IPFS Glenn Jacobs

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Some Food for Thought on Immigration

Immigration is an issue which divides the liberty movement.  On the one hand are those—mostly traditional conservatives—who believe that the federal government should secure the borders and ensure that all who come into the United States go through official government channels.  On the other hand are those—mainly libertarians—who believe that these tasks are impossible, unwarranted, and, even if they could be construed as positive, will lead to greater infringements on the liberties of all Americans.  As for me, I fall into the latter category.

While I respect and admire many of the folks on the other side of this issue, it seems to me that they have forgotten the warning issued by Thomas Paine:  “He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from opposition; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach himself.”  In other words, be careful what you ask the government to do because it may do it to you.  

It is a wonder that during this economic calamity, illegal immigration is still at the forefront for so many conservatives.  Despite the rhetoric by immigration warriors that illegal immigration was going to destroy America, Pedro and Juan mowing your neighbor’s lawns haven’t had much to do with it.  Charles and Biff in the boardroom at Goldman Sachs, on the other hand, as well as the dolts in Washington, DC—all of them legal Americans—have done more to decimate America than any army of illegal immigrants ever could.

I also find it curious that some in the liberty movement gripe about the apathy of the average American—supposedly too indifferent about their liberties to even go to the voting booth, much less pick up a sign and protest—while at the same time looking down with scorn at folks who literally risk death to come here and make a better life for themselves.  (As Lew Rockwell points out, however, fewer people are willing to take that risk because of the economic downturn—a trend which does not bode well for America.)

The fact that many conservatives advocate enlarging the size and power of the federal government in order to solve a problem reveals an inconsistency in their political philosophy.  After all, it was Ronald Reagan who said that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”  (Unfortunately, the Gipper doubled the size of the problem when he was president.)

Besides, it is the policies of the federal government which have made illegal immigration a problem to begin with.  Maybe that’s why the Founders believed that immigration was an issue that, like almost all others, should be dealt with at the state level.

For most of the first century of American history, immigration was considered a state matter.  For instance, President Ulysses S. Grant said in a letter to Congress that “responsibility over immigration can only belong with the States since this is where the Constitution kept the power.”  Texas even had its own Bureau of Immigration.  It wasn’t until an activist Supreme Court decision in 1875, Chy Lung v Freeman, that immigration was placed under federal purview.

If Texas has a problem with immigration, why should the people of Tennessee be taxed to help pay for it?  In fact, why should those of us for whom stopping illegal immigration is not a priority be forced to pay the bill for those whom it is?  While conservatives complain about taxes when they are used to pay for things that conservatives oppose, they happily jump on the tax bandwagon when it suits their purposes.  Taxes used to support welfare are bad, but taxation to deal with illegal immigration is acceptable.

All taxation is immoral and based on theft.  It is not just the uses to which tax money is put but the methods by which it is collected—force and coercion—that we should consider.

Of course, many other things that would normally be considered un-American are perfectly acceptable when applied to immigration policy.  

The trend toward militarization of the police is extremely disturbing, but militarizing the border is reasonable.  Okay, but remember, those machine-gun turrets can point inward as well.  (By the way, I don’t think that granting citizenship to immigrants as an enticement for military service is a good idea, either.  However, the Constitution only allows Congress to fund the Army for two years at a time and the Founders repeatedly warned about the dangers of a standing army.  Thus, the problem is not immigrants in the military, it is the fact that the military is so large as to have room for immigrants to begin with).  

National ID cards are an anathema, but the E-verify program is laudable.  What is E-verify but another government database?  And it differs from other government databases in what way?  Of course, E-verify is primarily aimed at weeding out illegal immigrants.  Yeah, and your social security number will never be used as identification, and only the rich will pay income tax.  The truth is that E-verify is a permit to work.  Don’t you find that particularly creepy—that a government bureaucrat can theoretically turn off your permit, effectively leaving you unable to work?  Right now, E-verify is voluntary, but just wait, sooner or later all of us will participate like it or not.

Ever government program expands.  That is the nature of the beast.  One of the books which helped form my political philosophy was Harry Browne’s Why Government Doesn’t Work.  After years of reflection, I now realize that Harry’s book is misnamed; government does work, just not in the ways we think and not for us.  All of the government’s wars on “insert term here” have been failures in achieving their ostensible goals.  But from the perspective of expanding power and giving politicians and bureaucrats more control over our lives, they have been spectacular successes.

For instance, the TSA (an unconstitutional agency itself) is tasked with keeping terrorists off of airplanes.  Why then must every airline passenger present positive government identification?  In other words, why does the TSA need to know who we are when it really only needs to know who we aren’t?  If you are not a terrorist—which could easily be determined by comparing your face with a database of known terrorists—get on the airplane, no questions asked.  Instead, the government must know who you are.  Why?  Because it wants to track and trace our every move.

E-verify will end up being no different.  Eventually, it will be linked with some sort of national ID or it will become one itself, giving the government access to all of your personal information, including your financial information, and completely destroying whatever remains of privacy.  Oh well, at least illegals will be prevented from working here as well.  

But that’s right, illegal immigrants are already supposed to be prevented from working here.  That’s what the $5 billion and the 17,000 federal agents that work for ICE are supposed to do.  I guess the answer is to increase the funding and size of the agency.  That seems to be the answer for every other government failure.

Conservatives will argue against government involvement in education and health care, but then turn around and declare that illegal immigrants are destroying local communities by taking advantage of these services without paying into them.  True, but the problem is not who is exploiting these services but the fact that they are there to be exploited.  Despite what liberals may claim, no one, American citizen or otherwise, has a “right” to “free” education or health care.  It is the private sector, whether for-profit or charity, that should be providing these services, not the government at taxpayer expense.

Likewise, conservatives argue that affirmative action is an insult to minorities because it implies that individuals within these groups cannot fairly compete with whites.  These same folks, however, will then argue that Americans in generally cannot fairly compete with Mexican villagers and that “American” jobs must be protected.

There is no such thing as an “American” job.  If one believes in economic freedom, one must believe that the job is the property of the employer, not the employee.  (And, indeed, this is the case.  For proof, here’s a simple thought experiment.  Say you wish to hire someone for a job.  If the person you hire to fill the job dies, your need still exists; you will find someone else to fill the job.  If, on the other hand, you die, the job is destroyed as well.  Thus, the job a part of you and is your property.)  The employer, the person providing the job, should be able to hire whomever he wishes to fill the position.  If he cannot, he is not free.  Yet, all this goes out the window when dealing with immigration.

Somehow, ICE agents kicking down employer’s doors to ensure that they are complying with federal employment mandates does not jibe with my concept of a free market.

Employers compete with one another to provide the best services at the lowest prices.  In order to keep costs low, they may hire low cost labor.  As consumers, we benefit from these lower prices; we have more money to spend on other desirable products.  Socialists do not see the benefit.  To socialists, entrepreneurs in search of a profit are greedy.  Unfortunately, many conservatives think the same way when employers use illegal immigrants to keep costs low.  Then the employers are engaging in unfair, illegal tactics.  

Instead of seeing the benefits to consumers, immigration warriors only see jobs which are not filled by Americans.  However, often the reason that Americans do not fill these jobs is because the jobs do not pay the state mandated minimum wage.  In addition, if the labor cost rose, the consumer would no longer be willing to pay for the product and the job would be destroyed anyway.  Thus, it is the consumer, and not the employer, who ultimately determines the price of a product, and, therefore, the acceptable input costs to the producer; a process Ludwig von Mises called "consumer sovereignty".

There are legitimate concerns when it comes to illegal immigration, but as with every other issue, government policies are the problem; not the solution.  An arduous government process discourages productive individuals from immigrating to America through official channels.  It took a friend of mine 5 years and $10,000 and an immigration attorney to finally secure a green card.  At the same time, the welfare state beckons to the non-productive to feed at the government’s trough at taxpayer expense.  Meanwhile government intervention in the economy skews conditions in favor of undocumented workers in the form of minimum wage.

Eliminate these programs and interventions and you eliminate the problem.  Giving government more power to deal with illegal immigration will only expand the police state and further socialize the economy.  The government will never be able to stop illegal immigration, but it can use illegal immigration as an excuse to infringe upon the liberties of us all.

3 Comments in Response to

Comment by Brent Bartsch
Entered on:

Well written and good points. Like every other issue, the solution that would produce the results that most people would find acceptable is the one completely off the table -- that is, repealing all previous government "solutions".

Comment by Glenn Jacobs
Entered on:

Paine's comment has everything to do with protecting our own liberties by protecting the liberties of others.  Of course, when we compartmentalize things and say this doesn't have anything to do with that, we can quickly come to the conclusion that big government is great as long as it does the things that we think it should.  My point is that big government always ends up doing things that we don't want it to by using the powers given to it to solve problems that it often caused in the first place.

 By the way, be careful how you use the term "illegal".  Since we live in a system where the federal government is no longer constrained by the Constitution, "illegal" is what the government says it is, not what is right or wrong.

Comment by James Wahler
Entered on:

Your argument is flawed.

Thomas Paine's statement has nothing to do with illegals.

I agree with most of what follows, but those are different issues to your stated point.

Illegal is illegal under ANY circumstances. The fact that the government 'watchdogs' have been sleeping on the job and allowing, or in some cases assisting, big banks and corporations to rape the system should not be a part of your argument on immigration.