Walter Williams: Immigration and Liberty
ACRU Policy Board Member Walter E. Williams wrote this column appearing on the Townhall.com website on May 19, 2010.
My sentiments on immigration are expressed by the welcoming words of poet Emma Lazarus’ that grace the base of our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Those sentiments are probably shared by most Americans and for sure by my libertarian fellow travelers, but their vision of immigration has some blind spots. This has become painfully obvious in the wake Arizona’s law that cracks down on illegal immigration. Let’s look at the immigration issue step by step.
There are close to 7 billion people on our planet. I’d like to know how the libertarians answer this question: Does each individual on the planet have a natural or God-given right to live in the U.S.? Unless one wishes to obfuscate, I believe that a yes or no can be given to that question just as a yes or no answer can be given to the question whether Williams has a right to live in the U.S.
I believe most people, even my open-borders libertarian friends, would not say that everyone on the planet had a right to live in the U.S. That being the case suggests there will be conditions that a person must meet to live in the U.S. Then the question emerges: Who gets to set those conditions? Should it be the United Nations, the European Union, the Japanese Diet or the Moscow City Duma? I can’t be absolutely sure, but I believe that most Americans would recoil at the suggestion that somebody other than Americans should be allowed to set the conditions for people to live in the U.S.
What those conditions should be is one thing and whether a person has a right to ignore them is another. People become illegal immigrants in one of three ways: entering without authorization or inspection, staying beyond the authorized period after legal entry or by violating the terms of legal entry. Most of those who risk prosecution under Arizona’s new law fit the first category—entering without authorization or inspection.
Probably, the overwhelming majority of Mexican illegal immigrants are hardworking, honest and otherwise law-abiding members of the communities in which they reside. It would surely be a heart-wrenching scenario for such a person to be stopped for a driving infraction, have his illegal immigrant status discovered and face deportation proceedings. Regardless of the hardship suffered, being in the U.S. without authorization is a crime.
When crimes are committed, what should be done? Some people recommend amnesia, which turns out to be the root word for amnesty. But surely they don’t propose it as a general response to crime where criminals confess their crime, pay some fine and apply to have their crimes overlooked. Amnesty supporters probably wish amnesty to apply to only illegal immigrants. That being the case, one wonders whether they wish it to apply to illegals past, present and future, regardless of race, ethnicity or country of origin.
Various estimates put the illegal immigrant population in the U.S. between 10 and 20 million. One argument says we can’t round up and deport all those people. That argument differs little from one that says since we can’t catch every burglar, we should grant burglars amnesty. Catching and imprisoning some burglars sends a message to would-be burglars that there might be a price to pay. Similarly, imprisoning some illegal immigrants and then deporting them after their sentences were served would send a signal to others who are here illegally or who are contemplating illegal entry that there’s a price to pay.
Here’s Williams’ suggestion in a nutshell. Start strict enforcement of immigration law, as Arizona has begun. Strictly enforce border security. Most importantly, modernize and streamline our cumbersome immigration laws so that people can more easily migrate to our country.