Saturday, January 8, 2011

Citizens and residents and immigration policy

I am a citizen of 2 sovereign states; as is (almost) every US citizen. One of these required that I be born to a citizen or on her soil, or go through an arduous and expensive vetting process; the other just that I reside inside her borders for a short period of time, or indicate the desire to become a citizen. The first nation is of course the United States, and the second is New Jersey.I actually was able to, for nearly a decade, live in New Jersey and maintain legal residency in Virginia. Looking back now, I wish I had taken advantage of that to build up a small firearms collection, rather than waiting until I was a New Jersey citizen to start buying guns. It would have made things a lot easier. But I digress.

The existence of the several states as sovereign nations (subject to the limitations on the states in the US Constitution), and their citizens being citizens of those nations, is not one that is often considered these days. But the fact remains that the several states are each sovereign. The US Constitution guarantees that each state may not discriminate against citizens of any other state in commerce or travel (with some exceptions). Consequently, the states have adopted a liberal immigration policy. In fact, with few exceptions, residency=citizenship and you must be a citizen if you reside in a state. I mention this to point out that this model of immigration has worked for the states since 1787, and nobody really complains about it. It’s just the way it is.

For that matter, up until the late 19th century, the immigration policy of the USA could be summed up as “if you’re here, and want to, you can call yourself a citizen of the USA.” Racism changed that. Quotas were set, and in some cases (legal) immigration from some regions was entirely stopped. The racism always existed, but it took the beginning of the industrial age to make it possible to set this kind of policy, where records could be checked via long-distance means (telegraph, then telephone, and so on).

Constitutionally, the federal government does have the power to set naturalization (and thus immigration) policy. Our current immigration and naturalization policies are probably not directly unconstitutional (well, beyond the limits of the 4th, 5th, and 8th amendments, anyway). They are, however, unwise, and may infringe on the rights of citizens.

I don’t know if it has been said in exactly this fashion before, but in the US, we have the strongest, most addictive drug lifestyle available anywhere in the world. We live in the most free, most prosperous nation on earth; the one where it is easiest to succeed, and hardest to fail. And failure has the lowest cost of anyplace in the world; you just pick yourself back up and try again. Is it any surprise that the US draws in would-be immigrants from every corner of the globe? But we still wonder why people risk their lives, fortunes, and honor to come to this country for just a taste of what we who are born here take for granted.

So we turn around and say “I’ve got the freedom, you can’t have any.” We don’t have the strictest immigration/naturalization policy of anyplace in the world, but it’s still pretty strict. We citizens are all card-carrying members of the Union Of Free People, and like most other unions, we’ve set up artificial barriers to entry to keep the non-members from competing against us. Oh, sure, if you follow all the nitpicking rules, and keep your nose clean, and suck up to the shop steward, you can (eventually) join the union. In the meantime, keep paying your dues (taxes).

I hear the ranting and raving about “illegal” immigrants and how we should start asking people to show that they are present legally in this country, about how we should build a wall, and all of that. The most cogent argument I hear is that asking people to show ID isn’t so bad, since legal immigrants are required to carry proof of such with them. That’s all very well and good – but citizens are not (and ought not) required to carry proof of citizenship with them. There is no citizenship “registry” to be checked against, &c. We rightly abhor the thought of a firearms registry, or a registry of firearms owners, but can contemplate a registry of citizens? Seriously?

As for the “wall”, didn’t that kind of thinking go out with the Maginot Line? You would need a defense in depth. And when the authorities start to develop one (with “immigration” checkpoints tens or a hundred miles away from “international points of entry”) we rightly condemn them as unwarranted and unconstitutional infringements on our liberties. Go down that road and you end up with “papers please.” I don’t say this to invoke Godwin’s Law – there are plenty of regimes, even ones we would consider benign, where that’s an acceptable part of interaction between the authorities and the subjects. I don’t want to hear it in the US, though.

I’m not saying that everyone who wants to come to the US ought to be allowed. We shouldn’t allow violent criminals in, for example. There needs to be some process. But the current “legal” immigration process is like trying to get and keep a firearms permit in the state of Massachusetts. There is just no way that some people will be able to do it, and the difficulty in doing so can be quite staggering. The resources being used to “regulate” immigration are a waste and a danger to a free state, because they start with the assumption that there can be an “illegal” person who is not also “dangerous”.

What ought to be done is to massively simplify and deregulate the process of immigration, so that the resources being used to keep (mostly) harmless people from being able to participate in society except at the fringes should be redirected towards enforcing actual crimes. I don’t give a flying fig about Juan Herrero working as a laborer dishwasher or whatever, paying his taxes and raising his family. I don’t even really care if he’s sending every spare buck he has after living expenses back to Cuidad Mexico to support the rest of the clan. Resources directed towards rooting him out and sending him “home” are resources that can’t be directed towards finding a murderer, rapist, or mugger of whatever nationality. Juan Herrerro is just as likely to be a goblin as John Smith, assuming he can make that living.

In the end, what is the difference between John Smith moving into your neighborhood from out of state and Juan Herrero moving in from out of country (all other things being equal)?

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