The immigration debate has shifted far to the right over the last several weeks. Americans went from debating what should happen to immigrants brought here as young children to Republicans demanding the amount of legal immigration be halved in exchange for a pathway to citizenship.
Naturally, this draconian proposal is now being denounced as a RINO sellout move by Republican anti-immigrant extremists. By this time next week, the consensus Republican view might well be mass deportation of all 11 million unauthorized immigrants, plus a total shutdown of all immigration from non-Western European countries.
Therefore, I would like to offer a contrary bold argument: All unauthorized immigrants, and all residents with some form of temporary permit, should be immediately granted permanent legal status.
Illegal immigration is a thorny question. Obviously in an ideal world, people would go through the normal legal process and not try to sneak through. However, we must admit that American foreign and domestic policy bears significant blame for the large unauthorized population. Free-trade agreements have done significant damage to the economies of Mexico and Central America (especially in agriculture), creating a large pool of people desperate for work. Second, the legal immigration process is a janky, unfair, and expensive nightmare of paperwork.
More important, America also directly destabilizes countries in Latin America. U.S. drug policy powerfully fuels gang violence in the region, by creating a hugely profitable black market through drug prohibition, and by pressuring those countries to attack drug cartels with the military. The result is a horrifically bloody free-for-all as drug gangs fight for control over the drug trade. The violence is so bad — El Salvador and Honduras have the highest murder rates in the entire world — that it destabilizes the very state itself in many countries. Then there’s the U.S. history of direct military intervention in the region, including multiple coups, the arming of death squads, and the creation of puppet states for rapacious fruit companies. As recently as 2009 the United States enabled a coup d’etat in Honduras, though not directly.
When one’s own policies directly create millions of refugees, one ought to be sympathetic to their plight. The war on drugs and associated disasters ought to be immediately ended, but in the meantime, we can assist the refugees that have already been created. Additionally, spare a thought for the poor El Salvadoran government, which is panicking at the prospect of an instant 3.2 percent population increase from Trump mass deporting 200,000 refugees. (Imagine the U.S. having to handle a sudden influx of 10 million people with few connections, no jobs, and no place to live, and then having to do it with almost no money.)
When confronted with this idea, conservatives moan piteously about the rule of law. Unauthorized immigrants committed a crime, they argue, and therefore can’t simply be excused.
But as seen by the sudden Republican emphasis on slashing legal immigration, the actual Republican problem is with immigrants in general, especially brown and black ones. They don’t like them and want to keep as many out as possible.
Second, it’s pretty rich to hear rule of law complaints coming from the supporters of our mobbed-up president, who is using his office to rake in cash and used his pardon power to protect an egregious criminal who ran a self-described “concentration camp.”
Third, the rule of law is not really a thing in modern American society. We live in a lawless country where the rich and powerful have a get of jail free card for almost any offense, including war crimes that carried the death penalty during the Nuremberg trials. America is a place where the chief law enforcement officer breezily admits that banks are too big to risk prosecuting.
Therefore, at a minimum, basic fairness suggests that unauthorized immigrants — who have committed a tiny, near-meaningless offense which wasn’t even illegal for most of American history — ought to get the same kid glove treatment that Wall Street mortgage fraudsters get.
But even if we were to say the rule of law ought to be rebuilt (as it should), a total amnesty and reform of the immigration system is still the best option.
As argued above, the crime is barely worthy of the name. But amnesty would also reduce crime by bringing all unauthorized immigrants out of the shadows at a stroke. Though immigrants generally commit less crime than native-born people, some actual crime like gang activity or domestic violence is enabled by the fact that unauthorized immigrants tend to be off official radar. Even legal residents sometimes fear to call the police lest their friends or family be deported.
Perhaps best of all, mass amnesty is quick and effective. No more fussing around with some elaborate tiered system or stuffing millions of people through a decades-long bureaucratic hell that will cost the government billions. Just one quick step, and we can move on to other problems.
Of course, the overall immigration system should be streamlined as well, so the unauthorized population doesn’t just start building up again. While a full proposal is beyond the scope of this article, the point should be to make immigration simple, cheap, and easy enough that people don’t resort to sneaking in — while simultaneously ceasing the disruptive foreign policies mentioned above. It would be simple — and given how migration flows have decreased (due to abysmal economic performance in the U.S. and declining birthrates in Latin America), the ensuing increase in immigration likely wouldn’t even be that large.
Let’s tackle this situation in the simplest, most humane fashion available.