Monday, August 18, 2014

The obsession with "border enforcement"

A recent National Review article talks about a possible compromise on the immigration issue. Given how fruitless the all-or-nothing approach of the pro-immigrant left has proven to be, I find the notion of compromise welcome. One particular point on which I can wholeheartedly agree is on the question of citizenship. Even advocates of open borders have no reason to necessarily favor citizenships for all new arrivals. Citizenship is a political privilege. Movement is a human right. On other points I agree somewhat less with the author, but, after all, that's the point of a compromise. We won't all get what we want, but we might just get improvement.
Yet I was struck yet again by this line in the conservative mantra:
"Border and visa enforcement would not be part of this compromise, but would instead have to precede it. Enforcing existing law must not be a concession one side makes to the other in negotiations; it is an absolute obligation of the executive branch, which presidents of both parties have neglected lately when it comes to immigration."
There are two fundamental problems with this obsession with border and visa enforcement. One is that enforcement is wrong morally--for instance, it can cause families to separate, or it can force people back to their old lives of hopeless poverty.
The other problem is that it's impossible. This is basic economics. Immigration policy, contrary to what people may believe, does not actually determine the number of immigrants we have. It can create barriers, additional costs, and instill fear in would-be immigrants. But if the demand is high enough, there is no fence, no wall, no system of enforcement powerful enough to keep people out.
And conservatives tacitly admit both of these problems each time they say, as this author does, that "we now have a large population of unauthorized immigrants, the vast majority of whom we will not (and should not) deport." Why wouldn't that apply to future immigrants? Yes, more immigrants will continue to trickle across our borders, despite threats to their very lives, and they will slowly become entrenched in our society, just as the previous generations did. It's not a question of the willpower of the executive branch of government. It's just life.
If forced to reflect, the average person will realize that most laws cannot actually be enforced. Drinking age? How many Americans wait until 21 to taste alcohol? Taxes? Studies typically show as much as 17% non-compliance. Speeding? Are you joking?
Immigration must be the only non-violent act which provokes so much ire that people demand 100% enforcement, or else. Not even prostitution seems to provoke such wrath!
But the even more confusing thing is that immigration restrictionists want enforcement before we change our laws. Most of the time we want more enforcement because we are convinced a law is right. It is a heinous thing to rape or murder a human being, therefore we want more law enforcement against rape and murder. On the other hand, wanting to immigrate to our country is perfectly understandable. So...we need to use violence to prevent too many people from doing it, and we won't let more people in until the violence is made more efficient?
If you want to know how we should treat immigrants, the answer is simple. You should treat them the same way you treat 99% of your fellow citizens: as strangers. Unless, of course, you're in the habit of rounding up new neighbors and forcing them to leave.