Can we ever get to a state of sensibility on immigration?

Rarely a day goes by that I am not subjected to a television, radio, print, or sponsored advertisement on social media that is a blatant attempt at generating the ire of the potential voter about the ravages of the illegal immigrant. By implication, only the vigilant would-be congressman can solve it for us, through stepped up border enforcement and deportations of illegal immigrants. Not mentioned are the billions of taxpayer dollars that need to be spent to do so, the families that will be torn apart, the relationships – both private and business – that will be disrupted and harmed. Without apparent irony, these congressman on the “right” use some of the same rationale, logic, and language that those on the left use to justify healthcare market takeovers and price controls on pharmaceuticals. In other words, politicians who on the surface are supposed to love freedom and the free market are just as guilty of succumbing to the fallacy that big government must solve challenges that are in fact a creation of previous bad government policy.

It is bad enough to consider the economic and moral insanity of such border enforcement and deportation policies. A personal grievance I have is that it is one thing to discuss the economics of such policies (where any sane analysis indicates it is economically harmful to America and Americans to close off the border, even if that was remotely posssible), it is altogether of a different and much more depressing element to witness people of a spiritual Christian bent becoming some of the most forceful advocates of nativist policy. The implicit prayer is, “Lord, please love your children, whatever their color and background, but please, for the sake of my own selfish desires and notions of culture, keep them out of my own back yard, and send them back home. Not that you have notions of what a person’s earthly home focus should be. I mean, I love the man who does my yard, and the restaurant down the street, so keep them intact and where they are, whatever their status. They can stay, but let’s get rid of the rest of them and let’s keep any more of them from coming in.” I digress on these economic and spiritual dimensions. What really should make us all question the politicians, and chief among them the ever-waffling, say what I need to say based upon who is sitting in front of me Donald Trump, is the unquestionable sense that politicians saying such things understand the inherent untruths that they are speaking in order to whip up the mob.

Reason’s Matt Welch brings together salient points on the topic, as well as some reasonable and logical quotes from Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson on the matter in a recent blog post titled, Gary Johnson: Trump and Other Politicians Are Lying to You About Immigration. First, Welch demonstrates the inherent depravity and devolution of the Republican party policy in the last decades:

Donald Trump’s so-far incoherent softening this week of his hardline immigration policy is a good time to remind people of a fact that, in a just world, would be cause for painful introspection among Republican politicians and conservative commentators for years to come: This outsider real estate/TV mogul, less than three years after blaming Mitt Romney’s loss on the 2012 candidate’s “mean-spirited,” “crazy,” and “maniacal” policy of encouraging self-deportation, managed not only to win the GOP nomination on an explicitly anti-constitutional hostility to immigrants, but to pull almost his entire competitive set into an authoritarian fantasy land where borders can be “sealed,” human beings can be treated like FedEx packages, the 14th Amendment can be wished away, and—what the hell!—a wall might be a good idea up north as well.

The GOP’s nativist summer was revealing not just in the way that it accelerated the party’s long trend away from the Reagan/Bush welcome mat toward a more Tancredoan restrictionism, but also in how it ratified the obviously unattainable demands of conservatism’s entertainment wing as the party’s preferred policy approach. Those commentators who damn well knew that you could never deport 15,000 illegal immigrants a day (plus another 5,000 or so of their U.S.-citizen children), yet cheered Trump on when he said crazy stuff like that, deliberately chose know-nothingism over reality. Never forget that the same National Review that showily came out “Against Trump” in January, were spending last August editorializing that “Trump’s Immigration Plan Is a Good Start—for All GOP Candidates,” while its editor encouraged the party to “pander to Trump on immigration.”

Contrast that with some sensible thoughts from Gary Johnson on the matter:

Rounding up more than 11 million people—a population larger than all but the 7 largest states in the union—is a ludicrous notion to begin with. Everyone knows it, including Donald Trump. It was a lie cloaked in a promise. Even if it were possible, the idea of federal authorities rounding up millions of people and loading them on buses is an image America could never stomach.

The fear-mongers would have you believe 11 million people swam the Rio Grande, burrowed under a fence or otherwise sneaked into our communities in the dead of night. Yes, some of them did. But a significant number of undocumented immigrants actually came here legally—and stayed.

Many didn’t come—and nor do they remain—for nefarious reasons, but because they found work, established relationships or joined family members. They couldn’t stay legally due to special-interest-driven restrictions on their visas. They were students who graduated or found jobs, seasonal workers who found year-round work, or children brought here by their parents.

Of those who did hike the mountains of Arizona or stow away in a container ship, how many of them would have rather come here legally if the line to enter was actually moving? Almost all of them.

Finally, I do wish we could all take a step back and recognize the reason so many people jump the line, so to speak, and enter or stay in the country illegally is the absurdly slow and byzantine process of actually getting in line and moving through it in the first place. Welch provides a useful analogy that Americans should appreciate:

The key to illegal immigration, as we keep telling you here at Reason (and Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush did 36 years ago), is to stop looking at it like a criminality problem, and start recognizing it as an artifact of prohibition and bureaucratization. As Johnson writes, “If it took months or years to get a driver’s license, how many of us would throw up our hands, get behind the wheel, and take our chances driving without one? You know who you are.” The reality of “Get in Line!” is the unspoken tagline: “And stay out.” The Libertarian approach? “The way to stop illegal entry is to spend our resources making legal entry efficient for people coming here for the right reasons.”

My hope is that we can understand the deeper causes and values of immigration, welcome it as both uniquely economically beneficial as well as charitable, and stop promoting politicians who pander to base elements with base and simplitic solutions that they know well won’t solve anything, all the while extracting more money from the taxpayer, restricts her choice to choose whom to buy from and whom to employ, and gives government more powers in the process.

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