Open Borders

There's an article at National Review Online in which congressman Tom Tancredo tries to imagine what it would be like if illegal immigrants were really to refuse to do anything today. Not legal immigrants, mind you, just the illegal ones. He tries to paint a picture in which life for the rest of us would be palpably better if the illegals were to just disappear for a day.

I realize that illegal immigration presents some problems, particularly economic ones, but I don't think that the argument against open borders is moved forward any by the sort of sophistry and hand-waving that Tancredo indulges in at NRO. One hopes that there are more intelligent and articulate arguments to be had out there. Morally, however, the situation is really quite different. I'm not sure why so many conservatives confuse economic with moral issues (one often hears that this is a problem that is endemic among so-called "Neoconservatives", but that is hardly an explanation)--perhaps there is some echo here of the libertarian view that all rights are derived from property rights. In any case, it is difficult to justify, from a moral point of view, closing the borders in a place that is arguably the best place to live in the hemisphere, if not in the world.

It's worth remembering that the borders were not closed when Europeans first arrived here, and that they would not have cared if they had been. I suspect that much of the animus against illegal aliens is really a thinly veiled bigotry. And it's not just racial bigotry, either. Tancredo makes it a point to remark, regarding what would happen if there were to be a Day Without Illegal Immigrants:
If it fell on a Sunday, Catholic Churches in the southwestern states might have 20-percent fewer parishioners at Mass if all illegals stayed home, but they would be back next Sunday, so the bishop’s job is not in danger. The religious leaders who send people to the marches and rallies will never fear for their jobs, because illegal aliens need their special “human-rights” advocacy and some priests and nuns seem especially devoted to that cause. The fact that most Catholics disagree with the bishops’ radicalism doesn’t seem to affect their dedication to undermining the rule of law.
It's too bad about those swarthy Catholics and their pesky moral values regarding human dignity. We don't have to worry about all of that, though, if we just re-describe religious leaders as folks doing a certain kind of "job". There's nothing like the corporate model for dispensing with actual arguments about ethics. Oh, don't forget to put the phrase "human-rights" in quotation marks. We wouldn't want anyone to imagine that we actually believe that such things really exist. That's just a tool that lefty "priests" use when they're doing their "job" of ruining our economy. Let's trumpet the fact, too, that "most Catholics" don't see things the way their "leaders" do--well, we'll trumpet it when it comes to this issue; when it comes to things like abortion rights or birth control, we'll just claim that those folks aren't "really" Catholics in the first place, or that that American Church is out of control, or something like that.

In short, let's just say whatever we have to say to stir up ire among our constituents and get them to think that we're tough leaders.


Point taken on the general prevalence of political posturing on this issue.

Disagree on the morality of illegal immigration. We have more than generous opportunities for legal immigration in this country--much more so since the Clinton years, and his fast-tracking the processing of "instant Democrats". But illegal immigration is immoral. Respect for the law is an important component of our civilization. Having the country fill up with people who hold the law in slight regard because their homeland is governed para la mordida. can't help but weaken the civic bonds that hold our society together.

Turn the situation around. If it was Americans flooding illegally into Mexico, displacing the natives from the labor pool, bankrupting hospitals, retarding the public school curricula, etc., would you tell the Mexicans that it was their Christian duty to simply accept it? And that if they protested, that made them racist? Why or why not?
Scott Carson said…
I may not have expressed myself very cleary. I agree that respect for the law is very important. What I intended to suggest is that our borders should be open, that is, there should be no such thing as "illegal" immigration in the first place.

Given that there is such a thing, I agree that we cannot simply ignore the legal and economic situation created by the problem of illegal immigration.

On the other hand, I don't think that entering the country illegally is per se immoral. Kant argued, as part of a tradition that can be traced back at least as far as St. Thomas Aquinas, that it is not immoral, for example, to take bread from a man who will not share his bread from you if you are starving and taking that bread is the only way to save yourself. The question then is, under what circumstances is it genuinely immoral to enter the country illegally? When you have other alternatives to doing so. It is not an unambiguous matter whether every illegal immigrant really has other alternatives. True, there are opportunities for legal immigration, but I'm not altogether sure that the opportunities that do exist are really sufficient, nor am I sure that every case of illegal immigration is a case in which there were other, legal alternatives.

If it were really true that any individual illegal immigrant were, all by himself, "bankrupting hospitals, retarding the public school curriculum, etc", then that individual would have no right to expect anything from those from whom he was plundering. The difficulty is that these things need to be--ought to be--evaluated on a case-by-case basis, but most politicians, perforce, look at the issue as requiring some blanket (legal) solution, preferably one that addresses the (strictly) economic concerns of their constituencies.

I'm not claiming that there are easy and obvious answers to this one!
Apollodorus said…
For once, I might agree entirely with Scott on a political issue. Thanks for reminding the 'sanity inspector' that it's the moral validity of the law itself that's in question, not the issue of whether or not respect for the law is important.

I would add also that illegal immigrants are hurt by their status, as well, since they enjoy virtually none of the legal protections of those who work in this country legally. The truly incredible thing is that, despite the abuse that they receive, they prefer it to the situation in their home countries.

As for the problems allegedly created by illegal immigrants, part of the suggestion has been (I think) that our own laws create part of these problems because we insist on keeping illegal immigrants illegal, and thus underpaid, un-insured, and unmotivated to become members of our communities more fully. At the very least, the complaint about the school curricula is nonsense; implementing good ESL programs would, I suspect, quickly shorten the gap between the academic performance of the children of immigrants and 'native' (read: native English speaking) students. The problems with our education system have more to do with our own failures to meet the challenges that we actually have and our more egregious failure to fund education than they do with Hispanic kids 'retarding' it.

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