Immigration: Important Concept

Last night's GOP debate was all abuzz with immigration talk. I was glad to hear Romney emphatically laud legal immigration. Even though I don't believe him, it was still somewhat encouraging to hear pro-immigration rhetoric. The other candidates were less enthusiastic, and of course Ron Paul was not given an opportunity to discuss the issue at all.

When we're talking about immigration, we have a tendency to assume our rhetorical outcome in advance. What I mean is, before we ever present our arguments in favor of or in opposition of immigration, we decide who we want in and who we want out, and then present examples consistent with that assumption.

Us Versus Them, Us Versus Us
Take the example of a hypothetical would-be immigrant. Should we allow this person to immigrate? Why or why not?

As you might immediately notice, the question assumes an intrinsic "us versus them" framework. The question seems to be, under what conditions should "us" allow "them" into "our" country. Whoever does the talking seems to own the country. We all seem to want to dictate the migration over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like us from millions of other people who are also nothing like us.

Let's rephrase the question a little. Consider your next-door neighbor. Should we throw him out of the country? Why or why not?

If you think this isn't a fair question, then you're not being ideologically consistent.

If We Can Keep Them Out, We Can Throw You Out
The fact of the matter is that if you think you have a right to determine who moves over the imaginary line that separates millions of people who are nothing like you from millions of other people who are also nothing like you then you have already assumed that you have the right to determine who's in and who's out. That means, as imaginary dictator, your power to keep people out is also the power to throw people out.

I need not further point, I hope, that if others can be thrown out, so can you.

So, you think I'm making this up? I hate to play the Hitler card here, but isn't this precisely what happened in Germany all those decades ago? One day, "us" decided that "them" was a real burden on "us's" society, so "us" went ahead and threw "them" out. And then tried to exterminate "them."

Germany is a poignant example (probably because Jews are light-skinned and cook food that looks and smells a lot like our own food), but it's not the only example. Japanese internment camps in North America are also a good example of legal immigrants being rounded up and harmed, or expelled, or both.

Most nations have some sordid experience with xenophobia, and it's not always about the people on the other side of the imaginary line. Often it has everything to do with people on our own side of the imaginary line.

A Revolutionary Idea: People Are A Good Thing
I start from a crazy idea: people are good, more people are better, human civilization is a net positive.

From there, I add another crazy idea: All people should be treated equally under the law. I know that one is falling out of favor these days, but I think it still has enough intrinsic value that I need not spend precious blog time "proving" it.

Combine the two elements, and you get my take on immigration: Let people in. That's it. Just let people in. Illegal immigration occurs only because legal immigration is prohibitively difficult. We can solve that problem by making legal immigration easier. We also have the added benefit of denying the state any power or philosophical justification for throwing out its own citizens.

One Last Point
In general, the arguments against illegal immigration boil down to one thing: People don't want illegal immigrants crossing the border and subsequently becoming wards of the welfare state.

I ask: Is this a problem with people crossing borders, or is this a problem with the welfare state?

As we see time and time again, welfare and socialism breed conflict among individuals in our society. Were there no such thing as social welfare, who in their right mind would care who moved over the imaginary line and who didn't? It is only because we have a socialist welfare scheme that we care who has the legal power to request state support.

Thus, once again, we see that socialism is the true source of the ugly kind of nationalism, that socialism is what pits us against each other. The free-flow of individuals across imaginary lines is a free trade issue as well as a peaceable assemble issue. Socialism is antagonistic to both.


  1. I've considered your last point about the class antagonism created by the welfare state before. Historically it does not explain the same levels of xenophobia that existed in mid nineteenth century America against the Irish prior to the rise of the welfare state. Nativism in America predates the welfare state.

  2. I agree with the thrust of what you're saying: that opposition to immigration is nothing more than racism. ;)

    You're right - I could have added racism as another "argument against immigration," but I avoided it under the assumption that racism isn't even a credible argument when posed by racists.

    You're right, though, it's another source of anti-immigration sentiment.