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The War on Immigration Will Fail

Mises Daily: Wednesday, May 10, 2006 by

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Let's look at the problem of immigration from another angle. There exists a market demand for low-skilled cheap labor. Part of this demand is being met by outsourcing of jobs overseas. The rest is met by vast numbers of immigrants coming to this country. Illegal immigration is the market supplying a demand. A demand is being met and satisfied. When viewed this way, how is this a problem? This triumph of the market is not in itself a problem.

This can only be viewed as a problem when the illegal immigrants expect goods and services from the state that existing residents must pay for. These come in many forms: hospitalization, cash payments, affirmative action privileges, public schools (that's a huge one), voting rights, and a range of political demands that impinge on people's expectations concerning language, security, and political cohesion. Then there is the problem of the justice and security system in this country, which doesn't even work for residents, much less for poor immigrants.

In other words, nearly all problems associated with immigration that appear to be demographic in nature are actually problems associated with regime intervention in what would otherwise be a peaceful trading environment. A single state ruling over a polyglot territory is an inherently unstable mix; add a vast welfare and regulatory state to it and you have an explosive situation on your hands.

We can expect many new calls for a war on immigration. And guess what the result of that will be: a vastly larger state, which will only make the existing problem worse. History will teach us everything we need to know about starting a so called "War on Illegal Immigration." The US government has been somewhat less than successful with other "wars." Let's look at it beginning with the "war" on alcohol.

The 18th Amendment to the US Constitution brought us Prohibition. During this time, the government tried to stop the manufacture, distribution, sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. At least the citizens at that time had enough respect for the constitution to realize that no such authority existed and they passed an amendment giving the Fed's the authority. This exercise was an abysmal failure. The damage to our system of jurisprudence was so great and the cost so high that the people repealed the prohibition in just 14 years. Once again, the government tried to place obstacles in the path of the market and failed.

The so called "War on Poverty" was begun in the 1960s by President Johnson. By some estimates, this war has cost 7–10 trillion dollars. Just using the low end of this estimate, the federal government could write a check to every man, woman, and child in the country for $23,333.34. Yet, we still have poor people in our midst. Why? Were our intentions not honorable? Didn't we mean well? Regardless of our intentions, this war is also a failure in every respect. LBJ is currently enjoying his just reward and we are still paying the bill for his folly.

Today we find ourselves engaged in a "War on Drugs." Like Prohibition, this war has been very costly in blood, treasure, and liberties. Even those of us who do not use illicit drugs have been forced to surrender our liberties in an effort to fight this so-called war. This war is also un-winnable because there is a market for narcotic and hallucinogenic drugs. I am not arguing that it is wise to use drugs . . . just that this war is far too expensive in too many ways and it is also a total failure.

What do these three examples have to do with illegal immigration? They are just examples of what we might expect to get if we demand that government do something about this or any other problem. Do we think for a moment that the new war on illegal immigration will be any more successful than any of these previous programs? The market will overcome any obstacle government can place in its path. As long as there is a market for anything, the demand will be met. Let's look at some more of government's attempts to interfere with market demand.

Jail — the most secure facility that government can construct — still leaks. Contraband products still make their way inside of the walls of every jail. Why? Because there is a market for these forbidden products. If government cannot stop the flow of contraband into a jail, how on earth do you think it will ever stop a porous border with Mexico? Sure, we could spend billions of dollars in the effort but it would enjoy the same level of success as the other failed attempts.

Various talking heads have suggested the problem could be fixed easily . . . with the stroke of a pen. They are convinced that all we have to do is put an armed guard every four feet along the southern border and this will stop the flow. It will do no such thing. As we have seen, the market will simply devise ways to get around any obstacle that government can create.

Others have suggested throwing the employers in jail. This approach is particularly egregious. This employer may have done something illegal when he hired an illegal alien . . . but what has he done wrong? He has hurt no one. He has helped a person climb up out of poverty. He has done so without the aid of his fellow citizens and the immigrant has improved himself because of this one employer and his actions to meet a market demand. To deprive an entrepreneur of his liberty for doing nothing immoral is repugnant to me as a citizen.

Besides, we would then be without whatever this person was producing. We would have to pay for his incarceration and possibly add the members of his family to the welfare rolls. This would be terribly expensive and the potential for abuse is enormous. What if I had a competitor that I knew was using illegal immigrants? Couldn't I turn him in to the authorities to eliminate the competition? That way I could jack my prices up without improving the product at all. The consumer would be forced to buy my higher-priced product. Does this really sound like a good idea?


  Society by invitation only: $28
Let's look at government as we would look at any other supplier of services. If they don't do a good job, quit using them and go on to someone who is better equipped and has more incentive to get the job done right.

If you took a broken chair to a wood shop to be repaired and it fell apart the first time you sat in it, would you go back to this same shop and insist the proprietor take more money from you to do the job right the next time? I doubt it. Yet this is exactly how we respond to government failure. When the schools do not educate we give them more money.

If we continue to clamor for tougher enforcement of immigration laws, the politicians in Washington who always have a damp finger in the air to see which way the sheep would like to be led will certainly spend billions of your dollars in an attempt to do just that.

When government fails, as it surely will, the politicians who pushed for this program will be enjoying a very lucrative retirement (at your expense) and a new crop of liars and thieves will be sitting on their perch at the helm of government arguing for more money, for better tools and training, more manpower, etc. But rest assured, this program will enjoy the same level of success as any previously mentioned attempt to thwart the market.

If we truly want to solve the illegal immigration problem, we would do well to curb and abolish the regime-based reasons that immigration has become such a contentious issue.


Wade A. Mitchell lives in Pampa, Texas. Send him mail. Comment on the blog.