A few weeks ago, Rosita, a Bolivian in her late 40s, told me how on her journey to the United States, she was raped in Guatemala and swindled in Mexico, and how she had to cross the desert into this country after losing a brother who was killed because he refused to pay the coyote a larger fee than had originally been agreed. She then went through a health ordeal and was forced to have a hysterectomy in a low-cost clinic that helps immigrants. The operation went horribly wrong and she spent six months fighting for her life. Her two sons are in Bolivia, where she plans to return when she saves enough money to pay her debts. She works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, cleaning houses, doing errands for third parties, and baby-sitting. In what way am I a criminal? she asked me.
Of course, she has broken U.S. immigration laws. But she is, like 12 million other illegal immigrants, the victim of a gross illusionthe illusion that the laws of supply and demand can be obliterated by an act of political will. Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wrote T.S. Eliot in one of his quartets. He might have been talking about immigration in the 21st century.
The latest agreement between the White House and a bipartisan group of legislators notwithstanding, the emotional obfuscation that has replaced sensible thinking regarding this issue continues to make it very hard to expect a reasonable immigration bill in the middle of a presidential campaign.
Not even totalitarian societies have been able to root out social realities deemed undesirablehence the pervasive alcoholism in Russia during the Soviet period. Whenever there is a disconnect between the law and reality, reality finds ways of making the law irrelevant. During most of the 300 years of its colonial era, Spain tried to impose draconian monopoly conditions on commerce in Spanish America. The result was that smuggling accounted for two-thirds of all trade in the colonies. Today, a number of Latin American constitutions make Catholicism the official church, and yet, as I mentioned in a recent column, in real life a plurality of religions has managed to penetrate the Latin American soul in recent decades.
It is always hard to oppose an emotional reaction with logical arguments and statistical evidence. Otherwise, the argument for the decriminalization of immigrants and a policy that helped match future demand for migrant workers with future supply would have been won long ago. In a country with an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, who can seriously maintain that immigrants take jobs away from the natives? In a country where many of the states with the highest number of immigrants, such as New York and Florida, have unemployment rates below the national average, who can seriously accuse immigrants of displacing Americans? In a country where half a million immigrants come in illegally every year because the million that come in legally are not enough to match the high demand for foreign workers on the part of American businesses, who can seriously maintain that the immigration debate is mostly a debate between law-abiding Americans and law-breaking aliens?
And yet, these arguments would never persuade a politician such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., because he fears his constituents would never forgive him. The result is a colossal ideological inconsistency. Conservatismand Tancredo calls himself a quintessential conservativehas always been pro immigration. From Edmund Burke, the Anglo-Irish philosopher and politician considered the father of conservative thinking, to Ronald Reagan, who had no qualms with the word amnesty when millions of immigrants were legalized under his watch in 1986, conservatives have understood that spontaneous social interactions and institutions are what make nations healthy, prosperous and peaceful. It is those social customsand not bureaucracies detached from realitythat make the law. For conservatives, a real legislator is someone who pays close attention to social norms and tries to adapt to them.
In what way am I a criminal? asks Rosita, who does not have the least problem in finding an American willing to employ her every time she needs to change jobs, and who believes in hard work, thrift, family, and realistic laws.
The melancholy answer is: She is just a civil heroine ahead of her time.
Ivan Eland is Director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute and Assistant Editor of The Independent Review. Dr. Eland is a graduate of Iowa State University and received an M.B.A. in applied economics and Ph.D. in national security policy from George Washington University. He has been Director of Defense Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, Principal Defense Analyst at the Congressional Budget Office, Evaluator-in-Charge (national security and intelligence) for the U.S. General Accounting Office, and Investigator for the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Full Biography and Recent Publications
Jonathan J. Bean is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Professor of History at Southern Illinois University, and editor of the forthcoming book, Race and Liberty: The Classical Liberal Tradition of Civil Rights.
Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute. He earned
his bachelor's degree in American history from the University of California
at Berkeley and gave the undergraduate history commencement speech in
2003. In addition to his work with the Independent Institute, he regularly
writes for numerous news and commentary web sites, including LewRockwell.com,
Future of Freedom Foundation, and the Rational Review.
Dominick T. Armentano is professor emeritus in economics at the University of Hartford (Connecticut) and a research fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif. He is author of Antitrust & Monopoly (Independent Institute, 1998).
Alvaro Vargas Llosa is director of The Center on Global Prosperity at The Independent Institute. He is a native of Peru and received his B.S.C. in international history from the London School of Economics. He is widely published and has lectured on world economic and political issues including at the Mont Pelerin Society, Naumann Foundation (Germany), FAES Foundation (Spain), Brazilian Institute of Business Studies, Fundación Libertad (Argentina), CEDICE Foundation (Venezuela), Florida International University, and the Ecuadorian Chamber of Commerce. He is the author of the Independent Institute books The Che Guevara Myth and Liberty for Latin America. Full biography and recent publications.
Gabriel Roth is a transport and privatization consultant and a research fellow at the Independent Institute, where he is editing a book on private-sector roles in the provision of roads, Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship, and the Future of Roads.
Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute,
author of Against Leviathan and Crisis and Leviathan, and editor of the
scholarly quarterly journal, The Independent Review. Click
here for a bio on Dr. Higgs, the noted economist and historian.
William Marina is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute in Oakland, Calif., and Professor Emeritus of History at Florida Atlantic University.
T. Beito is a Research Fellow at The Independent Institute, Associate
Professor of History at the University of Alabama, and co-editor of
the book, The
Voluntary City: Choice, Community and Civil Society.
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