Illegal Immigration: Make it Legal

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby wrote a wonderful column yesterday that highlights the inconsistent stance of many conservatives when it comes to immigration:

If Republicans really believe, as Baker says, that “it doesn’t make any sense’’ to allow illegal immigrants to enjoy the same benefits as other state residents, why stop with in-state tuition? Why not bar them from driving on state highways? From camping in state parks? From using libraries?

Of course illegal immigration is a problem. But it can only be solved by overhauling our dysfunctional immigration laws, not by demonizing or scapegoating illegal immigrants. Those immigrants didn’t come here in order to be lawbreakers; they broke a law in order to come here. That’s a distinction with a crucial difference – one that sensible and principled conservatives should be able to understand.

A point of my own to add: many conservatives say they have no problem with immigration itself. Just illegal immigration. Often, this isn’t actually true. Here’s a thought experiment: suppose the definition of legality were changed overnight. Suppose the twelve million men, women, and children currently here illegally are now, suddenly, legal.

People who really are only against illegal immigration will now welcome these new citizens to America with open arms. After all, they’re legal now.

But many conservative immigration opponents don’t think that way, even though they use that reasonable-sounding legality argument. They oppose legalization. They tar it as “amnesty.”

That means some factor other than legality plays into their opinion. They shouldn’t be using it as an argument. Maybe they believe that the U.S. is overpopulated (it isn’t). A belief that immigrants consume more public services than they pay for in taxes (in the long run, they don’t). Whatever. Let the intellectual battle over immigration move to those fronts, then. The legality argument is just a smokescreen. It is the triumph of semantics over substance.

Immigration is either good or bad for America. This is true whether or not the laws in the books reflect that. That is the substance of the matter. I happen to think immigration is an almost unmitigated blessing. And I will defend that view with logic and data. Not an appeal to a dysfunctional legal code rooted in obsolete Progressive-era thought.


2 responses to “Illegal Immigration: Make it Legal

  1. destructionist

    Most people in America aren’t against immigration; they’re just against illegal immigration. For example, like most of our ancestors, my mother’s parents were immigrants. They came through Ellis Island and followed the various legal steps required in order to establish themselves as true citizens of this country. The immigrants crossing the Mexican border, however, have absolutely no interest in following these legal protocols. Once they cross the border, they change their names and/or purchase social security numbers in an effort to conceal their true identities from the law. It is not uncommon for an illegal immigrant to purchase not one, but two or more social security numbers, just in case one is flagged. I have witnessed this crime with my own eyes. (One day, a supposedly legal immigrant was asked to give their social security card to a receptionist for a job application and an interview. When the receptionist happened to ask to see the card a second time, the immigrant mistakenly handed over a different social security card with the same name on it, but with a completely different set of numbers…)

    Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against Hispanics. I have many Hispanic friends, but they either have green cards to work in the United States or have become legal citizens. They decided to follow the rule of law and work within the boundaries of our legal system. Unfortunately, many immigrants do not, and it is those particular individuals that we are most concerned about.

    Now it seems that those who sympathize with illegal immigrants wish to hijack the discussion of reform by attacking the law recently imposed by the State of Arizona through protests and boycotts; a state mind you, that has been besieged with crime, drugs and an ever-increasing population of illegal immigrants. Don’t allow them this option. Speak out and take action. This is your country… fight for it.

    In closing, I consider myself to be a bleeding-heart liberal: a Democrat. My ancestor, Roger Williams – the founder of Rhode Island and founder of the First Baptist Church in America, was one too; regarding the acceptance of different nationalities, cultures and religions as the vitality and lifeblood of any country. Nevertheless, I think that he would agree with me; that immigrants wishing to become legal citizens have not only the obligation, but the civil and legal responsibility to follow the rules of law established by any country in which they wish to become authentic citizens, just as our ancestors – both yours and mine – struggled so arduously and righteously to achieve.

    • Destructionist – thanks for writing. According to the data, crime has actually been declining in Arizona, even as illegal immigration increases. Same with El Paso, Texas. The commonly heard immigrant-as-criminal argument appears to not hold water –

      Perhaps if Uncle Sam didn’t make legal immigration so absurdly difficult — so inefficient that waiting times are measured in years instead of days — maybe more people would emigrate legally.