Immigration

by Don Boudreaux on June 22, 2012

in Immigration, Law

Warning: What follows is a theme that regular Cafe patrons are likely familiar with.  I return to it frequently because I regard the issue – freedom of movement and association – to be fundamental and vitally important.  And if you’re in (what I sense, from comments and private e-mails, to be) the sizable minority of Cafe patrons who strongly disagree with me that a much more open policy toward immigrants is desirable, then you’ll likely be inspired by what follows to pull your hair out or to accuse me in comments or by e-mail of being a naive, pointy-headed imbecile.  (Such accusations are common whenever I write about immigration.).

…..

Suppose Congress passed legislation – upheld by the Supreme Court – mandating that only five percent of redheaded Americans may own real property in the U.S.  This legislation allows each year a small percentage (say, two percent) of non-property-owning redheads to apply for and win – according to a byzantine set of rules – eligibility to own real property.

If, in response, a number of redheads dye their hair to hide its true color, would real-property purchases by such hair-dyed natural redheads be law-breaking of a sort that should be condemned?

If, in response to this legislation, another number of redheads simply took ownership of real property in defiance of the legislation – and in reliance upon the fact that almost no non-redheads in their capacities as private persons care enough about redheads owning real property to take private action against such ‘law’-breaking by these scofflaw redheads – would these property-owning redheads be properly described as lawbreakers?  Would the fact that many more redheads than are permitted by statute actually own real property be evidence of lawlessness?  Would the social fabric be threatened by such “lawlessness”?

Because the prospect of any randomly chosen, not-yet-propertied redhead to win official permission to own real property would be excruciatingly small – approximately a two-percent chance each year – what would you think of a defender of this anti-redhead legislation who, posing only as a champion of the rule of law, demands that redheads who aren’t yet officially approved to own real property simply “wait their turn” and “obey the law”?

Would you be surprised if, in response to the predictable violations of such a piece of legislation that arbitrarily aims to prevent countless mutually advantageous capitalist acts among consenting adults, Uncle Sam starts requiring realtors and sellers of real property to ask for and be shown official papers proving that prospective buyers of real estate are in fact officially eligible to own real estate?

Would you sympathize with the tiny handful of natural brunettes and other non-redheads who, plausibly explaining how they gain (financially or otherwise) from strict limitations on redheads owning real property, plead for government to crack down on the “problem” of “illegal redheaded real-property ownership”?

Would you worry – in light of the massive law- legislation-breaking activities of “illegal” redheads actually acquiring (almost exclusively through peaceful exchange) de facto ownership rights over real property – that America’s real-property law and other institutions of real property are “dangerously insecure”?

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The connections of the above questions to the real-world case today of immigration into America are obvious.  I do not pretend that no significant differences separate my hypothetical from today’s real-world immigration restrictions.  But what are these differences?  How deep are they?  How germane are they?  How numerous are they relative to the germane similarities between my hypothetical scenario and real-world immigration restrictions?

Reasonable people can, and will, disagree on just how relevant my hypothetical scenario is to the real-world immigration case.  Such disagreement is, of course, fine and understandable.  But I do suggest that many of the arguments offered today – mostly by people on the right – against liberalized immigration and against permitting undocumented immigrants to remain in America unharassed by government rely far too much on slogans (“Let them wait in line!”) and legalisms (“They broke the law!”) that are applied far too simplistically in this context.

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