I’m a big fan of Dan Mitchell. We agree on 95% of political issues (and since I’ve never met anyone who agrees with me 100%, that’s a high mark), he’s got a great sense of humor (both in the sense that he’s funny, and in the sense that he appreciates humor and can laugh at himself), and he’s clearly a man who isn’t afraid to be open about his beliefs, even unpopular ones. But while these are all great qualities in a person, none of them are the thing I like best about him.
The thing I like best about Dan Mitchell is that he’s tireless.
You see, Mitchell has a solid, consistent belief structure, and he’s been advocating for policy based on that structure for a long time. And while every once in a while he gets a win, it can often seem like people fighting for human rights and liberty are taking ten steps back for every one step forward. That kind of record would demoralize most people, but Dan Mitchell has been fighting that fight for years and years, and hasn’t given up yet. That’s why I admire him.
It’s also why I’m writing this. Dan Mitchell’s most recent “Question of the Week” was on the subject of immigration. Immigration reform might be the single policy issue about which I’m the most passionate, and if I could convince a tireless crusader like Dan Mitchell to add the plight of the would-be American Immigrant to his mental checklist of injustices to fight, I think I could go to sleep knowing I’d done many people around the world a huge service. So with that said, while I’d like many people to read this, it’s primarily addressed to Dan Mitchell. I’m going to lay out three reasons why I think he should support a policy of radically increased immigration allowance, or even open borders. In an ideal world I’d convince him – but at worst, hopefully I’ll give him a little extra evidence in favor of that position.
Reason #1: If Immigration Is Mostly Good With Some Bad, It’s Actually Easy To Eliminate Just The Bad
Dan Mitchell is a reasonable person. In his Question of the Week post, he says:
By the way, a senior staffer on Capitol Hill floated to me the idea of a new status that enables illegals to stay in the country, but bars them from citizenship unless they get in line and follow the rules. I’m definitely not familiar with the fault lines on these issues, but perhaps that could be a good compromise.
This is only a very small, single example of a “keyhole solution” – a solution specifically tailored to the problem at hand. To most people, the only three options that come to mind regarding immigration are “allow all of it,” “allow none of it,” or “allow some of it.” But those aren’t the only ways of addressing the issue. It’s very possible to get just the “good parts” of immigration, in the same way that if you like the taste of soda but don’t want the sugar you can have diet soda. Let’s discuss the possibilities of “diet immigration” by discussing what could be considered the “bad parts” of immigration, and how we can eliminate them while still allowing immigration itself.
One of Mitchell’s worries, shared by many free marketers, is political externalities: immigrants may vote for bad policies like increased taxation, wealth redistribution, and the like. But if you can craft an immigration law to any specifications you like (in particular, you have the leeway to keep people out completely and arbitrarily), you could easily craft a law that makes immigration and even permanent residency perfectly legal for anyone, but does not include citizenship. Then there’s no voting issue – the people can come, but they can’t drop a ballot in the box. Ask your average person on the ten-year waiting list to become a legal immigrant if they’d be willing to give up actual citizenship in order to come in tomorrow, and I’ll bet you can guess the answer you’d get. It could be an excellent strategic move for the Republicans, too: Imagine a GOP Senator offering up a bill that granted a massive increase in the right to immigrate (or even removed restrictions completely) but increased the waiting period for citizenship to twenty years. An alternative would be to adopt a scheme like Nathan Smith’s DRITI proposal that awarded citizenship only after a certain minimum amount accumulated in a mandatory savings account. For comparison, the current minimum waiting time between acquiring a green card and being able to apply for US citizenship is five years, and most immigrants, legal or illegal, spend several years in the US (either on non-immigrant visas or illegally) before acquiring a green card.
If the Democrats opposed the bill, suddenly their intentions would be revealed – they only want immigrants as a voting bloc, they’re not actually concerned with them as people! Gasp! In one move, the GOP could become the party of immigration, which resonates well with lots of independents, thus getting them votes even if those votes don’t come from the immigrants directly. Of course, I don’t really think many GOP staffers actually care about immigrants as people any more than the Democrat politicians do, so I’m not holding my breath. But it’s an example of a way to eliminate the “bad parts” of immigration while still getting the good parts – namely, immigration itself. Similar bills could allow unlimited or near-unlimited immigration but prevent immigrants (or the children of non-citizen immigrants) from receiving free public schooling (by requiring them to pay something as a tuition cost in order to attend public school), welfare/social services, or any other drain on the public coffers. Again, if you ask someone who’s been denied the right to immigrate whether or not they’d still want to come if they had to give up any claim to free public schools, welfare, or a social net, I’m positive they’d still want to come. This is the land of opportunity, and that remains the number one reason people want to come here.
Mitchell is understandably worried about the US getting swamped by a large number of immigrants if it suddenly opened its borders completely. But keyhole solutions could be used to facilitate a gradual transition to steadily more liberal immigration policies with open borders as the ideal end goal. Worrying about immigration liberalization leading to a flood of immigrants destroying America is like worrying that lighter regulations on guns will lead to all of America immediately becoming a Wild West shoot-out.
Reason #2: Punishing a Huge Group Because Of The Actions of A Few Members Is Wrong
Dan Mitchell opposes massive taxation on the wealthy. There is an incredibly long list of reasons why he’s right, ranging from it just being a bad idea fiscally to it being unjust to take earned wealth and hand it to greedy politicians. However, Mitchell also knows that there are some wealthy people, even in the private sector, who have gotten their wealth in an unjust manner. Usually it’s a result of crony capitalism (think Boeing) or flat-out fraud. But despite the fact that THOSE people obviously don’t deserve their money, Mitchell doesn’t support a 90% taxation rate on the rich. Why?
Well, the obvious answer is that those few cheaters and frauds are the exception, not the rule. Most successful people deserve their success. If it would be wrong to create a blanket punishment for a group of people if only MOST of them had done something wrong, then it’s certainly unjust to create a blanket punishment for a group of people if MOST of them had done nothing wrong at all! However, the same can be said of immigrants. Even someone who believes that immigrants might be criminals or terrorists, might carry infectious diseases, or might be lazy welfare moochers admits that at most those descriptions could apply to a decent-sized minority of them. No one thinks that all, or even most immigrants are welfare moochers, disease carriers, or terrorist criminals. As a result, saying that a blanket immigration restriction is good because some of those potential immigrants might turn out to be less than model residents is like saying no one should be allowed to have children, because some of those children might grow up to be thieves or murderers. At best, there is a case for performing background checks on potential immigrants and excluding those who have a history of serious or violent crime or terrorist activity, though even the morally acceptable contours of such a policy are open to debate.
Should alcohol be heavily regulated because a few people drive drunk? Should guns be heavily regulated because a few people use them for criminal acts? Mitchell would answer an emphatic “No!” to both of those questions. So how about a third: Should all immigration be heavily regulated because a few immigrants might do some harm?
Reason #3: If You Love Liberty, You Can’t Hate Immigration
Dan Mitchell is a liberty-loving guy. He respects people’s right to do things that he himself would never do, which is admirable. He even respects people’s right to make dumb decisions, which can be very difficult sometimes. Most importantly, he doesn’t think that you need to do anything special to have your rights – they are, to use the parlance of the Founders, “inalienable.” But that’s why I was somewhat disheartened when he quoted Walter Williams’ assertion that “not…everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S.” In the same column, Williams draws on the legal versus illegal distinction, writing:
Various estimates put the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. between 10 and 20 million. One argument says we can’t round up and deport all those people. That argument differs little from one that says since we can’t catch every burglar, we should grant burglars amnesty. Catching and imprisoning some burglars sends a message to would-be burglars that there might be a price to pay. Similarly, imprisoning some illegal immigrants and then deporting them after their sentences were served would send a signal to others who are here illegally or who are contemplating illegal entry that there’s a price to pay.
Here’s the problem with that quote: being an immigrant isn’t the same, isn’t even CLOSE, to being a burglar. Burglars steal from people – and thus harm people. Immigrants just want to live and work here. (Most of them, anyway. Like natives, immigrants also have their share of criminals, but not necessarily a larger share). They don’t even want to trespass – they want to rent and buy apartments and houses. So if not everyone has a right to live in the U.S., well… who gets to decide? Dan Mitchell isn’t in favor of the government making any decisions for individuals that those individuals could make for themselves. So if individual A, a business owner, and individual B, an immigrant worker, want to make a mutually beneficial business arrangement with each other, I doubt Mitchell would be in favor of some bureaucrat getting in the way. And if that immigrant is working for his wage, paying his rent on his apartment, and not committing any crime, then what is he actually doing wrong? Letting “the people decide” instead of the government is easy – if someone is willing to rent you or sell you a place to live, and someone else is willing to employ you, then welcome to America! There’s no more reason to get the government involved than there is for any other type of business arrangement between private people. And that’s exactly what most immigrants want to do – come here, live, and work.
Especially combined with keyhole solutions, it’s very likely that the vast majority of immigrants aren’t going to cause trouble. They want to come here to work for a better life, and that’s a mutually beneficial arrangement regardless of level of skill. From the completely unskilled farm laborer to the brilliant brain surgeon, everyone who comes here to work is as much a boon to society as anyone born here. We shouldn’t try to stop the flow of immigrants any more than we should stop the flow of babies.
If I didn’t think Dan Mitchell was a moral, freedom-loving person, I wouldn’t have written this. Well, more likely I’d still have done so, but would have addressed it primarily to someone else. But instead, I’m hoping that of all the people who read this and perhaps take something away from it, that Dan Mitchell is the most influenced. Would-be immigrants around the world couldn’t ask for a better proponent of their rights as human beings, and I’d very much like him to see it. Dan Mitchell and I agree on 95% of political issues… and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it becomes 96% soon.