Immigration, a worse crime than child sex exploitation

I want you to read this story about the families — the American families — who have been separated by US immigration laws. It is heart-wrenching. Most offenses, civil or criminal, have statutes of limitation. Not so for illegal immigration. Most courts offer leniency for offenders who co-operate with law enforcement. Not so for illegal immigration. Most courts have discretion in varying punishment for offenders. Not so for illegal immigration.

Somehow, we see immigrating illegally as beyond the pale — as something that merits the toughest, most inflexible, inhumane punishment possible short of physical harm. The mandatory sentence for people who have been unlawfully present in the US for over 1 year is deportation for 10 years. Those who have crossed the border unlawfully more than once can be barred for life.

To put things in perspective, the median prison term for someone convicted of child sex exploitation in the US is a little over 5 years. The median prison term for molesting a child is half the mandatory deportation term for an “illegal immigrant”! The average sentence for those convicted of “alien smuggling” is a little under 2 years (see the US Sentencing Commission’s 2012 report). In other words, “illegal immigrants” are given a sentence over 5 times longer than the smugglers who aid them!

People blithely say “The law is the law; it must be enforced.” But in what world does it make sense to treat immigrants worse than child rapists? In what world does it make sense to punish people for choosing to be with their families, when the law gives them no lawful option to do so? There are some legal immigrants who have been waiting outside the US for their family reunification visas since 1989 (see the State Department’s latest visa bulletin).

Let’s not play dumb here. Immigrants and their families are no idiots; they know they’re being treated worse than child molesters:

“When they give out these bars, they’re not just giving them to one person. They’re giving them to a family,” Anita said. “It’s actually worse than a prison sentence. People in prison can do a lot less time, and do a whole lot worse things.”

If the law prevents people from being with their families, and then punishes them for following the most fundamental human instinct, it’s not the immigrants who are wrong — it’s the immoral, barbaric legal system which tears families apart. This is not a radical position; this is the official United Nations interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty signed and ratified by most of the world (dark green states have signed and ratified; light green have signed but not ratified; grey have done neither):

This is not a question of theory; as a question of practice, the UN has ruled that under the Covenant long-time residents of a country, even if they do not hold citizenship, have the right to be treated as such — especially if they have long-standing family ties to that country. In Nystrom v Australia, the UN ruled that Stefan Nystrom — a Swedish citizen who until his deportation had only spent 27 days of his entire life in Sweden — had the right to live in the only country he had called home his entire life, and the country where his entire family lives.

It is unequivocally clear that modern deportation laws in most countries violate international laws and norms on human rights. Nystrom’s case is an unusual one because he is a convicted sex offender and possibly mentally ill — but if he had been born 27 days later as an Australian national, nobody would suggest that Australia ought to deport him instead of jailing him for his crimes. How can one justify deportation laws which tear apart families where no crime has been committed, except the “crime” of illegally crossing a border to be with one’s family? American Senator Marco Rubio once said:

If my kids went to sleep hungry every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to feed them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from coming here.

If my kids went to sleep without me every night and my country didn’t give me an opportunity to be with them, there isn’t a law, no matter how restrictive, that would prevent me from joining them. Under any reasonable sense of morals or ethics — and under international law — there is no possible way to fault the families of “illegal immigrants” for being “illegal”. The only blame lies with the immoral legal systems of the world that violate every human being’s right to be with their family.

“Pro-immigrant” restrictionists — the fine print

NOTE: This post is mostly US-specific, but some of the observations may also apply in other countries. I don’t have enough knowledge to comment about other countries.

The US’s leading restrictionist think tank, the Center for Immigration Studies, describes itself on its website as “low immigration, pro immigrant.” NumbersUSA, another restrictionist group focused more on having a grassroots influence and affecting the decisions of policy makers, also makes it clear that it opposes immigrant-bashing. And John Tanton, the man who helped found and raise funds for CIS, NumbersUSA, and FAIR, clearly describes himself as “pro immigrant” on his website.

Clearly, the Southern Poverty Law Center is skeptical of such claims, as they note here:

Although the think tank bills itself as an “independent” organization with a “pro-immigrant” if “low-immigration” vision, the reality is that CIS has never found any aspect of immigration that it liked.

Nonetheless, having read the book The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal by CIS director Mark Krikorian (which I blogged about earlier here), I think that some restrictionists (though not all) are pro-immigrant. For instance, I was impressed by Krikorian’s thoughtful and detailed response to the civil rights implication of state-level immigration crackdowns. Clearly, Krikorian, and his colleagues at CIS such as Steven Camarota, take seriously the concern that crackdowns on illegal immigration might hurt recent legal immigrants who share the ethnicity of the majority of illegal immigrants.

But they are “pro-immigrant” only in a very specific sense of the word. There is some fine print there, that may not be that obvious to many people who first hear the term “pro immigrant.” In the rest of this post, I will elaborate on the fine print. Continue reading “Pro-immigrant” restrictionists — the fine print

The citizenist case for open borders

The term “citizenism” is not exactly a household word, but it seems to be becoming more current, at least among the EconLog/Open Borders circle of discussants. Good! I am certainly no citizenist myself. In fact, for purposes of the present post, I’d rather not admit what my attitude to citizenism as a meta-ethics is, because it would set quite the wrong tone. However, I feel I have to mention it in passing, because if I were to write a post on citizenism without mentioning it, I might seem to convey, implicitly, an attitude of moral tolerance for what ought not to be morally tolerated. So I’ll say it: I believe, for the record, that a thorough-going, principled citizenism is appallingly wicked, and diametrically opposed to Christianity, and that practitioners of a citizenist meta-ethics are in danger of hellfire. You see why, if I’m right, I felt the need to warn you. But never mind, forget about that. It’s not the topic of this post. Establishing the term ‘citizenism’ (a) promotes clear thinking, (b) may be useful in provoking some people to think ‘That can’t be right!’ and (c) can serve as a platform from which to advocate open borders! For what I realized is that, without being a citizenist myself, I’ve been making the citizenist case for open borders for years.

But let me back up. Continue reading The citizenist case for open borders

How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan

To make any comment about the extent to which resources should be devoted to open borders advocacy, and the way the resources should be allocated, one must have at least some idea of how effective various forms of open borders advocacy are. One of the most admirable proponents of open borders is Bryan Caplan. Caplan has called open borders the most important issue of our time (here and here) and his writings are linked to and quoted all over this website. But just how effective is he? How many minds has he changed? How many hearts has he won to the cause of open borders? I emailed Caplan, asking him to post this question as a bleg to his commenters, a group that includes both a number of passionate pro-open borders people (like John Lee, whom I recruited to the Open Borders blog after discovering him in the EconLog comments) and some of the most articulate restrictionists of open borders, as Nathan has pointed out.

Caplan was kind enough to do an Open Borders Persuasion Bleg, and Nathan has since written a blog post responding to some of Caplan’s critics. My focus here is not to respond to the critiques of Caplan (a job that Nathan has already done, with the exception of taking on Ghost of Christmas Past). Rather, my goal is to do a quick quantitative and qualitative analysis of the comments, and then to use these to pontificate on the future direction and focus of open borders advocacy.

Quantitatively measured conclusions: some evidence of effectiveness

I have a quick summary of the responses here. For each commenter, I tried to identify the commenter’s stance on open borders pre-Caplan and post-Caplan. For commenters where the stance was unclear, I selected all possibilities that were consistent with the comment. Here’s what I took away from the analysis:

  • About half the commenters (46/90 in my count) were influenced toward more open borders. 10/90 were influenced toward more closed borders, and the rest were either unaffected or their comments did not make it clear how they were affected. Note that my count of unaffected people includes people who were already so pro-open borders that their conviction couldn’t be strengthened further.
  • The overall mix of commenters’ positions pre-Caplan and post-Caplan has changed to some extent to the pro-open borders position. Support for closed borders (i.e., more closed borders than the status quo) decreased, and support for radical open borders increased. There was a shift all along the chain from closed borders to the status quo to moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. The most dramatic shift, though, was the shift from moderately more open borders to radically more open borders. Caplan seems to be most convincing in this group.
  • About 60% of the commenters (54/90 in my count) said, directly or indirectly, that Caplan had persuaded them about the importance of the issue. This includes some people who were already so radically pro-open borders that they couldn’t move further in that direction — Caplan influenced these people to attach a greater priority to open borders. It also includes people who aren’t completely convinced by Caplan, but think that this issue is important and deserves more attention, and appreciate Caplan’s efforts to address the issue.
  • There were a bunch of people (16/90 in my count) who said that Caplan had successfully addressed some, but not all, of their concerns about open borders.
  • Among the specific points where commenters considered Caplan unconvincing, political externalities was the most significant. Other issues raised by the commenters included IQ deficit, dysfunctional immigrant culture, and the welfare state/fiscal burden objection. Unsurprisingly for an economically literate group of commenters, the suppression of wages of natives issue was raised by almost no commenter.

Qualitative nature of complaints

The gist of the qualitative pushback that Caplan received from commenters was that he didn’t take restrictionist concerns seriously enough for them to be convinced that his advocacy of open borders had adequately taken these objections into account. Now, prima facie, this objection seems weird, because Caplan has spent more time than almost any other open borders advocate I know trying to address restrictionist arguments such as IQ deficit and political externalities (though I hope that the coverage of these topics on the Open Borders blog will soon outstrip Caplan’s coverage). He has been willing to consider keyhole solutions as an alternative to closed borders. Yet, commenters are not satisfied with Caplan’s efforts. Continue reading How persuasive are open borders advocates? The case of Bryan Caplan

“I couldn’t accept that aging rulers simply decreed: “‘You can’t leave the country; you have to stay home in the small cage!'”

Der Spiegel has an interesting story on how one East German couple plotted to emigrate “legally” to West Germany. It’s an interesting read, and it calls to mind one of the most fundamental moral arguments for open borders:

“I wanted to live, I wanted to discover the world,” says Jens. “I couldn’t accept that aging rulers simply decreed: “‘You can’t leave the country; you have to stay home in the small cage!'”

Today, Jens writes independent biological assessments on nature conservation projects. He hasn’t seen Marion for 20 years. But he has cherished the memories of their forbidden journey, along with photos taken at the time. It was his children who started to ask him what happened back then. “If you want something, pursue it with all your heart,” he tells them.

It takes a special kind of person to believe that 9,000 kilometers is not too far to travel to go from East to West Berlin. Perhaps this is the kind of thing you can only come up with if you’re 24 years old and in love; if you can put up with not knowing in the morning where you will sleep that night; if the end of the forbidden journey is open; and if you see the dangers along the way as the challenge of a lifetime. And if you seize your freedom, instead of asking for it.

Indeed. Jens’s story resonates with us, and rightly so: every human being identifies with questing for freedom. Seeking one’s fortune is an ancient story-telling trope. Who are the people today simply decreeing “You can’t leave the country; you have to stay home in the small cage”? East Germany no longer exists, but the modern closed borders-regime is barely one step more progressive than East Germany’s.