Several commenters thought I was displaying too much certainty in my immigration post yesterday. Let me first say, I think this is a reasonable reaction to that post, which didn’t go into much detail and probably did display more certainty on this question than I actually possess.
Sam M wrote:
I dunno. I am a free-market type and lean toward open borders, but it worries me enough that I worry I might be wrong. I mean… unemployment is at 10 percent or some such. It is much higher among less-skilled laborers. Is it really ABSURD or RIDICULOUS to wonder if open borders might be exacerbating these issues? Is it really so beyond the pale to wonder if allowing millions upon millions of workers into the country at this time that it borders on insanity?
I think if you are that sure of your position on this issue, whatever your position is, you might want to consider the possibility that something akin to epistemic closure has settled in.
And Trumwill followed up:
By the logic put forth, either you support allowing as many immigrants as want to come here or you’re essentially in favor of dead Mexicans (or South Americans or whatever).
There is a <i>strong</i> case to be made that amnesty would actually make this worse. Increasing the likelihood of citizenship would increase the incentives of trying to sneak across the border. More will die trying to do so. So are you indifferent to the deaths of Mexicans? And do you still beat your wife?
(I am, by and large, pro-immigration – though not open borders – and am as skeptical as you are of the sinking ship. I appreciate you bringing this graph to my attention, but do not so much appreciate the nature in which it has been presented. I’m sorry that would-be immigrants are dying as they try to get here, but there are limits to the degree to which that should affect our policy seeing as how they are operating independently of our direction and, for that matter, contrary to the laws we currently have.)
I suppose I see the immigration debate as an extension of the drug war debate – and the two are not only related but remarkably similar. So long as there is a demand for low-skilled migrant workers they will find a way to get here, just like the demand for marijuana will ensure that there’s always a readily available source – law enforcement efforts be damned. The only way to make any reasonable dent in the trafficking of marijuana is to do away with pesky civil liberties and due process. Similarly, the only way to really make a dent in immigration is to introduce an intrusive national ID program, make raids on private businesses, and spend millions upon millions of dollars either building a fence or hiring countless more border patrol guards. This is because the demand is so widespread.
I think a war on meth might be more likely to succeed than a war on marijuana simply because the demand for meth is so much lower than the demand for marijuana. Likewise, I think putting resources into efforts to fight the sex-trafficking industry a lot more important and likely to succeed than efforts to stop people who want to work from getting into this country.
Actually, a much more sensible way to help stop the immigration problem would be to jointly agree with Mexico to end the war on drugs. This would all at once stop the draining of precious resources from both ours and Mexico’s public coffers, and would make especially Mexico a more hospitable, stable society. Who knows, a drug-war-free Mexico, out of the grips of both the cartels and the corrupt PRI, might just start to become a better place to live and work, making illegal immigration to the US a lot less appealing.
I think it’s reasonable to say that the chart from the previous post only tells part of the story. But it’s not unreasonable to assume that as border enforcement increases, prospective immigrants will go to greater and more risky lengths to get past the border patrol. Four or five decades ago the scope of the border patrol was much less than it is today, we had illegal immigration like we do today, but it was much less risky – and yet, in spite of its lower risk, we were not overrun with Hispanic migrants. For that matter, we’re not overrun by immigrants now. I’d say that immigration is not a net loss to American workers, however. We talk about immigration as though each job filled by a Mexican immigrant is one job less for an American worker – but it’s not that simple. New workers create new demand, they contribute to the economy as a whole. Far from some net loss, in many ways the influx of workers actually creates more opportunities for job growth in other sectors.
What we have is a serious problem with violent crime associated with the drug war. While violent crime has plummeted across the country since the early 1990’s, much of the remaining crime is due in large part to the war on drugs. In Mexico the recent uptick in crime is a direct result of the Calderone government taking on the drug cartels.
On the one hand, I really can’t fault Calderone. The PRI were in power for seventy years. Under their leadership, the cartels and police and many other government institutions basically were all on the same side. Corruption was rampant. Calderone is doing battle as much against a corrupt bureaucracy as he is against the cartels, and there’s something to be said for weeding out corruption. But I think he’s up against too much. The best way to break the cartels is to end the war on drugs and decriminalize or legalize drugs in Mexico. Of course, for this to truly be effective, we would also have to at the very least end the war on marijuana domestically.
In any case, my point is not that we should have entirely open borders – maybe we should just like we should have entirely free markets – but these are not practical propositions. Politics is the business of compromise. Besides, we can’t really tackle immigration without first tackling the drug war. Every other immigration reform will be an effort to curb the symptoms rather than the cause. We should focus on traffickers of both people and drugs rather than on the immigrants themselves. We should incentivize hiring legal workers and incentivize Americans to work even at the largely crappy jobs that illegal immigrants typically take. When tackling symptoms results in more human hardship and more wasted money, I generally believe that we should focus our efforts elsewhere. Right now the real obstacle to meaningful immigration reform is political – it’s a fight that will take place in congress and in the realm of public opinion, not in the Arizona desert.
P.S. Here is another of Sam’s comments worth re-posting:
The more you look into the post, the more you begin to see the ridiculous and absurd. But maybe not on the side you expect.
First, the researcher and author of the report is not some objective observer. It’s not even an immigration advocate at the ACLU. It’s a long-time immigration activist. Fair enough, suppose. But read the report. It says that the number of illegal immigrants who died in border crossings since 1994 is between 3861 and 5607. Guess which number is used in the press release? Yeah, 5600.
But again, fair enough. Let’s look at how many of these deaths they attribute to increased enforcement on the border rather than the inherent danger of walking throug a desert. Ten percent? Twenty? Nope.
"The current policies in place on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border have created a humanitarian crisis that has led to the deaths of more than 5,000 people."
So basically, they are saying that any and all deaths experienced along the border during these 15 years are due to these horrible enforcement policies. Not even one is attributable to the fact that it’s a bad idea to walk through a desert in July.
Also, I am not sure how many people have crossed that desert since 1994, but the report says estimates that there are 8.4 million to 11.9 million people living in the US illegally. Let’s go with the lower number. (See, that’s possible.) Assuming SOME of the people who crossed went back, or maybe crossed a few times, I think it’s safe to assume at LEAST 10 million illegal border crossings over that 15 year period. So five thousand deaths over 15 years comes to about 333 deaths per year, from a "population" of at least 660,000 illegal crossers per year. That means one death for every every 2000 crossers. Meaning about 50 deaths per 100,000.
The murder rate in Detroit is 37.5 per 100,000. So living in Detroit is less dangerous than crossing the border illegally. But not THAT much less dangerous. (The murder rate for residents of the Bronx in 1990: 54.7 per 100,000.) Also, the rate of deaths per crosser is almost surely inflated by my undercounting of crossers and using the maximum estimate of actual deaths.
None of this is to say we should not make every effort to minimize these deaths. But it seems to me that the danger of crossing the border is not all that much more "grim" than living in an American city. And it might be a lot LESS grim, depending on who’s doing the counting.