Illegal Immigration: Make it Legal

The Boston Globe’s Jeff Jacoby wrote a wonderful column yesterday that highlights the inconsistent stance of many conservatives when it comes to immigration:

If Republicans really believe, as Baker says, that “it doesn’t make any sense’’ to allow illegal immigrants to enjoy the same benefits as other state residents, why stop with in-state tuition? Why not bar them from driving on state highways? From camping in state parks? From using libraries?

Of course illegal immigration is a problem. But it can only be solved by overhauling our dysfunctional immigration laws, not by demonizing or scapegoating illegal immigrants. Those immigrants didn’t come here in order to be lawbreakers; they broke a law in order to come here. That’s a distinction with a crucial difference – one that sensible and principled conservatives should be able to understand.

A point of my own to add: many conservatives say they have no problem with immigration itself. Just illegal immigration. Often, this isn’t actually true. Here’s a thought experiment: suppose the definition of legality were changed overnight. Suppose the twelve million men, women, and children currently here illegally are now, suddenly, legal.

People who really are only against illegal immigration will now welcome these new citizens to America with open arms. After all, they’re legal now.

But many conservative immigration opponents don’t think that way, even though they use that reasonable-sounding legality argument. They oppose legalization. They tar it as “amnesty.”

That means some factor other than legality plays into their opinion. They shouldn’t be using it as an argument. Maybe they believe that the U.S. is overpopulated (it isn’t). Maybe they believe that immigrants consume more public services than they pay for in taxes (in the long run, they don’t). Whatever. Let the intellectual battle over immigration move to those fronts, then. The legality argument is just a smokescreen. It is the triumph of semantics over substance.

Immigration is either good or bad for America. This is true whether or not the laws in the books reflect that. That is the substance of the matter. I happen to think immigration is an almost unmitigated blessing. And I will defend that view with logic and data. Not an appeal to a dysfunctional legal code rooted in obsolete Progressive-era thought.