Immigration rhetoric and reality

When I watch the news or read debates on certain issues I get frustrated when people use rhetorical catch phrases rather than express the real implications of their policy opinions. Far too often we hear that someone is not “against immigration” instead they are “against illegal immigration.” But what does this mean? This is an empty catch phrase when it comes to real immigration policy. What’s worse, is that it has sparked an equally vapid response from the other side of the political spectrum. Pro-immigration and open border advocates now present an attitude that they are against anyone who is anti-illegal immigration. This is not where the debate should be focused. Immigration policy should not be focused around whether to punish detected illegal immigrants it should be focused on understanding and effecting the incentives that create large populations of “illegal” immigrants.
Let me be clear, I support completely unregulated open borders. But I also agree with Milton Friedman’s observation that an open border policy is incompatible with a welfare state. I support open borders because I recognize the benefits of a larger labor force. A greater labor supply drives down wages resulting in cheaper goods and services for consumers. The standard of living for the average person goes up because the basket of goods and services he consumes gets bigger at a lower price.
I do not support open borders because of a rights-based argument. I’m not arguing that foreign laborers have a right to work or have a right to access the jobs that are available (though they might, I just don’t care). My opinion concerning immigration policy rests on what I assume to be its real consequences. In other words if I believed an open borders policy would decrease people’s standard of living then I would be against it.
When someone says “I’m not anti-immigration, I’m anti-illegal-immigration,” I assume that they, like me, mean something about the quality of the real world. I assume that they would prefer a world where people did not jump fences or swim across rivers to get into the country. They would prefer a world without fence jumping and river swimming of this sort. I assume that they prefer a world where there is no underground market for labor. Today illegal immigrants earn low wages under the table because they can’t enter legitimate labor contracts at higher rates and better conditions. I assume anti-illegal immigration-ists prefer a world without under the table labor markets. If these real world implications are what they mean then we are in full agreement. I too prefer a world without these social ills. But what policy could get us there?
There are three ways to completely eliminate the problems described above. 1) Build a giant wall and publically punish anyone who gets over, under, or around it. 2) Allow anyone who wants, a social security number and legitimate authority to work freely in the United States. And 3) Instead of a wall line the entire border between the United States and Mexico with retail outlets that accepted foreign currencies and were allowed to employ foreign citizens. I think we should choose the lowest cost of these three # 2 then 3. One is obscenely costly and likely unsuccessful.

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