The Pros and Cons of Immigration

Immigration is a hot topic right now. Conservatives tend to be against at least illegal immigration and to a lesser degree against all immigration. Liberals tend to think that because, "we are a nation of immigrants" that almost all immigration is a great thing and that pretty much open borders is the way to go.

So... who is right? Well, not surpisingly the two sides don't recognize that immigration is neither all bad nor all good but instead has some benefits and dangers that need to be considered. So, let's look at those pros and cons. I am going to focus on legal immigration. Illegal immigration has its own dangers (potentially letting criminals and terrorists in) but I want to just focus on the overall concept of immigration.  In general, here are some benefits and dangers to immigration:

Benefits of Immigration (pros)
Humanitarian/freedom benefits
 One benefit of immigration that I don't think gets spoken of enough is that humans being allowed to move where they want (so long as they don't steal or harm the property of others) seems like a freedom that, like all free market transactions, doesn't need governments being involved. If I have a piece of property that I am willing to sell or rent to someone from Mexico, the US government should have a damn good reason for saying, 'no' to that free exchange.

Further, having governments that build walls (virtual or physical) does introduce a danger in that it can limit traffic both ways. If the US descends into socialism, I am going to want to get my family out quickly. But socialist countries tend to build walls to keep their people in. A nation that already has giant physical and virtual barriers to moving in and out of the country has the potential to be very scary very quickly.

Finally, I think that being totally self interested is obviously something that goes against Christian morals and basic human decency. If someone is in poverty or hardship or danger in their own country, I think we need to have a damn good reason to say that they cannot find refuge here. Just refusing people for the heck of it seems like a crappy way to behave.

Economic benefits
Ann Coulter should know better but she has recently been posting idiotic things about how immigrants destroyed the economy in various parts of the country by taking the low wage jobs. She even posted an article about a community that was overrun by suicide and drug use as a result. This is horseshit. And is the sort of fixed pie thinking that gave rise to socialism.

Economies are not fixed pies. There is not a pile of wealth that we have here in the US that will be eroded by new immigrants. Economies are simply free people trading freely with other free people. I have something of value (goods, services, or property) and you have something of value (goods, services, or property) and we simply trade those things in such a way that both of us benefit from the transaction (with money being a bartering lubricant).

With this in mind, far from being a fixed pie, wealth is a creatable thing. Twenty years ago, no one knew they needed a smart phone. Then Steve Jobs came along created the iPhone and now we are all that much more wealthy. He didn't need to take that wealth from anyone. He created it (along with a team of engineers). If you think about the total wealth from 150 years ago and then look at the total wealth today and you have a huge increase. We have almost everything we had 150 years ago but today we also have TVs, radios, cars, computers, cell phones, and airplanes. We also have medical treatments (that should count as wealth as well) like vaccines, antibiotics, sanitation, and improved nutritional wellbeing. Some people still live like they did 150 years ago (maybe poor people from subsaharan Africa) but very few have less than they did 150 years ago. One could argue that a large percentage of the world's population (particularly those in the west) live with such wealth (iphones, cars, etc) that would make a king from 150 years ago seem terribly poor. This wealth was created by people. It was not stolen or redistributed.

So, how does this relate to immigrants? A human being freely coming to our country and freely offering goods and services to other people, will not reduce the overall wealth of the USA. Further, as the US fertility rate drops below replacement, having young workers come here is almost a necessity if we are actually going to pay social security and medicare benefits to our nation's senior citizens.

Immigrants can provide a lot of economic benefits to the US and the worst they can do is fail to add to the overall wealth .... unless....

Dangers of Immigration
Economic dangers
There needs to be a very big asterix on the economic benefits of immigrants. And that asterix relates to socialism and social welfare programs. If we lived in an absolute libertarian paradise, immigrants would have nothing but a good influence on the economy. Either they would add to it (by creating wealth) or they would starve (or go home). But we do not live in a libertarian paradise (sadly). We live in a country that gives free education to everyone. Gives free health care to the poor and the old. Gives food stamps, welfare, and other benefits to those who don't work. And these programs certainly could have negative effects economically. In a libertarian paradise, if you come to America and don't provide any benefits to Americans, I am not hurt at all. You either go home or starve to death. But in a socialist paradise, if you come and do not provide value, you do hurt me. My taxes are used to pay for your kids' school, your health care, your food, and etc. Bring enough people who consume more wealth than they create and you could bankrupt a nation.

So, there are real economic dangers to unlimited, unchecked and unfiltered immigration.
Cultural dangers
Europe and the United States are amazing places by historical standards. The amount of wealth and technology created in the modern west is breathtaking and dramatic. We also have developed and implemented the ideas of universal human rights, free speech, and liberal democracies. These ideas have had a huge influence on other parts of the world but there is no question that the west has been both the origin and the most perfect examples in practice. 

How did this happen? How did the west create a world that is in many ways much freer and kinder than what had been seen throughout history? I would argue that the answer is culture. Culture creates a people. Politics are downstream from culture. And I agree with historian Tom Holland when he argues that this culture is the result of centuries of Christian thinking influencing everyone from the common man to the political leaders. But whatever the source of our culture, I think we need to agree that culture matters. The Philippians have a constitution that looks extremely similar to the US constitution but they have struggled with crime, poverty, and political corruption. Why do we think that if we replaced Americans with some other people (maybe Filipinos) that we would maintain this amazing country of freedom, prosperity, and leadership?

So this is something that has to be considered when we do immigration. Just bringing in unlimited immigrants from nations that have very different cultures (and difficult histories) is certain to have negative effects. During the refugee crisis, Ted Cruz proposed welcoming Christian refugees first. Whether you agree or not, this was certainly an effort to get at what I am talking about. Christian refugees to the US are going to disrupt our culture less. Trump got in trouble last year by allegedly asking why we always had to take immigrants from shithole countries. That was inelegant of him and perhaps unpresidential but it was a legitimate sentiment. Questions about where people are coming from matter. Someone coming from a country like the UK or Canada (that have very similar cultures to the USA) are unlikely to cause political or social problems that will upset our culture. But someone coming from a place like the Sudan or Iraq will bring with them (to some degree or another) a culture that is very very different than our own. In small numbers, the risk is low but letting in large numbers of immigrants is another matter and will certainly have some sort of impact.

Political dangers
I think that this is one of the main reasons that many republicans are concerned about immigration. The USA is one of the few places where libertarian/Jeffersonian concepts have major influence and impact and this impact is largely found in conservative/red state circles. Texas has histroically been considered a bastion of this sort of 'red state' live free or die mentality. But Texas is changing. Beto O'Rourke almost beat Ted Cruz in the Senate race. Polls show Trump with only narrow leads over potential democratic challengers. It is possible that this historic example of a red state becomes blue.

How is this possible? Many point to immigration. Texas is now somewhere around 37%  Hispanic (Non-hispanic whites make up somewhere around 41%). Given that Mexico has historically been much more socialist and in America minorities tend to vote much more liberal than whites, this certainly makes a difference in the political sphere. This makes the skeptical person wonder if democrats are actually pro-immigration or if they simply realize that immigration will reinforce their political efforts. Those are not the same thing. In fairness, if Mexico was a paragon of Jeffersonian ideas, republicans might be fighting just as hard to open up that border. 

So, if you are a conservative, I think there is a case to be made that there is real political danger in simply opening up the southern border.

Security dangers
I have a friend from China that came to the US with his wife for three months a couple years ago. His wife was pregnant and he wanted to have the baby here. The baby would be a US citizen. That has benefits. Recently, he told me that his wife is pregnant and he will be coming back to do the same thing again. He said this is a common thing for Chinese people to do. Give their babies US citizenship and then go back to China. The US has birth right citizenship. If you are born here, regardless of where your parents are from, you are a citizen.  This leads many people from many nations to come here to have their babies. But there is a security danger in my mind to this. China has a lot of great people but it is a totalitarian and communist regime. Does it make sense to give their people citizenship simply by nature of the fact that they were born in California? What loyalty do they have not our nation if they never lived here past a few months in their infancy? If China wanted to spy or otherwise act against the interest of the USA, it seems that it would be mighty nice to have a whole bunch of people with no loyalty to the US but all the rights of US citizens at their command.

Immigration (legal or illegal) certainly creates a security threat. Whether from Islamic terror or from hostile nations like China or North Korea, having people living inside our borders that have no loyalty to our nation has the potential of risk and harm. Liberals like to assume the best about people but read books like "Book of Honor: The Secret Lives and Deaths of CIA Operatives" and you can see that fearing non-loyal people from hostile nations is not irrational fear or some sort of inherent racism. We send CIA operatives to China, is it so hard to believe that they might do the same? Shouldn't whatever immigration policy we have at least take this into account?

A Way Forward
So... having evaluated these pros and cons, what should our immigration policy look like? I think that there are a number of things that we can do to get the benefits of immigration without the downsides. From an economic standpoint, we should mandate that all immigrants maintain work here and deport people if they fail to do this. We should also highly limit access to social programs for immigrants. These actions might seem harsh but they would insure that the US would benefit not suffer economically from immigration. We should also favor people with college degrees. Culturally, we should favor people from western nations, people from rich nations, and people from Christian nations. In short, we should try to reduce the cultural differences between the immigrants and the exceptional US culture. Politically, we can limit the impact of immigrants by perhaps changing laws that first generation immigrants cannot vote. Whether democrats would accept this in exchange for helping increase immigration or not might be a good test of whether they actually care about immigrants or just winning elections. And from a security standpoint, we should start think about our relationship with the nations sending the immigrants. We should prioritize immigrants from nations that are our allies and that do not have major factions that hate the USA.

Finally, I think that all of the dangers would be lessened if immigration was kept at a moderate pace. Everything from economic to cultural to political concerns become much less of a concern if the total number of people coming here is a small percentage of our population. If immigration is moderated, immigrants will become part of our culture rather than changing our culture.

Immigration can be a very good thing if it is done right. But it needs to be done right.


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