Here’s a particularly bad argument against immigration: “Liberal immigration laws are unfair to legal immigrants who have played by the rules and waited patiently to get into this country in compliance with restrictive immigration laws.” The argument is offered by influential conservative figures like Senator Ted Cruz  and is routinely echoed in talk-show media.

This argument simply begs the question. If the restrictive laws are unjust, then their abolition should be applauded, not criticized, by those who chose submission. If I, a legal immigrant, thought the burdens I endured were unjustified, then my reaction when those burdens are lifted should be celebration, not bitterness: “Finally, those folks who seek opportunity will not suffer as I did!” Their new freedom to immigrate is not unfair to me, who did not have that freedom and had to wait for many years to be admitted. To see why, imagine that the government decides to subject political speech to a host of bureaucratic regulations. Before being allowed to speak you must fill a zillion bureaucratic forms, wait several years, endure health inspections, and so forth. You tamely submit to these restrictions. Then, the restrictions are lifted. It would be petty, to say the least, for you to say: “This is unfair, all of you should suffer the indignities I did!”

What is going on in this argument is a hidden premise: that states have a background discretionary power to exclude, and that therefore, unlike the speech example, no one has a right to be admitted. But if this premise is denied, if the power to exclude is unjust, then the argument from fairness to legal immigrants does not get off the ground.

Now let us concede, for the sake of argument, that states do have this discretionary power. Still the argument from fairness fails. For (let us assume) liberal immigration laws grant a privilege (not a right) to be admitted. Admission, on this view, is a privilege the state can grant or revoke, and the legal immigrant simply was denied, in the past, the privilege of entering freely.  But the state has now granted the privilege to new immigrants. By hypothesis, the state had discretion to do this. The legal immigrant does not have a fairness claim, because fairness does not dictate that bureaucratic burdens should remain constant over time. Driving cars (let us assume) is a privilege that the state of Florida grants me, not a right. Suppose that the state now abolishes the Motor Vehicle Division and says that from now on people can drive freely without a license. I don’t have a residual fairness claim, and it would be surely unbecoming for me to insist that all drivers should be subject to the same indignity I endured, namely to take a driver’s exam.

Some of the worries people have about liberalizing immigration deserve a hearing. Not this one.

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  • M Lister

    Nicely put, Fernando. I’d just add to it a note about the silliness of most arguments about unauthorized migrants being “line jumpers” or that they should “go to the end of the line”(*). For a very large percentage of such people, there was no line for them to go through, so the idea that they “jumped the line” is in itself silly. But, even in the case of an unauthorized immigrant who could, after some time, be eligible for a visa (the wait for a visa for example, for a married son or daughter from Mexico of a U.S. citizen is now a mere 21 years!), the “line jumping” that someone does by coming w/o authorization doesn’t cause any direct harm to those who “wait in line” anyway.

    (*) Lots of times in discussion of immigration reform, politicians will say that people seeking to regularize their status in the US will have to “go to the end of the line” to do so. As someone who works on immigration law, I can say that this phrase always just leaves me baffled. I have no idea what it is supposed to mean in context, and I’m sure the person saying it doesn’t know, either. I suppose that the practical content is that such people should have to wait a long time to fully regularize their status, but as Fernando points out, there’s no real plausible reason for this, and there is no plausible sense in which this involves “waiting in line”.

  • Freddie_deBoer

    It’s somewhat analogous to saying “repealing the 18th Amendent is unfair to those who were charged with possession of alcohol and did their jail time.” You can’t seriously argue the legitimacy of a legal prohibition by pointing out that some have already been put through the negative consequences of that prohibition. It’s perverse under almost any moral theory.

    • The Smart Factory

      I found your particular example far more persuasive and illuminating then the posts.

    • John

      The only difference being that the 18th Amendment was actually Constitutional, whereas Federal immigration law is not.

      • Libertymike

        No, it was not as it was facially incompatible with the 9th amendment.

        • John

          Not at all. The Constitution can give any power it wants to crush someone’s rights, including taking their life or imprisoning them. An amendment, by definition, is Constitutional. The 9th only says that the omission of a specific prohibition doesn’t mean the right doesn’t exist. But you can say people have the right to live, but create the power to take it under certain circumstances. The 2nd Amendment is another good example. People have the right to keep and bear arms, the right of self defense, naturally. They bothered to stipulate that it may not be infringed (hahahahaha! sure…) but that doesn’t mean there is an open-ended power to infringe, say, the right to migrate. Or the right to smoke a joint. That power must be given. And the 18th did that. The power over immigration was not given, therefore, it doesn’t exist, per the 10th Amendment.

          • Libertymike

            Given that there would not have been a constitution but for the promise of the BOR, where in the BOR is there a declaration that the constitution could be amended in the future so as to vitiate the plain meaning of the 9th amendment?
            Put another way, given that the BOR came after the passage of the constitution, the latter must be read as being subordinate to the former.
            Furthermore, Article V does not authorize an amendment to the constitution which would infringe upon the exercise of an individual’s liberty.

          • John

            But there is no conflict between the 9th Amendment and making Amendments that give Federal power to infringe on some rights. Heck, the death penalty is right there in the Constitution. It doesn’t get more infringing than that. The 9th Amendment in no way guarantees that rights shall not be infringed. Article V means you can make an Amendment that everyone can be shot for any reason any time, as long as it passes Congress and the States.

          • Libertymike

            How can you argue that there is no conflict between the 9th amendment and amending the constitution so as to proscribe that which the 9th protects?
            Of course, the constitution has, in practice, proven to be less of an obstacle for tyrants than the Maginot Line was for Hitler.

          • John

            I’m still trying to figure out where you think the conflict lies. There is none. The 9th Amendment doesn’t protect from infringement by delegated power. Only from infringement by undelegated power.

          • Libertymike

            But that is not what is written. The 9th does not provide that it protects an individual’s liberty only against undelegated power.

          • John

            “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.”

            The ABSENCE of a PROTECTION doesn’t DENY the existence of a right.

            HOWEVER, a if the power to infringe a right is enumerated, that power clearly exists. For instance, there is no ironclad protection to the right to life. And, in fact, it is alluded that the state can take your life with due process.

            Not sure why you’re having a hard time understanding the logic of this phrase. The power to do something almost automatically is the power to trample someone’s rights.

            But the protection of one right doesn’t mean that another right is left unprotected by inferance.

          • Libertymike

            The Preamble to the Bill of Rights, states, in part, as follows:
            “The Conventions of the States, having at the time of their adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added…”
            Therefore, as a matter of common sense, logic and the history of the constitution’s adoption, the enumerated powers, which came first, must be read to be subordinate to the “declaratory and restrictive clauses”, i.e., the BOR, which came later.
            I am not sure why you are having a hard time understanding this point.

          • SwakDays

            I really don’t understand this thread.

            First, the Constitution explicitly provides Congress the power to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” so I don’t know where the proposition that “The power over immigration was not given, therefore, it doesn’t exist, per the 10th Amendment” comes from.

            Second, an amendment by definition modifies the previously existing Constitution. Thus, the BOR modified the previous provisions, to the extent they conflicted. A subsequent amendment which conflicted with the BOR would similarly repeal that conflicting part of the BOR. Thus, if the constitution was amended to say that the only rights which exist are those enumerated, the 9th amendment would no longer have any force.

            Third, any amendment which comports with the procedural requirements of Art. V. “shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution,” subject to two explicit exceptions not relevant here. The BOR does not even mention, much less purport to alter, the procedures for amendment in Art. V. I am therefore flummoxed by the assertion that “Article V does not authorize an amendment to the constitution which would infringe upon the exercise of an individual’s liberty.” Is the 22nd amendment unconstitutional because it infringed the previously existing individual liberty to be elected more than twice as President?

            Fourth, the 9th amendment only recognizes the potential existence of unenumerated rights, it does not require the government to respect any specific right. The government doesn’t have the burden of negating every potential unenumerated right before it acts. Instead, the proponent must establish the proposed right is well accepted or historically recognized among the American people. I seriously doubt that anyone could empirically demonstrate, either in current public opinion or in historical practice, a recognized right of non-citizens to migrate to this country.

            So I’m at a loss to identify how current immigration law is unconstitutional. It may be atrocious policy (I certainly think so) but that doesn’t make it unconstitutional.

    • judd

      Freddie,
      I know you’re one of the good guys on the Left when it comes to immigration from reading your blog and listening to you on Bloggingheads. I wonder, then, what you make of very popular figures on the Left like Thom Hartmann adopting the restrictionist point of view. Indeed, even Ralph Nader, in the course of an interview with Pat Buchanan no less, strongly rejected open borders and went to critique our already restrictionist immigration policy as insufficiently restrictionist, arguing that allowing software engineers to come to America actually hurt people in the third world! So don’t you think the Left only seems compassionate on this issue relative to the insanity on most of the Right?

      • Freddie_deBoer

        I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a ton of bad arguments and bad ideas on both sides. I try to frame it in terms of rights to those of a more conservative side and in terms of human well-being and compassion to those on the left. Of course, it’s an issue that’s notoriously hard to remove from the context of partisan politics.

        • judd

          Yeah it’s interesting because on the center-left ( represented by such publications as The New Republic and The American Prospect) you hear very little about truly major liberalizations of the global immigration system, let alone having fully open borders. And here I refer only to serious discussion of the idea, not even endorsing it but discussing the argument that open borders would be a massive liberty and welfare expanding measure. Rather the focus is almost exclusively on expanding the US welfare state. The Democratic Party is even worse, its rhetoric become more Lou Dobbsy by the day with all the talk of the “disappearing” middle class.
          In other words, an idea that would do more to expand human liberty and welfare than any other conceivable policy proposal is not even on the radar of the mainstream Left. Instead, the focus is on redistributing wealth from the 1 percent in the US to give it to the bottom 50 percent when the bottom 50 percent are incredibly well off by global standards. Indeed, the only group of people who really take open borders seriously, apart from some radical leftists, is libertarians like the folks on this blog. Given this, I wonder why you and the group of pro-open borders truly radical leftists (I use radical as a compliment just to be clear) don’t have more love for libertarians? On an issue you agree would be a huge win for global liberty and welfare, we are on the same page. That should count for a lot it seems…

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I’m guessing that perhaps you are asking a rhetorical question, because I think you are smart enough to know that for the left (radical or otherwise) the only thing that matters is equality of condition.

          • judd

            I apologize if some variation of this went through. Weird comp. issues.
            So I think it depends on what we mean by “the left.” I certainly don’t think your statement would apply to folks like Matthew Yglesias, Jonathan Chait, and Ezra Klein. Going further left, I definitely think there’s a tendency to look favorably upon the destruction of net wealth in the service of equality. But even those people, I don’t think, only care about equality of condition. If you told them “Okay we can wave a magic wand and there will be perfect equality of condition but in a society that is LESS technologically sophisticated than America at the founding.” I really doubt many would sign on for that.
            The reason I asked Freddie this question though is that he’s spoken about much, much freer immigration as a great way to fight poverty and make the world more free and more fair. Since this view really only seems to enjoy broad support among libertarians I was curious as to why he wasn’t at least somewhat more favorable to us.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Of course, I am engaging in a little bit of hyperbole, but not too much. Remember this recent post by Kevin, http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2014/02/on-bertrams-bad-reasons-for-leveling-down/. I think it is all too typical, and I don’t remember a bunch of leftists loudly proclaiming that Bertram doesn’t speak for me. Obama admitted that he wanted to raise taxes on the rich, even if it didn’t raise more revenue, all in the name of “fairness.”

          • judd

            Right but Obama is a corporatist, technocrat type wedded to managerial statism. He’s not a leftist radical. But remember that your original assertion was that the “only” (and you even italicized it) thing the Left cares about is equality of condition. I just don’t see that. Now don’t get me wrong. The Left accords far too much moral weight to equality in my view and this applies even to its more market friendly faction. But even Bertram was not calling for establishing equality of condition as the sole, or even necessarily primary, criterion of justice. I would also note that the reason you didn’t anyone from center-left liberals to radical leftists denounce them is almost certainly that they didn’t know about his piece. It may shock you but the work of academics often has a fairly limited audience :) Anyway, Kevin’s rebuttal was awesomely devastating as always.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, you win. But, since you are now my expert on the left, perhaps you can answer this question. Why does the left oppose school choice for parents of failing urban schools? Not the politicians, who want union campaign contributions, but leftist intellectuals. Why oppose not just vouchers, but charters?

          • judd

            Great question! Here’s what I think: support for school vouchers is associated with libertarians, and, even worse, Republicans. It’s also true that wealthy businessmen have promoted vouchers and charters and we know the left, with some justification, is suspicious of those folks. So people on the left look at that and think “Well if these people support vouchers and charters then they must be a bad idea.” They also tend to think unions are on the side of the angels and they view vouchers and charters as weakening unions so that’s another basis for their objections. I think even the ones who recognize issues with unions view them as the last bulwark against “neoliberalism” (now even more overused than “neoconservatism”) and therefore resist any policy that might weaken them.
            But to defend the Left a bit (and I have to as a bleeding heart libertarian right?) I do think they are right in pointing out part of the problem is that our current funding structure creates a situation where wealthier areas have more funds and therefore better schools. Anyway, I find their ultimate policy positions unpersuasive as I’m sure you do. But I can see how you could care about kids having a good education and still oppose vouchers and charters given the ideological universe on the Left.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            What you say about funding is a common mistake, but a mistake nevertheless. A study by the Third Way (a Democratic think-tank that, according to its own website “creates and advances moderate policy and political ideas”), found “that average [nationwide] per-pupil spending in the public schools in 2011 was $11,925 in affluent school districts, $10,349 in middle class school districts and $11,799 in low-income districts.” See Tess Stovall, at al, “Incomplete: How Middle-Class Schools Aren’t Making the Grade,” Third Way, September 2011, http://thirdway.org/subjects/143/publications/435.

            See also Jason Richwine, Ph.D., “The Myth of Racial Disparities in Public School Funding,” The Heritage Foundation, Backgrounder No. 2548, April 20, 2011 and Adam Schaeffer, “They Spend WHAT? The Real Cost of Public Schools,” Policy Analysis, No. 662 (Cato Institute, March 10, 2010), http://www.cato.org/publications/policy-analysis/they-spend-what-real-cost-public-schools.

            So, your premise is wrong, which undermines your excuse for the left on this subject. But much beyond this, contrary to what you say, opposing vouchers and charters shows that you don’t give a damn about poor kids, but care only about opposing neo-liberals and supporting unions. Do you think these reasons justify condemning poor kids to an inferior education? Would you defend the right on a similar basis, i.e. they support big business when they do terrible things, but only because they don’t want the Left to get more power?

          • judd

            I’d have to explore your sources further but I appreciate your sending them to me and, on the face of it, they seem quite compelling.
            But I offered some other explanations and I think explanation, rather than excuse, is the proper term here. But I think the left, wrongly in my view of course, but I think they believe that vouchers and charters make schools worse. It’s an unfounded belief but a genuine one. For them, this is all a corporate plot to undermine education and put wealthy interests in charge. So I would just push back against the idea that they don’t care about kids (well the union heads may not but I think your run of the mill leftist does)

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Under what plausible scenario do vouchers and charters make schools worse? What is the actual argument for this claim? As you may know, charters are public schools, i.e. tuition = $0. So when a student leaves a “conventional” public school for a charter, it does not cost the system as a whole any funds. Private schools generally charge less than what taxpayers pay per pupil for public schooling (which is why vouchers are a practical solution).

          • judd

            http://www.creators.com/opinion/david-sirota/charter-schools-are-not-the-silver-bullet.html
            I’m very skeptical that there’s an iota of validity to any of the claims made within the column. But the author, David Sirota, is someone I’ve read for a while and while I think he’s deeply mistaken, I don’t doubt his sincerity. I think he believes everything in the column though I wonder if the folks who produced the research he uses in it were as sincere.

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            I personally don’t think studies of the sort cited by Sirota are worth much because there are just too many variables to control for in the relevant populations. But, if you are going to quote the Stanford study, you should do so in an intellectually honest way. From p. 84:

            The 27 states in our study provide the widest angle view of the charter school sector to date. Across multiple measures, the students in these charter schools have shown both improved quality over the results from 2009 and an upward trend in their performance over the past five years. Compared to their likely TPS [traditional public school] alternative, the average charter school student now gains an additional 8 days of learning each year in reading, compared to a loss of 7 days each year in the 2009 report. In math, students in 2009 posted 22 fewer days of learning; today, charter school students have equivalent levels of learning in math as their TPS peers. These results are an average of the latest three growth periods (Spring 2008 – Spring 2011). These results are reinforced by the trends in charter school performance, which show slow but steady progress over time in both reading and math.

            Does this sound to you like a failed experiment or an increasingly successful one? Also, studies of this sort don’t measure qualitative factors. If little Johnny is happier at a charter, and hanging out with a better group of peers, shouldn’t parents have the right to send him there?

            However, if social science methods are keen enough to measure positive and negative educational outcomes, why aren’t Sirota and his fellow liberals eager to use them to shut down failing public schools and fire incompetent teachers? Tell me, please, when has this ever happened. No, the push is all the other way. We can’t use standardized tests to measure performance because they are culturally biased, don’t measure real learning, etc. But they are reliable enough to be used to condemn charters. Hmmm…

            If liberals really care about the kids, why wouldn’t they want to give parents the widest possible choice of school options. Are they somehow in a better position than parents to decide what’s best for their kids? Give me a break. You can have the last word.

          • judd

            You don’t have to convince me of the wisdom of school choice! I truly believe this is a case of confirmation bias. Sirota and others on the Left only read material showing problems, real or imagined, with charters and vouchers and never read material dealing with standard government schools that says anything other than “The problem is a lack of funding” even though we keep spending more and more on education with no improvement in results.

          • Libertymike

            Power?

          • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

            Okay, power in order to enforce equality of condition.

  • John

    “I didn’t smoke marijuana because I obey the laws, so it’s not fair that we ever legalize marijuana”.

    There’s another really stupid argument out there – “My ancestor’s did it legally, everyone else can”. Oh, but wait, first, you didn’t have to do a darned thing, easy for you to say and secondly, the process is DRAMATICALLY more complicated and restrictive than when most “ancestors” showed up.

  • John

    The other really terrible argument is that immigrants will steal the jobs. Yet, magically, the number of jobs is always very close to the number of people seeking employment. In a free market. By eliminating the free market, the number of jobs is only somewhat related to the number of people seeking employment. But in a free market, every person looking for a job would magically create a job.

    • Jerome Bigge

      If you check out the growth of regulations that those seeking to support themselves through self employment now have to deal with, it is not that surprising that we have the level of unemployment (both short and long term) that we do today. The more that government intrudes itself into starting a business, the fewer businesses get started. And the claim that these regulations are necessary “to protect the public” doesn’t hold true. Much of this is actually driven by established businesses seeking to prevent possible competitors out of the field in question. Which in turn raises prices for the consumer who might otherwise find a “better deal”.

      • John

        The idea of non-ending corporations to do things that don’t at all require incorporation is pretty ridiculous as well.

  • John

    Another bad argument is “they take our free stuff”. Well, yes, that may be true to a degree. But the government actually offers this free stuff on SPANISH radio, IN SPANISH. Yes, they do that. In the meantime, it is acutally ILLEGAL for legal residents to use these same services. Yes, this is true. Only government could be this stupid, this badly managed, so maybe we should blame goverment and not immigrants who figure “hey, why not?”

  • John

    The other problem with this argument is that for those that could afford the legal process, they were rewarded. And those that couldn’t were made to suffer in many ways, and will suffer more once the IRS gets ahold of them. Imagine being an “illegal” immigrant that owes any back taxes. the moment they try to become “legal”, they will suffer for the rest of their lives.

    Another terrible argument is that “it’s the government’s job to protect our borders”. NOT FROM IMMIGRANTS it is not. Not in the Constitution and, in fact, specifically, purposely left OUT of the Constitution because the Founders were OVERWHELMINGLY pro-immigration! Immigration law shouldn’t be reformed, immigration law should be slowly deleted entirely as they are ILLEGAL, [with much irony and hypocrisy involved].

    • Jerome Bigge

      The majority of Americans would support open borders if they understood the benefits. It is much more likely established businesses who don’t want enterprising immigrants coming in to “compete” with them. I will grant that there needs to be some control of the borders as we don’t want criminals and terrorists coming in if we can prevent it, but I don’t think this is really the issue here.

      • John

        I would say most would support MORE open borders. But the amount of things required to fix the government enough to allow open borders is too long and nearly impossible realize short of a revolution or asteroid strike on Washington.

      • http://www.facebook.com/grahamshevlin Graham Shevlin

        Businesses consistently want open borders, because it increases the labor pool and tends to drive down labor costs. I have persistently said that we will know when we are in the next economic boom, when the IT sector begins lobbying Congress and the Senate for an increase in visa quotas.

      • christiansmiller

        This old American understands and does not support open borders. I favor a great reduction in the number of immigrants. I feel the congestion and pollution. Life was fine when we had 200 million people. We do not need any more.

  • martinbrock

    Legal immigrants pay a monopoly rent, to the state restricting immigration, and may resent other immigrants who do not pay the rent, as someone who buys a movie ticket might resent someone who sneaks into the theater without paying. Claiming that movie tickets would cost less without so many, oppressive intellectual property rights may be little comfort to someone who pays the price regardless.

    That’s not an argument for the monopoly rents.

  • Darren

    Horrible logic in this article. Where to begin. Hmmm.

    1) This author has an IF/THEN statement, but the IF is “If the restrictive laws are unjust…”. Um. Who said that? That IF statement is not a given. Not even close. I would venture to say that most immigrants who came the “tough” way would NOT say its unjust. They would just say it was tough. Not easy. Like a lot of things in life. Getting a PHD may be a pain in the ass. I doesn’t make it “unjust”. The ONLY logical position that does make sense, is if this guy who wrote the article came here the tough, long and legal way, and he personally feels it was unjust (evidence not withstanding!), and then therefore RIGHTLY is consistent in HIS belief that he would like to see the old law removed. Even if that is the case, does that make open borders or extremely lax laws “just”? No. It does not.

    2) His DMV example is bad. He is saying that if a law is loosened, “that from now on” the new policy being applied shouldn’t make someone who had it tougher have a fairness claim. Agreed. But its disingenuous, because the author is referring to AMNESTY. (He calls it “liberal laws” in his opening line, when he is actually referring to Amnesty). People who had broke the law in the past, now are just made legal with a stroke of a pen. It IS a slap in the face to the people who went by the book. Laws must mean something. His whole premise only works with someone who would walk across the border tomorrow, IF they changed the law yesterday. Then that person took advantage of the new/easy law. No problem. It IS a problem if they broke the law, and did the illegal method, when another guy did it the legal/hard/just way. This amnesty thing is being pushed just due to the sheer number of illegal aliens here already. Politicians are looking at Amnesty not because its a fair solution (its the very opposite of fair!), but because it may be the only feasible solution. (arresting/deporting 12 million illegals is not a very doable thing).

    3) Why is it wrong for a desirable entity (or person) to have high standards instead of lax ones, and enforce those? Imagine a very good looking woman, who is rich and famous, being told that she should pick some ugly and broke guys out there to date, to be “fair”. That would be incredibly stupid. Why wouldn’t she be very picky and choose only the best? If she wants to make it hard for them to date her (fill out forms,take health tests, have a waiting period) why cant she? If she is that desirable, she CAN and its in her best interest! In a similar fashion, why cant America say “We only want PHds/Scientists, non-felons, etc” in the country at this point. Why cant we say we want 20% white, 20% Asian, 25% African, 20% Indian, 20% Hispanic… instead of just accepting that since we have a border with Mexico, our immigration will be 80% Hispanic?! From a LIBERTARIAN standpoint, is that not the right of the state/corporation/individual? It seems very reasonable and proper that a country would look at its population, demographics and set a reasonable standard of the number of various groups, and education/jobs of those people who it lets in. The country should even be looking at the number of jobs it has available. If unemployment is very high, wouldn’t it be smart to say NO immigration that year?! Sure, a country could be a “Mother Theresa” (accept anyone who comes through the door) instead, but again..from a LIBERTARIAN standpoint….who is tell any entity that this higher standard it wants to enforce because of its desirability, is not “fair”.

    • reason60

      Your paragraph 3) brings up a very good point- our immigration laws are not anything more than a statement of who we consider to be desirable immigrants.
      They don’t match supply with demand, but simply draw arbitrary quotas based on nothing more than ethnic tribal affiliations and resentments.
      Isn’t proposing governmental control over immigration necessarily proposing some form of central planning of worker supply and demand?

      And is that even the most proper metric for making our decisions? Are there other moral valuations to immigration aside from filling worker demand?

  • Fulton

    I have zero issue if the US wants to change the laws to make immigration easier. In fact, as a former green card holder, now US citizen, I am in favor of that. However, amnesty for illegals who jumped the line while I went through the various hoops gives me a very nasty twitch.

  • Irfan Khawaja

    A question for Teson, intended just to clarify the logic of his argument: Are you saying that literally all laws restricting immigration are unjust?

    (1) If millions of people massed on the border of a country and insisted on simultaneous rights of entry into it, would laws restricting simultaneously entry (or insisting on orderly entry) be unjust? Suppose that a predictable result of simultaneous was the overwhelming of the infrastructure of the would-be host country. Still unjust?

    (2) Should criminals and terrorist be allowed in without scrutiny at the border?

    (3) Should people carrying communicable diseases be let in without scrutiny at the border?

    If a country simply insists on restrictions like the preceding, it’s going to restrict entry to some degree. Once it does so, the Cruz-type argument will have some application. Some people will abide by the laws, and some won’t. Are you saying that the ones who do still have no complaints against the ones who don’t, even if the restrictions are as minimal as the preceding?

    Your argument is only plausible if you’re assuming that the “laws” in question are the sum total of US immigration laws/regulations on the books, as enforced by ICE on the average day. Fine; let’s stipulate that 95% of those laws are thrown out. You’re still left with plenty of discretionary power, and plenty of room for law-breakers and law-abiders. Do the law-abiders still lack a complaint against the law-breakers?

  • Jordan

    If this type of fairness claim is sufficient to block the reform/abolition of laws, then lots of legislation could never be changed.

    E.g: It’s not fair to loosen licensing restrictions because XYZ had to go through all these onerous tests and applications in order to practice! It’s not fair to streamline the process for starting a business, because XYZ had to suffer through the old system! It’s not fair to simplify the tax code, all these XYZs past had to waste so much time and money on trying to comply perfectly and failing!

    This is a prescription for solidfying terrible legislation, and it would throw the logic of other Republican policy prescriptions out the window, if it were equally applied.

    • martinbrock

      If fairness is the issue, we might tax U.S. citizens to pay reparations to immigrants who arrived since the state started imposing costly immigration restrictions, or if “tax citizens” is offensive, we might tax land rents to pay these reparations.

      I suppose states legalizing recreational use of marijuana should free people imprisoned for this use before legalization, and even pay the freed prisoners (and past prisoners) reparations, but states aren’t even freeing the prisoners, much less paying reparations.

  • Steven Flaeck

    I think this argument proves too much. By extension, since it was always within the power of a university to lower its admissions and degree standards, it is not unfair for them to do so now, since it was a power they always had. Alumni lack a fairness claim.

    I also think we naturally see these kinds of “cheapening” moves as unfair, even if the cheapener was invested with the authority to do so. Likewise, I think Cruz, et al probably believe that amnesty or easing would “cheapen” residency or citizenship and so really do see it as unfair from cheapening alone.

    But the first point stands, I imagine the argument from plenary authority proves too much.

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