Why have immigration laws?

Current immigration policy strikes me as incoherent. We limit the number of people allowed to come into the country, yet we recoil at the idea of mass deportation. Heck, when Mitt Romney suggested that people “self-deport”, it raised an outcry. Why would it? Self-deportation, translated into plain English, is simply obeying the law.

So given that not only do we not want to deport a whole lot(criminals excepted), and that we think even people voluntarily obeying the law is some kind of awful thing, why have immigration laws? Why not just open the borders? Is there some kind of policy goal that immigration laws are supposed to help fulfill? And even if there is, is it being fulfilled given that no one takes the law seriously?

Wouldn’t it be smarter to just say anyone can come here that wants to come here, provided they do not have criminal records and keep their noses clean while they are here, and provided also that they are ineliglble for means tested social benefits?

And if that seems unacceptable, then why not do mass deportation? It’s been done before. Is it some kind of grave crime against humanity?

Don’t we have to choose a policy that can actually be implemented? Or is there merit to policy that doesn’t make any sense and doesn’t serve any purpose?

As in all things political, what we have is a compromise between those who want to throttle immigration to zero (or some low number of whatever the proper folks are who should be allowed to immigrate) and those (like me) who would throw open and encourage immigration to anyone who wants to come into our country without limits. Since neither side is going to be able to get what they want, we get the kludged up compromise we have for immigration. It makes everyone on all sides equally unhappy, but is comfortable enough that folks on the opposing sides can complain but not get too worked up about, while those in the middle just don’t care enough about it to notice.

I don’t know the answers to all of your questions but I do like the line of reasoning. The immigration debate as it currently is strikes me as irrelevant and largely dishonest from all sides. Immigration supporters often put all immigrants into the same category and refuse to differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants which is very important distinction IMO.

However, you hardly ever encounter anyone stating publicly that they want open borders even that is clearly their real position. I would greatly prefer it if the immigration advocates were honest about their real position and fight for largely open borders if that is what they really want.

I believe that the laws should be respected and enforced by everyone however it works out. I don’t think illegal immigrants are all horrible people but they shouldn’t be allowed to stay if they didn’t follow the democratically chosen process of the U.S. (and granted there may not ever be one for certain groups).

Because we want large numbers of brown illegal immigrants whom we can exploit and abuse with impunity. Legal brown immigrants would have to be paid and treated better.

The problem may be in part that, as Tip O’Neill said, “All politics is local.” Immigration is an issue which plays very differently in different parts of the country. From how they vote, Oklahomans might well want the coastal and border states to throw up walls and gun turrets to shoot any uppity foreigners coming in to steal our wimmins. The actual coastal and border states don’t see it that way.

We’ve had for a while a system that allows states and localities to be “sanctuary” localities, and more liberal than federal law. Then, in the last few years, other states decided they would be stricter than the federal government and were told no. Things fell apart. De facto regional variation hasn’t been allowed to hold, the ability to be a sanctuary city has come undone, and we’re finding that the federal law, while probably not strict enough for nativists in Oklahoma and Indiana, is much too harsh for the liking of actual voters in places with large immigrant populations, let alone places like Vermont and Maine that had effectively completely open borders with Canada.

At some point we’ll have to give up on being politically popular and go with the needs of the state. But who decides what those are?

Arizona isn’t a border state? I would be pissed too if I lived in Arizona or South Texas and there was nothing I could do to stop a parade of illegal immigration coming across my property every day like some people had to do in the past because laws weren’t being enforced properly.

Let’s not shift this question. It breaks down to two things in my mind and I expect an honest answer to them which few people are willing to do:

  1. Do you believe in open borders for the U.S.?
  2. Do you believe that democratically enacted laws should be enforced even if they are unpopular with some segments of the population?

Elaborate as needed but make sure you give a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ along with any qualifications to those two questions before we proceed.

Arizona has made it clear that it’s brown people in general they have a problem with, not immigrants legal or otherwise.

Which laws weren’t being enforced properly, and how was the enforcement improper?

The answer is Border Patrol as long as that is the law and the ability for landowners to stop a siege by calling the local, state, or federal governments. We can stop border encroachments in countries far away if we want to so why isn’t that the case our own borders? Control of borders is a defining characteristic a sovereign nation.

Nobody has answered my questions that I asked though. I challenge anyone to give a coherent and well-reasoned defense of illegal immigration that doesn’t involve implied elementary school level racist accusations.

Answer the questions please. I can rephrase if that helps:

  1. Do you believe in open borders for the U.S.?
  2. Do you believe that sovereign nations have a right to control their borders?
  3. What should be the penalty for violating those democratically decided laws?
  4. What exceptions or qualifications would you make?

I think that if all things were the same, and the skin-color of the immigrants was as pale as pale could be, the same objections would be expressed. If the bulk of illegal immigrants were Norse, or Icelandic, or Lapps, the issues of language and culture would still promote anti-immigrant sentiments.

I definitely agree that there is an element of racism too, but one does not have to go very far back in American history to remember when “No Irish Need Apply.”

The evil secret at the core of the American psyche is xenophobia, of which racism is only one element.

It’s definitely true that having a sub-population of people who can be pressed into taking cheap jobs with no benefits is helpful to local economic wealth. The efforts of many in position of entitlement to deny driving licenses, health care, and education, thus maintaining this underclass in perpetuity, is one of the uglier aspects of the country’s xenophobia, moral evil, and commonplace greed.

Not entirely, but very nearly (enough so that you might as well classify this as “Yes”).

There’s the easy exceptions (screening out those who are wanted for crimes or who need to be medically quarantined). And I could possibly be talked into some minimal need for immigration applicants to demonstrate an ability to find stable housing and employment for the foreseeable future. But, in general, I think people should be able to live and work where they want, and removing barriers to this would be a net boon to the world economy, among other things.

I don’t know what difference it makes to call it a “right” or not; it’s certainly a fact that nations attempt to control their borders. You can put me down as “Yes”. But I wish the U.S. (and many other countries) had much more liberal border policy.

Well, of course, the penalty for violating a law is whatever the laws says it will be. But I think some laws are poor laws, and am not always upset to see a law broken, and for me, much of immigration law falls within both those circles.

I guess I already answered this.

OK, thanks Indistinguishable. That is a perfectly coherent and defensible position in the long-term. I am not sure how well it would play out politically but at least it is honest. If only the people that agree with you would put it the way you do, there might be an actual debate. Instead we get accusations of racism and fights over whether the term ‘illegal’ is derogatory in the politically correct sense that lead to nothing meaningful.

Is there anyone else that is willing to put forth a coherent position on immigration policy based on the questions I asked?

Actually yes, one does need to go quite a ways back. And the law was clearly made and enforced as a form of legal racial persecution that had little to do with immigration. It drove “Hispanic” people out of the state, including legal American citizens - which was the entire point.

The disputes over issue of immigration in America are overwhelmingly about race.

Isn’t that true of immigration in every country?

  1. My position doesn’t just refer to the US but to every country, and it’s closer to a “yes” than a “no”. There are some restrictions I’d enforce (no, you can’t migrate if you’re on parole… no, if you’re an immigrant and we have different school rates for foreigners and locals, you get the foreigner rate until you qualify for the local one, which will take a while…). Take into account that I live in Spain: I’ve been taking advantage of the EU’s “open borders, no work permit needed, no visa needed” policies for years, I have many Latin American coworkers, friends and acquaintances who’ve taken advantage of relatively-easy procedures for LA immigrants.
  2. It appears to be part of the definition of “nation state”.
  3. Whatever the law says, but
    3b) I also believe that immigrants should not be treated like pariahs by law enforcement (being a foreigner does not make you an automatic criminal; calling immigration authorities with a question should not get you insulted by the person at the other end of the line), that law enformcement should be accesible in general, that breaking a minor law in the host country (say, something which does not carry prison terms) should not mean your expulsion, and that governments [del]should[/del] must ensure that their laws are compliable (I’ve told before my story of being “paperless” for three months because that’s how long a post-entry background check triggered by requesting a duplicate SS Card took… bloody hell, if people MUST have an SS Card within a certain time of entry, make sure they can get it! Or give them a resguardo, a certificate saying they’ve applied for one, which is equally acceptable… it’s what the Spanish government does)
  4. See 1, but since I also think that’s utopic, having processes which are compliable with and which basically make the issue one of “people who can navigate red tape are welcome” would work for me.

The US has been patrolling both of its land borders for a long time. Why do you think it was doing it improperly?

Remember, the appropriation of funds for the agencies responsible is also a law, so proper enforcement would include staying within the allotted budget.

Nope, it’s one of economics. Those who complain about the “moors” don’t have a problem with people from Saudi Arabia who spend money by the thousand-euro, only with those from Morocco who come to ask for work.


Yes in principle, No to an absolute rule. Anti-miscegenation laws were democratically enacted, and so were Hitler’s laws.

I believe in open borders. I am not calling for keeping the present quota-based system on the books and not enforcing it. I am calling for writing a new law without immigration quotas. When you say, “But it’s the law!!!” I don’t care; I want to rewrite the law. When you say, “The people want this!” I say the following four things:

  1. I don’t want it, I’m a citizen, I have the right to argue my case.
  2. Honestly, the people wanted Jim Crow and the sodomy law too, so the people’s desires can’t be trusted as either good or wise.
  3. Most Americans seem to assume–and many actually do assume–that there are legal means to enter the country which are available. So Americans defend harsh penalties on illegal immigration without understanding how many immigrations are “illegal” simply because of quotas. People think that we have relatively open borders and illegals must be bad people. This is not the case.
  4. And most importantly, people who’ve had to deal with ICE and INS, such as Americans who have married foreigners, think the system is too harsh; and that means a hundred times more than the opinions of those who have never had to deal with it, many of whom don’t even have passports.

Here are the requirements for the H2A visa for migrant workers:

It was clearly written as bureaucratic red tape, to play to voters, not to work with industry. It isn’t realistic.

And that’s a sloppy wet kiss compared to what happens if a woman from the USA marries a foreigner.

Yes. At least more open the present quota-based system. Come up with a “shall-issue” visa system; one that puts the onus of qualification on the applicant, not on other people in the USA; one that does not rely on other people not taking a job, or not immigrating to the USA. That doesn’t have to mean we don’t have customs enforcement or background checks.

In a philosophical sense, that gets into some pretty deep discussion of where borders come from. But of course we have the constitutional right to do so. How about this: Do you believe voters have a right to redefine, even to liberalize, how that control works?

Deportation, where feasible, but no felony charges. This is a big deal to me. Immigration laws are like traffic laws; violations should be infractions, not crimes. And someone who’s lived here for more than 12 years should probably just be naturalized.

I don’t understand the question. You want me to list every possible visa? I guess not.

OK, how about this:

  1. No quotas. One’s legal status should be based on oneself, not on others.
  2. Automatic naturalization after a standard period, say 12 years.
  3. No civil or criminal penalties other than repatriation.
  4. Liberal use of renewable work visas for resident aliens.

Most of this is reasonably negotiable.

Anyway, I know this won’t fly in certain insular, provincial parts of the USA. I think maybe we should let states set their own rules. Oklahoma can set its own quotas, Vermont can completely re-open the border with Quebec, and so forth. But that’s far more radical a constitutional change, and would be highly annoying to US citizens.

Yes and yes. The farm industry wants a supply of cheap labor. So does the restaurant industry. The status quo suits them fine. A mass deportation would not. Neither would serious attempts to restrain immigration.

Open borders would lead to a substantially greater flood of immigrants. Nobody wants that or at least nobody is lobbying for it. So existing kludgy, dubious and spastically enforced immigration laws serve many interests.
I’ve railed against the do-nothing congress, but immigration is a knotty political problem, even if the policy challenges aren’t especially difficult. The Republican Party in particular is caught in a vice between its big business funders, farmers who like and depend upon cheap immigrant labor, and the base which aren’t especially fond of poor people who speak a different language at best. It’s easy to imagine schemes where immigrants have to pay a share of their income in order to work legally here, with the share adjusting with income and tracked immigration flows. Enforcement would be focused on employers, as they produce paper trails. Maybe to get your blue card, you would need to buy a return ticket in advance. No need for big roundups: remember, business likes immigration. It’s a matter of keeping the flows at a socially manageable level.

Anyway, we don’t do that because the politicos don’t want to do that for very good reason. Instead we get periodic Washington clown shows. Oddly enough they don’t bother me.