The May 9 edition of Newsweek Online features an article by economists Josh T. Smith and Ryan M. Yonk, “Here is the Simplest Way to Deter Illegal Immigrants”. They argue that economic theory provides an easy solution to America’s immigration problems – let everyone in so American companies can have cheap labor and increase profits. But this argument is both flawed and dangerous. It relies on false assumptions about the mechanics of the free market and a profound naïveté about the world we live in – reducing immigration policy to nothing more than a numbers game.
The authors conveniently ignore the fact that a functioning free market is dependent on the existence of a legal system which permits the enforcement of contracts, and provides a forum for vindicating property rights. An effective legal system is dependent upon sovereignty, which delimits the law’s reach and allows market participants to understand whose rules govern their actions. Sovereignty, is a function of borders. Nevertheless, pro-immigration, free-market economists never answer the question: How will a free labor market function in a lawless world without borders?
Moreover, there is a total failure to acknowledge the considerable downside to a laissez-faire approach to border control and immigration policy. Not all things that are profitable are also beneficial from a policy perspective. (Prostitution, child pornography, and the sale of human organs spring to mind.) To assert that they are is to ignore the dire social, political, cultural and moral concerns that arise in connection with unchecked mass migration and the erasure of national borders.
This unwillingness to acknowledge the broader societal effects connected to immigration is made worse by an inability to comprehend that immigration policy decisions should be made with the best interests of American citizens in mind. As the English philosopher Roger Scruton noted, the starting point of Western political philosophy is the consensus among modern thinkers “that sovereignty and law are made legitimate by the consent of those who must obey them.” In contrast, the free-market approach to immigration would allow immigrants to self-select, and presumes that anyone willing to bear “the costs” of coming to the United States is worthy of admission and unquestioned acceptance into the polity.
Unfortunately, not all immigrants come to the United States for the right reasons. And – for many – employment, money, and economics are not part of the equation at all. On 9/11 we learned that lesson the hard way. Anyone whose head is in the real world – as opposed to the rarified world of economic theory – can’t help but notice the constant barrage of news reports about rape, murder, and mayhem committed by the nation’s legal and illegal alien population. That’s why roughly one fourth of the federal prison population is composed of the foreign born.
When foreigners are viewed solely as numbers on a spreadsheet, some economic theories of immigration might seem to make sense. But when immigrants are viewed as human beings whose actions are often motivated by concerns other than money, then the economic approach doesn’t provide answers. Rather than streamlining its immigration system, the United States should simply enforce immigration laws already on the books. Those laws were designed to preserve all of America’s interests – economic, as well as social, cultural, political and diplomatic. President Trump’s mere threat of enforcement has already reduced attempts at illegal entry by over 70%. Those are numbers the U.S. can live with.