My position on immigration is simple, and in line with classical liberal tradition: anyone who wants to immigrate into the United States for the purpose of pursuing a legitimate line of work and making a living should be welcome. In a free society, the immigration process would simply involve passing through a checkpoint, verifying your id, and allowing the government to keep some documentation of your presence here. (Probably there should be some fee to be paid for these government services.) There would be no restrictions on the number of immigrants allowed to come into the country.
Current law is very different, of course. We have restrictions on the number of immigrants allowed to enter legally on any given year. Conservatives applaud this, and in debates I've heard the likes of Mitt Romney say that would-be immigrants ought to "get in line" and wait their turn.
Whatever their arguments may be (they are probably based on myths) I think it's fair to simply point out the bold contradictions between the conservative position on immigration and other supposedly "conservative" ideas. Here are two big ones.
First, restricting the number of immigrants is an inherently socialist idea, in the true, original sense of the word. "Socialism" in its classical sense means allowing the government to have control of the means of production in a society. Very few people believe in this anymore as a consistent political philosophy, yet on particular issues we sometimes allow ourselves to move in a socialist direction almost without realizing it.
Such is the case on immigration. I hope it does not seem crass to think of people as a "means of production," but in fact people are the most essential means of production. We usually think of production being driven by technology, but the study of economics shows that even with technological advancement, we simply could not achieve the kind of market efficiency we now have without the proper division of labor among people. The most important kind of capital is human capital: the various skills, ideas, and ambitions that are dispersed throughout members of the global population.
So when conservatives argue that the government should be allowed to restrict the number of people who come into our country, they are in fact saying the same thing as a socialist who argues that the government should have control over capital investment.
(On the other hand, for all conservatives' talk about "free markets," conservative opposition to real free market policies is nothing new. See e.g. their historic opposition to ending corn subsidies, their support for trade barriers, and so on.)
Second, moving away from the economics, I propose to compare immigration with no less a controversial topic as abortion.
Just imagine if the government declared that it would set an annual limit on the number of children allowed to be born in America each year. Anyone, therefore, who failed to get a license to bear children would be forbidden to have children, and any woman who got pregnant without a license would be forced to abort.
Does that sound extreme? I don't see how it's any more extreme than a Republican saying that we should put up an electric fence on the Mexican border, or that we should be "shooting these immigrants like feral hogs."
But fine, let's say that these ideas really are too extreme for the average conservative. Let's consider instead the policy of deporting all illegal immigrants. To what may we compare this policy? It is like demanding that every woman who gets pregnant without a license be forced to send her child to be adopted in another country. Is this policy any more acceptable?
Consider the following arguments and try to tell whether they apply to immigration or to abortion: "What if we can't afford them? Shouldn't we take care of people who are already here? They're a lot different from us, after all." We cannot possibly expect people to take seriously the humanity of a child in the womb, when we are unwilling to take seriously the humanity of a person seeking a new life in this country.
(Let me add here a remark regarding those who are in favor of abortion rights. I hope none of what I said will be taken as saying that proponents of abortion rights are akin to monsters who want to slaughter immigrants. I am simply offering a comparison which I think should be particularly unnerving to conservatives, given their usual alignments. That said, I am pro-life, and I do think abortion is disturbing, even when left to a woman's "choice." But I think we can all agree that forced abortion would be a monstrous policy, and I think that many conservative proposals on immigration are similarly monstrous.)
Conservatives stress that this issue is about the rule of law, and that legal immigration should be applauded while illegal immigration is denounced. But the rule of law is not simply about people following laws. "An unjust law is no law at all." No, the rule of law is about treating all people equally according to the same moral standard. There is no moral reason to deny any individual access to a new life in this great country, provided they agree to live peaceably with their neighbors.
If conservatives care about preserving the traditions that have made us great, they ought to consider that the greatest of all such traditions is that of freedom and justice for all people. This tradition, sadly, is always in danger of being opposed by the very people who say they love it the most.