A reader from overseas wonders about my views on immigration, particularly amnesty.
I confess that this is one of those issues where I’m conflicted.
On the general topic of immigration, I think the United States has benefited in the past – and can benefit in the future – from newcomers. And I express that position in this interview for Fox Business News.
But the real issue, which isn’t addressed in the interview, is magnitude. I assume almost nobody wants zero immigration. On the other hand, I also assume that very few people favor totally open borders.
So where do we draw the line? I think we should welcome lots of immigration, particularly people with skills, education, and money. This is the approach that is used to varying degrees by nations such as Australia, Canada, and Switzerland, and I wrote favorably about a similar proposal by Congressman Jared Polis, a Democrat from Colorado.
And I think substantial numbers of low-skilled people who want to work also should be welcome, but I don’t think everybody in the world who wants to come to America should have that right. I haven’t met more than a tiny handful of folks who disagree with Walter Williams’ assertion that, “not…everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S.”
Particularly since politicians have redistribution systems that can lure people into a life of dependency. Which is presumably why Milton Friedman warned, to the dismay of some other libertarians, “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state.”
Even the Wall Street Journal, which is a leading voice for both increased immigration and amnesty for existing illegals, also is concerned that a growing welfare state could attract immigrants for the wrong reasons.
Speaking of amnesty, I suppose I should answer the question of how I would deal with people who are in the country illegally? And my response probably depends whether I answer with my heart or my head.
My heart tells me to give these people the benefit of the doubt. Every illegal I’ve met seems to be a good person. And I know if I lived someplace like Mexico, Somalia, or Honduras, I almost certainly would want to improve my family’s position by getting to America, legally or illegally.
On the other hand, I believe in the rule of law and I’m a bit uncomfortable rewarding those who jumped the line at the expense of those who followed the rules.
And to be perfectly honest, I also worry about the political implications of any policy that increases the number of people who – on net – will vote for redistribution. I could do without the partisan implications, but this Chuck Asay cartoon captures my concerns.
I also think that people respond to incentives. Another round of amnesty almost surely will encourage further illegal immigration. Putting myself in the position of a poor person in the developing world, I would logically conclude that it would just be a matter of time, so I would sneak across the border in order to take advantage of that future amnesty.
That doesn’t strike me as a good approach. Far better to figure out how to genuinely reform the system.
By the way, a senior staffer on Capitol Hill floated to me the idea of a new status that enables illegals to stay in the country, but bars them from citizenship unless they get in line and follow the rules. I’m definitely not familiar with the fault lines on these issues, but perhaps that could be a good compromise.
And it goes without saying that I want the strictest possible limits on access to welfare programs and other government handouts for immigrants, regardless of their status.
So, like everybody else, I want border security and some form of legalization as part of a new system that brings people to America for the right reason. See, I’m the epitome of reasonableness.