Archive | Immigration

Immigration and Political Freedom

I recently wrote a guest post for the Open Borders blog on migration and political freedom. The connection between the two is often ignored in debates over immigration policy. Here’s an excerpt:

There is widespread agreement that political freedom is a fundamental human right – that everyone is entitled to substantial freedom of choice in deciding what type of government policies they will live under. This is one of the main justifications for democracy. Voting enables the people to exercise political choice. But the principle of political freedom also has implications for international migration. The same logic that justifies giving people a right vote at the ballot box also implies that they should have a right to vote with their feet. This is particularly true of people living under authoritarian governments, where foot voting is often the only feasible way of exercising any political choice at all. But even for those fortunate enough to live under a democracy, the right to migrate elsewhere is an important aspect of political freedom. In both cases, obviously, the right to emigrate is of little value unless there is also a right to immigrate to some other nation….

Although the democracy has spread rapidly in recent decades, the majority of the world’s population still live in undemocratic states….

Residents of many authoritarian nations can exercise political freedom only through international migration or not at all. If developed democracies refuse admission to migrants from such countries, they effectively deprive them of their political freedom. They therefore become complicit in violating a fundamental human right. One can object that Westerners are not responsible for the lack of democracy in many Third World nations. But as philosopher Michael Huemer explains, immigration restrictions don’t merely leave in place poor conditions created by others. They involve the active use

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Why maximal enforcement of federal gun laws is not always a good idea

A common trope of many Second Amendment advocates is to urge more vigorous enforcement of existing federal gun control laws, as the alternative to enacting additional laws. Rhetorically, that’s very effective. But as a policy matter, it is not always a good idea. Consider legislation recently considered by the Senate:

The Manchin-Toomey amendment was supported by the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), although the group later dropped its support for reasons unrelated to the issues raised in this post. Section 102(3) of Manchin-Toomey was the finding that “Congress believes the Department of Justice should prosecute violations of background check requirements to the maximum extent of the law.”

The alternative to Manchin-Toomey was the Grassley-Cruz substitute, which was supported by the National Rifle Association. Grassley-Cruz had a much more detailed program, with supporting funding, to increase federal prosecutions for violations of 18 U.S. Code 922 (the section which defines most of the prohibited acts by persons who are not licensed firearms dealers) and section 924 (the penalties section, with penalties for the various offenses by licensed dealers and by other persons, as well as definitions of some additional crimes). The beefed-up enforcement is in pages 15-26 of Grassley-Cruz.

Both Manchin-Toomey and Grassley-Cruz included a variety of other changes in federal gun laws, and some of them were very constructive. But as for the prosecution provisions, I think they were dubious.

To begin with, much of what is in section 922 is possessory offenses, occurring entirely within a single state. Supposedly, these provisions are enacted under Congress’s power “to regulate Commerce…among the several States.” I realize that Supreme Court since 1937 has usually been reluctant to rule that a federal criminal statute is outside the interstate commerce power. However, that judicial deference to congressional statutes […]

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Economics, Egalitarianism and Immigration

Economist Tyler Cowen has an interesting New York Times column on the egalitarianism underpinning economic analysis and its implications for immigration policy:

Economic analysis is itself value-free, but in practice it encourages a cosmopolitan interest in natural equality…. The crucial implication is this: If you treat all individuals as fundamentally the same in your theoretical constructs, it would be odd to insist that the law should suddenly start treating them differently….

Often, economists spend their energies squabbling with one another, but arguably the more important contrast is between our broadly liberal economic worldview and the various alternatives — common around the globe — that postulate natural hierarchies of religion, ethnicity, caste and gender, often enforced by law and strict custom….
So where will a cosmopolitan perspective take us today?

One enormous issue is international migration. A distressingly large portion of the debate in many countries analyzes the effects of higher immigration on domestic citizens alone and seeks to restrict immigration to protect a national culture or existing economic interests. The obvious but too-often-underemphasized reality is that immigration is a significant gain for most people who move to a new country.

Michael Clemens, a senior fellow at the Center for Global Development in Washington, quantified these gains in a 2011 paper, “Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?” He found that unrestricted immigration could create tens of trillions of dollars in economic value, as captured by the migrants themselves in the form of higher wages in their new countries and by those who hire the migrants or consume the products of their labor. For a profession concerned with precision, it is remarkable how infrequently we economists talk about those rather large numbers.

As Tyler argues, it is wrong to ignore the welfare of potential migrants when making immigration policy. […]

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Video of My Father’s Talk at an Immigration Panel at Cary Library in Lexington, MA

My father, Yefim Somin, recently participated in a panel on memoirs of immigration at Cary Memorial Libary in Lexington, MA. The video is available here.

As my father mentioned in the talk, his account of his immigration experience is available in this recent book of Russian Jewish immigrant memoirs published by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Other contributors include well-known novelist Gary Shteyngart and artist Marc Klionsky. I have an essay in in it as well. I blogged about an earlier version of it here. […]

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Immigration and the Constitution

The Open Borders blog – one of the best websites covering immigration issues – asked me to do a guest post on the implications of the Constitution to debates over immigration. The post is available here. Here is the intro:

The US Constitution does not in itself tell us what kind of immigration policy is right and just. But it is relevant to debates over immigration in at least three important ways. First, some opponents of increased immigration mistakenly argue that the Preamble and other parts of the Constitution commit the US government to ignoring the potential benefits of immigration to would-be migrants themselves. Second, there is a strong case that the original meaning of the Constitution restricts Congress’ power to limit migration, though it does give Congress broad power to deny citizenship to migrants. Finally, some structural aspects of the Constitution help limit the potential “political externalities” of open immigration, thereby weakening claims that the only way to prevent immigrants from having negative effects on public policy is to keep them out of the country entirely.

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Immigration Stories Event in Lexington, MA

For readers who may be interested, my father, Yefim Somin, will be speaking on his experience of immigration from the Soviet Union to the United States at Cary Memorial Library in Lexington, MA on February 28 at 7 PM. His talk will be part of a panel on the experiences of immigrants who have settled in Lexington. The other speakers will be Brandeis Professor Mitra Shavarini (Iran), and Weidong Wang (China). The address and other details of this event are available here.

My father’s account of his immigration experience is available in this recent book of Russian Jewish immigrant memoirs published by the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, which you can purchase either online or at the Cary event itself. Other contributors to the volume include well-known novelist Gary Shteyngart and artist Marc Klionsky. I have an essay in volume as well, an earlier version of which I blogged about here.

Copies of Prof. Shavarini’s memoir will also be on sale at the Cary Library event. […]

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Immigrants as Our “Future Rulers”: Does the Danger of Political Externalities Justify Restrictions on Immigration?

In a recent post, co-blogger Eugene Volokh raises an important potential objection to unconstrained migration – the danger that immigrants with abhorrent values will become our “future rulers”:

The bottom line is that for all the good that immigration can do… unregulated immigration can dramatically change the nature of the target society. It makes a lot of sense for those who live there to think hard about how those changes can be managed, and in some situations to restrict the flow of immigrants — who, after all, will soon be entitled to affect their new countrymen’s rights and lives, through the vote if not through force.

I sometimes pose for my liberal friends a stylized thought experiment. Say that they live in a country of 3 million people (the size of New Zealand) where 55% of the citizens are pro-choice and 45% are pro-life (1.65 million vs. 1.35 million). Now the country is facing an influx of 1 million devoutly Catholic immigrants, who are 90% pro-life. If these immigrants are let in and become citizens, the balance will flip to 2.25 million pro-life to 1.75 million pro-choice (56% to 44% pro-choice); and what my friends might see as their fundamental human right to abortion may well vanish, perfectly peacefully and democratically.

This is an important point. And as I previously discussed in this article (pp. 1792-93), it can sometimes justify restrictions on migration. But the circumstances where it can do so are much narrower than Eugene implies. He underrates the extent to which such “political externalities” can be combated by means short of banning immigration, and is also too ready to subordinate the rights and interests of potential migrants to those of current residents.

I. Alternative Mechanisms for Reducing Political Externalities.

There are many ways to reduce potential negative […]

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Immigration Policy: The Big Picture

Two questions I thought I’d ask readers:

(1) How many people in the world do you think would like to move to the U.S. over the next, say, 30 years, if it were legal for them to move here and work here?

Assume that in that time the U.S. will sometimes be booming and sometimes in economic trouble; many other countries will be, too; but many countries will be chronic economic disaster areas, and some others will have longish economic troughs, largely as a result of political problems. Likewise, many countries will be chronic political disaster areas, and some others will have longish political troughs. And of course there will be periodic wars, civil or transnational.

(2) Given your answer to question one, what would be the best American immigration policy, either from (a) a moral perspective (if that is your approach) or from (b) a perspective of what’s best for the current residents of the U.S. and their descendants?

(3) Please indicate whether you are giving a category (a) answer or a category (b) answer, and why you think that’s the right category of answer to give. [UPDATE: Of course, if your answer is a mix of category (a) and (b), that’s just fine, but please explain your thinking on that as well.]

Here’s my tentative thinking: I think the answer to question 1 is “a vast amount,” quite likely an amount comparable to the current population of the U.S. Given this, I am skeptical that open immigration is a good category (b) answer, which is the category of answer I’m inclined to look for. (I see the moral case for taking a category (a) approach, though I’m not persuaded by it.)

I think that the U.S. should be looking to substantially expand its population, for reasons I discussed […]

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The Pilgrims as Illegal Aliens

The Daily Caller posts about a U.S. Department of Agriculture “Cultural Sensitivity Training” that, among other things, says the Pilgrims were “illegal aliens.” (Thanks to InstaPundit for the pointer.) It reminds me of a Conrad editorial cartoon from the L.A. Times that I blogged about ten years ago: An American Indian is carrying a sign that says “Deport Illegal Immigrants.” Both, I assume, are meant to suggest that it’s hypocritical for white Americans to oppose illegal immigration since America was taken from the Indians (whether or not this would have been strictly “illegal” from the Indians’ perspective at the time).

I think, though, that the “Pilgrims = Illegal Aliens” equation illustrates the exact opposite. The whites immigrated to America — and took over the place. (I’m glad they did, but I can surely understand why the Indians might have disagreed.) Likewise, Jews immigrated to Palestine (adding vastly to the numbers already present), sometimes illegally — and eventually there were more Jews in some parts than Arabs, so Jews started running the place. Now Israelis are sensibly objecting to Palestinians’ asserted “right of return” to their and their parents’ homes, because if enough Palestinians are allowed to immigrate into Israel, they’ll start running the place.

The bottom line is that for all the good that immigration can do (and I’m an immigrant to the U.S., who is very glad that America let me in, and who generally supports immigration), unregulated immigration can dramatically change the nature of the target society. It makes a lot of sense for those who live there to think hard about how those changes can be managed, and in some situations to restrict the flow of immigrants — who, after all, will soon be entitled to affect their new countrymen’s rights and lives, through the vote […]

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A Changing GOP Position on Immigration?

It was interesting to see that both Marco Rubio in his official Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union and libertarian-leaning Senator Rand Paul in the Tea Party response argued for a less restrictive immigration policy. This is an important development for a party whose conservative wing has long been known for its support of restrictionism.

Rubio restated his longstanding support for expanding legal immigration and at least some regularization of the status of the illegal immigrants already here. The notable development here is not that he said it, but that it was embodied in the GOP’s official response to the President.

Paul actually went further than Rubio, advocating a much broader pro-immigrant stance:

We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future.

We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities.

We must be the party that says, “If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.”

Taken literally, this suggests a policy of open borders for anyone who “want[s] to work” and “become an American.” Most likely, Paul did not intend to go that far. But it’s still a pretty strong statement, reminiscent of Ronald Reagan’s 1989 farewell address, where he called for an America “open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here.” And unlike both Rubio and President Obama in the State of the Union, Paul did not couple this call for increased immigration with a call for increased border enforcement.

It is significant that this sentiment was included in a speech billed as the official Tea Party response to the State of the Union. Although the Tea Party is […]

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Are We More Likely to Get an Immigration Reform Bill if Obama Wins the Election?

In my post comparing Romney and Obama on libertarian grounds, I noted that libertarians might have good reason to support Obama if it is likely that a second term for him would result in substantial immigration reform, by which I mean letting more immigrants in the country and/or letting more of the ones already here stay. For reasons I explained here, immigration reform is an extremely important libertarian issue. Unfortunately, I saw no reason to believe that Obama would give this issue any more priority than he did in his first term, where he accomplished very little when he had a massive Democratic majority in Congress in 2009-10, and actually ramped up deportations beyond anything seen under George W. Bush.

Since I wrote my previous post, however, the White House has allowed the publication of an off-the-record interview where the president predicts that he will get an immigration reform bill passed if he wins a second term:

In the interview, Obama said he is confident his administration will pass immigration reform and achieve the equivalent of a grand bargain with Congress.

After failing to achieve comprehensive immigration reform in his first term, the president said Republicans, given the large Latino vote, will be invested in changing the system.

“I’m confident we’ll get done next year is immigration reform,” Obama said in the transcript of the interview posted online by the paper. “And since this is off the record, I will just be very blunt. Should I win a second term, a big reason I will win a second term is because the Republican nominee and the Republican Party have so alienated the fastest-growing demographic group in the country, the Latino community.”

“So I am fairly confident that they’re going to have a deep interest in getting that done,” he

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The Bitter Harvest of Immigration Restrictions

Time has an interesting article describing how state laws intended to crack down on illegal immigrants have led to a crisis in agriculture. Unable to use immigrant labor to harvest it, many farmers have had to let much of their crop go to waste:

Ralph and Cheryl Broetje rely on roughly 1,000 seasonal workers every year to grow and pack over 6 million boxes of apples on their farm along the Snake River in eastern Washington. It’s a custom they’ve maintained for over two decades. Recently, though, their efforts to recruit skilled labor, mostly undocumented immigrants, have come woefully short, despite intensive recruitment efforts in an area with high rates of unemployment.

The Broetjes, and an increasing number of farmers across the country, say that a complex web of local and state anti-immigration laws account for acute labor shortages. With the harvest season in full bloom, stringent immigration laws have forced waves of undocumented immigrants to flee certain states for more hospitable areas. In their wake, thousands of acres of crops have been left to rot in the fields, as farmers have struggled to compensate for labor shortages with domestic help.

“The enforcement of immigration policy has devastated the skilled labor source that we’ve depended on for 20 or 30 years,” said Ralph Broetje during a recent teleconference organized by the National Immigration Forum, adding that last year Washington farmers—part of an $8 billion agricultural industry—were forced to leave 10% of their crops rotting on vines and trees. “It’s getting worse each year,” says Broetje, “and it’s going to end up putting some growers out of business if Congress doesn’t step up and do immigration reform.”

Roughly 70% of the 1.2 million people employed by the agricultural industry are undocumented. No American industry is more dependent on undocumented immigrants. But

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Today’s Supreme Court Opinions

The health care cases were not issued today. They are expected on Thursday. But there are plenty of other significant opinions. Two that are of particular interest to me are America Tradition, Inc. v. Bullock, the Montana campaign finance case, and Arizona v. United States, the Arizona immigration case.

The Montana decision is a per curiam opinion summarily reversing the Montana Supreme Court’s decision upholding a state law restricting campaign-related speech by corporations. I think the 5-4 majority opinion is pretty obviously correct in holding that this law is inconsistent with the Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United:

A Montana state law provides that a “corporation may not make . . . an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party….” The Montana Supreme Court rejected petitioners’ claim that this statute violates the First Amendment…. In Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, this Court struck down a similar federal law, holding that “political speech does not lose First Amendment protection simply because its source is a corporation….” The question presented in this case is whether the holding of Citizens United applies to the Montana state law. There can be no serious doubt that it does. See U. S. Const., Art. VI, cl. 2. Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.

In dissent, the four liberal justices argue that Citizens United should be overruled.

In the Arizona decision, a 5-3 majority, with Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Anthony Kennedy joining three liberal justices (Justice Kagan was recused), ruled that three out of the four challenged provisions of the Arizona immigration law are preempted by federal law. The fourth – the […]

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President Obama’s Deferred Action on Immigration (and OLC)

Charles Krauthammer has a column today taking President Obama to task for his recent decision to “lift the shadow of deportation” from otherwise law-abiding undocumented aliens who came to the U.S. as children and allow them to “request temporary relief from deportations and apply for work authorization.”  (For DHS’s page on the program, see here.)  He argues that it’s impermissible to exercise discretion categorically:  rather, he says it requires review on a “case-by-case basis on considerations of extreme and extenuating circumstances.” I’m a big fan of the good doctor, but I’m not so sure he’s right about whether the exercise of discretion has to be individualized, at least not as a general matter. I think it requires a closer look at the specific statutes at issue.

It’s a background principle of administrative law that, “[a]bsent statutory language to the contrary, agencies are free to decide whether to implement a grant of discretion by means of rules, which provide prospective standards of behavior, or by means of case-by-case decisionmaking (or adjudication).” Agency Rules as Constraints on the Exercise of an Agency’s Statutory Discretion, 7 Op. OLC 39, 44 (1983) (AAG Ted Olson); cf. NAACP v. Fed. Power Comm’n, 425 U.S. 662, 668 (1976) (“As a general proposition it is clear that the Commission has the discretion to decide whether to approach these problems through the process of rulemaking, individual adjudication, or a combination of the two procedures.”). So the question then becomes whether the specific provisions of the immigration laws allow the Secretary of Homeland Security to exercise her discretion by rule in this manner.

I’d love to take a more careful look at the immigration laws and determine for myself whether I think they authorize the President’s action, but (1) I have actual paying clients to tend […]

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In Praise of Obama’s New Immigration Policy

Last week, President Obama issued new guidelines allowing immigrants who illegally entered the United States as children to remain here so long as they are under the age of 30, have not been convicted of any crimes, and have either graduated from a US high school, are currently enrolled in school, or have served in the military. Obama lacks the legal authority to legalize their presence in the US; but he has in effect assured these people that they will not be prosecuted or deported for so long as his new policy remains in place.

This reform strikes me as a major step in the right direction. It allows some 800,000 people to live their lives in peace without the fear of being deported to a life of poverty and oppression in the Third World. It strikes a blow against the grave injustice of current immigration restrictions. All the standard objections to illegal immigration don’t apply here. For example, critics cannot argue that we are letting guilty people off the hook here, since these individuals came to the US as children and were not legally responsible for their actions at the time. Similarly, it is unlikely that these people will become burdens on the welfare state, given their educational credentials. In any event, increased immigration tends to reduce political support for welfare spending rather than raise it.

I do disagree with claims that this decision by Obama is especially bold or politically brave. Polls show that 84% of Americans – including even 79% of Republicans – believe that illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as children and are either enrolled in college or serving in the military should be allowed to remain (49% believe they should be granted citizenship). Obama’s policy differs from the […]

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