By Randy Alcorn
In America, the issue of foreign immigration has more angles than a geometry class. The various arguments, analysis, and philosophies regarding this issue can be contradictory and confusing. And, when emotions are involved, the discussion can often devolve into the absurd. Too often, common sense, and even honesty, is forfeit when those making arguments do so from a particular position of self-interest.
The broad categories in the protracted discussion on immigration are economics, ethics, and law.
The economic arguments have various angles. The free market zealots advocate a borderless world in which labor flows freely to fill demand. While these thinkers keep their thoughts carefully focused on the single aspect of the miracle of the market place to provide the ultimate good for the greatest number, they ignore the very real damage that is suffered from unregulated human greed.
Unregulated immigration into America has provided a vast influx of workers to meet demand in economic sectors requiring unskilled labor, but it has not necessarily filled chronic vacancies in these sectors as much as it has displaced the incumbent workers and reduced overall wage levels. Free market purists argue that this invasion of low cost immigrant labor is ultimately a benefit to society because it reduces the price of goods and services, but this argument ignores the indirect costs of cheap immigrant labor—public services, especially education, health care, and law enforcement are heavily impacted by the magnitude of foreign immigration.
And, those Americans who have lost their jobs to immigrants or who have suffered wage reductions because of the unnatural increase in labor supply are certainly not benefiting from the borderless economy—but someone is. Those employers who increase their profits by reducing labor costs, and those public sector employees whose job security and tax funding improves with the increase in their clients are all beneficiaries of immigration.
Another angle pseudo-economists argue to justify unrestricted immigration is that the contribution immigrants make to the public treasury will fund Social Security and will help rescue that deteriorating retirement scheme. One assumption is that illegal immigrants will not be able to collect from the system, but have had wages withheld to fund it—how callously clever. This angle, however, overlooks the math. Since Social Security tax withholdings are calculated on a percentage of earnings, depressing wage levels depresses tax withholdings. When a low paid foreign worker replaces a higher paid American, there is a smaller wage base to tax.
This angle also neglects the reality that many illegal immigrants work off the books and have little if anything withheld in taxes. Furthermore, a vast proportion of the money illegal immigrants make in America is funneled back to their homelands—$23 billion to Mexico alone last year. So, these earnings add nothing to fuel the American economy nor are they used to pay for services that illegal immigrants can get for free from American taxpayers. Overall, it is better to pay an American $20 an hour to do the work than to pay a Mexican $10 to do it.
Perhaps the most baseless economic angle now currently argued is that a cessation of massive immigrant labor will devastate the American economy—“the-day-without-a-Mexican theory”. This one is argued by the ivory-tower economists from high profile universities who are often long on theory and short on vision. The primary false premise in this argument is that an economy declines if human population does not increase.
One does not have to hold a degree in economics to refute this premise; one merely has to have common sense. While it is true that a larger market for any product increases the opportunity for sales, a stable level of population does not result in economic collapse. Most goods and services are consumable and, therefore, must be periodically replenished. If a continual increase of population were the prerequisite for a healthy economy Mexico’s economy would be far healthier than Switzerland’s.
The other overlooked fact in this argument is that there is no shortage of unskilled labor in America. Unskilled labor does not have to be imported to prevent “economic collapse”. The appalling reality is that 20% of America’s 18-year-olds fail to graduate from high school, and 43% of those who do graduate fail to earn a college degree. Additionally, with unemployment perennially hovering around 5%, America does not need to import vast quantities of labor. Rather, it needs to insist that those citizens capable of working take those jobs that are available.
While the macro-economic arguments in support of massive foreign immigration lack cogency, the micro-economic arguments are compelling to those individuals who profit from immigrant labor. And here is where the angle of ethics enters into the discussion.
The ethical arguments about immigration emanate from both ecclesiastical moralities as well as from secular sensibilities about human rights. The Catholic Church, for centuries the authority transcending political power in Latin America, has made a defiant stand in support of aiding and abetting illegal immigrants in America. They are allied in a coalition with secular human rights activists that advances the notion that there is a universal right for all human beings to improve their economic conditions regardless of national sovereignties, constitutional law, or the property rights of others.
These spiritualists along with certain politicians, like George W. Bush, answer to a “higher authority” which allows them to subordinate secular law to religious doctrine, and to ignore the consequences of imposing personal moralities on public policy. The sentiments expressed by President Bush in his recent visit to Guatemala reveal the essence of his ethical argument for immigration. Bush said, “We don’t want people to get stuffed into the back of a truck and pay exorbitant fees to coyotes to come and try and realize dreams (sic). There’s got to be a better system.” The realization of personal dreams has now become the ethical entitlement to immigrate to America.
“Realizing dreams” has long been the allure of America, but the system with which to accomplish that had, until recent decades, been one of reasonable restrictions that allowed immigrants to be screened for practical concerns like disease, criminality, and physical and mental capacity. It was a system of controlled immigration that allowed and promoted assimilation into American culture and society. That system also made special allowances for political refugees fleeing persecution by tyrannical governments. That system was ethical in that it accommodated as many immigrants as was reasonable while it respected the rights, the health, and the safety of American citizens.
The current ethics of immigration is that indigence is a qualification for refugee status and any and all “economic refugees” should get their chance in America—the “we-don’t-need-no-stinkin-green-cards” ethics of immigration. Aiding and abetting illegal immigration, or supporting unreasonable levels of legal immigration, is not ethical when the overall deleterious effects of that immigration on American society are considered. The many stories of illegal immigrants separated from their families by years and long distances; and of illegal immigrants dying desolate deaths in the desert heat; and of “hard-working” illegal immigrants facing deportation are all intended to soften are hearts while they by-pass our brains.
The socio-economic physics of immigration contains unavoidable consequences. The free-for-all policy of immigration that has run roughshod over America these past three decades may have allowed millions of “economic refugees” to realize their dreams, but it has ravaged America’s education system, increased violent crime, reduced wage levels in several industries, added to urban congestion, turned our desert borders into dumps, made driving a whole new adventure in risk, camouflaged international terrorists, and pushed over the great American melting pot to concoct a bi-lingual stew.
How is this ethical? Civilization establishes and maintains ethics though law. If laws are not enforced a society descends into lawlessness. If laws are unethical, they must be changed, but if laws are ethical, yet are widely ignored a society descends into self-corruption.
The legal arguments regarding immigration seem to focus primarily on the practicalities of enforcement. Since government has allowed the nation to be overrun by millions of illegal aliens, it is now no more possible for most Americans to avoid illegal immigrant labor than it is for fish to avoid water. We are awash in illegal immigrant workers, and some industries are now so totally dependent upon them that even if an employer wanted to be scrupulous about hiring only legal workers, he or she could not survive in a market place dominated by competitors who operate with illegal immigrant labor. For there to be fair competition in the market, all employers must comply with immigration laws
But, the obstreperous pressure by apologists of illegal immigration and the relentless lobbying by those special interests that have selfishly indulged their appetites for cheap foreign labor have virtually annulled current immigration laws. Meanwhile venal and pusillanimous politicians propose new laws that not only allow for decriminalization of millions of international interlopers, but also seek to reward the foreign transgressors with American citizenship. Their argument is that we cannot deport 12 million people, and that preventing more immigrants from coming in is logistically impractical, so let’s realize the futility of enforcing current laws and pass new ones that accept the reality of our situation. This is the same logic that argues the pragmatism of not resisting rape and simply making the best of it.
Yet, whenever the government of this nation has been serious about enforcing laws, good or bad, it has demonstrated a dogged determination to do so. This is a nation whose government rounded up and interred millions of its own citizens during World War II. This is a nation whose government has pursued a futile war on drugs with a harshly stubborn resolve that annually apprehends and incarcerates nearly 700,000 citizens for possession of marijuana. Yet, we are to believe that this is a government that cannot secure its own borders, or that cannot apprehend the estimated 500,000 aliens who enter the country illegally each year—aliens who are obviously detectible by their language or lack of legitimate documentation?
The government of the United States has been half-hearted in enforcing immigration laws. For example, each year, the Social Security Administration notifies employers of discrepancies in reported employee names and Social Security numbers, but warns employers that they cannot discriminate against these employees by firing them or by requiring them to produce Social Security cards that can be examined for authenticity. These suspect employees merely need to provide a new Social Security number to the employer. Then they can work here illegally for another year before the ineffective enforcement cycle begins anew.
Similarly, the IRS annually notifies businesses of identification discrepancies on required reports of payments made to contractors and certain vendors. Yet, for businesses to verify the taxpayer ID numbers of these vendors and contractors involves a plodding process that gives any illegal immigrant ample opportunity to escape apprehension.
Meanwhile, the catch-and-release policy practiced by the nation’s Border Patrol makes securing the borders a futile fishing expedition. Some Border Patrol agents who have had to defend themselves against hostile border crashers have been reprimanded or even prosecuted for doing so. What then can be the level of morale among those public servants responsible for enforcing immigration laws?
It is apparent that many of those in political power are not serious about enforcing immigration laws. They are, however, serious about placating special interests that benefit from illegal immigration, including the government of Mexico. These disingenuous politicians practice a duplicity that betrays the majority of Americans who want effective immigration laws enforced and who are concerned about the alarming invasion of foreign nationals that is overwhelming our public services, diluting our culture, threatening our social integrity, and increasing our population numbers to third world levels.
If this government can enforce bad laws, like those pursuing the insane War on Drugs, it can enforce the good ones like those that secure our borders and protect our nation from invasion. America is not a nation of immigrants; it is a nation of legal citizens who are bound together by a covenant of law, by a common language, and by a shared culture that includes ideals of fairness and honesty. There are no angles needed to understand this. It is a straight line of reason.