Why restrict immigration at all?
The Constitution and the laws of economics compel us to welcome all immigrants.
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By contrast, schemes to control immigrants hurt everyone, native or newcomer, and not just economically. Customs agents often abuse immigrants at the borders, but they also interrogate, search, and fine returning Americans.Skip to next paragraph
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Immigrants must produce the proper papers for bureaucrats' inspection, but so do their American employers and landlords. And let's not even think about the scary implications of the draconian Real ID Act.
As technology and globalization continue shrinking the world, people and ideas move more quickly and freely. Political borders become increasingly irrelevant. But that's fine because the qualities that define Americans don't depend on geography. Rather, it's their history of liberty, pluck, ingenuity, optimism, and the pursuit of happiness. Culture is a matter of mind and spirit. Why entrust it to politicians, border guards, and green cards?
The ideal immigration policy for this smaller world would harmonize with both the Constitution and common decency. It wouldn't deny anyone the inalienable right to come and go.
This freedom perishes under current immigration edicts – and so do people. The US Border Patrol estimates that almost 2,000 would-be Americans died along the US-Mexican border from 1998 to 2004, whether from drowning, exposure, car accidents, or violence.
And who can forget Elian Gonzalez, the tragic Cuban refugee? This little boy watched his mother and 10 other adults in their battered boat die at sea, largely because both US and Cuban laws forbid Cubans to immigrate here. We expect such tyranny from Fidel Castro – but from America's supposedly free government?
If Congress seriously wants reform, it might begin by returning decisions on immigration to the individuals involved, in obedience to the Constitution's Ninth and 10th Amendments.
But Congress will need to go further. Requiring taxpayers to subsidize immigrants' healthcare, education, food, shelter, or anything else breeds resentment.
Plenty of private charities will extend a hand to newcomers, not to mention friends and families eager to help their countrymen adjust to American life.
In fact, so eager are these folks that only severe penalties discourage them: Maybe that's why the House of Representatives in 2005 passed a bill threatening to imprison for up to five years anyone who "assists, encourages, directs, or induces [an alien] to reside in or remain in the United States."
What do we do about the 12 million illegal immigrants already here? Apologizing for their poor welcome is a start. Then we can hire them, patronize their businesses, become friends. So long as we don't control them, and they don't expect our taxes to support them, goodwill should prevail on both sides.
Illegal immigration: a false concept
Laws labeling some people legal and others illegal aren't just divisive, they're unconstitutional.
Defending America's integrity doesn't mean more rules and stronger walls; it means seeing foreigners as free agents with all the dignity and autonomy we demand for ourselves.
These people often overcome unspeakable hardship to immigrate; why add to their sorrows by making it difficult for them to become Americans? Or by forcing them to buy their citizenship? Surely, the federal coffers are bloated enough that the government need not prey on the poor and vulnerable.
Remember, too, that these folks aren't terrorists; they're here to work. And many experts argue that the safest antiterror policy is to focus scarce resources on genuine threats rather than to try to screen potential terrorists at the borders.
The federal government has controlled immigration for more than a century now. During those years, it has violated the Constitution to oppress immigrants. It has ignored economic reality by implying that immigrants depress wages and steal jobs. Both tactics pit us against each other while boosting the government's power.
Quota-wielding bureaucrats should not define the country's demographic destiny. It's time to let the free choices of millions of individuals determine America's complexion.
• Becky Akers is writing a book about the Transportation Security Administration. Donald J. Boudreaux is chairman of the economics department at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.