Thursday, February 26, 2015

Illegal immigration, de facto and de jure

Here is something about illegal immigration that struck me as curious. This was a while back--during one of the previous episodes when it was an especially hot topic politically. When a politician claims that it would be a good idea to take stronger measures against illegal immigration (like, say, building a wall along the US/Mexico border), but some object to such a measure, I have to ask: if we're serious about this law, then why would one object to whatever measures are taken to enforce it? There's actually a whole subset of the law and economics literature dealing with the question of why it is not generally optimal to use the maximum penalties available; e.g. why not punish speeding with ten-year prison sentences. There are a few issues that arise in that literature. In the case of immigration, I think the answer is that not everyone is on board with the law itself: many would argue that the standard for legal immigration should be different. Someone who opposes the law will naturally oppose any measures taken to enforce the law (plus something like a border wall is just so unseemly). So we end up with a de facto standard for immigration: getting into the country without going through official channels, and staying indefinitely, is feasible. Not assured, and not easy, but if you're willing to expend some effort and take some risks, you can do it.

That would be okay--to have an unofficial immigration standard that results from the push and pull between opposing views about the enforcement of the official standard--if not for the fact that illegal immigrants are shut out from so much of American society. Severely limited employment opportunity is the worst part, I imagine, but there is so much more than that. Fear of deportation excludes illegal immigrants from all sorts of rights and privileges to which the rest of us have access. For example, if I have cause to sue someone, I wouldn't generally fear any repercussions from filing a lawsuit. But I would not want to enter into any kind of legal proceeding if I faced a risk of my immigration status being discovered. Even if we disregard explicit threats ("If you don't do ____, I'll call the INS"), there are countless situations in which an illegal immigrant would have to accept something that would be unacceptable to a citizen.

Amnesty is not just about letting them stay. It's also about letting them exist like everyone else.

BTW, what image springs to mind when you hear the phrase "illegal immigrant"? For me it's someone working hard to eke out a decent existence for himself and his family. Not someone we should turn away or turn into a second-class citizen.

No comments:

Post a Comment