Malum in se; malum prohibitum

by Don Boudreaux on May 22, 2007

in Immigration, Law

Bruce Charlton sensibly asks (in a comment to this post):

Isn’t illegal immigration more equivalent to smuggling than to free trade?

I would favour easier, cheaper and quicker regulation of immigration, which would need to be coupled with general reforms to cut back on welfare and making it easy to work legally, repealing the minimum wage etc.

But I find it hard to see how mass scale law-breaking can be ignored without serious knock-on problems.

I respectfully disagree with Mr. Charlton — or, rather, I submit that he (like so many other persons) is inappropriately distracted by immigrants’ “legal” status.

A critical distinction in Anglo-American law is that between actions that are malum in se and actions that are malum prohibitum.  Some actions are malum in se — wrong in themselves.  Examples are murder, rape, theft, and fraud.  These actions are now formally prohibited by legislation, but their wrongness — indeed, their very illegality — exists independently of legislative prohibition.  If, say, the Virginia legislature were to repeal its statutory prohibition on murder, murder would still be wrong and criminal in Virginia.  Murderers would still be wrongdoers and criminals.  If the State government refused to punish such criminals, people would do so privately.

Other actions are malum prohibitum — “wrong” merely because the government proclaims these actions to be wrong.  One example is avoiding taxes.  If Uncle Sam tomorrow abolishes the federal income tax, failure of Americans to send money to Washington would be neither wrong nor criminal, and persons who send no money to Washington would not be regarded by their neighbors and co-workers as despicable louts whose company should be avoided.

To attach the label “criminal” both to persons who commit actions that are malum in se and to persons whose only wrongdoing is the commission of actions that are merely malum prohibitum is to use language confusingly.  It is to dilute the scorn and loathing that true criminals deserve.  After all, if someone whose only offense is to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in search of a job is a criminal, what is a shoplifter or a child-beater or a murderer?

Looked at differently, to call “criminal” those persons whose only offenses are merely malum prohibitum is unfairly and inappropriately to tar them with the scorn and wariness that is deserved only by persons who commit genuine offenses against others.

And such language clouds and confuses the political debate.  Because most persons understand the word “criminal” to indicate an individual who, to one degree or another, is harmfully anti-social, calling immigrants who are in the U.S. without official government permission “criminal” gives the impression that these people are all harmfully anti-social.  But that impression is emphatically false (unless you include in your definition of “anti-social” the desire for a better life and willingness to compete for jobs).

There is a legitimate debate over how open America’s borders should be.  But that debate today is far too soiled by those persons who think that merely calling “illegal” immigrants “criminals” settles the matter.  It does not.  “Illegal” immigrants are “criminals” only because government policy declares them to be — in the same way that persons openly practicing Christianity or Judaism in Soviet Russia were “criminals” only because government policy declared them to be.  The contours and specifics of this policy are precisely what is at issue in the debate over how widely open U.S. borders ought to be.  This debate should be on the economics and the national-security issues raised by immigration; it should not be confused by the confusing (and often self-serving) application of the term “criminal” to persons who come to America without Uncle Sam’s permission — permission that is very difficult to get.

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Patrick R. Sullivan May 22, 2007 at 6:53 pm

It's really unfortunate that Tom Sowell didn't read this post before writing this:

'…there are undoubtedly thousands, perhaps millions, of unsolved crimes and uncaught criminals in this country and we cannot realistically expect to find and prosecute all these fugitives from justice.

'But does anyone suggest that our focus should be on trying to normalize the lives of domestic fugitives from justice — "bring them out of the shadows" in Ted Kennedy's phrase — and develop some path by which they can be given an acceptable legal status?

'Does anyone suggest that, if domestic criminals come forward, pay some fine, and apply to have their crimes overlooked, they can be put on a path to be restored to good standing in our society?'

Et tu, Tom?

August May 22, 2007 at 7:11 pm

So, is trespassing malum in se, or malum prohibitum?

If we had full property rights in this country, the bulk of the "illegal" immigrant issue would go away.

The real problem here is the government. They are doing what they do best- forcing the property owners and the immigrants to look to government for the answers.

We might even end up with more immigrants, but with full property rights, most wouldn't feel threatened.

Don Boudreaux May 22, 2007 at 7:45 pm

Thomas Sowell truly is a great economist, but his frequent comments on law reveal that his knowledge of that subject, and his appreciation of law's nuances, is severely wanting. He simply does not think very deeply or consistently about law and jurisprudence.

Sowell has thoroughly digested Hayek's "Use of Knowledge in Society," but my guess is that Sowell has never cracked the pages of Hayek's magnum opus, Law, Legislation, and Liberty.

Acad Ronin May 22, 2007 at 8:03 pm

Nice distinction between the two mala. That answers my sense of discomfort at calling illegal aliens criminals, classifying them with what I think of as real criminals. I would extend the distinction also to drugs, gambling, and similar victimless crimes.

Theo May 22, 2007 at 9:41 pm

You note that:

"There is a legitimate debate over how open America's borders should be."


"This debate should be on the economics and the national-security issues raised by immigration."

If we ignore national-security, is there any justification for restricting entry to the US in your view? If there is some justification for restrictions, how much larger is your number from the numbers allowed by the current laws?

Jason B. May 22, 2007 at 10:21 pm

Exactly! This is what I've been trying to explain to people lately. Illegal immigrants coming here to live and work are engaging in voluntary transactions with other willing individuals. They are not violating anyone else's natural rights.

Terryk May 22, 2007 at 10:56 pm

Another way of looking at it would be to say "Illegal immigration" is a "victimless crime". Of course insofar as illegals use public sector provided services and amenities and fail to pay for it they are "victimising taxpayers". Still there is another angle. Do we apply an individualistic "human rights" analysis in which case individual illegal immigrants have a right to enter the US provided they do not violate the rights of anyone already there? Or do we view the USA as a kind of club with membership privileges and illegals as attempting to crash the party?

happyjuggler0 May 23, 2007 at 2:29 am

It's too late for me to think about this properly. However, how is this different from my notion that it is a tautology when people who complain that illegal immigrants are bad because they are breaking the law, and therefore they ought to be illegal?

Jason May 23, 2007 at 8:37 am

Most people who have a problem with illegal immigration say their biggest reason is that illegals unfairly use public services (based on my completely unscientific observations on what people post online). This is yet another example of the government creating a bigger problem by trying to solve a smaller one (think prohibition, war on drugs, interventionist foreign policy). Take away all gov't provided forms of public assistance and most people's problems with illegal immigrants go away. Private charitable organizations could choose to help immigrants, or not.

SheetWise May 23, 2007 at 10:19 am

Jason has it right. We have created a welfare state with our belief in entitlements. For this reason alone, there will never be a 51st state. We couldn't afford to lift a poor state up, given the standards we've set for Americans — and any state close enough in living standards would have nothing to gain by joining the Union.

If we don't control the border — our cities, at least the parts we want to live in, will become one large gated community, and we'll depend on HOA's to enforce law.

Michael May 23, 2007 at 10:27 am

The issue that Prof Boudreaux seems to have missed in this analogy in that smuggling and illegal immigration are both malum prohibitum. In other words, if I brought sugar in in excess of the quota I would be a smuggler and therefore a criminal. If the quota is repealed int he new far bill (haha) I woudl no longer be a criminal. That said, I do think there is a distinction between smugglers and illegal immigrants, but I don't think this distinction provides it, nor can I provide a distinction briefly considering it.

stew May 23, 2007 at 10:58 am

Jason "They are not violating anyone else's natural rights."

Take a look at some who came to live, work, DUI, rape and pillage:

bird dog May 23, 2007 at 11:04 am

Try that arguement as an American in a Mexican court.

Don Boudreaux May 23, 2007 at 11:36 am

Bird Dog,

There are many arguments that I am glad I can use in American courts that would be unavailable to me in a Mexican court. This fact is part of the reason that America remains wealthier than Mexico, and a generally more desirable place to live. Should we begrudge Mexican immigrants to the U.S. their wish to live in a freer society than the one in which they were born?

Matt C. May 23, 2007 at 11:39 am

Jason and sheetwise have it wrong. I believe Hoppe also argued this point. But it goes back to Don's earlier post about increased debt that is created in the world. The problem is not that illegals use social welfare benefits, but that they are provided in the first place.

On Jason's second point about smuggling. There is clearly a difference between what is called illegal and what is perceived as illegal. The best example of this would be prohibition. This goes back to my first point, smuggling is only illegal because of government intervention elsewhere.

Michael May 23, 2007 at 11:50 am

Professor Boudreaux,

I understand your desire to differentiate between that which is truly “criminal” and that which merely breaks a law. However, I think you’ve waded into an area similar to a watchmaker’s perturbation with the layman’s inappropriate substitution of the terms “accurate” and “precise.”

The fact is most Americans don’t have a legal education and, understandably, misapply terms over which lawyers are paid to argue. That the term “criminal” is both loaded in meaning and inappropriately applied is a direct result of the English language’s dearth of suitable substitutes.

That said, I would hope most American’s intuitively understand that murdering a family is not exactly on par with entering the U.S. illegally. Though they may not be able to cite the legal jargon for it, I think they realize that the first action is bad, the other unthinkable.

I am concerned that between your post today and your posting of the letter by Andrew Morriss yesterday, you sympathize with the use of illegal labor. Although you can make the argument that such a labor exchange is simply the free market at work, the illegality of the situation has a vast array of unintended consequences—socially and economically—that I don’t think this country is adequately prepared to deal with.

Jon May 23, 2007 at 11:51 am

In response to Stew:

Yes and I'm quite sure I can find an example of an economist that was a rapist/murderer/thief.

Does that somehoe mean that we all are? No.

Just because you can pull a couple of examples of criminals that happen to be illegal in no way is a representation of the whole sample.

M. Hodak May 23, 2007 at 12:02 pm

I found a very interesting comment on Prof. Borgas's blog to the effect that our immigration laws work just fine for those willing to be lawful. This commenter, who just got U.S. citizenship, noted that he was asked to foreswear welfare, but it wasn't clear that that was a legal precondition. Other than that, I thought his comment was a great example of how lottery winners think the lottery is just great the way it is. Now, that I'm in, let's slam the door shut.

Walt from Mid-Michigan May 23, 2007 at 12:15 pm

Michael is right on,
Yoemen wealth creators in the USA are caught between the socalled freemarketeers
and vote grubbing kleptocrats.
20mil illegals in USA now? 40mil abortions since "73"?
There has to be some bad economis in there somewhere.

Dayl May 23, 2007 at 12:30 pm

This is an intersting argument. Unfortunately, most conservatives who hate government intereference in most parts of their lives, believe that government interference is needed in this area in order to"protect our borders" and often hide behind 9/11, as if migrant farm workers flew those planes. Many normally intelligent people (Peggy Noonan comes to mind) comment that there ancestors cam here legally without understanding that these people came here when the country had truly open borders. Let's open a dozen Ellis Island's all over the country where all immigrants could be screened so that the few who are truly criminals can be sent home and the many who are looking for a better life can join the party. The hardline stance of the Tancredo's could make the Republican Party a permanent minority party.

Walt from Mid-Michigan May 23, 2007 at 12:48 pm

The French just elected a Hungarian Jew.
Sarco has and anti illegal imigrant platform.
I think Tancredo is on to something.
Peggy Noonan!?

Matt May 23, 2007 at 2:05 pm

Whoa, Sowell is "wanting"? "He simply does not think very deeply or consistently about law and jurisprudence."

In other news:

Boudreaux stock down 63% in mid-afternoon trading…

Virginia man saddened to find favorite blog has head up wrong place…

Doctors baffled by strange epidemic of unexplained vomiting…steam cleaner sales spike…

Methinks May 23, 2007 at 2:07 pm

Well, I'm one of those lottery winners that M. Hodak speaks of. My spouse is from an entirely different part of the world and just became a citizen in the last couple of months (hooray!). Foreswearing welfare is a legal precondition to the green card which you must receive years in advance of applying for citizenship. Foreswearing welfare is not, of course, a precondition of citizenship.

I would rather not slam the door on anybody but immigrating here legally was expensive and nerve-wracking for both of us. We want people to come to this country to work and have a better life but we want no responsibility for the entitlements government extends and for which we pay. The welfare state distorts the issue.

A poster on this thread asked if we (America) are now an exclusive club with membership privileges not wanting anyone crashing the party. We are indeed, because that's what socialism creates. We are especially against impoverished, low-skilled individuals who are more likely to end up living on our dime. This is understandable and yet another example of how the welfare state is an albatross around our necks. Sadly, even Milton Friedman said that a welfare state and unfettered immigration are incompatible.

The United States had unfettered immigration before the welfare state came into existence and it worked very well. I would like to see a return of unfettered immigration coupled with a massive reduction in the welfare state.

Bruce G Charlton May 23, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Thanks to Don Boudreaux for responding to my earlier comment with this posting. He makes a good point.

To take a step back, there are probably going to be restrictions on immigration, if the numbers of people wanting to immigrate into the US become high enough.

Currently hundreds of thousands of new people per year actually enter the US; I believe. But suppose the numbers who would come if borders were open was tens of millions per year – which seems quite possible, indeed plausible.

Even if you believe that the US could absorb 10 million new people a year without collapsing, if you keep adding zeros there comes a point at which the numbers are impossible to assimilate.

So – if there are going to be some kind of restrictions on US immigration (which is surely inevitable), then what should be done about the people who avoid the restrictions?

Should they be regarded as breaking the law? Or should people be made citizens because they managed to elude restrictions and enter the USA anyway?

My feeling is that restrictions are inevitable, and they should be enforced (like any other regulations).

Seems to me that the proper argument should be over the nature of the restrictions on immigration, not over whether restrictions are enforced.

Dayl May 23, 2007 at 4:22 pm

Walt from Mid-Michigan please do not compare the US to France. The French willingly and (in most cases) joyfully handed over their Jewish friends to the Nazis. So being against any kind of immigration comes naturally. If Tancredo is on to something why does he poll less than 1%?

Lee Kelly May 23, 2007 at 5:27 pm


First, I would like to compliment your post, which neatly elucidated the difference between legality and morality. I also agree with you, at least on an idealistic level. There are, however, a few complications.

The problem is that culture matters. The people who enter the US as immigrants, legal or otherwise, bring with them a culture. That culture will influence their political and economic behaviour. It may be unfortunate, but the culture an immigrant community brings with it will not always be compatible with a free-market economy.

For example, what do you think politicians on the left see when they observe a politicial protest calling for an amnesty? I reckon they see votes; votes by people from a culture which tends to subvert the free-market with regulation, who go to the US for the "free" education, subsidised medical care and "redistribution" of wealth.

Would you still feel comfortable with unregulated immigration, if those immigrants were bringing with them a culture set to undermine the free-market?

That's what sets human capital apart, the ability to influence the political process, an ability which all too often leads to poverty, corruption and crime where that human capital has a socialist vision of the world.

I don't think this case is regularly made, but it seems to me one of the strongest arguments in favour of tight border controls.

nunya May 23, 2007 at 7:27 pm

OK – we're talking here about some ephemeral value-set topics which may be relevent to future policy making – but seem to me totally irrelevent to what's going on in "The Real World"…..

Farmer's Branch, TX has voted (Overwhelmingly, I might add) to restrict illegals from renting apartments in their town. Of course, the slime at MALDEF immediately file suit to overturn the vote – which is typical of the pro-illegal corps.

There are a whole bunch of consequences from having such a huge contingent of illegals in our midst, many consequences which aren't as ephemeral as "malum prohibitum". How about: Personal Responsibility laws (Specifically in TX).

A huge number of Latinos here don't have auto insurance. Failure to have insurance is not in and of itself a moral failing – it's a legal one. However, if you're the unfortunate schlub on the wrong end of a rattletrap pickup with bad brakes – and the illegal doing the driving is uninsured – you get the full bill yourself. That's one consequence that becomes a moral issue arising from merely a state-mandated issue.

Do all Latinos drive uninsured? Absolutely not….but a plurality do, at least according to the State of Texas. Is it a moral issue? Not as long as said individual has the financial ability to make restitution for their damages….but (and here's the big but)…most don't. It's that nasty personal property issue that Libs are so heated up about. Of course, it's OK when an illegal destroys personal property (according to Lib Logic) because they're "picked upon" by the "gummint".

How about illegal crime rates? Of course, without the will, ability or competence to secure the border (which this nation has neither of) we get all sorts of fine, upstanding people "who are only here to work"…and rob, rape, kill, maim, et al.

I get awfully tired of these arguments playing apologista to illegals for their plight. Truthfully, aside from getting my lawn cut extremely cheaply, my car washed at discount rates and tables bussed in decent restaurants, I largely view illegals as disposable people.

When they work as hard at following the same laws the rest of us do then I'll give a damn about them. And with regard to groups like LULAC, MALDEF and La Raza…a quick complaint to the IRS regarding their 501(c)(3) violations may change a few tunes…..we'll see.

Steve May 23, 2007 at 7:58 pm

Breaking and entering into a condominium is wrong in-and-of itself.

Ray G May 23, 2007 at 8:29 pm

Oooh fun, a topic that pefectly mirrors the debate in natural law circles concerning objective morality.

I am surprised that Mr. Boudreaux would assume the role of the objective moralist, but I am pleased nonetheless.

More to the point however, his entire case is flawed because his basic premise is flawed (i.e. building a house on a cracked foundation).

Mr. Boudreaux is basically saying that most illegal immigrants are here for perfectly innocent purposes; something that may be true, but is not readily provable. That is problem one with his theory.

From there he presupposes that since they are here for totally innocent purposes, they have a moral right to be here, regardless of what the government says. (And it is a nice populist touch to liken them to Christians in Soviet Russia.)

So the illegal immigrants' moral right to live where they please is really an illusion made possible by the impossible to prove notion that a majority of them are here for innocent reasons.

Also, there is the matter of sovereignty. Non-citizens entering a country against the host country's laws are indeed criminal.

If homeless people continually break in to my house for "innocent" reasons i.e. not to specifically do me harm, they are still breaking into my house, and thus violating my private property.

A nation's sovereignty is vital to the maintenance of my private property rights, and to the general welfare of the citizens. Thus, that sovereignty cannot be left vulnerable to the subjective morality of Mr. Boudreaux's false premise of non-criminal illegal immigrants.

Colin Keesee May 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm

I am surprised that either of this blog's writers would want to even talk about natural law. A society that organizes its self around natural law is destined for poverty. If we begin to think of borders as completely unnecessary abstractions, what is to stop the erosion of property rights, particularly intellectual property rights?

As a libertarian who share most of the sentiments of this blog, I have to stop and realize that, paradoxically, any large scale free market system depends on a series of invisible, intangible yet very real laws which are very much malum in se. If we revert to a system where by people base laws on their natural impulses, savings, investment and innovation would be wiped out due the fact that hording; lending, at interest and patents would all be considered vulgar and inappropriate. Our standard of living would stagnate, if not regress.

I understand why libertarians support the ability for willing employers to contract with willing employees, regardless of national boundaries. I see the analogy with free trade in goods and money. Libertarians should opt to make the case for free trade of labor on the same, sound and logical grounds, as trade in goods and money. It may be tempting to advocate breaking a law which can be considered frivolous and pedantic but that will legitimize those who see the laws, which under grid capitalism, as frivolous and pedantic.

The political left already has enough contempt for rule of law. Let us not make contempt for rule of law a consensus by dragging a large chunk of the political right, libertarians, into that way of thinking.

Ray G May 23, 2007 at 9:23 pm


I agree totally except that I think you've taken a mistaken view of natural law.

Much of classical libertarianism lends itself to utilitarianism, as opposed to natural law theory, but in a realistic application, natural law in society is absolutely hinged on the rule of law whereas utilitarianism eventually drifts away from the rule of law because of its refusal of objective standards.

Thus your statements would be more in line with a practical application of natural law.

Mesa EconoGuy May 24, 2007 at 2:19 am

I believe malum in se/prohibitum is irrelevant here; nice idea.

Constitutional law (and economic freedom) usually requires people/”citizens”/folks in our general neighborhood to abide by various rules which may or may not reflect disparate world population views. Especially those imposed by totalitarian despots. People die when this happens.

It would be truly wonderful if we could simply wipe away the economic atrocities of the last century, most of which are directly responsible for the correlative human atrocities.

Unfortunately, most of us haven’t studied economic history. But Hugo will do fine on his own.


Mrs. Chavez

skh.pcola May 24, 2007 at 2:29 am

"Should we begrudge Mexican immigrants to the U.S. their wish to live in a freer society than the one in which they were born?"

Naw, hell. Let's just invite all of them up for the free-for-all. But seriously, if we had a formal policy of "Come one, come all," Mexico would quickly empty of all but the corrupt leeches who pillage the place. And when almost all economic activity had ceased, those neer-do-wells would move here, too.

Don, I've been reading you for a long, long time, but you and Tyler are polarizing me (even farther). Under your loose guidance and interpretation of morality, most of Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and generally all of Central (and a lot of South) America would just show up here. That's stark reality. Shucks, by your logic, hijacking a freighter and filling it with thousands of your closest friends and relatives to get here would be dandy, as long as no humans were harmed in the process. Because, as your thinking goes, we should overlook trifling legalities in our effort to give a "leg up" to the teeming masses of the world's poor.

I really wish I could understand you and the rest of the posters who agree with you. This isn't solely a Mexican immigrant issue. Without strict (nominal?) enforcement of our laws, we will be on an also-ran on the list of world economies.

Jon May 24, 2007 at 10:34 am


But see that's the issue here isn't it? tha fact that if we allow the market to do as it does then we would see a situation where we move toward an employment equilibrium. Jobs are constantly being created and workersare needed to fill that position. What I don't understand is why the hell people get so worked up over this stuff?

What this comes down to is you saying:
"Well I'm an American (whatever THAT means) and you don't deserve to work here because X." Where X=anything you think. No that doesn't sound biased…

The Cynical Libertarian May 24, 2007 at 11:27 am

In theory I agree: moving from one piece of land to another, when the owner does not object (the real owner, not the government or the people next door to the owner) is not malum in se.

However, you go on to say that murder would be punished, even if the government did not enforce the prohibition on murder, and that immigration laws would not be enforced. Yet, I have heard of groups in the southern USA who privately work to prevent illegal immigration (minutemen are they called?).

8 May 24, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Do you think people who follow the rules should be let in before people who break them? What if every illegal deported is replaced by a legal immigrant?

There certainly may be people who are anti-foreigner, but what disgusts me is that the real people who are screwed are the ones who've waited YEARS to get a visa in their home country. How is it moral to punish those people?

skh.pcola May 24, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Jon said:
…the market to do as it does then we would see a situation where we move toward an employment equilibrium.

This totally disregards the very real fact that not all immigrants who wash up on our shores (or sneak across the border) will seek gainful employment. Some percentage will, but others (many?) will just suck on the public teat, much as they do now.

There is already an entrenched immigrant welfare-rights system established here that allows illegals access to rights that taxpayers fund. La Raza, MALDEF, and another one that used to gleefully muck up the works when I lived in Texas (where, ironically, I was married to a 2d-generation-in-the-US Mexican), have formal organizations that hand-hold illegals in welfare benefits acquisition. This idea that illegals can't already get some taxpayer monies is not only wrong, it is dangerous in the context of this discussion.

Jon May 24, 2007 at 3:48 pm


Certainly you are correct that some will leech off the welfare system. But isn't that a problem with the welfare system, not immigration.

If there was no Federal Welfare system in place, this would all be a moot point.

I understand your argument, I simply think the target of your attack is misdirected and you want to treat a symptom rather than the disease.

David May 25, 2007 at 1:57 am

I drove 80mph in a 70 mph zone tonight. I hope they let me stay in the country.

skh.pcola May 25, 2007 at 2:41 am

David: Superb straw man. Needs some work, though. Snarkiness doesn't become you.

But isn't that a problem with the welfare system, not immigration.

You are only correct by technicality, not reality. Libertarianism is a fine view of what "can be" and "might be," but it isn't a possibility with the dependent and entitled groups of society. We will never, ever, end even 10% of the current welfare programs…politicians have too much political capital invested in them. Conversely, immigration has been a, and will become an even greater, growth industry. The more lax our immigration enforcement is, the more encouragement that we give the poor of the world to come here. I'm not totally devoid of empathy for the world's poor, but we can't support them all. If you (in the generic sense, not specifically) propose letting Mexicans or Guatemalans have carte blanche entry into our country–and access to our social benefits program, wouldn't it be hypocritical to limit it to just our hemisphere? Why don't we take the initiative and send "Liberty" ships to Africa and liberate Ugandans, Ethiopians, and others by simply bringing them here to share in the riches? I don't think that I am being too loose in interpreting you and Don's logic by fronting that proposal. If I'm wrong, tell me how I am.

I simply think the target of your attack…

I'm not on the offensive, although I can understand how some open-border advocates could take my opinion that way. Instead, I'm on the defensive, which isn't a good place to be. However, looking at the probable results of Europe's past immigration policy, I honestly don't think that I am wrong, morally or rationally, to assume a stance of cautious and limited legal immigration.

As I've read somewhere recently, why do we not enforce our immigration laws concerning nigh-unskilled Mexicans, but severely limit H1B visa applicant who are relatively highly-skilled and can provide multiples of GDP growth? Wouldn't we want coding Indians and engineering Chinese producing high-yield products here, instead of $8/hour lettuce pluckers? Not to mention that the discriminated against (using y'all's definition) H1B visa holders are subject to much more rigorous screening to enter the country.

Again, I hope I'm not being unduly contentious and obtuse. The idea that illegal entrants to the US have some sort of human right to benefit from our ordered society flummoxes me.

skh.pcola May 25, 2007 at 2:43 am

Also, Jon, are you saying that if we shuck the entire welfare system, you would then advocate the protection of our borders? Or do you mean nobody would even want to illegally immigrate to here?

DS May 25, 2007 at 7:44 am

"Under your loose guidance and interpretation of morality, most of Haiti, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and generally all of Central (and a lot of South) America would just show up here."

What keeps them from doing that now?

I think the answer is that the illegal immigration laws we have now are unenforceable, there is no reason to believe that new immigration laws could be enforced either. This is an academic argument.

The US government can't control the flow of illegal drugs, inanimate objects that can't move, hide or think on their own. But they can stop people from crossing thousands of miles of borders on all sides? Be serious. The goverment just doesn't have the resources or the capabilities to do this. How are you going to round up 12 million people and kick them out of the county? Impose martial law?

The only practical solution is to stop giving free government services to non-citizens. But then what do you do about the legal citizens who consumer more government services than they pay in taxes? If the problem is one of people using more government services than they pay in taxes doesn't call into question the whole idea of a welfare system to begin with? Why does the fact that somebody was born on this side of the border entitle them to a free ride, but somebody born on the other side isn't?

Walt from Mid-Michigan May 25, 2007 at 10:45 am

How many of you commentors have public sector jobs? Just wondering.
Please pardon my trollish question.

Brandybuck May 25, 2007 at 9:42 pm

Isn't trespass "malum in se"? Besides the lack of documentation, it seems to me that the vast majority of "illegal" aliens commit the crime of trespass to get here.

Lucy July 29, 2007 at 1:46 am

Said what I think, but said it better.

Otter425 September 5, 2007 at 11:53 pm

To comment on the original post – any violation of the law is, by its very nature, a criminal act, since violating the law in a society built upon the rule of law does harm to that society, especially if such an act goes uncontested.

Therefore, even in the case of an illegal (i.e. criminal) action that is not immoral (i.e. morum in se) in and of itself, it must necessarily be considered criminal. There is certainly room for differentiating degree – murder and jaywalking are not at all identical cases, but they are similar in that both, as violations of the law, ultimately reject the rule of law, and thus can be considered harmful to society. Both are criminal, and declaring them to be so does not represent a confusion of terms.

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