Republicans Oppose Free Markets
by Ari Armstrong, November 23, 2005
The left is split on immigration. For some on the left, such as Dick Lamm, immigrants pose a threat to the environment. Yet the more common leftist sentiment is that illegal immigrants are unfortunate victims who, in the name of multiculturalism, should be welcomed and, in the name of egalitarianism, offered a seat at the welfare table.
The right also is split on immigration. For a while President Bush toyed with an amnesty program for illegal immigrants, until large portions of his base revolted. The most active and visible right-wingers who concern themselves with immigration target illegal immigrants from Mexico. (They don't say much about whether they think legal immigration should be curtailed or expanded.)
Right-wing hostility to illegal immigration is a complicated thing. The leaders of the movement uniformly reject criticisms that they are racist or xenophobic, and, generally, I believe these leaders. However, they know perfectly well that an uncomfortably large number of their supporters are motivated by racism and/or xenophobia.
Dave Schultheis, a Colorado legislator who recently toured the Mexican border, lists several concerns on his web page. Schultheis even mentions "Environmental Issues" -- an obvious attempt to find common cause with the left.
The right generally lists the following reasons to be concerned about illegal immigration from Mexico:
Quite obviously, economic protectionism is incompatible with the usual Republican rhetoric about free markets. Nor does Lamm's neo-Malthusian nonsense about the "threat" of population growth go over well among self-respecting Republicans with a lick of economic sense.
That still leaves five fairly compelling reasons to be concerned about illegal immigration: crime, health, welfare, terrorism, and culture. Notably, three of those problems could be immediately solved by legalizing immigration. A sensible immigration policy would include something like the following rules:
1. Everyone who wants to come to the U.S. from Mexico to work, study, or travel may do so, so long as they meet the rest of the listed conditions.
That's just a very rough plan. (I'm aware that some people support an even more open regime, and their arguments merit consideration.) It is obvious, though, that a system of legal, controlled immigration would immediately stop almost all illegal border crossings. That would solve most of the problems regarding crime and health. It would free up resources of the boarder patrols and simultaneously vastly reduce the number of illegal crossings. Thus, the threat of terrorism also would be substantially reduced.
But that still leaves two important issues: welfare and culture.
Legalizing immigration would also solve the culture problem, or at least most aspects of it. What's the problem, or the alleged problem? It comes in two parts. First, illegal immigrants fail to adapt to U.S. culture. Second, some people want to create a new Latino/Chicano nation, taking in lands that are currently within U.S. borders. I think the cultural fears about Mexican immigrants are vastly overblown. Most Mexicans come to the U.S. to work hard and improve their lives. While it's common for first-generation immigrants to retain their native language, the children of immigrants almost universally learn English. And only daffy leftist "intellectuals" and their juvenile sycophants-- most of whom are already U.S. citizens -- take the idea of a new ethnocentric nation seriously. Generally, Mexican immigrants come here to escape the corruption and economic stagnation of their native country, not reproduce those pathologies here.
To the extent that there is a real assimilation problem, it is caused almost entirely by the prohibition of immigration. Illegal immigrants are legally prevented from fully assimilating into the culture. By definition, they are part of the underground economy. They are fearful of the authorities and of self-righteous but mean-spirited "citizens" who might turn them in. Under a system of legal, controlled immigration, people who come here from Mexico would be legally allowed and encouraged to assimilate into the culture.
That leaves the problem of welfare. Defend Colorado Now is sponsoring a ballot initiative next year to prevent illegal immigrants from receiving some welfare benefits. So far, I'm opposed to the initiative, though I'll continue to mull it over. Illegal immigrants usually pay all the same taxes the rest of us pay. So why should immigrants subsidize welfare benefits for "citizens?" Do Republicans support welfare exclusively for citizens, but not for immigrants? That's an odd position. If we're going to prevent immigrants from receiving welfare benefits, perhaps we should also exempt them from paying taxes into the welfare system. That would be a fair proposal, and one consistent with Republican rhetoric -- though of course no Republican would support such a plan. However, the problem of welfare is separable from the broader issue of immigration.
Those seriously concerned with solving the problems of immigration -- rather than using the issue for self-promotion and politics -- should advocate the legalization of immigration. The current regime is horrible. It's bad for U.S. citizens and it's bad for Mexican immigrants. The only other alternative is to impose a police state that keeps out all illegal immigrants. Unfortunately, that's what some Republicans suggest.
Congressman Tom Tancredo and Colorado's Republican Study Committee have started to play that game. Whereas the usual Republican rhetoric supports business and free markets, the anti-immigration wing of the Republican Party supports more economic controls, more red tape, and more bureaucracy.
In a November 17 article for The Denver Post, Jim Hughes writes: "Conservative Republican lawmakers... heard from immigration-policy experts and activists from around the country Wednesday [November 16] at a Republican Study Committee of Colorado event... Among the measures they are contemplating: a requirement that local police record the residency status and employers of people they arrest; a legal-workers-only condition for Colorado business licenses; a mandatory status check for all state hires; and a ban on state contracts for companies that don't ensure that their workers are legal, they said... Invited speakers told the caucus group that illegal immigrants were bringing deadly diseases into the country, committing crimes and overwhelming government programs, the medical system and American culture itself. They also may constitute the leading edge of an organized effort by Mexico to seize the Southwest, one speaker said."
If you believe in free markets and property rights, then you must advocate a businessperson's right to hire people from Mexico. You must also advocate the consumer's right to purchase goods and services produced by Mexican workers. The only alternative is to impose state restrictions on trade and property.
Colorado Republicans who want to place more controls and more bureaucratic burdens on businesses should stop pretending that they are advocates of economic liberty.
* * *
The Republican Party in Colorado is split into two major factions, neither of which seriously supports economic liberty.
As I argued after last year's election, the Republican Party lost the state legislature primarily because most Coloradans reject the social-conservative agenda. The social-conservative wing of Colorado's Republican Party wants God in the classroom, wants to outlaw all abortions, attacks homosexuals, and favors restrictions on sexually-explicit publications. I live in State Senator Sue Windels's district, and my wife is registered unaffiliated. Almost all of the literature we received attacked the Republican opponent on the issue of abortion.
At the same time, poll results that I heard about anecdotally showed strong opposition to Referendum C among unaffiliated voters (who, unfortunately, tend not to vote in off-year elections). So many independent-minded Coloradans generally support limited government, low taxes, economic liberty, and personal liberty.
But the other wing of the Republican Party consists of the so-called "moderates," the pragmatists who reject the social-conservatism of the "crazies" but who also reject principles as such and who therefore reject the principles of economic liberty. And so the "moderates" gave us a huge tax increase.
(In Leonard Peikoff's parlance, the social-conservatives are "misintegrators" who adopt dogmatic substitutes for principles, while the moderates are "disintegrators" who break down or dismiss legitimate principles.)
While the social-conservatives opposed Referendum C, for them economic liberty often takes a back seat to social issues. Immigration is seen as a social issue, and so these Republicans, without any apparent sense of irony, fight to impose more economic controls.
While the "moderates" often join with the Democrats to defeat the social-silliness of the conservatives, these moderates also join with the Democrats to expand state welfare and bureaucracy.
Of course, I am describing broad generalities that admit exceptions. Some people generally included in the "social-conservative" circle care more about free markets and don't push the social issues so much. Some "moderates" actually know a little free-market economics and take it seriously. And, thankfully, a determined minority of Coloradans, both in and out of the Republican Party, consistently support individual rights, which is to say liberty in both economic and personal matters.