Our immigration policy is anti-family

Our immigration policy is a disgrace

The story of Felipe Montes is horrifying but not an isolated incident. Montes, who had lived in the United States for nine years before being deported, left behind his wife Marie and their three children. Their youngest had just been born a couple months earlier, and Marie had fallen ill. She survived on disability with Felipe gone. And, of course, the story only gets worse from there:

 Less than two months after their baby was born, just two weeks after Felipe was loaded onto a plane and deported to Mexico, the Allegheny County child welfare department took the children from Marie and put them in foster care.

Allegheny County has already convinced a judge to end family reunification efforts with Marie Montes. She wants the children to be placed with their father. “If they can’t be with me, I want them to be with him,” she said. “Nobody is a better father than he is.”

But next week, on February 21, the county’s Department of Social Services plans to ask a judge to cease all efforts to reunify the family and put the children into adoption proceedings with foster families. Though Felipe Montes was his children’s primary caregiver before he was deported and has not been charged with neglect, the child welfare department nonetheless believes that his children, who have now been in foster care for over a year, are better off in the care of strangers than in Mexico with their father.

For Montes, this feels tantamount to kidnapping.

“I cannot find the words to tell you how important my kids are to me. I would do anything for them,” he told Colorlines.com, speaking on his cell phone in Mexico while on a break from his job at a farm. “In this world there are many injustices. At the very least, I would like them to send my kids to Mexico.”

The tragedy here underscores a larger tragedy with the US immigration system. US-born children who are deported with their undocumented parents are not counted by the government, not included in their tallies. When we hear that 400,000 undocumented immigrants were deported, how many of those took their US-born children with them? What are the true figures?

The tragedies stack up. When Felipe Montes was deported, his economic productivity was lost. That’s an immediate loss for the country and his community. A worker and a consumer simply disappeared from the local economy. Worse still, his wife could no longer support their children due to her illness and the loss of income. That obviously has a direct economic impact on that family (not to mention the emotional impact.)

Compounding the economic strain this created, now the the taxpayer is footing the bill for the childrens’ welfare, sucking even more money out of the economy and pumping it into the badly broken foster care system. It’s one thing if kids are taken from truly abusive homes and placed into foster care – that’s a state service born out of inevitability and mercy. But when it’s the result of an immoral immigration policy that is at once harmful to the broader economy and to the lives of very real, very innocent people it’s just unconscionable.

Colorlines has a full report on the growing number of children – numbering in the thousands – who face a similar fate. But countless more face deportation themselves. These are real people, torn by force from the only home or family they’ve ever known because of a rule that is at once economically backwards and utterly devoid of compassion.

We should be encouraging immigration – as much of it as possible – and the free movement of people across borders. The side effects of our immigration policy are so numerous: coyotes smuggling people in horrifying and often life-threatening conditions; sexual assault of women and girls who try to emigrate from their home countries; the destruction of families; economic hardship and unnecessary suffering. The list goes on and on and on.

Economic illiteracy and unbridled nationalism fuel our immigration policy. Real people suffer the consequences. Real people, despite their linguistic dissimilarities and darker skin, suffer because of abstract, old-fashioned ideas about borders. In the case of the Montes family, the youngest child – now one year old – lives with a different foster family than his brothers. Felipe has never met his youngest son, having been detained prior to the child’s birth.

As a parent, I cannot even begin to imagine this – to imagine first being detained during the birth of my child, and then to learn that they’d been taken away by the state and placed with strangers. The heartbreak is too much. The choices we ask people to make are too enormous. It should weigh heavy on our mind, those of us who face no such calamities.

It’s just inexplicable to me that people who tout their “family values” bona fides could support such a monstrous policy.

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Keynes and Hayek revisited


I’ve been thinking about this video lately, which is really quite excellent, and it struck me that the two economist-rappers are essentially not arguing at all – they’re simply talking past one another.

Keynes is talking specifically about what to do in an economic recession. Hayek is talking much more broadly about the economy itself. Keynes isn’t really arguing for central planning so much as he’s advocating an increase public spending to make up for the downturn in private spending. Hayek, on the other hand, is describing why central planners inevitably fail, and that government policies aimed at hitting full employment, for instance, might have unintended consequences.

These don’t strike me as exactly competing narratives so much as different narratives. Hayek doesn’t really answer the question about what he’d do to get out of the recession, he just moves back to the broader subject of the economy. And while I think the Hayekian take on the broader economy is correct, I’m left feeling short-changed on any ideas Hayek may have to actually spark recovery.

For-profits vs. non-profits

Arnold Kling asks:

I am curious about the intuition that people have about non-profit work. The standard intuition is that going to work for a profitable company means that you are not serving people, only the profits of the company. On the other hand, working for a non-profit means serving the community. Do I have that right?

Of course, I think that profit-seeking enterprises serve the community, also. In fact, they do it in a way that is more sustainable and more accountable. It is more sustainable, in that the value of what they produce is greater than the cost of the resources (including labor) that they use. Otherwise, they would not make a profit. However, a non-profit can very well use more resources than the value of what it produces. A profit-seeking enterprise is more accountable, in that a profit-seeking business must satisfy consumers or else go out of business. Hence, it must provide something of value to its customers. On the other hand, if a non-profit fails to provide any benefit to its customers, it still might be able to obtain grants from the government or from donors.

Is my perspective valid? If so, why is the conventional intuition so pervasive?

I don’t think Kling is wrong when it comes to purely for-profit businesses. Where I start to see a conflict of interest with profit-making is when those profits rely entirely (or mostly) on government dollars. Take the for-profit college industry. One would imagine that the efficiencies of a for-profit firm would translate into a successful business model for educating students. But for-profit colleges rely almost exclusively on government money to be profitable. This doesn’t lead to the sort of innovation and efficiency one might see in the actual private sector. Rather, it leads to more and more creative ways to get prospective students to take out massive loans and then turn those loans into profits for the for-profit colleges, education be damned.

That’s where I start to become uncomfortable with the for-profits. The profit incentive isn’t bad until it morphs into corporate welfare. Then these firms become no better than government itself, and in many ways much worse with far less accountability.

Whether Kling is correct that non-profits have little accountability is something I’m not sure I can speak knowledgeably about. I do know that many non-profits have specific missions and that they are accountable to the people with the purse-strings. This creates similar incentives to the profit motive, though it’s not a perfect match.

Open Source Institutions vs. the Corporate State

Commenter b-psycho writes:

Libertarians, vulgar or not, tend to talk a lot about property rights. What the vulgar ones, who unfortunately dominate mainstream discussion, fail to connect the dots on is that being consistent on property means that rent-seeking is equivalent to robbery — and that keeping that consistency demands seizing back the gains from it. Ironically for what "libertarianism" has come to mean publicly, you start poking around that whole property thing and you end up at a rather Left-wing conclusion.

So corporate rent seeking — hell, I would argue corporate status itself even — is theft, and all property claims arising from it are void. Conservatives don’t even think about this, as it would knock over the apple cart, and they worship apple carts. Thus far, the response on the part of liberals is to qualify and regulate corporatism, while taxing some of the proceeds to ameliorate conditions of the poor.

Well…here’s my idea:

Organize the working class, outside of the state, along the kind of lines previously introduced by the Wobblies (look it up if you have to). Don’t accept and qualify the corporatism, dismantle it and seize back the stolen property. "Class Warfare"? Yes, please.

The mainstream Left sees the problem, but insists on using as a solution the co-conspirators in the status quo. The most this leads to is bribing people to not revolt.

Or, in other words, pity-charity liberalism.

I think the alternative to the Class Warfare suggestion – the whole dismantling of the status quo – is to build alternative institutions outside of the status quo, and then wait patiently for those alternative institutions to work their quiet subterfuge.

Technology and open-source manufacturing and software and any number of other alternatives to the corporate status quo are beginning to pop up. I imagine we’ll gain more ground by adopting these over time, piecemeal, rather than any sort of massive organized class warfare.

Deregulatory Capture

Here’s Tim Lee:

Once a “private” company becomes deeply intertwined with the state, it can be difficult to ever fully separate them. Formally repealing state privileges may not fully undo the damage if the incumbent continues to enjoy the fruits of past favoritism. And incumbents can leverage their intimate knowledge of the regulatory process—and decades of political capital accumulated from past interaction with regulators—to twist facially neutral regulations into weapons against their competitors.

This means that deregulated incumbents like AT&T and Verizon may never become fully private entities. And so a truly free-market agenda requires more than just reflexively opposing all government interventions in the telecommunications market. The government is not monolithic. Sometimes (as with the AT&T breakup and theComputer Inquiries) one part of the government works to check the harmful policies of another.

This principle is complicated, and reasonable people are going to disagree about how best to apply it. But one of the most obvious ways to check the power of incumbents is by making sure they have plenty of competitors. Competitive markets make regulators’ jobs easier because they force companies to serve consumers well even when regulators aren’t watching. So if regulators see a nice, clean opportunity to preserve or expand competition, they should probably take advantage of it.

I’ve written about my concerns over “deregulatory capture” before, but I think Tim’s post sums those up much better. Read the whole thing.

I think this might also be a good case for breaking up the big banks. The political and financial capital they have accrued over the years makes them too impervious to both regulation and deregulation. Breaking them up would be a remedial step. The tough part is letting the competition flourish once it’s taken hold, and not succumbing to political pressure to implement new favoritism down the road.

What’s a Liberaltarian?

That’s the latest question asked of Reason’s Nick Gillespie and Matt Welch, the authors of the new libertarian manifesto, Declaration of Independents. They have an ongoing Youtube Q & A going on at Hit & Run.

They were also kind of enough to send me a review copy. It’s good so far, too! I’ll have more to say on it when I’m finished.

I think liberaltarianism is still the most likely political coalition going forward, or at least I hope so, as social conservatism fades, and free markets and technology continue to change the world for the better.

On So-Called “Public Service”

Kevin Carson has a brilliant post up at the Center for a Stateless Society on the problems with public services and public-private cronyism. This is all in response to Steven Cohen’s defense of public service workers.

Here’s Kevin:

Let me start by saying I’ve fallen afoul of many libertarians by defending public sector employees like those in Wisconsin against reflexive charges of parasitism.  If they’re engaged in a legitimate function like teaching kids or delivering mail that would still exist on a voluntary basis even in a stateless society, and the state currently crowds out voluntary alternatives, they’re no more blameworthy than the workers in Soviet state-owned factories.

And I’ve argued that public sector unions frequently empower such workers against those at the top rungs of the state, and might be a useful tool for genuine privatization — i.e., Proudhon’s vision of devolving state functions into voluntary social relationships.  That means, instead of the right-wing “privatization” agenda of auctioning off government functions to crony capitalist corporations, mutualizing them as consumer cooperatives owned by the recipients of services. Anyway, I’ll proudly back a teachers’ union local against a superintendent of schools, any day of the week.

Nevertheless, the term “public service” really activates my gag reflex.  Like “statesmanship” and “reaching across the aisle,” it belongs in the kind of drinking game you play when you see managerial centrist hacks like David Gergen, Chris Matthews and David Brooks gathering to feed on a cable news talking head show.

He goes on to list the many problems with public servants including cops planting evidence, the fondling TSA and their captive “clientele”, and the prison guard and police unions and their efforts to sustain the Drug War; the politicians who start wars and the massive public-private partnerships that entrench many of the world’s largest corporations, sustain monopolies and duopolies, and the rentier class.

It’s not hard to be against the crony-capitalism, but it’s much thornier once you start talking about actual workers. Obviously even the police do a great deal of good, even if the system in which they work is heavily tilted to preserve privilege and keep the masses down. I think it’s good to differentiate between the workers and the system, as Kevin does with teachers. You don’t have to approve of the political force of the unions to understand that they’re in place to help protect workers against bureaucrats. Civil service laws were written to do the same thing.

But the system, the institutions, the cronyism – these all transcend the workers or the service being provided. Institutions seek self-preservation first and foremost. That’s why government and corporations team up to begin with. They scratch each other’s backs until the whole world bleeds.

Mark puts it well in the comments:

I think what Kevin is trying to get at is that the use of the phrase "public service" as a synonym for anything done in the name of the government winds up being a cover for all the things the government does that would be anything but a "public service" under any rational definition of the word.  Moreover, I think Carson would say, a true "public service" is not rendered as such solely by virtue of the employer signing the paychecks.

The phrase elevates government work as being somehow inherently more noble than so-called "private sector" work when in fact, I think Carson would say, it is really not inherently any different (this implies that so-called "private sector" work is also no more noble than government work).