Let’s examine the arguments against allowing immigrants to live in this country. First a note. While it might look like I’m improperly commingling the arguments against legal and illegal immigrants, I think many of the same arguments apply to both, and many of the people arguing against illegals are really against all immigration, especially immigration of people from non-WASP cultures.
Immigrants "degrade the environment". They increase crime, force us to keep our kids indoors, etc.
Despite Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff’s claim that illegals "degrade the environment", I haven’t seen any independent statistics that bear this out. The immigrants I’ve met personally and professionally in the last 20 years (some of who were almost certainly here illegally) and those living near me now are generally well-mannered and respectful. They are happy to be here and work hard to earn their keep. The people living near me who "degrade the environment" tend to be American citizens who take what they have for granted and view this country as a place where people can do whatever they want and to hell with anyone who disapproves of their behavior.
Immigrants take American jobs.
What sort of jobs are these immigrants stealing? Are hordes of American construction and meat-packing workers unemployed because of illegal immigrants taking their jobs? Are there millions of unemployed American hotel room cleaners and ditch diggers because immigrants have taken their jobs? I’d really like to see this first-hand. Do these unemployed but willing Americans live under rocks? Why aren’t there news stories on this?
Immigrants, especially illegal ones, are known for doing the jobs that Americans won’t. There are immigrants at work in meat-packing plants and cleaning hotel rooms because most Americans won’t take these jobs. The most you can reasonably say is that immigrants will generally work for less than an American, thus driving down wages for the jobs they take. This has always been true, from the time of Chinese and Irish immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is the way our capitalist free-market economy works. If you don’t like it, consider becoming a socialist. Otherwise, you are attacking the symptoms rather than the disease.
Immigrants take our welfare, health care, and other resources.
I agree with some of this argument, but it’s not the immigrants’ fault. Most immigrants are more motivated than most Americans (they did after all have to work hard and take risks to get here), and they didn’t come here to live on welfare. They do tend to use our public health care resources, largely because we have created a system where even many Americans can’t afford to get good health care. Immigrants, especially the illegal ones, are like millions of uninsured and under-insured Americans in that they avoid getting health care unless (or until) they have a serious health issue, and then they go to the emergency rooms of public hospitals or public health clinics, the only places where someone will help them. This situation is a symptom and obvious result of the shortsighted selfishness that pervades our current public policies. It’s a national problem for everyone, and blaming immigrants for a health-care system in crisis is just stupid. As an example, I am an upper-middle class American citizen with good health insurance, yet when I went to an urgent care clinic a few months ago with chest pain, the fools made me fill out the insurance paperwork before they would even see me. That’s just sad. You can imagine how the immigrants feel.
The Lifeboat Mentality
There is a mentality that views the nation as a lifeboat, with a finite amount of resources that have to be prioritized and spent carefully on those with a real claim to those resources. Otherwise, so these people say, too many people will be taken aboard and the lifeboat will founder and slip beneath the waves, and all will perish. While you can certainly argue the validity of the viewpoint and I will grant that our resources are finite, I will counter that we are operating far below our maximum capacity in both production and consumption of the resources critical to human life. The most that might be needed to accommodate even a hundred million more people is to reduce somewhat our wasteful behavior with regard to these resources. We are certainly wealthy enough to sustain far more people than we currently do. I will not even address the probability that allowing less fettered immigrant access to our nation might stimulate the economy and lead to a revitalization of American industry. Certainly, it’s widely recognized that the diversity of perspective that immigrants from disparate cultures bring to an organization tends to benefit rather than hinder the organization.
Let me say a few parting words with regard to the whole issue of illegal immigration. We are a nation that loves quick and cheap solutions to problems and we often prefer such a solution that only addresses the symptoms to a demonstrably better one that costs more and takes longer but addresses the root of the problem. We are very poor at taking the long view or looking at root causes. The root cause of why we have so many illegal immigrants is obvious. There is opportunity here and a chance at a good life. The nations these people are fleeing often lack even basic assurances of safety. Instead of building walls to keep these people out, we need to invest in lifting them up out of poverty and violence and then help them build a prosperous society. Simple human decency demands this of us. To those countries in which we weakened or destroyed stable and prosperous societies with our failed anti-socialist and anti-drug policies, we owe an incommensurable debt, and we must do all we can to create a vibrant and stable society where its citizens can thrive in peace. Only then, when the untenable conditions in these immigrants’ countries of origin have been replaced by stable and sustainable havens of opportunity, will we have solved the problem of illegal immigration.