United States — July 14, 2013 9:10 pm

The Land of Opportunity: Dead on Arrival


Statue_of_libertyThis past Wednesday, House Republicans asserted that the landmark Senate-passed “Gang of Eight” immigration bill would be “dead on arrival.” They vowed to pursue their own legislation which would further militarize the southwestern border and be far less accommodating for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States.

The libertarian position on immigration is simple, moral, and practical: allow individuals to move freely across the border. This doesn’t mean that there is no border at all. On the contrary, there would be legal channels through which prospective immigrants can travel, with no arbitrary limits or criteria for skills or education. If you’re not a criminal or a known terrorist, welcome to America.

Unfortunately, this view now seems radical to many. Americans worry about the effects such an open policy would have on American culture, national security, and, most convincingly, the economy. Indeed, even Milton Friedman (a well-known libertarian) feared the effects open immigration might have in combination with the American welfare state.

But as immigration reform reaches the House, it is perhaps more important than ever to consider the libertarian view. Otherwise, restoring the land of opportunity may indeed be an ideal that is dead on arrival.

First, “American culture” isn’t something to be threatened by immigration. In fact, our country had an open-border policy for the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when that very American culture was being formed. America is a nation of immigrants, and its culture changes inevitably over time. Can one imagine how an American citizen from the 1850s might evaluate today’s culture? They would almost certainly lament a “cultural breakdown” and an utter loss of all things American.

Indeed, the “national culture” argument is archaic and unconvincing. As Daniel Griswold of the Cato Institute pointed out: “Immigration always has been controversial in the United States. More than two centuries ago, Benjamin Franklin worried that too many German immigrants would swamp America’s predominantly British culture. In the mid-1800s, Irish immigrants were scorned as lazy drunks, not to mention Roman Catholics. At the turn of the century a wave of “new immigrants”—Poles, Italians, Russian Jews—were believed to be too different to ever assimilate into American life. Today, the same fears are raised about immigrants from Latin America and Asia, but current critics of immigration are as wrong as their counterparts were in previous eras. Changes in culture are only natural, because culture is created spontaneously from the bottom-up, not preserved or shaped from the top-down. Attempting to use government to somehow “protect” an abstract sense of national culture is foolish.

Concerns over national security are similarly misguided. In fact, an open immigration policy would actually improve national security because it would transfer would-be illegal immigrants into legal channels. Those who seek to live and work peacefully in the United States are unlikely to go through illegal channels when they can do so legally. On the contrary, criminals and terrorists that can’t travel through such legal channels will continue attempting to enter the country illegally. Thus, our Border Patrol would actually be able to spot criminals and terrorists, as opposed to searching for them as dangerous needles in haystacks of peaceful prospective immigrants.

The economic argument against immigration—that huge waves of immigrants will over-burden our welfare state and cripple our economy—is at first the most convincing. But these dire predictions consider only one side of the ledger. Immigrants would also have a hugely positive impact on the economy, GDP growth, economy productivity, and thus on tax revenue. They would increase the amount of jobs in the economy and, as consumers, increase the amount of goods and services purchased. All of these things work to increase American income.

Considering the net effect, then, our common sense that the free flow of human capital maximizes economic growth is confirmed. Professor Hinojosa-Ojeda of UCLA estimates that immigration reform would increase U.S. GDP by $1.5 trillion in the ten years after enactment, not to mention that immigrants who use taxpayer-provided public goods will be able to do so as productive members of society rather than illegal residents.

Even this analysis, however, is a bit troubling, because it looks at immigrants as cold economic actors. It is perhaps most important to remember that immigrants are human beings who deserve respect and fairness. Our own grandparents were able to come to American and make lives for themselves. Why shouldn’t today’s immigrants also have the opportunity to be future Americans’ grandparents?

If we are going to honor the promise of the Statue of Liberty and continue to be the land of freedom and opportunity, then we need immigration reform. And not the kind being proposed by today’s House Republicans. Further militarizing the US border would be embarrassing for a nation built on immigrants.

So when reform finally does reach the House floor, I hope for a different outcome. I hope instead that conservative members of the House will decide to conserve the principles of individual liberty and constitutional adherence that they say they conserve on the evening news. Only then can we still call ourselves the land of freedom and opportunity with an honest conscience and strong faith.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

  • Summertime

    The problem with the Mexicans is simple and by the way has absolutely nothing to do with race; it is their behavior. Undocumented? Does that mean people who have been allowed to enter the US, but just don’t have documentation? If that question sounds stupid its because it is stupid. They disregarded our law, then with cunning intentions had babies for which they used in order to be able to stay in the country and collect welfare for which they could use to live of off. Americans have every right to be angry about the influx of these illegals; they have taken away jobs from Americans, saturated the African American neighborhoods (they were not wanted there, but why won’t whites welcome them into their neighborhoods?) and then the African Americans are not suppose to be upset about, but instead told to embrace the “foreigner.” The illegal Mexican’s plight is not one that African Americans should be connected to because there is NO CONNECTION. African Americans are as American as the White American.

    They are loyal to Mexico, but don’t want to stand up for their rights in Mexico. Why not? Well, they want America to fix their drug war problem, just like they want America to do everything else for them. They have a severe case of inferiority complex and they overcompensate by celebrating their most destructive behaviors or silly causes. How and why would Americans want to welcome a group of people who are the reason for several negative changes occurring in the country? Why would Americans welcome a group of people who disrespect the hand that feeds them? Why would Americans TRUST a group of people who lie every chance they can in order to get something? Why would Americans want to live with a group of people who dishonor our laws, traditions and way of life? This is America! It doesn’t belong to them and it doesn’t owe them anything. There was a war that was fought for the land and that land now belongs to America. They are always talking about how this is their land and how they are going to take it back or how we Americans need to leave, but they fail to acknowledge that this land is under the US Government authority and it is this GOVERNMENT that clothes, feeds, educates, helps borne your babies and allows for you to work. And yet they continue to insist that they have done nothing wrong, but the saying, the truth is hard to swallow is most accurate for these (foolish) proud people and no matter how wrong they are they will die speaking a lie. Once they set foot here do they rarely do any better than from where they came from. This is because of pure stubbornness. If you don’t acknowledge that there is a problem, then how can one get better? They refuse to admit to their wrongdoings and their trouble with assimilation, but instead use stories of hardships to undermine the real issues.

    If they apologized and asked for help instead of demanding it just the same if they ask for help in assimilating instead of hiding and creating divisions against us, then Americans would have much more respect for them and welcoming them would be no problem! No this is NOT a race issue it is a problem they caused and want us now to fix.

  • Richard

    “The problem with the Mexicans is simple and by the way has absolutely nothing to do with race; it is their behavior.”

    Define ‘race’. Then explain how the above statement, together with the rest of your thesis, isn’t a generalisation about ‘their’ race.

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