Tag Archives: immigration enforcement

Answer to Vipul’s question about enforcement

This post is in answer to Vipul’s post “Immigration enforcement — what’s morally acceptable? A question for fellow open borders advocates.” I have indeed thought a lot about this. In fact, to establish the answer to this question was one of my main goals in writing Principles of a Free Society, though I don’t focus my arguments on that question in any one place in the book. Vipul asks: “I feel that harping too much on [criticism of enforcement] is dismissive of… legitimate concerns, namely, how can you enforce any immigration policy — or any specific keyhole solution — without some enforcement teeth?” Yes, that’s why I had to be a rather careful policy designer in Principles. Because I think conserving good institutions is very important, but at the same time, deep moral logic compels me to regard most of the sorts of measures governments use to control immigration today as unjust. Morally, I think ICE is pretty much on a level with any gang of robbers: an organization whose raison d’etre is unjust violence.

My starting point in Principles is natural rights:

A human being is mind and body. The body has a particular telos, or peculiar flourishing, of which we have some natural understanding. Thus, we see the difference between a healthy body and a body wounded, injured, decrepit, or sick, though it would probably be impossible mathematically to define the difference in microphysical terms. To flourish, the body must have food, water and air; must not be subjected to cold or heat too extreme or for too long; must not be pierced by sharp objects or crushed by heavy blows; must not be exposed to certain substances, certain types of radiation, certain intensities of sound; must be allowed a certain degree of movement and a certain degree of sleep; should not spend too much time in water or darkness; and so forth. Each body is naturally subject to one human mind. To be subject to that mind is part of the body’s telos. The means by which the body can be subjected to the power of other human minds– it can be beaten, wounded, dragged in chains, and so on– trespass against or violate the body’s telos. The body should belong to its natural possessor. (Principles of a Free Society, p. 1)

I call this the habeas corpus principle, “taking some liberties with a venerable phrase from the English common law, yet faithfully capturing, I think, both its strict semantic sense and its highest historical significance.”

To cut a long story short, you can’t violate natural rights except as retribution for violations of natural rights. Utility can’t trump natural rights because (a) a person must generally be presumed to be the best judge of their own utility, and (b) utility isn’t interpersonally comparable. The state’s claim to a special right to use violence must derive from a social contract if it is to be just at all. Most problematic here is taxation. Ordinary law enforcement is (if the laws in question are just) retribution against violations of natural rights, usually at the behest of the victim, so that’s fine. But what justifies the state in forcing people who have violated no one’s natural rights to pay it money.  To this, I give a handful of answers which are not that satisfying, but which I think are the best you can do. Three of them are:

  1. Violating rights to protect rights.Even if utility does not trump rights, might an action be acceptable which violates rights but prevents other rights violations so that there are “less” violations (whatever that means) than otherwise?
  2. Free-rider problems.It’s possible that Pareto-improving collective action could be prevented by interminable problems of negotiation. Perhaps a state is assuming power justly if doing so improves the welfare of all members. (Interpersonal utility comparison is not a problem in this case, but it’s still a problem that utility is unobservable.)
  3. Payment for judicial services.Complex forms of property rights, such as corporate property rights with their separation of ownership and control etc., are probably only possible with the help of state coercion. To the extent that the state facilitates wealth creation through provision of sophisticated property rights (which arise from natural property rights but are too complex for casual moral intuition to settle disputes about), it may be justified in extracting some of the wealth thus created from the beneficiaries of judicial services.

Where does this leave the undocumented immigrant? To simplify somewhat, he has violated no one’s rights, and no one has a right to interfere with him. Continue reading “Answer to Vipul’s question about enforcement” »

Immigration enforcement — what’s morally acceptable? A question for fellow open borders advocates

My co-bloggers at this site, particularly Nathan and John, have expended quite a lot of words to the effect that deportation (or self-deportation) is a cruel solution to the problem of illegal/unauthorized immigration (see here, here, and here for some of John’s stuff, and here and here for examples from Nathan). Their arguments draw on the distinction between immigration legislation and morality and on the distinction between law and legislation, plus a lot of moving anecdotes. Nathan has gone so far as to suggest that breaking unjust immigration laws is not merely morally permissible but even morally laudatory — a form of satyagraha — see for instance here.

I’m sympathetic to these kinds of arguments (and I’ve been critical of the “they broke the law” type arguments myself). At the same time, I feel that harping too much on this kind of reasoning is dismissive of some very legitimate concerns, namely, how can you enforce any immigration policy — or any specific keyhole solution — without some enforcement teeth? Christopher Chang makes a related point in a comment:

You repeatedly frame this as a righteous crusade, with some implied urgency. This can be very dangerous. We’re in agreement that fighting poverty is a righteous crusade; I wouldn’t be trying to communicate with you if I thought you were actually enemy combatants. But I can easily come up with mathematical models more accurate than any that Caplan has ever proposed where opening borders *decreases* human welfare, potentially massively so. While there is a human cost to deportation, the reality is that the eventual human costs of not enforcing the law can be far, far greater, so even your “urgent advocacy” example is fallacious. [emphasis added]

In fact, in the way it cheaply exploits normal human biases to try to both undermine accurate accounting and depict more sober thinkers as evil, it’s essentially belligerent. You need to stop doing this, and do a far better job of adhering to the spirit of the “principle of charity” rather than just making a show of it. Otherwise, it will become correct to actually treat you as an enemy combatant, regardless of what your intent is.

Presumably, the reality that Christopher Chang is referring to is the fact that, in the absence of any enforcement teeth, whatever immigration policy or keyhole solution a government puts down on paper will have little effect on the ground. For instance, a policy of keeping out criminals is pointless if the criminals who migrate illegally have immunity from any enforcement actions. Similarly, a policy that imposes an immigration tariff has no real-world meaning if people can migrate illegally with immunity and are insulated from any recourse for failure to pay the tariff.

Open borders advocates are often dismissive of “enforcement first” individuals but I think that this is a very legitimate concern that open borders advocates have done a poor job of addressing publicly. It lies at the heart of the frustration of many restrictionists who are afraid that illegal immigration, moral sanctions against strict enforcement, and periodic amnesties make a joke of the stringent-on-paper immigration policies. To my knowledge (and I may be missing something here) neither Nathan nor John, nor most other open borders advocates, have publicly written about the kind of enforcement teeth they think would both be morally permissible in immigration law and be effective in making sure that the immigration policy is actually enforced. I’m sure they’ve thought about this issue at least a bit, but it would be good to have these thoughts in writing. So, here are some of my questions for fellow open borders advocates, and I’d love to hear answers.

  1. What are some morally permissible enforcement mechanisms for immigration policy and under what circumstances? Under what circumstances is deportation permissible? If there’s an immigration tariff to migrate legally, would a fine that is some multiple of the immigration tariff be acceptable to impose on people who migrate illegally? What type of multiple are we talking here? If the fine is not paid, what are the recourse options for the state? Is imprisonment an acceptable option? Deportation?
  2. At what level of openness of immigration policy would it be morally permissible to expend serious resources into beefing up enforcement? Clearly, my co-bloggers think that a lot of “enforcement” nowadays is misguided because the policy they are trying to enforce is immoral and harmful. But, getting the perfect policy isn’t possible. Would it be morally impermissible to expend resources on enforcement for an immigration policy that moves halfway toward the goal? Would it be morally desirable? Would my fellow open borders advocates get behind stricter enforcement for an immigration policy that is a radical improvement over the status quo but falls far short of open borders? How would they trade off the theoretical openness of borders against the strictness of enforcement?
  3. If non-deportation is a moral side-constraint, does that mean that immigration tariffs need to be price-adjusted for the difficulty of migrating illegally? For instance, if the US computed that the ideal immigration tariff for workers with no specific in-demand skills is $20,000, but a Mexican would choose to migrate legally only if the tariff were $10,000 or less (based on the coyote fees), does this impose a practical restriction on the US to offer a special discount to immigrants from Mexico, compared to immigrants from, say, China or Malaysia? Or would it be acceptable to expend resources on stricter border enforcement once some legal migration option is present?
  4. If you’re convinced that your preferred immigration solution will cause illegal immigration to drop to practically zero, thus rendering all the previous questions irrelevant, why do you think so? After all, there are strong social and legal sanctions against murder, yet there are over 10,000 intentional homicides in the United States every year. What makes you think that illegal immigration will drop to zero, or anything close to that, even under near-open borders?

Economic Judgment on Arizona’s Immigration Law

This is a cross-posting, with permission from the author, of an article that originally appeared in the Huffington Post here.

On April 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over the constitutionality of Arizona’s controversial immigration law. But jurisprudence aside, the economic verdict is already in: The law has damaged Arizona’s economy.

Arizona’s immigration law burdens businesses with regulation and penalizes workers. It has driven tens of thousands of laborers, consumers and entrepreneurs from the state, turning its bad economy even worse.

At its heart, Arizona’s immigration policy is an unfunded mandate that raises the cost of hiring workers and expanding production. Neither is good policy in even the best of economies, which we are far from experiencing currently.

The worst example: E-Verify. It’s an electronic verification system that employers are supposed to use to check the legal work status of all new employees. Besides failing to detect unauthorized immigrants 54 percent of the time — thus flunking its core function — E-Verify falsely identifies legal workers as illegal about one percent of the time. Continue reading “Economic Judgment on Arizona’s Immigration Law” »