A couple of years ago, I wrote about an immigration analogy I read on another site. I don’t want to repeat the whole thing, but here’s the key part I didn’t like:
Let me see if I correctly understand the thinking behind these protests. Let’s say I break into your house. Let’s say that when you discover me in your house, you insist that I leave.
But I say, “I’ve made all the beds and washed the dishes and did the laundry and swept the floors. I’ve done all the things you don’t like to do. I’m hard-working and honest (except for when I broke into your house).
It’s only fair, after all, because you have a nicer house than I do, and I’m just trying to better myself. I’m a hard-working and honest, person, except for well, you know, I did break into your house.
I thought this analogy was pretty flawed, and I offered one of my own:
Let’s say I own a house, and I’ve hired you to tend my lawn. It’s a great deal for both of us. You get money and I get a great lawn.
However, my neighbor doesn’t like you, so he forces you off my property at gunpoint, and just to teach me a lesson, he steals some of my stuff.
The point, in case it’s not clear, is that the United States of America is not your house. It’s our house. Actually, it’s more like a neighborhood of houses, and you’re complaining about who your neighbors have as guests. Which is none of your business.
A couple of days ago, somebody named Phil left a comment that illustrates a fairly typical response:
The first analogy makes some sense, but the follow up analogy is absurd, since it ignores the fact that the person is in the country ILLEGALLY. Why is that such a hard concept for some people? Unless of course you feel that laws are only meant as guidelines, and you get to pick the laws that you will follow.
Well, I am a libertarian, so just because what they’re doing is illegal doesn’t mean I hold it against them. I may not get to pick the laws that I will follow, but I sure as hell get to pick the laws that I respect. And I think immigration laws are too stupid to respect.
Like many other people who complain about illegal immigration, my commenter here would probably insist that he has nothing against immigrants. Advocates of strict immigration enforcement usually insist they’re only opposed to illegal immigrants.
Frankly, I doubt their sincerity, because you never hear them arguing for more relaxed immigration rules that would make it easier for people to immigrate legally. To get an idea what’s required of legal immigrants these days, check out this diagram published in Reason magazine.
As near as I can figure it, every year about 800,000 people immigrate legally. Most of those 800,000 got green cards under some sort of special rules for skilled workers sponsored by employers or people with family members already resident in the United States. But unless they were some kind of superstar or the spouse, parent, or minor child of a U.S. citizen, they probably had to wait five years or more to get a green card.
If you’re an unskilled laborer, or a skilled laborer who can’t find someone to sponsor an H-1B visa, you have almost no hope at all of entering the country legally. Only about 10,000 non-skilled, non-family immigrants are allowed to enter legally each year. By comparison, each year about 500,000 people enter the country illegally, down from 800,000 a few years ago. I think we can safely assume that most of those people are unskilled workers. That means that unskilled workers want to enter the country at a rate 50 to 80 times higher than is legally allowed.
Or to put it another way, we can eliminate the problem of illegal immigration with an 80-fold increase in green cards for unskilled laborers. This would roughly double the legal immigration rate. I wonder how many people of the “but they’re illegal” crowd would support such a measure. My guess is not many, because when you suggest reforming immigration law, they usually respond with some variation of “let’s deal with the illegals first.”
What’s so bad about illegal immigration anyway? Yes, I know it’s illegal, but lots of things are illegal. Just because something is a law, doesn’t mean it’s a good law. I’m pretty sure all of us can think of a few laws that are unimportant or just plain wrong. Between federal, state, and local laws, I’ll bet there are a million defined crimes in this country, and we all probably commit a couple of felonies and a handful of misdemeanors every day (and several traffic violations per hour while driving). Again, the real question is not whether illegal immigration is illegal, but how and why it’s a bad thing.
The problem can’t just be that illegal immigrants are living and working here in the United States, because hundreds of millions of U.S. citizens are doing the exact same thing. All illegal immigrants want is what people like me already have, and if it’s not wrong for me to have it, why would it be wrong for them?
I suppose the answer is that they’re born in other countries. I’m not entirely sure why that makes them less worthy to live here, but lets accept it for the sake of argument. That still can’t be the complete answer, becase we do in fact let in hundreds of thousands of people from other countries every year. There must be some additional difference between people from other countries that we let in, and people from other countries that come here illegally because we don’t let them in.
As far as I can tell, with the exception of people who are explicitly prohibited from entering — serious criminals, terrorists, people with dangerous contagious diseases — most of the people who come here illegally would be allowed to come here legally except for one thing: Immigration quotas.
Understand that these quotas are arbitrary by definition. They’re not based on the qualities or behavior of the people they apply to. The only difference between the immigrants we let in and the ones we don’t is where they were in line.
What illegal immigration amounts to is taking your turn when you’re not supposed to. It’s the moral equivalent of fishing without a permit, or running a red light when there’s no other traffic. I just can’t get worked up over it.