You are here

Times slimes gradual enforcement

A recent editorial in the New York Times, entitled “The Misery Strategy,” mixes abusive rhetoric with the Orwellian view that evil American leaders are imposing a restrictive immigration policy on the American people. In the midst of it all they nonetheless make a point worth answering:

[The] idea is that harsh, unrelenting enforcement at the border, in the workplace and in homes and streets would dry up opportunities for illegal immigrants and eventually cause the human tide to flow backward. That would be true only if life for illegal immigrants in America could be made significantly more miserable than life in, say, rural Guatemala or the slums of Mexico City.

It’s hard to see how “harsh, unrelenting enforcement at the border” could make life miserable for illegal immigrants in America, and there don’t seem to be plans for harsh, unrelenting enforcement in homes and streets. The real point is that enforcement of existing prohibitions against employment of illegal immigrants would be bad because it would not directly expel them from America but only make it more difficult for them to make a living here. There would still be an incentive for them to stay, though, as long as things were better for them here than where they came from. So the point of enforcing employer sanctions must be to make things worse here than there and thus force illegal immigrants into sub-Third World conditions in this country.

There are a number of problems with that view. One is that it looks at illegal immigrants as an undifferentiated helpless mass whose situation is determined by other people and whose actions are determined by simple stimulus and response. I would assume the reality is rather more complicated. Life south of the border is not all blind hopeless misery: Mexico’s per capita income, for example, puts it in the top quarter of all countries in the World Bank ratings. So presumably most illegal immigrants were not absolutely compelled to come here. Each had some sort of setting he was living in back home, each had other things he could have been doing, each might go home at some point and many in fact do so, and each came here and chooses to stay here as a result of some sort of weighing of plusses and minuses. So if some of the plusses involve violation of US law and are bad for the American people why is it inhumane to make them smaller? We’re told that immigrants are specially energetic and hard-working. Why wouldn’t those qualities eventually pay off in a country that worldwide ranks 45 out of almost 200 in per capita income?

I’ll assume that the New York Times thinks restrictions on immigration are OK, and it wouldn’t be good to give half the population of China and Bangladesh the right to move to America if they think they can better their situation by doing so. Their argument, then, seems to be that employer sanctions are less humane than deportation as a way of dealing with those who come here and stay illegally, because deportation is sudden and clean while employer sanctions can involve a long period of uncertainty and hardship and the eventual experience of defeat. On the contrary, it seems that attrition provides many more people with an opportunity to make plans and adjust intelligently to a situation that is changing decisively but of necessity somewhat gradually. Is reduction of opportunities so much greater a hardship than being suddenly bounced from the country or never being allowed in at all?

Another (mostly implicit) point the Times makes is that America is “a country that has tolerated and profited from illegal labor for generations,” and thus owes something to those from whom it has profited and who have become dependent on it. One response is that the numbers of illegal immigrants have been rising rapidly, so most of them haven’t been here for such a long time, and birthright citizenship means they don’t stay illegal for generations in any case. Another is that it’s not “America” but the people for whom the Times speaks that have tolerated and profited from illegal labor. The American people have strongly and uniformly opposed the uncontrolled immigration that their rulers have imposed on them with the assistance of the Times and other major media organizations. There must be at least a question how much their rulers’ self-interested misconduct imposes a moral obligation on the American people to extend the consequences of that misconduct, thereby rewarding their rulers for their malfeasance..