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Then there are the explicit travel restrictions that the United States places on its citizens. If you owe more than $5,000 in back child support, the State Department will not issue you a passport. The same applies if you have ever been convicted of a drug offense that involved crossing an international border. Citizens under both descriptions, even if they are not otherwise under the supervision of the criminal justice system, are effectively sentenced to remain in their home country. And the rest of us still must ask the federal government’s permission to visit such Washington-disfavored countries as Cuba.
In 2009, Roxroy Salmon, a human rights activists and married father of four U.S.-born children, was ordered to be deported from America. A Jamaican national who had lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years, Salmon ran afoul of a 1996 immigration law that made past drug offenses a deportable crime (he had pleaded guilty in 1989 of drug possession and the sale of narcotics). By the applicable law, there is no consideration in deportation hearings allowable for the preservation of families.
Sadly, this was no isolated incident. A study conducted by the Department of Homeland Security showed that from 1998 to 2007, 108,434 parents of American-born children were deported. And more recent statistics have shown that President Barack Obama has set all-time records for deporting immigrants. How can a country that prides itself on a respect for liberty adopt a policy which tears families apart, leaves children without parents, and treats the right to travel as subject to the government’s whim?
Limitations on immigration fundamentally inhibit a person’s free will to come and go as he or she pleases. Because the right to move is a natural right, it should not be limited to just American citizens.
As Americans we are not worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness merely by virtue of being born in the United States of America; these rights do not depend upon American citizenship for their existence. They are self-evident. In fact, our nation was built on the promise of freedom, not just to those who were born here, but to all those struggling under the yoke of oppression. America is not a geographical border, but rather an ideal: that “all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” Thomas Jefferson did not qualify this statement by saying that all men born in America deserve access to these rights; such a statement would have been even more ludicrous then than it is now.
From a practical perspective, an absolute, uninhibited freedom to travel would not have the “devastating” impact on American jobs that is so often conjectured, so long as it was accompanied by the abolition of the minimum wage. When the minimum wage rises, some jobs that were worth hiring someone to do are no longer worth filling. As a result, there are fewer low-skilled jobs available for people who live here legally. Thus, when the minimum wage rises, employers, to cut costs, hire black-market labor (illegal immigrants) at a lower price instead of hiring people who live here legally and paying them the minimum wage. If the minimum wage were eliminated, the opposite effect would occur; employers would pay people who live here legally fair market value—not the government-mandated amount—for their work. As a result, immigrants would be less inclined to move here for fear of not finding work.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) explains the problem this way: “Our current welfare system…encourages illegal immigration by discouraging American citizens from taking low-wage jobs. This creates greater demand for illegal foreign labor. Welfare programs and minimum wage laws create an artificial market for labor to do the jobs Americans supposedly won’t do.”
Opponents argue that legalizing immigration will only make our nation less safe. Studies say otherwise. Since 1986, the year amnesty was granted to illegal immigrants in the United States, the U.S. murder rate has dropped by 37 percent. Forcible rape is down 23 percent. Drunk driving deaths are down by more than 50 percent. If these illegal immigrants are so dangerous, violent, and predatory, why are these numbers not going the other direction? Most of the immigrants in U.S. prisons are not there due to violent crime, but rather for violation of immigration laws.
Militarizing our southern border with Mexico has mostly served to perpetuate the one-way flow of illegal immigrants northward, making it more dangerous and expensive for all parties involved, and therefore discouraging job seekers from returning home after seasonal work. Consider that 30 years ago, nearly half of undocumented arrivals departed within a year. Today, only one in 14 does.
Moreover, if these men and women were made legal while the minimum wage was abolished, then they would not have to “steal” jobs and Social Security numbers, but rather they would have their own. They would not work under the table, but rather on the books. They would not avoid taxes (though many pay sales, Social Security, and even income taxes currently), but rather would pay everything owed. The net effect of the legalization of immigration would be positive. Immigrants would gain more of a stake in participating in and preserving our way of life.
I leave you with an egregious story of travel restriction inflicted by government on the oldest and most aboriginal of Americans: the Iroquois tribe.
The Iroquois, who helped invent the game of lacrosse, at one point fielded the fourth-ranked lacrosse team in the world. The Iroquois team was set to travel to Manchester, England, for an international competition in July 2010. Problems soon arose from the fact that the tribe governs itself, independent of the U.S. government, and thus issues Iroquois their own passports. These passports symbolize that independence; in the words of one of the players, “it’s a huge deal because these visas mean so much to our sovereignty.”
Before the Iroquois team’s flight abroad, the British consulate declined to recognize their tribal passports and informed players that “it would only issue visas to the team upon receiving written assurance from the United States government that the Iroquois had been granted clearance to travel on their own documents and would be allowed back into the United States.” The State Department and the Department of Homeland Security refused to grant the request. Only after public embarrassment at the debacle did Secretary of State Hillary Clinton finally agree to waive the travel restrictions.
The next time you believe that the government has your best interests at heart when it restricts the freedom to travel, remember this story of the government’s unjust treatment of the Iroquois lacrosse team.