I’m a pro-natalist. I’m in favor of people being born. Be careful when you think to yourself, “that’s a silly thing to be specifically in favor of; isn’t everyone?” Because I assure you, not everyone is. There are plenty of Malthusians out there, whether they’re consciously aware of it or not. There are people who believe in eugenics; people who think the world would honestly be better if we revoked reproduction privileges from those with low IQ’s, criminal histories, certain racial or ethnic backgrounds, genetic defects, etc. And if the idea of forcibly spaying and neutering everyone with a wheelchair, a below-average IQ, the wrong skin color, or any other factor appalls you – then breathe a sigh of relief: You have a conscience.
Sadly however, this belief is not universal. I’m not sure it’s even a majority belief (I hope it is, but the cynic in me says that if you really asked all seven billion people, most would come up with a certain class of people that they’d rather not see more of). But there is a specific category of person, with a specific category of belief that I want to address here. That is: People who do not believe that we should limit births based on any factor, but who are restrictionists when it comes to immigration policy.
In a way, birth is a form of immigration. Someone is moving from the generic “somewhere else” to the here and now. The place you occupy and call your home is getting a new occupant. But obviously there are many differences between a newborn in America and an immigrant in America, for example (by no means do I intend to say that these concerns are limited to America – I use that country solely as an example). The newborn is going to use vastly more social resources. The newborn is statistically more likely to be a criminal. The newborn is less likely to join the labor force, and infinitely less likely to do so within the next ten years. On the other hand, most newborns immediately have a private support network (albeit one that will rely heavily on public services).
Newborns have lots of other differences from immigrants, of course – they look like natives, they sound like natives, and they’ll probably share native cultural beliefs and social norms. These are all reasons that other natives will like them more, but they’re not reasons why they would be more beneficial to the country than immigrants, so we’re going to ignore those for now.
Other than the instinctual reasons for liking a newborn more than an immigrant, is the only real benefit that a newborn offers over an immigrant as a choice for “new addition to the country’s population” that they have a private support network of mostly self-sufficient people (at least, as self-sufficient as anyone gets in a modern first-world country)? If that’s the case, it seems like the immigration issue is pretty easy to solve. If the one and only criteria that potential immigrants needed to meet before coming in was to find a voluntary supporter, it seems like we’d have plenty of immigration!
Let’s do a thought experiment. Let’s pretend that current citizens of America can invite immigrants in using only the same criteria by which they can have children. Any two people could invite an immigrant in – and the same two people could invite in as many immigrants as they wanted. They would not have to be able to support those immigrants, though socially speaking there would be pressure to do so. If you decided two years later that you didn’t like your immigrant, you couldn’t send him or her back, any more than you can “send back” a baby; though you could in theory put yours up for adoption. Since immigrants can generally take care of themselves, this seems like less of an issue for immigrants than it does for children, so that’s an extra point in favor of immigrants. You could be irresponsible and invite too many immigrants in the same way that you can be irresponsible and have too many children; but since immigrants can work and are far less dependent on their caregivers than children are, it seems like this is far less of an issue – score another point for the immigrant.
You don’t need to submit to a background check to have a child, so you wouldn’t need one to invite in an immigrant. The child obviously doesn’t have a background to check, while the immigrant might – but given the respective crime rates, it seems like it would make more sense to check potential parental backgrounds to weed out potential criminals than to do the same with immigrant backgrounds. Since we don’t do the former, it’s hard to make a moral case for the latter.
Of course, children can’t vote for at least 18 years, so immigrants wouldn’t be able to, either – fair enough (and as a keyhole solution, this has already been suggested).
For those whose restrictionist attitude stems from the fear that immigrants might eventually “take over” the country due to sheer numbers – well remember, that’s guaranteed with children. If immigrants were brought into this country by a parental figure, the same as children, you’d have the same opportunity to influence them. It might even make people of competing political or cultural outlooks compete to have MORE immigrants, for the same reason you want to have more kids in that circumstance: If you think your culture is so great, you want to pass on that culture to the next generation in larger numbers than the “other people” – whoever they are in your eyes.
So there you have it. Regardless of what opinions you hold about birth and immigration respectively, there’s very little non-instinctual reason to restrict immigration more than birth, relatively.
Of course, there are those that don’t believe births should be restricted along any categorical lines, but do believe that overall restriction in terms of sheer quantity should happen. Again, I’m a pro-natalist, so I don’t share this view. But even if you do hold that view, that view isn’t analogous to the view most people have about immigration. Most people who you’re likely to meet on the street have one of two opinions on immigration: Either we should restrict it even more than we do now (even to the point of zero), or we should be increasing “high-skill” immigration while decreasing other kinds. But statistically speaking, only a tiny fraction of American newborns will grow up to be the kind of people the “high-skill” immigration proponents want. What’s the native birth rate of engineers compared to the total native birth rate?
But let’s say you actually hold comparable quantity-restriction views on both birth and immigration. You don’t believe in restricting either by category, but you do believe in strict quantity limits on both. There are a number of problems with this view. First – what’s the optimal number? A quota of any kind means that something other than spontaneous order is determining the number of births and/or immigrants, and that’s therefore pretty much guaranteed to be the wrong number. Then of course are all the administrative difficulties – how do you parcel out the set number, given that the desired number will be higher? Who gets to come and who doesn’t? There’s almost no way to do a quantity restriction without also imposing a categorical one, except for some sort of “first come, first served” method that is very unlikely to be satisfactory. We need only to look to China to see some of the negative effects of a quantity restriction on birth; like any prohibition of something nearly universally desired, the unintended consequences are severe.
Restrictions on immigration based on quantity have all the same problems as restrictions on birth rates based on quantity, and immigration restrictions based on category appear significantly less moral than birth restrictions based on the same. Considering that we don’t restrict births in any way in America, it would seem difficult to build a moral or utilitarian case to restrict immigration.