Michael has posted the Comment of the Day regarding my post of Carlos Santana’s criticism of Georgia’s new anti- illegal immigration law. The post expresses my continuing amazement and dismay at the strong support for illegal immigrants in the media and in segments of the public, which I view as both irrational and impossible to defend without recourse to rationalizations and dishonesty. In his comment, Michael is less critical of these defenders as he explores the factors that could make reasonable people oppose efforts to crack down on illegals.
“I can understand why reasonable people are against laws that punish illegal immigrants. I understand your conviction that a law should be either enforced or repealed, but sometimes a law is a bad law that, for whatever reason, legislators cannot or will not turn into a good law (given your frequent posts criticizing Congress, you can understand why some bad laws are not changed). When such a bad law is in place, there is often sympathy for those who break it because reasonable people conclude that, if they were in the same position as those who break the law, they would break the law as well.
“American immigration laws could be called bad laws because they punish those who follow them much more than they punish those who break them. The immigrants who enter the United States illegally for economic reasons are most often the sorts of people who could never enter the US on a work permit legally. They often do not have university degrees or highly marketable skills and they are not fleeing state persecution, so they would not qualify as refugees. Unfortunately, for the class of people who generally make up illegal migrants, their labor is far more valuable in the US than it is in their country. Virtuous members of the class, who value adherence to American law more than the comfort and wellbeing of their family, are rewarded by being able to hear stories of their friends and neighbours who have broken the law who are becoming much richer then them. They will also see the parents and extended families of the illegals who still live near them living a much better life thanks to remittances from the US. Those who illegally cross the border, on the other hand, are often only punished by having to lead their much better new life somewhat clandestinely. Even if they are caught, the worst punishment they often receive is deportation, so they can try again later. Given this incentive structure, a reasonable American might conclude that they would become illegal immigrants if they were in the same position as someone in a low-wage country. They might even call laws that punish illegal immigrants “anti-American” due to their conviction that America is a country that generally rewards those work hard and obey the laws and the fact that the plain fact that the law only rewards those who break it.”
“There are many things that American governments could do to make immigration law a good law that reasonable people could support (for example, a guest worker program available only to those that have never entered America illegally). Unfortunately, those who advocate sensible reforms are often punished (see John McCain). Ultimately, any reform should include stronger penalties for those who break immigration laws or hire illegal immigrants, but unless broader reforms are made to reward those who obey the law, reasonable people will see these laws as only punishing those who made a rational decision that they too would have made in the same circumstances.”