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Immigration restrictions as Jim Crow

The analogy between immigration restrictions and Jim Crow laws (segregation-enforcing laws in the Southern United States, some of which survived until the Civil Rights Act of 1964) has been explored by a number of writers:

An excerpt from Caplan’s blog post is below:

Under the Jim Crow laws, discrimination was not merely legal. It was mandatory. It was illegal for blacks to live, work, and shop in certain places. Virtually everyone today regards this as an enormous injustice. So do I. But I question the claim that modern American policy is vastly morally superior. The American government continues to mandate discrimination against an unpopular minority: illegal immigrants. And this mandatory discrimination is far harsher than anything under Jim Crow.

Most obviously:

1. Under Jim Crow, there were many places in America where blacks were not legally allowed to live. Under current immigration laws, there is nowhere in America where illegal immigrants are legally allowed to live.

2. Under Jim Crow, there were many jobs in America that blacks were not legally allowed to perform. Under current immigration laws, there are no jobs in America that illegal immigrants are legally allowed to perform.

Admittedly, immigration restrictions are not worse than Jim Crow in every possible way. Most notably:

1. Illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on travel. De facto, though not de jure, illegal immigrants are free to use any form of transportation that doesn’t require identification; they can ride trains but not planes. Under the Jim Crow laws, blacks were unable to use many forms of transportation either de jure or de facto.

2. The children of illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on attending public school.

3. The Tuskegee Institute estimated that 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968 – about 40 per year. The FBI reported 681 hate crimes against Hispanics in 2010, but only one of these was a murder. Lest we feel too superior, note that according to conservative estimates, several hundred immigrants die crossing the border every year.

The photo featured at the top of this post is of a sign enforcing racial segregation in the US, circa 1920. Credit: the Smithsonian Institution.

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