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Rethinking immigration:
Let us think about immigration policy in general terms. Here are some basic options:

1. Let everyone in.
2. Let everyone in but terrorists and the infectious.
3. Let many people in but try to control their behavior ex post.
4. Try to keep as many people out as possible.
5. Try to influence who gets in.
6. Create new and differential legal categories, as the Bush plan would do, or as the Germans have done.

Start with #1 and #2, which to my mind won't work in today's world. I do favor increased levels of immigration, but not laissez-faire. What are the problems?

a. American cities and suburbs would become ringed with shantytowns
b. American hospitals and medical facilities would become overburdened
c. Some immigrants would pose threats to public order
d. Assimilation might become more difficult, as the numbers of immigrants from each region increase
e. The political backlash would be enormous

The net result would be bad for the immigrants as well as bad for the United States. Even if you count an immigrant's welfare as equal to the welfare of an American citizen, free immigration would not prove sustainable. Keep in mind that one percent of the Chinese population is about thirteen million people.

Note that none of these are economic problems in the narrow sense, although they have economic aspects. Most are cultural problems. If America becomes too much like the dark side of Brazil, our broader freedoms might erode. Healthy societies require a certain degree of consilience between cultural, economic, and political power.

Some of the problems could be avoided if we are sufficiently harsh. We could to some extent avoid hospital burdens by throwing people out into the street, rather than taking them into emergency rooms. We could limit shantytowns by aggressive zoning and bulldozing. We could limit a crime outbreak by sufficiently harsh enforcement and penalties. Welfare for immigrants would of course be out of the question.

We can now see the core problem. Solving the problems of immigration is not compatible with how we wish our government to behave more broadly. Nor do we trust our government to treat immigrants one way, but maintain a broader humanitarian face toward its citizens. Given this set-up, how should we think about immigration reform? To be continued...