Immigration reform returned to center stage in Washington last week with a proposal from a bipartisan group of senators that was promptly endorsed in principle by President Barack Obama. One of the lynchpins of the proposal is providing a "path to citizenship" for those who are currently in the country illegally, a concept that opponents were quick to label "amnesty." Obama of course denies any talk of amnesty, saying instead that he wants illegal immigrants to pay penalties, pay taxes, learn English, and then go "to the back of the line."
But what's wrong with granting amnesty to hard-working, tax-paying individuals whose only crime is their immigration status? Indeed, amnesty is not only the best solution to our immigration problem, it is the only feasible solution. Here are five reasons to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants now.
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1. Immigration Is Good for the Economy
For all the rhetoric about immigrants stealing jobs, immigration actually provides a benefit to the national economy, whether those immigrants crossed the border legally or not. Why? Because of what economists call the specialization of labor. As Jonathan Hoenig, proprietor of the Capitalist Pig blog, explains: "The fact that foreigners are eager to pick crops, clean houses, bus tables and produce allows more of us to afford cheaper food and better services, affording us even more wealth to enjoy and invest. It's not the immigrants, but the taxes, spending and entitlements (most of which immigrants don't even receive) that have drained the economy dry."
Next: But aren't they dodging the taxman?
2. Illegal Immigrants Already Pay Taxes
One of President Obama's markers on the path to citizenship is "paying taxes," but most illegal immigrants already do so. As Reason Foundation Senior Analyst Shikha Dalmia has reported, in 2006 an estimated 8 million illegal immigrants—up to two thirds of the total—paid taxes, including both income taxes and Medicare and Social Security taxes. Indeed, revenue from illegal immigrants is estimated at $11 billion a year to Social Security alone, and there's not even a pretense of those payments leading to eventual benefits. And of course everyone who buys things in the U.S. pays sales taxes, irrespective of their immigration status. Undoubtedly, even more illegal immigrants would pay taxes if they didn't have to worry about possible deportation as a consequence.
Next: Shouldn't we worry about criminals?
3. Most Illegal Immigrants Are Otherwise Law-Abiding
While illegal immigration is a crime, the act of crossing the border without authorization is a mere misdemeanor. Immigrants, in fact, may help drive crime down. The vast majority want to stay in the country in order to work and so naturally steer clear of breaking any laws. And as The Future of Freedom Foundation's Sheldon Richman pointed out a few years ago, all manners of violent crimes dropped dramatically since 1986, the last time an amnesty was granted to illegal immigrants. Yes, 14 percent of federal inmates are illegal immigrants, but they are largely there for immigration violations. On the state level, Richman notes, less than 5 percent of inmates are illegal immigrants. Not exactly the makings of a crime wave.
Next: What do individual rights have to do with it?
4. Immigration Is a Natural Right
Last week, Judge Andrew Napolitano explained here at Reason.com that immigration is a natural right. What does that mean? A natural right is a right inherent to our humanity, and the freedom of movement is such a right. The idea that immigration needs to be "authorized" by the government flies in the face of that freedom. Immigrants who come to America seeking the opportunity to work and pursue happiness, or those brought here at too young an age to have any say in the matter, ought to be able to stay to pursue those opportunities. Conversely, employers ought to be able to enter into contracts with any would-be employees they please. The government doesn't own the country and political borders are just lines on maps. Treating law-abiding people like criminals simply because they didn't meet the bureaucratic requirements of migration abrogates their natural right to travel and Americans' natural right to freely associate and make contracts.
Next: What choice do we have?
5. There Are Too Many Illegal Immigrants To Do Anything Else
According to the latest estimates, there are about 11 million illegal immigrants in America. That's a lot of people. It would be exceedingly difficult to deport them all—if not totally impossible. Indeed, even attempting to do so would require a massive expansion of government bureaucracy, particularly in the form of new government workers to round up illegal immigrants, process them, and deport them. The inhumanity of this approach goes without saying: Individuals would be ripped away from their families and communities. And there would also be dire economic consequences from removing millions of hard-working residents from the domestic labor pool.
It's time to face the facts: The millions of illegal immigrants currently residing in the United States are overwhelmingly law-abiding, tax-paying, and hard-working. Grant them amnesty and let them continue to make America a better place.
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