The New York Times last month ran a series of viewpoints on immigration. Now, as much as finding ways to argue against restrictionists can be enlightening (and maybe fun as well) today I’ve set out on a different task: pointing out bad arguments/strategies coming from a more pro-immigration (though not quite a pro-open borders) angle. To that end, Gary Segura’s article “Path to Citizenship Must be Included” is the target for today.
In this piece, Dr. Segura sets out four “must have” points for any immigration reform bill in the United States. I’ll take these from the least problematic to the most (a clever ruse to get you to read the whole post). To that end, we’ll start with demand number two:
Requirements and penalties for seeking legal immigration status should not be so onerous or punitive that they render the reform pointless. High fines or “touchback’’ rules that require immigrants to return to their home countries before applying would render status adjustment unattainable for many. Any reform that does not actually improve the lives of those affected is not acceptable.
This demand more or less works from my perspective, and to show why let me restate it: “immigration reform that is effectively not immigration reform is pointless.”
Now this isn’t to say that gradualism isn’t acceptable. On the contrary, gradualism may be the only way to actually eventually achieve any kind of open borders policy. But if a reform results in the vast majority of currently illegal immigrants staying in that condition then there is little progress achieved while potentially slowing the pace of future reform. A bad reform bill might still convince people that there does not need to be immediate action right afterwards. The real key is what constitutes restrictions so heavy that the bill is no longer worthwhile. Some level of fines, though perhaps not ideal, could still be better than nothing. The 1986 Immigration Reform Act required back taxes and some fines for legalizing many illegal immigrants and yet legalized three million immigrants. While making the fines and limitations as limited as possible will help more immigrants and create closer steps to open borders, a “no-limitations-or-no-deal” stance could derail even otherwise moderate reform. Personally I might like to see immigrants legalized with as few fines or limitations as possible, but that doesn’t mean that legalizing several million immigrants isn’t worthwhile. For this point, my main concern is just to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good, a fault that seems to occur often in this piece.