Queuing Up for a Bad Analogy

by Don Boudreaux on May 19, 2006

in Immigration

People who jump the queue – who “cut in line” – are annoying because they directly harm others. Their selfishness reduces other peoples’ range of opportunities. At best, they play zero-sum games: what queue-jumpers gain in reduced waiting time and increased chances of securing the scarce object is lost by those who patiently wait their turn. Clearly, queue jumping is undesirable.

This waiting-in-line, and queue-jumping, analogy is used in the current immigration debate to condemn ‘illegal’ immigration.  Immigrants here without Uncle Sam’s permission are said to have jumped the queue, not waited their turn for opportunities to enter legally.  But I believe that this analogy is misplaced and, hence, misleading.

Many of the Latin American immigrants who are in the United States without Uncle Sam’s stamp of approval likely have little or no chance of getting in legally. Therefore, for these people – for those whose chances of entering the U.S. legally are practically zero – there is no line for them to wait in.  To tell them to wait their turn implies that they, in fact, will have a turn.  But no chance at any real turn to enter the USA exists for many foreigners.  So it’s incorrect to portray such foreigners who then enter ‘illegally’ as selfish scoundrels who jump the queue merely to speed up their arrival in the U.S.

Now ask: does coming to the United States without Uncle Sam’s stamp of approval hurt those who are waiting in line to get this approval as a condition of entering the land of the free and the home of the brave? I don’t see how. The number of legal immigration slots isn’t reduced by the number of ‘illegal’ immigrants entering the USA.

Indeed, to the extent that those who enter the USA ‘illegally’ would be eligible for legal-immigration status, their entering ‘illegally’ actually helps aspiring immigrants who are waiting in the queue. Those who enter the USA ‘illegally’ obviously aren’t waiting in the queue to get here ‘legally’; therefore, immigrants who enter ‘illegally,’ rather than join the queue, shorten the queue.  Those waiting in the queue are made better off.

So the ‘jumping-the-queue’ analogy misleads because our disgust at queue jumpers springs from our correct sense that queue jumpers hurt those who wait their turns in the queue. But ‘illegal’ immigrants don’t hurt those waiting in the queue for Uncle Sam’s approval to enter.

There are other problems with the queue-jumping analogy that, perhaps, I’ll discuss in later posts.

Be Sociable, Share!



35 comments    Share Share    Print    Email


Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 9:43 am

I suggest you test your theory at Disneyland. Ignore the parking regs, jump the lines, sneak past the security checks, don't pay at the gate and when you get inside avail yourself of the attractions and services. If as you predict the theme park becomes a better place for your actions and indeed those waiting in line applaud your actions and eventually apporove of your brave actions as being in their best interests I shall withdraw my clam.

John Dewey May 19, 2006 at 9:51 am

I certainly agree, Don. Low-skilled Latin Americans who have no relatives in the U.S. could not get in the queue.

It appears the Senate's Hagel-Martinez bill will double the size of the queue. Unfortunately, it still lets government manage the makeup of skills allowed in the queue. Who can possibly believe the U.S. government knows what skills are unfilled in the workplace?

JD May 19, 2006 at 10:00 am

I agree about the analogy not being the best. However, illegal immigrants (or more accurately, the reaction or attempted solutions to illegal immigrants) cause the legal immigration process to be lengthen and more cumbersome.

save_the_rustbelt May 19, 2006 at 10:04 am

"Illegals Granted Social Security"
The Washington Times, May 19th, 2006

Reports on Senate vote yesterday.

This country has gone insane, with the elites working very hard to destroy the middle class, so we all be a part of the cheap labor pool.

Sheer madness.

stew May 19, 2006 at 10:10 am

All theory. You obviously haven't dealt with the INS. My wife and her family who immigrated legally from Eastern Europe after 5 plus years of waiting and filing all necessary documents don't have much use for illegals. You omit the 7 amnesties that have been granted since 1986. Those in the country illegally were then able to file with the INS which added an extra burden in terms of processing applications. So it did effect those already in line. Read VDARE.com for more insightful immigration writings rather than libertarian pie-in-the-sky theory.

ipninja May 19, 2006 at 10:13 am

I believe your analysis assumes increases in illegal immigration into the country have no effect on the quotas for legal immigration into the country. Do you believe that, in the long term, this assumption is true? If the US government were able to virtually stop illegal immigration from Mexico, do you believe that the quotas for legal immigration from Mexico would remain unchanged?

Matt May 19, 2006 at 10:13 am


Did you miss the part where Dr. Don said (and why) there is no line in which to wait to become a legal alien in the US? There is a line to get in to Disneyland. Keep your clam.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 10:29 am


I live in a county with a Whooping Cough epidemic. My analogy is imperfect the Doctor's is wholly unsupportable. There are lines for legal immigration and there are exisiting alternatives such as guest worker programs. I suggest you leave your auto on the street unlocked with the keys so that the people who have no alternative for their own transportation can have illegal access to yours in order to bolster your assertion that there is an obligation to accommodate demand no matter the legality or preferences of the rightful users.

Sean Woods May 19, 2006 at 10:56 am

Robert's analogy breaks down because of the nature of Disneyland. Disneyland is a relatively small, manageable area where resources (rides, etc) are visibly scarce. Once you go into Disneyland, you just consume resources, and you do not influence how they are produced.

The USA is much larger and harder to conceive of, especially as immigrants interact with those of us who are already here.

I like Robert's analogy, even if it is a little simplistic (and I don't think he was trying to make a perfect analogy; his point is well taken).

Matt May 19, 2006 at 11:54 am

I made no assertions about anything. But if "rightful users" refers to natural born inhabitants, I might assert something about you. And completely unrelated, though funny that you mention it, I do leave my car unlocked with the key in the ignition. I just have a thing about keys, I guess.

Robert Cote May 19, 2006 at 12:37 pm

Now Matt, play fair. I know illegal immigration is an emotional issue for some but there's no reason to start that stuff. The good doctor has made some interesting coments and has moved on with the discussion. I used the phrase "rightful users" to apply to all possible categories to avoid just the mud you insist we jump into. Rightful users of your auto, rightful users of our commonweal. You knew what was meant. Just as you have private property rights regardless of whether you enforce them we all collectively have public property rights. That only works when the rules are enforced the alternative is the tragedy of the commons we see in places like Ventura County.

hamilton May 19, 2006 at 3:08 pm

Enlighten me, Robert. To what, precisely, do we have collective "public property rights"? What are individuals who decide to work and live in the United States without the permission of the government* taking from us citizens?

*- Which is a short way of saying the employees of the simple majority of the officials chosen by a pluraity of the people who are registered to choose by that same organization.



I agree; the resources that the government (see note above) devotes to registering individuals that it previously did not recognize as here lawfully could have been spent letting in people who applied through government-recognized methods. But how much faster could your wife and her family have come here if we had simply had no restriction on their movement in the first place, or made no attempt to prevent individuals who wanted to come here from Latin America from doing so?



Ann May 20, 2006 at 4:50 pm

I agree with ipninja that this analysis is flawed by the assumption that legal immigration quotas are fixed and exogenous. Supporters of illegal immigrants often argue that our economy and society need these extra workers. But if that's true, then surely more immigrants would have been allowed in legally if the pressure hadn't been relieved by the illegals.

Previous post:

Next post: