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Wednesday, September 30, 2015

The Current U.S. Immigration System Is the Best That Can Be Hoped For

The titular proposition, not endorsed by any politician or commentator the author is aware of,The closest parallel are some remarks unsurprisingly by Milton Friedman: Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal. is a peculiar one to be advanced here for reasons both personal and principled.

On the personal side, the author must note that while he was wise in his choice of parents—a circumstance from which has flowed through various channels most of the author’s good fortune—he was not with respect to his place of birth. For he was born in Australia, rather than ought to have been obvious even at that tender stage, within the borders of the United States. For this folly, the author has paid a great price over his quarter-century as an immigrant in the U.S. These costs ranged from the mundaneCompliance with U.S. immigration law has caused me a great deal of expense and anxiety., to the severeU.S. immigration law caused my bride of seven days to be dragged away from me, handcuffed, and deported. See also here., to the enormous.Compliance with U.S. immigration law caused the death of my son whom I loved. So the endorsement of this system does not spring from personal benefit it conferred.

On the matter of principle, the law and its enforcement is indefensible. The law is draconianTo offer a trivial, but illustrative, example: The author is a law-abiding, tax-paying permanent legal resident with a spotless record. Yet, if he were so much as move across the street without promptly informing the Department of Homeland Security, he can be deported. in its terms, but ludicrously lax in its enforcement. It is readily disregarded with impunity by tens of millions; only a tiny unlucky fraction, chosen almost at random, ever has its draconian terms enforced upon it. Surely, such a state in which the law (for which the author for reasons professional and otherwise has great respect) is brought into disrepute both by the folly of its terms and its near-universal, flagrant disregard cannot be optimal?

But while judging the wisdom of a law based on its conformance with sound principle is valuable, the ultimate test is not principle, but practical consequence. And the practical consequence of the law is not so bad. De facto, if not de jure, the United States has adopted a policy of open immigration for low-skill labor. Anybody in the world who wishes to come to and work in the United States in a sector where strict conformance with the law is not required—a category that covers most low-skill employment—is free to do so with minimal risk and at relatively small cost. That is, for reasons explicated elsewhere, the best policy both for citizens of the United States and everybody else.

In fact, it is superior to a de jure policy of open immigration for it selects immigrants who are less likely to victimize current residents (or, more neutrally, impose negative externalities on them) than would legal open immigration combined with other current policies.

The principal means by which U.S. residents victimize each other are crime, government benefits, and voting. In each of these categories illegal immigrants are much less likely to engage in such conduct than they would if they were legal:

  1. Illegal immigrants do commit serious crimes against others. But because they are illegal, they face the added disincentive of deportation beyond mere criminal punishment that a legal immigrant could expect. As deportation occasionally does ensue for the more serious crimes, this additional disincentive is not trivial. Moreover, deportation greatly lessens the probability of recidivism against other current U.S. residents.

  2. Illegal immigrants are legally ineligible for most government benefits. While doubtlessly these legal strictures are sometimes ignored, this additional hurdle must cause them to consume fewer government benefits—paid for by other residents—than they would if they were legal.

  3. Illegal immigrants are not allowed to vote. Again, while some surely nevertheless do and this vote may even have been decisive in some rare political contests, the vast majority of illegal immigrants do not vote. Hence, they cannot vote themselves the property of any disliked electoral minority, as voters are apt to do.

Would it in principle be better, more honest, to just expel all serious criminals, reduce government benefits all around, and restrict the franchise? Of course. But to merely accurately state what measures that would entail demonstrates the extreme remoteness of their political achievement. Keeping immigrants illegal is the second best.

As to the restrictions on high-skill immigrations—that is of those who must comply with the law—would it be politically possible to ease them and perhaps adopt, if not open immigration for high-skill immigrantsA policy which poses none of the drawbacks of low-skill immigration which so incite the ire of the illegal-immigration opponents and hence ought to be uncontroversial, but is barely even mooted., then at least some numerical score system like that of Australia or Canada? Perhaps.The author would certainly welcome it, even though he would no longer personally benefit from it. But that is the most of improvement that could be dreamed of with even the slightest political realism.