Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Both sides misunderstand immigration issue

There is a lot of bigotry surrounding Arizona's new immigration law, where police are able to check the immigration status on someone they have already detained for another purpose. That bigotry is very plain and simple: Sexism.

Look how obvious it is. Arizona's female governor Jan Brewer signed a bill into law on April 23. Illegal immigration is currently a federal crime and this law makes it a state crime too so Arizona police can enforce it. Because Brewer a woman, chauvinist protesters want to keep her down by opposing the law - including self-hating women who are jealous of any other female who has risen to a position of power.

That's a good argument, right? Really? It works for the left...

OK, reality check. There's already enough nonsense on both sides of this issue. Arizona SB1070 does not empower the police to pull people over just to check their immigration status, although that's the bulk of the criticism. The purpose of the law isn't to change police behavior - it's to authorize law enforcement - such as Sheriff Joe Arpaio - to continue checking immigration status without interference from federal agencies.

"The new law makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally. Immigrants unable to produce documents showing they are allowed to be in the U.S. could be arrested, jailed for up to six months and fined $2,500. Other provisions allow lawsuits against government agencies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws, and make it illegal to hire undocumented workers for day labor or knowingly transport them."
Now I don't see any arguments about why we should pick and choose which laws to enforce. The opponents clearly state that this is about enforcing existing laws. Their definition fairly represents what the new law does, although their comments do not.

I will make the case on why not enforcing this law makes sense, but first what's wrong with the anti-immigration view.

Where the right is wrong

There are two main thrusts to opponents of illegal immigration. One is that they take jobs away from Americans, and the other is that they take public benefits like welfare.

Some people support both of these views, which doesn't make sense. A given immigrant can not work and collect benefits for not working. It's really one or the other.

It could be that immigrants as a whole perform a mix of the two, but that's the way a welfare system is supposed to operate; those who work pay for those won't don't.

Now what if an immigrant comes to America and "steals a job" by agreeing to work for a lower wage than an American? Isn't that bad?

No, not at all. This is a classic protectionist argument and I'm surprised it's not more popular with the left. Yes, a given American worker will lose a labor job. However, the company will save money with lower labor costs, and in a competitive market, pass some of those savings on to the consumer. This will give people more money to spend in other areas, creating more jobs in other industries.

This goes back to Adam Smith. It's good for both parties to use cheap foreign labor, and all immigration does is change the side of the border those factories are located. In this sense, opposing immigrant labor is a version of the ancient pauper labor fallacy that's still popular with anti-globalizationists.

What's interesting is that few people doubt that it's rational for Mexicans - the group that is most responsible for illegal immigration in Arizona - to come to America to find work. Even though their best option is to work for lower wages than Americans, people realize that's it's a better opportunity than what's waiting for them at home. They also agree that this makes the immigrants wealthier.

This view, which is absolutely correct, is not compatible with the anti-sweatshop view - that offering low-paying jobs in poor countries exploits the workers and keeps them in poverty. Instead, in both cases you see the workers getting richer, and America as a whole benefits at the same time.

There will be losers in this scenario - some Americans with low skills will be out of a job. But American workers as a whole will benefit from the new jobs that open up. There will be more winners than losers.

And unlike what the "buy local" advocates preach, it doesn't hurt America to see our dollars leave the country when immigrants mail some of it back home to their families. Those families do not burn the money - they take it to a bank and exchange it for the local currency. Essentially they are buying money with another type of money. That bank will take the greenbacks and invest them back in America. American dollars have no choice but to come back to America.

Why the welfare state changes the rules

I know a lot of lefties who lust for the big welfare states of the Scandinavia. Countries like Denmark have high taxes and a lot of public goodies to dole out to the citizens.

They also have super-strict immigration policies. It's easier to get into Fort Knox then some of these countries. Why is that?

It's because when you promise a lot of free money to people in an area, people will move to that area to collect that free money. These people aren't being lazy or evil - just smart. When you reward people for being in a certain situation, more people will put themselves in that situation. That works for good things, like having a college degree, but it also works for bad things like being unemployed.

So a generous welfare state will attract people who want to take advantage of it. It's just human nature. That's why welfare states must keep people out if they're not willing to work. This isn't xenophobia - it's keeping the system from having too many takers and not enough givers.

Milton Friedman weighed in on this issue and said that immigration has always been good for America. He said today illegal Mexicans immigrants are still good for America, but making Mexican immigration legal would be bad for us because of our heavy welfare state.

"That’s an interesting paradox to think about. Make it legal and it’s no good. Why? Because as long as it’s illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don’t qualify for social security, they don’t qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. So long as they don’t qualify they migrate to jobs. They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take. They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They’re hard workers, they’re good workers, and they are clearly better off."
That was 30 years ago, and our welfare state is even more generous now. By keeping immigrant workers illegal, they mostly don't pay into or take from our public assistance programs.

That's not entirely true, of course. They still pay sales taxes, and property taxes indirectly through apartment rent. While illegal immigrants don't have access to things like social security, they are able to send their children to public schools. In California it's illegal to check a students immigration status, so we have cash-starved public education system that's paid by legal residents, but also serves illegal ones. Hospitals and law enforcement also absorb costs from serving illegal immigrants.

So Americans benefit from illegal immigrants because they must come here to work, not to collect free public money. It's a good thing that we're not rounding them up off the streets.

Still, there are some moral problems with not enforcing our own laws. It's good that law enforcement in Arizona can punish illegal immigrants with deportation when they are caught for unrelated crimes, and this gives immigrants double the reason to obey our other laws.

Because it won't effect just any person off the street - only the suspects of unrelated crimes - this law should help filter out the criminals from our illegal immigration population. It won't be perfect and it will also deport some illegal immigrants who are just here to work. However, these people are still breaking our immigration laws and it's the duty of police to enforce the laws - whether they agree with them or not.


  1. Anyone claiming that this bill will "empower the police to pull people over just to check their immigration status" is obviously incorrect, but I think fear about some of the ambiguity in the bill is warranted. Amended article 8 - section B states that:


    While the bill does explicitly prohibit race and ethnicity as "reasonable suspicion" it's still fairly vague about what the person could be doing to warrant suspicion. Knowing sheriffs like Arpaio exist - it probably wouldn't take much. Also, what's a "reasonable attempt to determine the immigration status of the person?" Detention? Maybe...



    (They proceed to list multiple forms of qualifying identification.)

    If I've interpreted this correctly, this allows law enforcements to presume one's illegal presence if they cannot provide papers. Granted, it doesn't explicitly say that it does or doesn't - but I'd say it is implied given there are provisions about requiring immigration status checks once already detained. Also, illegal presence is a federal crime, and I could be wrong, but suspicion of a federal crime warrants arrest.

    So, Jose Smith, a Spanish speaking, darker skinned citizen is hanging out with some ethnically similar friends. Another friend pulls up to them in a big van. They all decide to go somewhere together and pile in. Sheriff Bob drives by and sees what looks like an illegal labor pickup. He pulls over the van and Jose can't provide proof of his citizenship because he left his wallet at home. What was a normal day for him quickly devolves into wasted hours detained at the police station.

    The fact of the matter is, a group of Anglo-Americans would not have to deal with this. While not explicitly stating it - the law would virtually require ethnic-Mexicans and other darker skinned people to carry proof of citizenship or legal immigration status - a step backwards, I think.

    Also, a majority of "liberal" people may be wrong about specific facts, but they're smart enough to recognize that immigration policies are racist in nature. A big give away is that we don't have as drastic concern about our Canadian border. Granted, the circumstances are different in the north - we probably have fewer desperate Canadians trying to get in - but I'm skeptical that that's the only reason.

  2. Thank you for the thoughtful response.

    People can already go through some awful legal wringers if they don't have a photo ID on them while they are driving or attempting to buy a beer. A group of hispanic people with no English skills near the Mexican border are more likely to be illegal immigrants than a group of white teens wearing letterman jackets. If the first group is picked up outside of a Home Depot, it looks exactly like a labor pickup.

    If I need to borrow a cup of powdered sugar for a cake, and a friend hands it to me in a baggie while we're in a bad neighborhood, I shouldn't be surprised if the police pull me over.

    It seems what you're saying is that police shouldn't be allowed to use reason or statistical averages in the course of their duties. I don't think FBI profilers are prejudice against mentally ill loners, but that's who they focus on when they want to find a serial killer.

    I think it's pretty likely that some people oppose illegal immigration out of racism, but it's a pretty big assumption to say that's a majority opinion. It's very human to see patterns that don't exist. As I've traced back, it's consistent with "buy local" and "buy American" sentiments - both of which are popular with economically-ignorant people. The anti-immigration stance can just be the logical extension of those bogus beliefs.

    Indeed, someone can lose their job to an illegal immigrant who's willing to work cheaper. It's just like how people who run a mom and pop store will feel threatened when their local monopoly is overturned by a new Wal-Mart. The idea is the same, and the resentment towards the group is the same. That may look like racism, but it's really financial resentment.

  3. Ugh... I just hit "Post Comment" and your blog didn't like my "cookies" and some how I lost everything. Also, my significant other is insisting I've spent too much time writing. Let me get back to you later.

    Either way, thank you for your equally thoughtful response.

  4. "It seems what you're saying is that police shouldn't be allowed to use reason or statistical averages in the course of their duties."

    Yea. That's what I'm saying, but not what I'm trying to convey - that's my fault. Of course Police should have the tools to do their job, I'm suggesting... change their job.

    Your analogies about the mentally ill and powdered sugar are good, except that serial murder and to a lesser extent the selling of cocaine are arguably worse offenses than trying to make a living in the "wrong" country.

    Another analogy: My father-in-law(to-be) was pulled over once for speeding. Several officers converged on his position, guns drawn demanding he get out of the car. A little excessive for going fast, right? I agree, except that his car matched the description of a string of armed burglaries. I'm ok with that. Had it been just for speeding, I wouldn't be.

    Ultimately, my claims boil down to the fact that I disprove of what - in my mind - is excessive enforcement of laws I disagree with.

    I would just be more comfortable with the free flow of labor. But that's an idealogical conflict and I wouldn't presume to be the barometer of morality. No doubt we could go on and on.

    "'s consistent with "buy local" and "buy American" sentiments - both of which are popular with economically-ignorant people. The anti-immigration stance can just be the logical extension of those bogus beliefs."

    Now, I'm not so handicapped here. I studied economics. I like my S.American coffee and Asian electronics.

    I concede my claim that racism drives some of these immigration policies is an assumption, but I like to think it's a well informed one. I won't give you my resume (I know you don't overly value degrees based on our conversations at SMASH with the anti-semite.)

    Suffice to say, racism is seeded by fear of the unfamiliar. Ignorance and unfamiliarity with "things" is a condition of humanity. The tendency towards racism is alive and shouldn't be discounted. Maybe racism isn't the right word. Xenophobia?

    I'm convinced that if there was less apathy towards and fear of migrant workers of different ethnicities (or poor people in general) we'd have less of a problem.

  5. Xenophobia sounds exactly like what you're getting at.

    I see racism as a biological prejudice, and xenophobia as a group prejudice. Say someone is resentful because a group of Belgians came in and outbid their job by working for a low wage.

    That person may start to dislike Belgians in general, or strictly immigrant Belgian laborers. I see this as a subtle difference between someone who believes Belgians are biologically inferior.

    I think we agree more than I let on initially that some people who are against immigration are motivated by a contempt for the immigrants. You've helped me find my words by calling that xenophobia.

    In your defense, the bottom line is that a ton of these people are prejudice against the immigrants in some form. We just disagree with what form of prejudice it is.

    And it's not that I don't value someones education very high - I just believe in relevance of expertise. I wouldn't trust a pharmacist to design a bridge or believe everything someone says about international trade because they are a linguist.