Libertarians say, Let ‘em in
By Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Who hasn’t heard about immigration lately – the marches, the debates, the new Bill in the House? Illegal immigrants are trespassing on private land to enter the country, using our welfare programs, overwhelming our public schools, taking jobs from Americans, refusing to learn English and costing taxpayers billions for border policing. The problems seem enormous, but libertarians have the answer: Let them in.

It’s easy to forget that in a free market, people are assets. Companies need more workers, both skilled and unskilled. The unskilled want to do the kinds of work that we consider beneath us – but they won’t be doing it for long. They will save and educate themselves and the future will see them as part of the middle class, to be replaced by new immigrants. They are the stuff of American history, like our own immigrant ancestors pulling themselves up by their bootstraps.

We also need skilled immigrants, educated people from countries where regulations thwart free markets. We particularly need engineers and scientists, fields that American students have decreasing interest in studying. Some people worry that these people will take jobs from our own college graduates, but their skills will make businesses more productive, creating new jobs.

Additionally, we require newcomers to slow the shrinking and aging of our population, since the U.S. birth rate is slightly lower than the replacement rate. We have foolishly designed Social Security to fund retirees from current workers’ payroll taxes, so we will need more young workers to support the ravenous Baby Boomers as they retire. And legal immigrants pay more taxes than illegal ones.

Most importantly, immigrants don’t just work, they buy things too. Their purchases help fuel the growth of our remarkable economy.

There are some incredible “solutions” to illegal immigration floating around Congress these days: building a giant wall across our southern border, deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants, jailing employers for hiring the wrong workers. One wonders why otherwise sane people wish to live in a police state.

The real solution is clear: we need immigration points where people can easily obtain work visas. This will greatly reduce trespassing on private land, and decrease the cost of border policing. President Bush’s Immigration Bill is a small step in the (mostly) right direction, so let’s hope it will be passed.

We also need to increase skilled immigration. People languish on the waiting list for years, waiting to add their needed skills to our economy. There were no limits on immigration at all until the 1880s. Do we really need limits now, or do we just assume we do?

Most other problems result from poorly-conceived government policies. To prevent immigrants from using our tax dollars for welfare programs, don’t fund welfare with taxes. (In a welfare state, people are liabilities, not assets.) Private charities should provide help for the needy.

The same goes for public schools: Let people (and charitable scholarships) pay for the kinds of schools they want – bilingual, if desired – for their own children. Incidentally, public schools were instituted largely to control another immigrant population – the Irish Catholics who had their own very successful schools, even though they were poor.

Some voice concern that immigrants refuse to assimilate to American culture. This has never been an enduring problem in the past, and is likely exacerbated by academic theories emphasizing “diversity” over similarity. Instead of fomenting divisiveness by focusing on our differences and past problems, we need to emphasize what we have in common.

What about “national security?” Concern about terrorists is a real fear, but clearly there is no way to keep out people who are intent on coming here. Building a giant wall will only force illegal immigrants to cross at more difficult places. And don’t forget, the 9/11 terrorists were all here legally.

The solutions are readily apparent, if only we stop trying to control people. It’s like a Chinese finger puzzle, the kind where the harder you try to pull your fingers out, the tighter it gets. We just need to relax our policies and things will improve. The things that made America a great country in the early years – open borders, free markets and personal responsibility – are the policies we should continue. That’s the libertarian way.