The Colossus Grows Old

30 April 2010

It's easy to state the position of most Republicans on the issue of immigration:

  • They want the vast majority of unauthorized immigrants to go or be sent out of the country (presumably back to their home countries).
  • Thereäfter, they want future entry to be determined by some notion of the general interests of those who are already citizens.

It is harder to state plainly what practical policies most Democrats want.

As a practical matter, open borders cannot be reconciled with access to state subsidies of services such as education and health-care, let alone to a more general dole; there simply isn't and wouldn't be enough wealth within the United States. One possible resolution is to allow anyone entry, but to deny entrants any state subsidies; they or private charity would have to pay for everything. This resolution would not satisfy those who have further objections to immigration, but it is in any case a non-starter; when constituent states have tried to limit unauthorized immigrants to emergency services, the mainstream of left-wing activists has denounced the restrictions as racist violations of fundamental human rights, and courts have sided with those activists.

A large number of Mexican-Americans would like other Mexicans to be able to come here fairly freely; fewer would extend such welcome to the entirety of Latin America, and far fewer Hispanic-Americans would embrace such freedom for Asians and for Africans. I doubt that most Hispanic-Americans would appreciate a wave of Eastern Europeans.

(By giving preference to those who already have family members in the United States, present immigration law is designed to mollify both the my people but not those people crowd and those who don't want to compete against immigrant workers. It is much easier to get admittance for a grandmother as such than for an engineer as such.)

Many activists would like an amnesty for those presently in the United States in violation of immigration law. Opponents note that an amnesty now would raise hopes for another later, increasing the incentives for unauthorized immigration; and there is an obvious question of how (if at all) to compensate those who queued legally while recipients of the amnesty entered without authorization. Some critics insist that there would be a significant increase in other sorts of law-breaking, should punishment be waived for unauthorized entry. And, in the absence of an over-haul of entitlement programmes, any amnesty would significantly increase access to state subsidies, in an era where some constituent states are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, the Federal government is running unsustainable deficits, and a majority of Americans already believe themselves to be over-taxed. Little-if-any response to these objections has come from the Democratic coälition; indeed, many activists on the left explicitly assert a need to give unauthorized immigrants greater access to entitlement programmes.

The President's style of leadership concerning major issues has been to propose rather vague and general objectives, then leave it to the Democratic Congressional leadership to actually formulate practical proposals. He's been pressed to do more than hand-waving on immigration, but he has nothing to say. His supporters cannot hold together and be honest with each other. Many of them cannot even be honest with themselves. And they cannot be honest with the rest of America. Small wonder, then, that the President flinched. (Yet I admit to being momentarily taken-aback when I read what he had said.)

(My own position isn't at all popular either, but it is consistent and I can be honest about it. It's the aforementioned non-starter. I believe that anyone who is not shown to be a criminal should be permitted entry to the United States, but should be denied all net state-subsidies. I'd run an electrolytic current through the Colossus, so that she shined like a new penny.)

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2 Responses to The Colossus Grows Old

  • Michelle (nicoli_dominn) says:

    Your position certainly makes sense.

    What of the citizenship process, though? Should the US make it easier or harder, or is it fine as is? Should the US employ more counseling/aid workers to help immigrants become full citizens (either in government agencies or in non-profit organizations), and help them find work that is protected by fair labor laws? Should citizenship classes be required?

    (On the citizenship test, I recognize that many people who have been all the way through grade 12 in their US education probably would not pass it. If citizenship classes were required of immigrants, I would feel that they should be required also of students in grades 1-12 of any citizen, resident or non-resident alien status.)

    • Daniel says:

      The requirements for citizenship need to be determined by the power that the citizenry can exercise over its members and over resident non-citizens. If the citizenry has very little power, then the requirements can be trivial. If the citizenry can in theory exercise great power, then the requirements should be very demanding.

      The state itself shouldn't subsidize the process of meeting whatever those requirements might be, but I think that it is a very fine thing for NGOs to do so.

      It's quite true that native-born Americans could not typically meet the requirements of present citizenship tests. But, on the one hand, there is no chance of effecting a legal change so that native-born children of citizens would not themselves automatically become citizens; and, on the other hand, citizenship, to the extent that it confers power over others, is like a seat on a jury, with attendant responsibilities. The fact that a great many fools have been and will continue to be jurors does not mean that the fair thing would be to allow any comparable fool to also become a juror; likewise with citizenship.

      (Something that might be doäble instead would be to get those damn'd advertisements that encourage everyone to exercise his or her right to vote replaced with spots that shame people who would vote without knowing such things as the US Constitution in outline, the specific effects of the Bill of Rights, the approximate share of national production absorbed by on- and off-budget Federal expenditures, &c.)

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