under an open-immigration policy. Until he does so, his opinions are simply wishful thinking.

    With a welfare system of the type the US has, it seems pretty obvious that even modest amounts of additional immigration could quite easily be harmful to the existing citizenry. It is also hard to see why huge numbers wouldn’t immigrate under an open border policy since the income of welfare recipients is much higher than the average income of many countries around the world.

  66. 66 66 Advo

    Two questions therefore arise. 1) Is Doctor Memory or Zazooba right? This is an empirical question.
    ———

    For an economist, the answer should be obvious. How many people will emigrate to the US, and what is the equilibrium at which immigration will cease?
    Easy – people will immigrate into the US as long as their material prospects are materially better in the US than in their home country.
    Currently, about 1.5 billion people live on less than 1 dollar a day. About 3 billion people live on less than 2 dollars a day. These people live on the street, in ramshackle huts, cardboard shacks, or, at the high end, in cramped, dirty, broken down apartments without safe drinking water. Most of these people would do anything – and I mean ANYTHING – to escape their conditions.
    Of that number, a substantial portion (as many as can pay the fare on an overcrowded freighter, or can manage to hike their way up from South America) would come to the US every year, until conditions in the US for low-skilled labor (and criminals) have sufficiently deterioated to make emigrating there unattractive.

    I remember reading that you have strong migration pressures if the living standard differs by 1/3 (i.e. 66% to 100%). Since this is trans-continental, let’s be generous and say 1/2.
    Because there is essentially a limitless supply of people on the brink of starvation, without medical treatment and no education prospects earning less than a dollar or two a day, people would immigrate into the US in enormous numbers until the earnings prospects for unskilled and low-skilled workers AND CRIMINALS are less than 5 dollars a day, there is NO welfare system of any kind and the public education system has broken down.
    This is just straight forward incentive-based behavior.
    Why didn’t this happen in the first 150 years of America’s history? Simple – the difference in living standards between the US was A LOT lower, travel was much more difficult, and the vast majority of poor people in the world had no real idea what America was like. Satellite television and the internet changed that.

  67. 67 67 Zazooba

    Some other indications that open borders would be harmful to existing citizens:

    1. An educated citizenry is good and an uneducated citizenry is bad. Immigrants are less educated than existing citizens on average. Average education would decline under an open borders policy. Therefore an open borders policy is bad (or has at least one ill effect). Ditto for intelligence.

    2. Immigrants would on average earn less than existing citizens. Low-wage voters have an economic incentive to vote for transfers from higher-wage citizens to themselves. Open immigration will tend to lead to higher transfers from existing citizens to immigrants.

    3. Cooperation among the citizenry is good and inter-ethnic conflict is bad. Large-scale immigration will increase inter-ethnic conflict ceteris paribus. Therefore, large scale immigration is probably bad. (Examples, Belgium, Canada, and the balkans.)

    It seems pretty obvious that large scale immigration can easily be bad on net for existing citizens. I don’t understand how open borders advocates can so easily wave these concerns away.

    I might be wrong that large scale immigration will be a disaster, indeed I hope I am, but it seems like we ought to seriously consider the possibility.

    I don’t understand the desire to wave away these concerns in favor of sentimentalism. I understand why Obama wants to waive away these concerns because it means more votes for Democrats — he doesn’t care whetehr it is harmful — he wants to replace the current electorate with one more likely to elect more democrats.

  68. 68 68 Harold

    Zazooba: “Ditto for intelligence” – you should have stopped at education.

    So how about the second question?

  69. 69 69 Harold

    Advo – “for an economist, the answer should be obvious” you have not not addressed the question I intended – I meant it to be a bit wider than just the numbers. In an ideal market, the obvious answer for an economist is that free movement is beneficial – you must explain why this obvious answer is wrong.

  70. 70 70 Seth

    I’m not losing sleep at night over the possibility of La Raza herding me and mine onto reservations.

    @Dr. Memory. That’s not a concern of mine, either. My main concern is increases in pockets of crime and poverty that spread outward from urban areas into the suburbs. If your own blog is any indication, it seems that you live in San Francisco? Great town, but one that has predominantly Asian immigration. Live in San Bernardino or Los Angeles for a year, and then you can decide if all immigration is the same. Now, this is not precisely a racial issue. 90% of Hispanic (Ibizan or Amerindian) immigrants will, ultimately, I believe, be productive citizens if we let them. It’s that 10% that worries me sometimes, the 10% who truly believe they are “taking back” Southern California. I don’t blame them, I suppose, but I do blame politicians and academics who have no problem giving it to them, especially pols and academics who have no ties to the Southwest at all. These people are our national enemies, weak as they may be: why so happy about letting them in? Ah, because you don’t have to live next to them.

    @Zazooba. I think you’re right that there are really only two reasons to be pro-immigration. You think they will financially and culturally enrich America (this is my thinking). Or you think that it’s a social-justice issue, and they have some mystical “right” to live in America, even if it hurts American citizens. I suppose you could combine the two: immigrants have a “right” to live in America, AND they will financially and culturally enrich America, with few negative effects. It would indeed be nice if, when beginning these arguments, we knew the Main Reason behind our interlocutors’ pro or anti-immigration stances. (Everyone has lots of reasons, of course, but surely they all boil down to one intuitive belief.)

    But, no, Zazooba, I’m not on the anti-immigration bandwagon yet. However, I do think that it should be VERY EASY to kick out foreign-born immigrants who turn criminal or criminally dependent on welfare. I have no problem letting illegals stay if they are working, going to school, and not committing serious crimes. Otherwise, they need to go. This is my main problem with total amnesty and making a citizen out of everyone who crosses the border: no way to separate the majority wheat from the minority chaffe (majority/minority in terms of numbers, mind you). We have plenty of criminal Americans, thanks very much.

  71. 71 71 Ken B

    @Harold: Briefly, “liberty costs”. If you poke around on Volokh you can find some good discussion of this.

  72. 72 72 Seth

    . . . replace ‘mestizo’ with ‘Irish’ in Seth’s post and it would have vanished without a ripple in the blogophere of 1875, were there such a thing — and I think any argument about the “dangers” of un- or lightly-restricted immigration need to immediately step up and provide a convincing reason why it didn’t “wipe out” our country and culture for the first 150 years of our history before I spend any mental effort taking them seriously.

    @Dr. Memory again. I’m with you. I think the history of our nation stands as the most powerful argument FOR immigration. And as the grandson of Mexican immigrants (albeit legal ones), I’m the last person to argue against it. However, as I said earlier, immigration works when the immigrants have a stake in succeeding in their new country. Previous waves of immigrants (Irish, Romanian, Polish, Mexican, whatever) came here to seek better lives for their children. Even those who wanted to keep the ways of their homelands still ALSO wanted to assimilate and become Americans. My point was that a certain percentage of Latino immigrants have no interest in those things. Now, I didn’t really care, in So Cal, that lots of my Mexican and Cuban friends’ families didn’t celebrate 4th of July because they all had jobs and were financially tied to the country, and had every intention of staying and contributing. I did care, however, about those immigrants who didn’t celebrate 4th of July but who, on July 5th, collected welfare or free lunches, or who shot up a liquor store and got carted off to prison for their free meals. (Evoking 4th of July is symbolic, here, for a general dedication to the host country. Don’t read too much into it.)

    For the time being, I’m willing to say that these latter types are negligible and we needn’t worry about them because immigration is still a net gain for the country, even if we calculate in the La Raza gang bangers. (Keeps the LAPD in business.) But you shouldn’t ‘shrug off’ any suggestion that not all immigrants are created equal unless you’ve lived next to a wide variety of immigrants. Just like the Northeast academics shouldn’t condemn the people of Arizona without having lived in Arizona.

  73. 73 73 Ken B

    “I’m not losing sleep at night over the possibility of La Raza herding me and mine onto reservations.”

    Nor I. What keeps me awake at night is the fear of straw-man arguments.

  74. 74 74 Chas Phillips

    I understand Professor Landsburg’s position and concede that he is far more qualified than his fellow citizens to evaluate properly this complicated matter. Because open immigration will provided so many benefits to the Nation, its implementation should be beyond crass political debate but, rather, left to the wisest among us. I feel, at times, unable to deal with the increasing demands of citizenship and can see the wisdom of transferring my constitutional rights to academics and the professional political class should this group decide to that the legislature lacks the judgment to act. I have been pleased by the forced restructuring of the auto industry and the usurpation of creditor rights; the massive public investment in “renewable” energy; all aspects of Obama care; and the elimination of moral hazard in our financial system through enlightened government intervention. We can only benefit further from leaving immigration policy to those who have done so well with these knotty matters that were far too complex for rank and file Americans to comprehend.

  75. 75 75 Advo

    Harold:
    In an ideal market, the obvious answer for an economist is that free movement is beneficial – you must explain why this obvious answer is wrong.
    —-
    I thought I had answered that with this:
    >>Because there is essentially a limitless supply of people on the brink of starvation, without medical treatment and no education prospects earning less than a dollar or two a day, people would immigrate into the US in enormous numbers until the earnings prospects for unskilled and low-skilled workers AND CRIMINALS are less than 5 dollars a day, there is NO welfare system of any kind and the public education system has broken down.<<

    You can make the case, of course, that overall, if half a billion people move to the US, the fact that they would be lifted from 2 to 5 dollars a day and all Americans would get access to extremely cheap labor would outweigh the fact that a good portion of US citizens would go from 80 dollars a day to 5 dollars.

    However, there is also the issue of crime. Imagine putting half a billion extremely poor people into the US over the next decade.
    And the issue of the welfare system and things like public education on a first-world level. Neither of those is sustainable if you open the door to unrestricted immigration. And then I won't even talk about the political destabilization, that has already been discussed in this thread.

    I personally find it amazing that it isn't really obvious to Steve and Doctor Memory that COMPLETELY UNRESTRICTED immigration would turn the US in the third world nation as the massive migration that would result would lead to the extreme imporverishment of low-skilled workers, would overwhelm the infrastructure and public services as well as topple the political system.

    Now that's not to say that the US should take a hardline on deportation and immigration. But COMPLETELY UNRESTRICTED immigration would be an obvious catastrophe.

  76. 76 76 Zazooba

    @DoctorMemory and Seth

    “I’m not losing sleep at night over the possibility of La Raza herding me and mine onto reservations.”

    Perhaps you just aren’t paying enough attention.

    Just read the following today in *The New Yorker*.

    “In 1846, the United States started the Mexican-American War, after Mexico refused to cede present-day California, Arizona, and New Mexico. In response, the U.S. invaded Mexico and occupied much of the country. The treaty was signed under military duress, by a provisional government in Mexico. The descendants of Americans who first settled Arizona may forget that the land where they live is a part of the U.S. in the same way that Kuwait became part of Iraq in 1990, but historical memories are stronger among the descendants of Mexicans who were re-nationalized against their will and are treated as undesirables today in their own lands.”

    Maybe putting ourselves at the mercy of revanchist Mexicans won’t have any negative repurcussions. Or maybe it will. You might want to have a word with the Serbs expelled from Kosovo about this.

    http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/letters/2012/06/18/120618mama_mail2#ixzz1yFkNQhQF

  77. 77 77 Harold

    provide a convincing reason why it didn’t “wipe out” our country and culture for the first 150 years of our history

    Following our discussion of the Native Americans, this uncontrolled immigration if fact did wipe out the country and culture.

    I am inclined to think that totally free borders would, in the short to medium term be bad for current USA citizens, for some of the reasons discussed above. I think that the USA is not big enough compared to the rest of the world. In a world where every country pursued sensible policies without corruption, then open borders makes sense. I am not sure that it does in a world where there are regimes that are corrupt and “extractive” for the benefit of their elites. Eventually, the benefits may outweigh the costs, but if “eventually” is beyond the current lifetime, that is not much compensation.

    However, I am open to persuasion by arguments such as Doctor Memory. It all seems to be based on conjecture though.

    This still avoids the question of whether this a moral choice, as the immigrants themselves would gain more than the citizens lose, so there is a net gain.

  78. 78 78 Zazooba

    @Seth

    “I think the history of our nation stands as the most powerful argument FOR immigration.”

    The history of our nation also stands as a powerful argument for occassionally scaling back immigration to assimilate newly arrive immigrants. From 1924 to 1964, the US severely restricted immigration, which gave the US forty years to digest the wave of prior immigrants. The shared hardships of the Depression and WWII forged common ties across disparate groups to the point where we could reasonably lump together the previous polyglot of immigrants into “Americans”. That was a good thing, and the US was a better place for it. Perhaps we need to do that again.

  79. 79 79 Steve Landsburg

    Chas Phillips: Wait a minute. You observe that the legislators screwed up re the auto industry, the usurpation of creditor rights, the massive public investment in “renewable” energy, health care policy and financial regulation. From this you conclude that we should defer to those same legislators re immigration policy. Pardon me while I scratch my head.

  80. 80 80 Zazooba

    @Seth

    “But, no, Zazooba, I’m not on the anti-immigration bandwagon yet. However, I do think that it should be VERY EASY to kick out foreign-born immigrants who turn criminal or criminally dependent on welfare. I have no problem letting illegals stay if they are working, going to school, and not committing serious crimes. Otherwise, they need to go. This is my main problem with total amnesty and making a citizen out of everyone who crosses the border: no way to separate the majority wheat from the minority chaffe (majority/minority in terms of numbers, mind you). We have plenty of criminal Americans, thanks very much.”

    I find little to disagree with here. Immigration should be decided based on the interests of US citizens. If a set of immigrants benefits the country, I’m in favor of it, if they harm the country, I’m against it.

  81. 81 81 Harold

    Zazooba: by “harm the country” do you mean “harm the current citizens of the country”

  82. 82 82 Zazooba

    We haven’t really addressed Steve’s actual asertion in his post that immigration should be decided based on what is best for both foreigners and US citizens. Presumably, foreigners should get equal weighting.

    Have I significantly mischaracterized?

    If so, it seems that a simple way to implement this approach is to allow foreigners to vote in US elections. n’est pas?

    Is anyone willing to speak in favor of this proposal?

  83. 83 83 Zazooba

    Harold:

    “In an ideal market, the obvious answer for an economist is that free movement is beneficial – you must explain why this obvious answer is wrong.”

    If the US were a libertarian’s dream where all interaction was consentual and informed, this might be true.

    But, its not. There would be many involuntary avenues of wealth transfer from US citizens to indigent immigrants.

    Milton Friedman made this argument decades ago — that you cannot have unrestricted immigration and a welfare state.

  84. 84 84 Zazooba

    @Haraold:

    “Zazooba: by “harm the country” do you mean “harm the current citizens of the country””

    Yes.

  85. 85 85 Zazooba

    @Harold

    “So how about the second question? [About the morality of immigration restriction]”

    A difficult question which would require a much more thoughtful reply than I can produce now. I will try later. (My moral approach tries to draw on an evolutionary understanding of human morality.)

    Good question, because this was the point of Steve’s original post — his moral excoriation of anyone who opposed unrestricted immigration.

  86. 86 86 Advo

    @Steve, with regard to your question 1:

    The current public capital stock (infrastructure, government institutions) was built by the existing taxpayers and their ancestors.
    Why do you think they should be forced to share it with immigrants? Seems like WEALTH REDISTRIBUTION to me.

  87. 87 87 Chas Phillips

    Professor Landsburg, I see the the illogical slip: apologies. The point I was trying to make was that American citizens make better decisions than “czars” or the President exercising Executive Authority to address a long-standing problem rather than operating within our legislative framework. Does this clarification eliminate the head scratching?

  88. 88 88 Zazooba

    @Steve

    How about this for a response to your questions in the original post:

    The illegal immigrants came here knowing they and their childred were here illegally and that there was no guarantee they would be allowed to stay. That was the implicit contract. Shouldn’t a good libertarian enforce that contract?

    They knowingly took the risks and (a few of them) are now suffering some adverse consequences. In a libertarian world, why should blameless citizens suffer for the risks the illegal immigrants knowingly unterook in the hopes of personaly benefiting. Presumably, since actual deportations are few and far between, illegal immigrants have profited on average from their illegal actions.

    Shouldn’t those who advocated the illegal activity bear the burden of the costs? Isn’t that a good libertarian principle?

    Come to think of it, it appears you were an encourager of illegal immigration in the first place (correct me if I am wrong), shouldn’t YOU pay to compensate the harmed “children” (some of who are thirty years old).

  89. 89 89 Ken B

    Harold: “Zazooba: by “harm the country” do you mean “harm the current citizens of the country””

    If he does he shouldn’t. He should include some measure of concern for *future* citizens, non-citizen residents… The surrender of England in 1940 would have harmed more than just those Brits alive and in residence. I’d argue — and we have here on the ‘murder us’ threads — that some concern for the wishes of the dead matter too.

  90. 90 90 Steve Landsburg

    Chas Phillips:

    Does this clarification eliminate the head scratching?

    Not entirely. All your examples involved the misuse of government power. The president in this case is choosing to *reduce* the amount of power exercised by the government. So I should think that in light of the examples you think are important (as do I), you’d incline to be on board with this.

  91. 91 91 iceman

    I’ll try to straddle the line here…much of the talk about insiders / outsiders does make the US sound like a trade union. @ Advo, note that any impact on wages for some US workers washes through to cheaper goods for all US consumers, and I presume you’re not asserting a *right* of some to tax their fellow citizens in this way (e.g. if someone else can literally do the same thing with comparable quality for less).

    But the “they go to our schools” thing also seems like rhetorical fluff to infer a much broader and deeper connection than is realistically possible for the vast majority of people involved.
    We love / care about people we ‘know’, like friends and (some) neighbors, based on an awareness and appreciation of values they hold. At the level of ‘countrymen’ we do seem to be fully engaged in the business of picking some strangers over others.

    I too am a little confused by SL’s invoking of the rights of non-citizens here, unless it’s intended to suggest that if not all sub-groups have them then this can’t really be about such “rights” at all. Moreso than any physical investments we may have made, I think what we’ve created that can potentially assign some meaning to who stands on what side of some line in the dirt is a system uniquely based on liberty, so uniquely successful and therefore attractive to many people (whose systems do not provide comparable safeguards) that as a matter of practical necessity we do want/need to think about how we would best manage that process as necessary. It seems obvious we should want to welcome anyone who can be a net contributor to that system (e.g. skilled visas), and who assigns a similar *moral* status to that dream of liberty. To me if there is anything that defines an ‘American’ it’s the latter. It’s also a lovely thought that we should want to allow as many people as possible to come benefit from such a system, without undermining our ability to preserve it. As usual with notions like that the devil’s in the details.

  92. 92 92 nobody.really

    I’d argue — and we have here on the ‘murder us’ threads — that some concern for the wishes of the dead matter too.

    Hey — what every happened to that thread? I had expected that Landsburg’s hypotheticals were leading to some generalized principle — perhaps about the suboptimal nature of honoring contracts, or discontinuity of optimal policies, or something. The discussion was cool, but did I miss the punch line?

  93. 93 93 PrometheeFeu

    @Zazooba

    “We have some agreement. You think a billion immigrants is too many because it would completely overwhelm the US and have obviously negative effects. You are an immigration restrictionist.

    So what is your maximum number, then? Why is that the maximum? What negative effects will occur if we admit more than that?”

    No, I am not an immigration restrictionist. My point is that like immigration within Europe, within the US and within all countries, there are market forces that would stop people from immigrating beyond what would be an excessive number. So I don’t have a number. Whatever the number that show up is the right number. I think it would be well below a billion. But if it is higher, well, then I guess I was wrong and we can accommodate over a billion people.

    “The US would, of course feed and house them temporarily”

    Hm… What? No.

  94. 94 94 PrometheeFeu

    @Ken B:

    “Operation Weseruberung. Explain.”

    I think you’ll have to explain what you mean. If people show up as an organized army bent on conquest, we don’t usually call that immigration. If you truly fear that problem, just don’t allow people to have guns when walking across the border.

  95. 95 95 Advo

    @iceman:
    >>note that any impact on wages for some US workers washes through to cheaper goods for all US consumers, and I presume you’re not asserting a *right* of some to tax their fellow citizens in this way (e.g. if someone else can literally do the same thing with comparable quality for less).<<

    I generally don't assert that, no. But we're not talking about "some" Americans. It would be a substantial minority (20%?) of lower-skilled workers who would be plunged into abject, third-world style poverty.

    It rankles me when someone gets on a high moral horse and self-righteously announces a lofty ideal that would reduce a great many of his fellow citizens to slum-dwellers.
    I'm pretty sure that Steve would not champion this cause if he thought there was any significant likelihood that HE would be among those slum-dweller.

    Oh and nobody has even addressed the question of why Americans should share the public capital they paid for and inherited with new immigrants.

  96. 96 96 PrometheeFeu

    “Unfortunately, this assertion has been proven to be incorrect. Hospitals MUST treat eveyone who comes into their emergency rooms, no questions asked. Schools are forbidden to ask about immigations status. Many universities give preferences to immigrants over native born Americans.

    Also, just as a larger issue, a majority of Americans are not going to support allowing illegal immigrants to starve.”

    As I pointed out, as an immigrant myself, I know very well that I do not have unfettered access to the welfare system. For one thing, my sponsors had to agree to reimburse the US government if I took any means-tested help. So obviously, it is possible to restrict access to the welfare system for immigrants. (I really would like to see a source regarding the prohibition on schools to check immigration status. I’m sure some states do that, but not all)

    Regardless, that’s not even close to being an argument for anything close to the current policy. You could have a sponsorship system to solve the problem you’re mentioning. Immigrants could have to post a bond. Immigrants could be required to show gainful employment. Your fears are unjustified, but even if they were, the current system is horrific.

  97. 97 97 Zazooba

    @PrometheeFeu

    “So obviously, it is possible to restrict access to the welfare system for immigrants. (I really would like to see a source regarding the prohibition on schools to check immigration status. I’m sure some states do that, but not all)”

    Here is a cite about schools not being allowed to ask about immigration status. As you acknowledge this is widespread although may not be universal.

    “The children of undocumented immigrants are currently admitted to public schools in South Carolina, like elsewhere in the nation, as mandated by federal law. Under current state and federal law, school officials have no authority to inquire into a student’s immigration status or ask for documents supporting citizenship.”

    http://www.charlestonimmigrationlawyer.com/2011/10/should-south-carolina-schools-check-for-immigration-status.shtml

    The immigration system is riddled with fraud and corruption. Obama’s Aunt Zeituni was ordered repeatedly to leave the country by a court but refused, living instead in public housing on the taxpayer’s dime (she had no difficulty getting into public housing). The maid who falsely accuse Strauss-Kahn of rape admitted to being here based on a fraudulent asylem claim. She has not been deported.

    The nicely crafted rules you propose would be laughed at by immigrants who are already ILLEGAL. Apparently, only Northern Europeans take such rules seriously.

    Try reading http://isteve.blogspot.com/ for numerous immigration horror stories. http://federaleagent86.blogspot.com/ is written by an immigration worker and has endless true stories of the fraud in the immigration enforecement system. Today he has a good one on Obama’s new proposal.

  98. 98 98 Ken B

    Steve: <blockquote<
    Not entirely. All your examples involved the misuse of government power. The president in this case is choosing to *reduce* the amount of power exercised by the government. So I should think that in light of the examples you think are important (as do I), you’d incline to be on board with this.

    Congress passes a poll tax, but by executuve order the president declares the law will not be enforced against white people. The president in this case is choosing to *reduce* the amount of power exercised by the government. So I should think you’d incline to be on board with this.

    The supreme court rules voter literacy tests violate the 145th amendment, but by executive order the president declares this will not be enforced against Arkansas. The president in this case is choosing to *reduce* the amount of power exercised by the government. So I should think you’d incline to be on board with this.

    So I think your logic has holes Steve. But I do appreciate the subjunctive!

  99. 99 99 Ken B

    Incidentally I do believe the current US immigration system is close to perfectly perverse. It punishes those who try to follow the rules. I have friends from India who have gone through hoops to stay legal, and one who had to leave. This a highly skilled productive guy, and clearly a law-abiding one. And it seems the rules are mostly to prevent immigrants or temps from *working* more than from being here and consuming services. You can get in more trouble for hiring an illegal than for smuggling one. The best way for an illegal to get into trouble is to work. Crazy.

    One problem with amnesty is that it’s an up-yours to those who followed the rules and suffered for it. This affects attitudes.

  100. 100 100 iceman

    Advo – I agree that “completely unrestricted” immigration is just a “lofty ideal”. But on the jobs argument, I think what tends to get overlooked is the impact on lower-income consumers. (E.g. I just read, ironically on Bloomberg News, that our sugar “supply management programs” cost US consumers $3.5 billion per year…probably in a regressive manner. Mayor Bloomberg might approve.) So to me this isn’t about self-righteousness but insiders/outsiders (i.e. picking winners and losers) again, even domestically. I’d add that permanent abject poverty need not be the only alternative; sometimes people can retrain into something more relevant for the future, and we’re probably even better off using some of the gains from trade / labor mobility to help them do so. The only way to ensure rising living standards is to continuously move up the value chain.

    BTW I tried to touch on your argument about diluting public investments by suggesting to me the most valuable asset we’ve “developed over centuries” (some might say eroded more recently) is intangible, a fundamental respect for liberty that must be preserved, and our immigration policy surely plays a role in that. (Is this the same as Ken B’s “liberty costs”?) To me hard assets are probably less the issue along the lines of ‘sunk costs’ or ‘public goods’ (e.g. our existing defense systems largely suffice for protecting 300mm or 1B people). Maybe we have to spend a little more on roads if all of these destitute immigrants manage to acquire cars.

  101. 101 101 Andy

    I would think that the immigration policies of all countries matter here. Seems a bit unfair if all other nationalities can come freely to the US but Americans are not allowed to move elsewhere if they don’t like it.

  102. 102 102 John

    “Put aside the question of where his humanity has been for the past three and a half years…”

    You clearly sat out the debate over the DREAM act

  103. 103 103 iceman

    Andy – as a practical matter, do we really care about going someplace they’re all trying to get away from?

    And to the extent this is an extension of trade, yours sounds like an argument against unilateral free trade (which I generally think is still in the interest of a country’s own citizen-consumers). Surely we should want to let in anyone who can / wants to be a net contributor; maybe not those who just want free stuff.

  104. 104 104 Careless

    “As I pointed out, as an immigrant myself, I know very well that I do not have unfettered access to the welfare system. For one thing, my sponsors had to agree to reimburse the US government if I took any means-tested help.”

    For the record, the affidavit of support (and I’m on the hook for a couple ATM) isn’t really something that gets enforced.

  105. 105 105 Steve

    I think for #1 I think you could argue for the policy on equal-consideration grounds.

    I’m getting married in a month and my fiancee is Chinese. We’ve got great plans for living out our life together here, having a child, etc. It’d be reasonable to say even though she isn’t as poor as a random Chinese would-be immigrant she has more to gain from getting a green card so the efficient allocation would be to give her the green card (and whatever transfer payment to compensate the would-be immigrant). Of course family already is given special consideration but you could make an analogy for (weaker) special consideration by ties to friends, a job, a community, etc.

  106. 106 106 Another person who is not Zazooba

    @careless

    “For the record, the affidavit of support (and I’m on the hook for a couple ATM) isn’t really something that gets enforced.”

    What a surprise. Where play around with all these cute rules that would solve various problems while the overwhelming feature of the immigration system is the pervasive fraud in the system.

    Whenever someone who actually knows about the actual system comments, it is usually to point out another aspect of this fraud.

  1. 1 Some Links
  2. 2 Immigration Followup at Steven Landsburg | The Big Questions: Tackling the Problems of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics, and Physics
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