Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conservatives and immigration: a glimmer of hope?

Since Obama won the recent presidential election, much of the commentary has been on how much the outcome was influenced by changes in demographics. Such is the opinion, for example, of Jose Antonio Vargas, the one-man crusade for immigration reform in America. For example, there's this from his facebook page:
According to exit polls, and the role of the Latino vote (and other immigrant groups and our allies), it looks like Mitt Romney may be 'self-deporting" himself from this presidential election. 

What will the GOP do?
Apparently there is an answer to this question already in the works:
Two prominent conservatives -- radio host Sean Hannity and columnist Charles Krauthammer -- advocate an immigration bill that would include both tighter border security and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here -- i.e., something close to Obama's position.
Note that ths consitutes a genuine change of thought on the conservative side. As a libertarian, I would say this solution is not enough--open the borders, I say!--but it represents one way in which democracy can force change among politicians. It's a good thing that Americans may after all become more liberal on this issue.

Conservative opposition to freer immigration laws frustrates me on multiple levels. First, there's the economic argument. The myth that illegal immigrants are a net drain on our entitlement system is far too often perpetuated on the right. In reality, many illegal immigrants actually pay taxes each year. The economic reality of immigration is that it happens precisely for the reasons economists expect--people are guided by market forces to seek opportunities where they can find them. Thus when there are jobs that need to be filled, people come to fill them. Limits on immigration are, economically speaking, one of the worst anti-free market measures we can take.

Second, there's the national sovereignty argument. This is very old and perhaps very natural. For some reason we humans like to claim land for ourselves, even when we just arrived on said land quite recently. Such is the history of America. It's worth reminding ourselves that--yes, here it comes, prepare yourself for eyes rolling--we are nation of immigrants. It should be well embedded in our culture by now that new-comers are normal, that being American does not mean looking or thinking or acting a particular way. All we ought to ask is that people be peaceful. The fear that our "culture" will be fundamentally changed is shown to be quite silly when one remembers how easy it is to share the spirit of basic human decency: "don't harm me and I won't harm you." This is a libertarian ideal, yes, but it also happens to conform with the distinctly American traditions of liberty, a pioneering spirit, and the idea that ours is a land of opportunity. I have trouble understanding why more conservatives don't go for this.

Most of all, however, I simply cannot understand why so many conservatives are able to argue passionately against abortion as a violation of basic human rights, all the while using essentially "pro-choice" arguments (applied to a different political entity, of course) against immigration. What are the arguments in favor of tolerating abortion? Well, the fetus is not like other human beings: she doesn't look like us, she doesn't have the same attachments to our world of culture and language, and she is in many cases not wanted. Keeping her alive could cost enormous amounts of resources, not to mention the many other emotional and social reasons why her existence could be a terrible burden. Thus, abortion is sometimes the only logical option.

Now substitute "fetus" with "immigrant" and "abortion" with "deportation" and see what happens. It's pretty amazing, isn't it? I am not impressed by the objection that abortion is killing while deporation is not. Deportation, though it is not the worst form of violence possible, is still violence (except in Mitt Romney's imaginary world in which immigrants will happily pick up and leave because we ask). It can be extremely damaging to families, particularly to children who grow up knowing nothing but this country and then are asked to leave. If you think that is consistent with freedom, I beg you to think it over again.

So, particularly if the Republicans are going to keep the pro-life position on abortion as part of their platform (and yes, I am one of those who think they should), I submit they should also adopt a more liberal immigration policy. This does not mean we stop caring about who crosses our borders. On the contrary, it means we can improve our border security by focusing on the people who are actually criminals, such as those people who, you know, kill people.

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