All my life I have watched immigration controllers go through their periodic paroxysms of anxiety over the latest immigration “crisis” and then fight over what reforms to adopt to address the crisis. Of course, no reform has ever worked to resolve the latest immigration crisis. After reforms have been enacted, I have become accustomed to simply waiting for the next anxiety attack to hit and the new round of arguments to break out over which new reforms to adopt.
You would think that after several decades of new reforms leading to new crises that some of these people would finally figure out the obvious — that no reform will ever work the immigration mess. But I suppose since they haven’t learned that lesson in the drug war, Social Security, Medicare, and so many other socialistic programs, it’s no big surprise that they don’t get it in immigration either.
The fact is that the immigration paradigm under which we live is inherently defective. That’s because the system is based on central planning, one of the variations of socialism. When it comes to immigration, the U.S. government is the central planner. It makes it illegal for foreigners to come to the United States without U.S. permission and then decides what the proper number and types of immigrants the government will permit to enter the United States.
No wonder the system is such a mess! How could it be otherwise? If we’ve learned anything at all from the failures of socialism, it’s that it doesn’t really matter who is doing the central planning. Whether it’s Soviet, Chinese, Cuban, North Korean, or American officials doing the central planning, there is always going to be “planned chaos,” as Ludwig von Mises entitled one of his books.
Look at the latest immigration proposal. It’s centering on making illegal immigrants American citizens. At the same time, however, U.S. officials don’t want to encourage any more illegal immigrants to come to the United States. But if they grant citizenship to illegal immigrants — something they have done in the past as well — why wouldn’t that encourage more illegal immigrants to enter the United States? Prepare yourself for the next round of anxiety attacks and reform proposals in the next few years.
All of this immigration chaos could be avoided simply through the free market, a way of life in which people are free to cross borders in order to visit, tour, invest, open businesses, and work. In a free market, there would be no such thing as illegal immigrants. Every immigrant would be legal because it would be legal to come to the United States.
The issue of citizenship is completely different from immigration. It’s a distinction that is, in fact, recognized in the Constitution, which grants to the federal government the power to determine the criteria for citizenship but not to control immigration. With open borders, foreigners would come to the United States and simply retain their citizenship. They would be free to apply for U.S. citizenship but they would be under no pressure to do so.
In fact, that’s what more than a million Americans have done who have moved to Mexico. They retain their U.S. citizenship and oftentimes refuse to learn Spanish and assimilate into Mexican culture. Many of them even continue cheering for American sports teams.
Big deal. Who cares? Why shouldn’t they be free to live their lives the way they want? What difference does it make that they are American citizens living in a foreign country? The same applies to foreign citizens living in the United States.
My hunch is that the reason that U.S. citizenship is important to many illegal immigrants is it’s the best way to prevent being deported. If immigration were free and open, the fear of being deported would disappear. Many immigrants would come here to work for a short period of time and then openly and freely return to their families in their home countries, knowing that they could return to the United States to do it again the following year. With immigration controls, the incentive is to stay permanently out of fear that the illegal immigrant will be caught trying to illegally reenter the United States. Immigration controls distort incentives.
A free market in immigration would help to harmonize relations between the American people and people in the rest of the world. American employers would be free to hire immigrants if they so choose. Gone would be the fear of being jailed or fined for harboring, transporting, and hiring illegal immigrants. It would also enable the U.S. government’s police-state apparatus on the U.S.-Mexican border, including domestic immigration checkpoints and that infamous Berlin Fence, to be dismantled. No longer would farmers and ranchers near the border be subject to warrantless searches of their properties by immigration officials.
Domestically, the United States has the biggest free-market zone in the world, given that people are free to cross state borders without encountering any immigration officials. If Americans could just apply that free-market mindset to international borders, they could lead the world out of immigration crisis and chaos toward freedom, free markets, and the just treatment of others.
Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.
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