Immigration: keep the illegals out!

My earlier post spawned a flurry of comments that all offered similar criticisms. To paraphrase the most common: “Legal immigration is fine; it’s illegal immigration that we need to stop. Illegal immigrants, by definition, break the law by coming here and continue to break the law while they live here. Everyone knows that crime increases the more illegals there are.” As often happens, what everyone knows isn’t necessarily true. In one of my own comments I pointed to three different academic articles that reveal no association between immigration and crime rates; here, here, and here. Since then, I dug a little more and found more research; here, here, here, and here. Oh, and here, here, here, and (if you’re not into academic papers) here. There; you can’t claim invincible ignorance now. A quote from here summarizes how clouded the debate can be:

America has a big problem with illegal immigration, but a big part of it stems from the word “illegal.” It pollutes the debate. It blocks solutions. Used dispassionately and technically, there is nothing wrong with it. Used as an irreducible modifier for a large and largely decent group of people, it is badly damaging. And as a code word for racial and ethnic hatred, it is detestable.

Nogales border fence By bunky's pickle

Nogales border fence By bunky’s pickle

I couldn’t help but mentally draw the connection between the “immigrants are criminals” idea and Prohibition. If our borders were more open, i.e., if it were less costly for people to move here, it would attract more “normal” types of immigrants. As it is, though, when our border is militarized, when getting into the U.S. is very costly and dangerous, then the types of people who will be attracted to entering will pretty much be the opposite of the people we want: people with no good options at home who are willing to engage in dangerous, risky behavior to come here. When we outlawed alcohol, violent criminals got us our alcohol; now that alcohol is legal, the providers of alcohol certainly are a more respectable group. Is it possible that our “get tough” political motivation on immigration policy, that illegals are criminals, is self-fulfilling in the sense that those are the ones who most try to come here given how difficult it is to come here legally? On the relationship between immigration and the drug war, see good commentary here.

“Illegals could be terrorists.” True, as could any native. But the statistical probability that a given immigrant, even an illegal one, will commit a terrorist act is extremely small. Do we deny everyone the American dream (or at least deny them from fleeing their own domestic nightmare) because of this extremely small probability? Do we shun our poor neighbors over so tiny a risk?

“They take our jerbs!” Commenter Paul says “The unskilled labor influx is actually a detraction for the local economy. An unskilled laborer who is illiterate or only semi-educated due to their former homeland is more likely to be hired even for entry-level positions like working at McDonald’s or pushing carts at Publix. The problem with this is that you have educated kids graduating from high school that can’t get a job because they’ve been filled with low skilled immigrants who have very little chance of upward mobility.”

I found this an odd argument for a couple of reasons. First, it would seem to be a good thing that we have educated our high schoolers sufficiently that they don’t have to work at McDonald’s or push carts at Publix. The preferable alternative, then, is to have our educated high schoolers performing jobs for which they are overqualified? Isn’t that the lament frequently offered about college education? Second, the economist in me, after hearing that high schoolers are having trouble finding work, again feels obligated to point out that lowering the minimum wage would do much to increase employment in this group.

As is obvious, I only present principles here; I am not adept (or long-suffering) enough to plow through actual legislation that is being considered, like Carson is. Certainly legislation can be written well or poorly; a more strict immigration policy that is written well and actually prevents criminals from coming in but allows normal, hardworking people to do so would be preferable to a poorly written policy that pushed open borders but did nothing to address the welfare handouts that immigrants supposedly seek (though in the video I posted previously, the point was made that illegals often don’t qualify for such things). Further, U.S. legislation can do next to nothing to change what largely drives most immigration: poor institutional quality in developing countries. When countries do not respect the rule of law, private property rights, the benefits of free trade, the importance of constitutionally limited government, etc., then of course people will want to leave. Do we turn them away at our border because their government rulers are kleptocrats? Is that the immigrant’s fault?

As is also obvious, I nor anyone else blogging for CV claim to speak officially for the Church. We are Catholics in good standing approaching timely issues through the mind of the Church but often providing various viewpoints on issues of prudence. Catholics in good conscience can arguably be on both sides of the immigration debate; my intention here and earlier is simply to highlight a viewpoint that is well-established amongst economists, seems to be favored amongst the U.S. Bishops, but is often ridiculed amongst conservatives.


Categories:Culture Immigration Law Legislation Politics

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    “…and because people are here unlawfully want to persecute them.”

    Most people do not want to “persecute” anyone, period. What most people advocate is a nation of law and order and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Immigration to this country does not have to be difficult, but amnesty sends a message that says “we are not serious” about the rule of law. I love it when I hear people saying, “illegal immigrants have not broken the law and should be allowed to work,” but crossing any border without papers, IS breaking the law. I came from Costa Rica and visit my country of origin almost every year. What if I didn’t have a passport to enter that country? I can assure you, I would be put on a plane back to California, period. Does that mean Costa Ricans “hate” immigrants or are somehow violating my human rights because they ask for papers?

    • Mary

      Antonio, yes each country has a right to its own immigration laws. A moral problem arises, however, when people are kept in poverty on one side of the border and there is relative wealth and opportunity for employment on the other side of the border. That situation does not exist when you are returning to Costa Rica once each year. But it does exist for many of those who seek to come into the U.S. – they are not doing it for tourism but out of desperation. We have a moral obligation to create systems in society that allow people the means to meet their basic needs. The fact, as Mr. Shaughnessy is pointing out, is that they actually are beneficial to the U.S. economy as well. But our duty as Christians and Catholics goes beyond the practical – we have a moral obligation because we believe in the gospel message of Jesus Christ: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger.

  • Michael Dietz

    I would like to echo Antonio’s words. Social Justice is another area, that has led to the current administration and the expansion of government. We are all brothers, but we are a nation of laws. There is differences between what the government is called to do and what we as individuals are called to do.

    • Mary

      As Catholics, we have a duty to work toward rightly ordered and just systems in society.

  • SegoLily

    Ah the problem of nativism! This is a common mindset among many calling themselves “good Catholics”. They put man’s law above God’s law and because people are here unlawfully want to persecute them. Most undocumented people I see in my practice at a free clinic are beautiful people, humble and filled with gratitude. I care not a whit that Uncle Sam did not personally extend an invitation to them. Uncle Sam is killing millions of his own offspring via legalized abortion. If not for undocumented workers I think our economy would collapse.

  • Tom

    The other factor that is often overlooked in this debate is that by making legal immigration difficult we are creating an environment of slavery and indentured servitude that strips people of their dignity, exposes them to abuse, and keeps them in poverty. At the same time I think the Church needs to do more to facilitate cultural assimilation particularly among Hispanic groups. Living in Florida, our parish is really two parishes, the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking. While it is important to maintain cultural heritage it is equally important for immigrants to learn English and participate in the broader culture. Insisting that everything be bilingual will not help in moving up the social ladder and only creates friction and division. I’d like to see parishes offer ESL classes to help facilitate this as just one small example.

    • Antonio A. Badilla

      Tom, “our parish is really two parishes, the English-speaking and the Spanish-speaking.” Correct, and who is responsible for creating that mess? I know Hispanics who have lived here for 30 and forty years and still demand the Mass in Spanish because they don’t know English. Now, how is that possible? Why bother to go to the English Mass when the parish facilitates Spanish liturgies? Should all the Spanish Masses disappear tomorrow? No, but certainly one wants to encourage people to learn the English language or assimilation becomes a joke.

  • Gary

    @Ann. Thank you for your comment.

    No person has a right to immigrate to a country without that country’s permission. It’s like entering someone entering your house without your consent. Furthermore, a country’s immigration policy should benefit the current citizens, not hurt them.

    • Mary

      This is not true. If a person is living in a country that does not allow them the means to achieve their basic needs, then they DO have the right to seek that means in another country. Wealthier countries have a DUTY to help those in need. Keeping families together is a moral obligation. America’s immigration policy hurts native born citizens and those seeking a better life who come here from Mexico.

  • Antonio A. Badilla

    Well Tim, I’m “legal” in this country because I came with a permanent visa and don’t have a problem using the word “illegal” for those who have chosen to break the law. The public debate about immigration will never be solved until de bishops call “illegal” immigrants “illegal” and stop pretending that everyone who comes over the border is simply someone who is trying to reach a better land.
    One thing is for sure, “legal” or illegal,” everyone has human rights that should never be trampled upon regardless of one’s position on illegal immigration.
    Another phrase that bothers me is the one that states that illegal people should come out of the “shadows.” What shadows? Just yesterday we had here in Los Angeles thousands of illegal immigrants marching downtown and “demanding” rights they would not dare demand in their own countries. In the “shadows” they are not.
    If the bishops want to reach most Catholics, they are going to have to acknowledge we have illegal immigrants and that we should be working to reform the system, without amnesty. Also, they have to make it clear, that regardless of one’s status in this country, one has human rights and that there are differences between human rights and citizen rights.



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