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What are you, a racist? To avoid that charge, apparently you must support fully open borders with absolutely no restrictions on crossings. The basis of that bizarre claim is that most immigrants are not of the ethnic majority, or rather most illegal immigrants are not of the ethnic majority. Thus, if you favor border controls of any kind, you must hate ethnic minorities. You are a racist! This hasty generalization is commonly made by reactionary minions of the Left, and it is standard rhetoric of leftist propaganda.

As many have noted, the U.S. benefitted for many years from a relatively liberal immigration regime, but policy became increasingly restrictive over a period of six or seven decades starting in the 1870s, sometimes in ways that were racially motivated. A few reforms began to take place in the 1940s, though various quotas remained a fixture. More recently, the threat of terrorism prompted restrictions, and the large population of illegal immigrants in the country, including immigrant children, stimulated debate over deportation vs. a path to citizenship.

Disparate Impacts

A real outcome of border controls takes the form of a “disparate impact”, a phenomenon prominent in areas of the law such as employment, fair lending, and fair housing. For example, standards like degree requirements or minimum credit scores tend to disqualify minority or “protected class” applicants disproportionately. Those standards, however, are not targeted explicitly at any class of individuals. Likewise, minorities represent a disproportionate share of those disqualified under immigration quotas. And minorities represent a vastly disproportionate share of illegal entrants apprehended by ICE because, as a practical matter, most border controls are targeted at country of origin, but not at specific minorities. Almost all illegal U.S. immigrants are members of populations that are ethnic minorities within the U.S. The top 10 countries of birth for all U.S. immigrants also have predominantly Hispanic or Asian population. These countries accounted for roughly 57% of legal immigrants in 2017.

The courts have generally ruled that business standards having a disparate impact are defensible based on business necessity and the absence of effective alternatives having less disparate impact. So the issue here is whether border controls meet a compelling need having nothing to do with racial or ethnic preferences, and whether any adverse impact on protected classes can be minimized.

The simple fact is that most Americans opposing illegal immigration simply want those entrants to go through a liberalized legal process, which would of course reduce the disparate impact of tight border controls. So the worst that can be said about a preference for legal over illegal immigration is that it might have a disparate impact on prospective minority entrants, and that is uncertain under a liberalized regime of legal immigration. This preference is not racist, and it is not racist to demand that all entrants be vetted and identified, whether you believe it is economically sensible or that immigrants are more or less likely to engage in criminal or even terrorist activity.

Public Resources

Again, there are strong rationales for controlling immigration and enforcing the border that have nothing to do with racial preference. Borders are a critical aspect of national sovereignty, of course, including taxpayer sovereignty. There is no question that large numbers of immigrants strain scarce public resources in a variety of ways including public aid, education, law enforcement, housing, and other public services. In fact, the mere existence of aid programs provides incentives that encourage immigration, especially as activists push for broader accessibility of program benefits. The consequent strain on public resources escalates costs to taxpayers and compromises the quality of public programs for the qualified citizen-beneficiaries for whom they are intended. There is nothing racist about asserting that those strains should be minimized for the benefit of taxpayers and beneficiaries. Indeed, a recent poll found that a majority of Hispanics favor controls on immigration, including a border wall.

A further consequence is that citizens might perceive an unhealthy opportunism or exploitation by illegal immigrants availing themselves of what might seem like very generous public benefits. Rightly or wrongly, that perception tends to encourage forms of “otherism”. This is an example of how public policy can undermine social cohesion and the successful assimilation of immigrants.

The Labor Force

In general, immigration is a positive economic force. At a macro level, it supplements the growth of the labor force, traditionally a major driver of output gains. At the more fundamental micro level, it represents a movement of productive resources in response to incentives guiding them to higher-valued uses. The most productive workers tend to migrate away from low-wage economies toward high-wage economies. Again, however, low-productivity workers are attracted by the bundle of public benefits available, including our minimum wage laws. Those immigrants do not contribute to output gains at all if their productivity is less than the minimum wage. They will, however, attempt to compete for jobs at the minimum wage or even below that wage if their employers are willing to cheat.

Obviously, the legal minimum wage does not adjust to market conditions such as excess supplies of labor. The development of such a surplus would mean unemployment, including job losses among low-skilled legal residents. That is unfortunate not just for those losing jobs, but because these effects create more fertile ground for racism among both groups. This is another example of how public policy can create barriers to social cohesion.

So Who’s a Racist, Anyway?

Those casting aspersions of racism are often guilty of of losing historical perspective, and sometimes worse. A recent example is the refusal of democrats to deal with “the racist” Trump on the DACA bill he proposed in early 2018. That bill would have offered amnesty and a path to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers, individuals who arrived in the U.S. as undocumented child immigrants. How easy it is for progressives to forget that President Obama dithered away four years during which he could have proposed legislation to end the prosecution of Dreamers.

A more cogent example of selective memory among progressives is the history of the Democrat Party as one of racism, Jim Crow, and eugenics. The contention that the Republican Party has a history of racism is categorically false. We constantly hear that Republicans are guilty of using “dog whistles” to appeal to racist sentiment, but Mark Steyn provides a marvelous quote of James Taranto in which he gets at the truth of these divisive claims: “… if you can hear the whistle, you’re the dog.” There is great truth in that statement.

No one should forget that immigrants attempting to enter the country illegally are exposed to real dangers, and it should be discouraged. Natural conditions are harsh along the southern U.S. border, and many of those wishing to cross must contract for the services of guides who are often dangerous and untrustworthy. The risks for families and children should not be trivialized by those who would encourage massive flows of illegal entrants as a tool of policy change.

Border security is important to Americans because of the risks inherent in an uncontrolled border. These risks span national security, drug policy, taxpayer sovereignty, and other economic concerns. While racists might hate most immigrants, opposition to illegal immigration is often paired with support for liberalized legal immigration. That fact does not square with accusations of racism. Perhaps most importantly, encouraging an uncontrolled flow of immigrants in defiance of existing law creates harsh risks for the immigrants themselves, and especially the children who become innocent human collateral in the process. That the same shortsighted individuals who encourage such flows make a blanket charge of racism against those who demand a more rational and even liberalized process is grotesque and an affront to decency.