Tag Archives: morality of violating restrictive immigration laws

What part of “immoral” don’t you understand?

A common retort to suggestions that our governments regularise the status of irregular immigrants is that these people are “criminals”, they’re “illegal”, and just what part of illegal don’t I understand? The mainstream immigration reform has adopted this rhetoric too, even if they claim to reject it; the rhetoric of US President Obama (who at the time I write just announced a deferral of deportation for some few million migrants) and others has been chock full of insistence that irregular immigrants owe a debt to society, that they ought to do some sort of penance — perhaps pay a fine — in return for any sort of regularisation. In short, the mainstreamers say that they do understand that these migrants are “illegal”, and that they do intend to punish them — just not as badly as the hardcore restrictionists want.

I see no justice in this. As co-blogger Joel Newman says, our governments owe irregular migrants an apology, not a fine. Make no mistake about it: if you’ve done something wrong, if you’ve injured someone or taken someone’s property, you ought to pay the price. But if all you’ve done is an honest day’s work, if all you’ve lived in is a home you’ve paid the price for, then there is nothing to punish you for. Living in the shadows our government forced you into for dreaming of a better future for yourself and a family was more than punishment enough.

The persistent, shrill cries of “what part of illegal don’t you understand?” are pretty blind to the meaning of the term “illegal” in the first place. For instance, most of these people don’t seem aware that it’s not a crime to be present without a lawful immigration status in the US; this is such basic legal knowledge that it didn’t make any headlines when the Supreme Court acknowledged this in an aside as part of a larger ruling on immigration law. For another, most of these people routinely break the law and get indignant when it is actually enforced against them. Just witness the furore when bicyclists are ticketed for cycling on the sidewalk, or when drivers are caught speeding by automated cameras. If committing unlawful acts in the course of ordinary business makes immigrants “illegal”, that makes everyone “illegal”.

Now of course people will say immigration law is on a special plane of existence, something that deserves far more respect than menial traffic laws. Sure. I simply say: let the punishment fit the crime.

The consensus is that half of all undocumented migrants in the US entered lawfully at a border checkpoint, and simply took up residence or employment in violation of the terms of their visa. There is no crime in paying rent for a residence, and no crime in searching for work. If an immigrant applying for my job is stealing from me, then who did I steal from when I applied for the job I hold now? Is it only a crime when immigrants do it?

These undocumented migrants should be punished appropriately for any actual crimes they have committed. If they drove drunk, if they shoplifted, if they committed welfare fraud, whatever — they should do the time, and pay the fine. But they should not be deported or excluded from the country they call home. As long as they are willing to accept the laws of their new home, and accept the punishments of these laws, they should be allowed to stay. They entered legally. The most they should be required to do to stay is fill out a basic form, and submit to legal proceedings for any other unpunished crimes in their past. Innocent immigrants who have done nothing worse than pay rent and earn honest wages deserve an apology for the persecution that our laws unjustly put them through.

As for the other half who entered without inspection at a border checkpoint, they should submit to a screening comparable to what they would have gone through at the border, and register with the authorities. Again, the idea is to make restitution for the original offense. The original offense, in legal parlance, was “entering without inspection”. So let the punishment fit the crime.

But it wouldn’t be fair, you might say. What about all the immigrants waiting in line? Well, whose fault is it that they are waiting in that line? Isn’t it your fault that the government you elected made crappy laws which have kept out all these innocent immigrants, and forced them to choose between waiting in a line that will never end (literally: some visa categories have backlogs that exceed 80 years), or migrating illegally?

I do agree it is not fair to do amnesties in a one-off manner. It is not fair to the good people who want to immigrate legally, but who are banned from doing so by irrational quotas and queues. It is also not fair to all of us who are harmed by the bad apples, the actual criminals, who either hide amongst the innocents in the undocumented population, or worse, take advantage of these migrants’ warranted fear of the government to abuse and exploit them.

Many governments — such as those of France and Germany, to name a couple you may have heard of — do not do one-off amnesties; instead, anyone who migrated illegally but who has otherwise complied with the law for a sufficient length of time is allowed to register with the government and become a legal immigrant. If we can’t have open borders, let’s at least allow anyone who has proven their commitment and loyalty to our laws to come out into the open and register as a law-abiding member of our community. That’s the fair thing to do, instead of having these one-offs.

But at the end of the day, if being fair to those immigrants in line is what bothers you so much, well — it’s the line your government created. The absurdity of having queues backlogged such that people applying today would have to wait an entire human lifetime to get their application approved is something only a government could create. The problem isn’t those good people forced to choose between waiting in line versus entering by other means to rejoin their families or seek gainful employment. The problem is your government and the stupid laws it made up.

Now, those laws aren’t stupid you might say. I agree: to the extent that they protect us from criminals, contagious disease outbreaks, and other harms, they are good laws. But to the extent that they “protect” us from people who just want to pay the market price to live in a safe home and work in a functioning economy, they are bad laws. To the extent that they treat someone whose ambition is to earn minimum wage washing dishes 18 hours a day as if he’s the scum of the earth, they are evil laws.

I’ve written before that the best way to secure the US’s border with Mexico would be to open it. Drug lords and slave traffickers rely on being able to disguise themselves among the masses of innocent people crawling through sewers to rejoin their families; let those innocent people buy bus tickets instead of paying thousands to coyotes, and where will the criminals hide? Restrictionists scoff at the idea of these immigrants being innocent — but you tell me, where’s the sense in treating someone who just wants to mop your floors for minimum wage as if he is the equivalent of a murderous drug trafficker?

I understand the intuition that one should comply with the law, and that failing to comply with the law generally marks you as a bad person — somewhere on the scale between reckless and just plain criminal. But this intuition only works for laws where the burden of compliance applies equally to everyone. Everyone knows what it means to not steal. But does everyone know what it means to comply with immigration law?

I would bet anyone that the majority of citizens of any country have no idea how the typical migrant in their country should comply with their own country’s immigration laws. Why should any of us know? All we ever did to comply with the law was be born. We didn’t have to do anything else, just slide out of the right person’s uterus at the right time, on the right soil.

Anyone in the US who has ever been in trouble with their taxes should know the feeling: you did everything right, and yet apparently your filing was still illegal — the government says you didn’t pay enough taxes. US tax law is so complicated that in some cases even the Internal Revenue Service throws up its hands and admits it doesn’t know what the law says. Yet for all your trouble, the public lambasts you as a tax evader, blasts you for not paying your fair share. And that is pretty rich, when virtually everyone who files taxes has likely fallen afoul of some technicality in the law (did you really report on your tax return the $20 in income you earned from that casual bar bet with your cousin?).

Multiply this frustration a few hundred times over and you can imagine the frustration of complying with immigration law. Some of the best, most honest and decent people I have personally known have been “illegal”. In some cases they didn’t even realise it until after the fact: as a student, your visa bans you from working more than a certain number of hours. Exceed the limit, and bam, you’re “illegal”. In other cases, delays or government processing issues while you’re transitioning from one visa type to another mean that you can “fall out of status” until your new visa is approved. Bam! Illegal.

And these are the lucky ones: they were already present in the US, and nobody could conveniently detect they’d committed these violations of immigration law. Usually nobody would ever be the wiser that they had, for a period of time, been “illegal”. Millions more such innocent people are trapped in the unlucky position of either waiting decades in line, or just jumping a fence that shouldn’t be keeping them out in the first place. Long wait times for immigrants to the US aren’t unusual; they’re the norm. Stories of the insanity of immigration law are a dime a dozen: see this, this, this, or this.

But how many citizens know of this? They know nothing, of course: the law has nothing to do with them. They can feel free to demand 100% compliance with the law, because they will always be 100% compliant. All they have to do is breathe. It’s pretty easy to follow the law when you have to do nothing. How can you demand people follow the law when you yourself have no idea what the law demands, and you yourself don’t have to do anything to comply with it?

I am making no claim to perfection here. As a Malaysian, I have no idea what laws the foreigners living in my country have to comply with. When people ask me about how easy it is for foreigners to live in Malaysia, all I can say is “Well I saw a lot of them in my junior college so I think it’s pretty easy to come in”. I honestly have no freaking idea what our visa laws are; I have no reason or incentive to, because by definition, it is impossible for me to ever break the law!

Claims that “Well, my ancestors followed the law” ring pretty hollow. After all, what laws did your ancestors follow? In the case of most Americans, their ancestors immigrated legally because all you had to do to immigrate was not be Chinese. If by definition it is impossible for you or your ancestors to have broken the law, then it is pretty rich of you to insist that you know exactly what laws others should comply with. Yet people often pretend they know exactly what the laws are, and blame the victims of these abusive laws for not submitting to their unwarranted punishment.

Anti-Chinese poster

What’s good for the goose is good for the gander: if you want people to prove their loyalty and knowledge of your country by passing a test, then why don’t you subject yourself to that same test? Why not? Didn’t your schooling prepare you for that test?

If millions of ordinary people can waste 20 years of their adult lives waiting for government permission to pay rent and apply for jobs, why not you? What makes you so special? Isn’t it unfair to others who did wait those decades in line, who actually complied with the bullshit hoops your government made them jump through? Your ancestors didn’t jump through those hoops — so don’t you owe it to them to follow the law on their behalf?

And so on you go, railing against “amnesty”, even though there’s a good chance if you are American that you are only here today thanks to an amnesty your ancestors arguably didn’t deserve. I refer, of course, to that time some of your ancestors took up arms in violent rebellion against the lawful government of the United States, and were rewarded with an unconditional amnesty for their trouble.

At the end of the day, there is nothing that makes sense about most immigration laws. A handful of restrictions actually target terrorists, criminals, or contagious disease carriers. The rest of these laws just treat people who want to pay market rent for a safe home and the chance to earn the market wage for honest work as though they are criminals for doing the same things as everyone else. There is no sense in treating a minimum wage cook like a cutthroat, and there is no justice.

The real question isn’t what part of illegal don’t I understand; I’m well aware that, at least far as my own country goes, I don’t understand, because I have no reason to! No matter how many laws I break or how many wrongs I commit, I’ll always be in compliance with Malaysia’s immigration laws.

The real question is, what part of “illegal” do you understand at all? You don’t understand any of it. You don’t know what it’s like to be worried that accidentally working one extra hour a week this semester might mean that you’ll get deported. You don’t know what it’s like to earn pennies a day, banned from earning the dollars which your hard work could easily earn you because this year, only 23 people from your country of millions will be given work permits.

The persistence in which people pretend that complying with the law is no burden, that if their ancestors could do it then so can anyone else, truly boggles the mind. Laws which ban parents from paying to put a roof over their children’s heads and ban dutiful children from sending home money to care for their aging parents criminalise the virtues we so often commend to ourselves. What can this be, if not hypocritical injustice? Let me ask you — what part of “immoral” don’t you understand?

A Voice for Immigrants – Could it be Dan Mitchell?

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. Continue reading “A Voice for Immigrants – Could it be Dan Mitchell?” »

Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders

Please don’t confuse this with the blog post open borders advocates and private charity, which is about a criticism of hypocrisy leveled against open borders advocates.

A while back (November 23, 2012), open borders advocate Bryan Caplan did an immigration charity bleg. His question for his blog readers:

Suppose you wanted to spend your charitable dollars to increase the total number of people who migrate from the Third World to the First World. What approach would give you the biggest bang for your buck? Are any specific countries, organizations, or loopholes especially promising?

Unconventional answers are welcome as long as they’re genuinely effective. Please show your work.

I have been considering this question for a while. On October 27, 2012, I had a Skype conversation with Holden Karnofsky of charity evaluator GiveWell where we discussed related ideas. GiveWell decided not to publish the conversation, as it was too preliminary and tentative, so I won’t go into the details of what was discussed; GiveWell does publish better-quality conversations on its conversations page. More recently (December 7, 2012), Shaun Raviv, blogging for effective giving advocate-cum-charity evaluator Giving What We Can, expressed interest in migration as a way of helping the poor, with the first in a planned series of blog posts published about three weeks ago.

In this blog post, I will discuss various ways to increase migration and/or move towards open borders, drawing heavily on the comment responses to Caplan’s bleg.

Possible different goals people could have in mind

I want to begin with the same caution that I expressed in my own comment on Caplan’s bleg:

I think you need to be a bit more specific on what the goal is. Is the goal to simply increase the quantity of migration from people living in Third World countries, or do you wish to focus on poor people in these countries? Would a reasonably well-to-do graduate student in computer science who wants a job in the IT sector qualify for your concern? Are you okay with guest worker programs that have a return date stamped on them, or do you insist on immigration with no such return restrictions?

How you rank and rate the various ideas presented below, and which ones you consider worthy of further investigation, depends a lot on whether your goal is to increase migration numbers, whether you care about world GDP, whether you place more weight on the same numerical GDP gain concentrated on poorer people, and many other deep questions of ethics. This is one reason I’m not going to try the daunting task of ranking the many options presented.

For the rest of this blog post, I’ll use the term “immigration” to refer to both immigration and temporary movement for students and guest workers, even though that is not technically correct.

Also, just to be clear, I do not necessarily endorse all the ideas here. An evaluation of the pros and cons (moral as well as strategic) of each idea here would make this post far too long. I will discuss the more interesting ideas among these in more detail in subsequent posts, and will be happy to share my views on specific ideas in the comments if you have questions.

Options for increasing immigration without changing or breaking immigration laws

The simplest, most immediate, and least risky (in terms of avoiding trouble with the law) proposition is to attempt to increase legal (authorized) immigration within the existing framework of laws. There are many different visa categories, some of which have strict quantity limits with the limits almost always met. Other visa categories have unfilled quotas on a regular basis, and/or have no quotas. Increasing immigration in the categories that have unfilled quotas or no quantity caps is probably the more fruitful option. Some countries do not have quantity restrictions (or are very far from exhausting the quantity restrictions) but have specific points systems that require specific skills (e.g., Canada). Working to help prospective immigrants acquire these skills might be another path. Anyway, here’s the list of suggestions on Caplan’s bleg that fall in this category:

  • Marriage: Most countries offer essentially unrestricted immigration for the spouses of current citizens, wherever in the world these spouses reside. Encouraging more marriages between Americans (or people in the desired target country of migration) and foreigners might therefore be one method. Two proposals in this regard were made on Caplan’s bleg. daubery:

    For the US specifically, look for people willing to marry foreigners. This is the only immigration route that doesn’t have a hard cap. This could even be profit-making if they agreed under the table to kick back some of their increased earnings. You may need to base your matchmaking service off-shore so as not to have the list of clients fall into the hands of the US immigration force, however.

    Here’s Joe Cushing’s response to daubery:


    There is no way on earth, I’d give a woman, whom I don’t know, the power of the state to use against me by marrying me. Although I suppose an immigrant woman would have a bit less power but divorces don’t go well for men, usually. The state sides with the woman. Even if I got to know these women for a few months, you could never trust the state not to screw you over in the end somehow. The state has really inserted itself into our relationships in an unhealthy way and this is true, even for domestic to domestic relationships. It effects divorce rates, divorce outcomes, and the power structure effects otherwise healthy relationships. Whenever women complain about men fearing commitment; I like to tell them that men don’t fear commitment, men fear the state. A marriage to a man is a completely different risk than it is to a woman. This is why woman can’t understand how we feel.

    With all of this to consider, You should focus on American women who would be willing to marry foreign men. The foreign men would be willing to take the risk. Then again, domestic men would be willing to take the risk to find more attractive women than they could find here. That’s why we have these mail order bride services already.


    What about funding an agency which promotes speed-dating between third-world and first-world citizens?

    As for the ethics of this, I think there is little that is more ethical than to help people circumvent evil laws.

  • Adoption: Although the adoption of foreign infants does suffer from some bureaucratic constraints, this does seem to be a category that does not suffer from numerical restrictions of the kind that other visas do. Adoption is also a solution that even restrictionists (such as Mark Krikorian of CIS) would tend not to oppose, because their chief concern — that immigrants arrive already steeped in a different culture — does not apply to people who are adopted into the country they’re immigrating to at birth or when very young, and who are raised by people who are already steeped in the culture. Nonetheless, there are various obstacles arising from international realpolitik. Here’s a post by Dan Carroll (adoptive father of a kid from Ethiopia), critical of various restrictions on adoption (HT: Bryan Caplan, as usual).
  • Education and specific skills training (including language training) to help more immigrants meet the qualifications to immigrate: Lots of suggestions of this sort on Caplan’s bleg. Neal:

    Might not maximize bang/$, but here we go:

    Educational charities (incl universities themselves) who fund people from poor countries to study in rich countries – especially PhDs. They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.

    For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?

    oneeyedman (excerpt of comment, not the full comment):

    There are probably different answers for different budgets. I suspect that teaching French to African English speaking college students so they can use the Canadian point based immigration system would do it. You could fund French clubs inexpensively and partner with local schools and or professors.

    Motoko responds to oneeyedman:

    “They can bypass immigration to an extent as it’s a different category of visa and easier to justify hiring someone from abroad. Although this doesn’t directly achieve citizenship, it can do indirectly.”

    I’m in an engineering PhD program. The majority of students are foreign. The problem with hiring foreigners for high-caliber work is that they’re culturally and socially illiterate. Maybe 10% of them can overcome this hurdle and get hired in the US.

    But those that can’t… well… they just go back to their home country. They don’t earn half of what they’d earn in the U.S., but they are no longer so poor that they need our help.

    “For example, in some countries (e.g. Denmark?) I believe PhD students can be treated as staff and get work permits, and if you work for 4 years, you can get residency?”

    Good point. We shouldn’t just try to get more people in the States. Generally, we should try to get the needy into better countries that are easy to immigrate to.

    A more cynical approach (that is not suggested by anybody on Caplan’s bleg) is to help foster the creation and expansion of visa mills, which are analogous to diploma mills. While diploma mills offer fake higher education degrees for their credential value to all comers, visa mills offer fake higher education degrees to foreigners to help them get fraudulent student visas. These foreigners can take up small jobs while in the US while allegedly studying, save money, and then either get a permanent job or go home with some saved money. The probable reason is that such visa mills, aside from the ethical issues, are likely to get caught and put in trouble all people who went through the visa mill. Here’s a piece from the CIS critical of visa mills and diploma mills.

  • Better matching of employees with employers: There are some types of employer-sponsored visas for which the quotas are not completely filled, and for these, organizations that better help match employers and employees could be useful. This is particularly the case for relatively “unskilled” jobs, where employers and employees are less likely to already be connected through educational and Internet-based networks. An example is CITA (Independent Agricultural Workers Center) which matches farm owners in the US with people in other countries interested in temporary farm work in the US. The temporary worker can then get a H2 visa authorization to work at the farm. They hope to eventually be self-sustaining, but are currently structured as a non-profit and initially funded by donations. Michael Clemens blogged about CITA here. For related content, see our page on migrant labor in the US agricultural sector. There are probably similar opportunities for other countries and other worker types that help reduce the frictional costs of matching employers with employees across huge geographical distances.
  • Other creative workarounds: A few of these are listed at the migration arbitrage business opportunities page.

Making small changes or tweaks to the laws governing legal immigration

Another possible direction is to increase the quotas for legal immigration in various categories, or reduce the qualifications and requirements for those categories, or make other changes that facilitate increased levels of legal migration. I’m talking of small “tweaks” here that operate within the margins of public indifference, for which there is neither much public enthusiasm nor much public resistance. The startup visa might be an example. Effecting such a change, however, does not seem to be an easy task, at least in the US context, because any change in the immigration regime, however slight, is typically held up by demands for “comprehensive immigration reform” where the definition of “comprehensive” varies from person to person, and where the different sides of the debate often have diametrically opposite conceptions of reform.

Another possible area where policy might be more responsive to special interest lobbying while moving along the margin of public indifference is asylum advocacy. Continue reading “Possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders” »

Immigration, emigration, and the rule of law

Large numbers of people in the United States (and possibly elsewhere) draw a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Common refrains include, “I have nothing against immigration, only illegal immigration.” Prospective immigrants are urged to get in line. Illegal immigrants are called “illegals” and questionable analogies are drawn with hostile alien invasions. Crossing borders without authorization is considered so fundamentally immoral that people who do so are punished more harshly than sex offenders. The kinder, gentler opponents of unauthorized border-crossing go far enough to concede that deporting millions of people isn’t practical, and instead favor attrition through enforcement, aka self-deportation.

For the moment, I’m interested specifically in those opponents of illegal immigration who explicitly argue that they have nothing against immigration per se, even dramatically increased immigration, but illegal immigration is bad specifically because it undermines respect for the rule of law. And given that people don’t have enough respect for US law (or the laws of the country they’re immigrating to) to immigrate legally, why would they respect the laws of the land once they have settled there?

This argument can be, and has been, critiqued from many angles (see the legal versus illegal page for more). Here, I’m going to critique it by contrasting it with emigration. A number of regimes, mostly communist, explicitly forbid people from leaving the country (fortunately, this number has been dwindling over the last few decades, with Cuba’s lifting of its travel embargo being the latest positive development). And yet, we know that emigration has been crucial for people escaping communist and other tyrannical regimes. And these people have helped shed light on the crimes of these regimes and helped end some of the worst practices of these regimes. Today, the only country that’s really hard to leave due to government restrictions is North Korea.

My question: when people illegally smuggle themselves out of North Korea to go to Mongolia and then to South Korea, or Cubans illegally escape their country to come to the United States, or East Germans cross the Berlin Wall to get into West Germany, why aren’t restrictionists equally worried about the lack of respect these emigrants display for the “rule of law” in their countries? After all, they are explicitly and clearly violating the laws of the country they were born into. If so, why should we expect them to follow the laws of the country they are migrating to?

You’d probably say I am attacking a straw man here. Clearly, the emigration laws of these countries are so depraved that it is morally permissible to break them, and morally impermissible to actively try to enforce them. And if somebody violates these laws, it does not mean that the person is likely to violate generally sensible laws in other domains of life.

But this raises the question: are immigration laws also sufficiently unjust that it is morally permissible to violate them? Although restrictionists often use the killing versus letting die distinction, the truth is that considerable violence is necessary to close borders — whether you’re closing them to prevent entry or to prevent escape. And does people’s violating immigration laws mean that they have no respect for the rule of law in general, or just that they simply don’t see immigration law as being on the same moral plane as, say, laws against murder and theft, or simple rules about what side of the road to drive on?

Now, my goal in this blog post is not to argue that opposition to immigration is obviously or always immoral, or that these moral considerations override the real-world costs of immigration (I do obviously believe that — or I wouldn’t have created this site and wouldn’t be blogging here — but that is not the purpose of this blog post). Rather, what I’m claiming is that people who specifically object to immigration because it’s “illegal” while claiming no objections to legal immigration are ducking the hard question of whether, in fact, immigration laws are sufficiently morally justified to make their violation immoral. Honest opponents of immigration would do better to actually engage the moral and practical considerations surrounding immigration rather than claim that their “only” problem with immigration is that it’s illegal.