A Conservative Case for Amnesty

Today, everybody’s talking about the Supreme Court’s universal health care ruling.  However, here are some thoughts I’ve been putting together since their ruling on Arizona’s controversial illegal immigration law a few days ago:

Regardless of whatever details or variations are appended to either, the fact is that the only two options here for ending the debate over illegal immigration are amnesty or deportation.  When the dust finally settles, either the millions of Hispanics in this country illegally will generally stay here, or they will generally leave.

In that light, the choice should be obvious.  Amnesty may well have some advantages that conservatives have overlooked, and deportation is simply untenable.

Mass deportation is a Utopian fantasy.  The first rule of conservatism is to approach reality as it is, not as we wish it would be.

Is instigating a voluntary exodus an option?  There are no viable policies or enforcement thereof that would motivate anything like a majority of illegals in America to voluntarily leave.  No economic disincentive could target illegals without also harming citizens.  Most illegal immigrants have invested too much here for too long to give it up because of any inconveniences we could dream up, anyway.

Involuntary expulsion, then?  The idea that we could identify which of America’s tens of millions of Hispanics are here legally and which ones aren’t, is absurd.  Corruption and cheating would be rampant all around.  Innocent people would be targeted.  Guilty people would still get away.

Some conservatives will point to the Eisenhower administration’s mass deportation project in the 1950’s as an example that this is realistic.  But the numbers they were dealing with were far fewer, with far less actual assimilation having taken place, and with far less opposition.

At least three things make mass deportation unattractive—and even impossible— today: the certainty of increasing bureaucracy, the unknowable cost of the project, and the potential for violence.

How would mass deportation be carried out?  By ICE or the Border Patrol?  Local law enforcement?  National Guard?  The military?  We already have major military engagements in progress overseas, which have eaten heavily into half of those resources.  Local police departments are swamped as it is, and can’t divert necessary resources to this.  ICE and the BP aren’t, and indeed couldn’t be, equipped to handle an operation on this scale.

And who would be in charge of identifying who needs to go and who gets to stay?  Which federal department?  New agencies would likely be formed, with an army of bureaucrats on the payroll, and with significant power invested in them.

Conservatives hate bureaucracy.  Imagine a federal Department of Deportation.  Would they, like Cincinnatus of old, lay down their power when the crisis is over?  Our leaders don’t have a very good track record with that…

This is to say nothing of the endless lawsuits that would be filed about this.  Our courts would be clogged up with human rights complaints and wrongful prosecution cases for years.  Do you really want to enrich the trial lawyers any more, give the liberal pundits more martyrs, or crowd out other legal needs any more than they already are?  Blaming conservatives for such outcomes may be unfair, true, but they would happen, and we would have to go into this with eyes wide open.  We would be a party to all of it.

And need I point out how insanely expensive all of this would be?  Can taxpayers afford to subsidize a hunt for a white whale?  

(For anyone who thinks no new offices would be established, and no new powers granted, consider the creation of the completely redundant Department of Homeland Security.)

But what if we did establish new offices to handle this behemoth of a project?  Can we not see the reaction of millions of people, both Hispanic and not, both here legally and not, who would see this as an unprovoked assault on people’s lives and families?  Do you think that whatever agents go into any given area would always be met by cooperative resignation?

Civil war might be too far-fetched, but riots would not be.  Many people will resist the deportation effort, even with violence.  It seems obvious that systemic attempts to repatriate illegals will result in bloodshed, on both sides.

Even beside the unfeasibility of mass deportation, there are other reasons why general amnesty would be preferable, especially in regards to the economy and crime.

Many conservatives complain that illegals benefit from social services without paying adequate taxes, etc., and that removing them from within our borders will reduce that cost to taxpayers.

Endless pundits have spent untold hours wrangling back and forth about whether the illegal population in the US creates a net gain or loss to the economy.  Few have considered the economic cost and long-term effect of mass deportation.  How much of America’s private sector is now marketed toward Hispanics, and/or accommodates illegals?  Removing a sizable part of their demographic could only reduce the profit of those sectors of the economy.  Jobs, many belonging to current citizens, would be lost. 

The prospect of boycotts, consumer nervousness in the face of large-scale social change, and stock market unrest due to fears of the unknown effects of such a massive change in our population and economy should alone be enough to make us wary of proceeding full steam ahead.

And don’t underestimate those fears of the unknown.  The problem of simplifying issues by compartmentalizing them is that it always ignores the law of unintended consequences.  There’s no way to know for sure what would happen if millions of people who both contribute to and take away from our economy—to some varying degrees—suddenly disappear.  We may not like it, but the status quo is that these millions of people are established here, and we can’t know every outcome of rocking the boat.

As for the argument that illegals are taking jobs away from citizens now, that is actually another example of flawed liberal thinking.  Such an argument supposes that the economy is a closed system, with only so much wealth and jobs to go around, and one person having a part of it necessarily is denying it to someone else.

As we know, however, such a view is not accurate.  The economy is an open system, propelled by innovation, creation, and expansion by entrepreneurs (with Internet commerce being the best contemporary example).  Whether or not one industry collapses, or one trade becomes obsolete, outsourced, or shifted to another labor demographic, the rest of the economy evolves onward and creates more jobs and wealth, which benefits everyone.

And what about crime?  Wouldn’t expelling all illegals get rid of the ones who are drug dealers and gang members?

Who in their right mind thinks this would happen?  Doesn’t it seem most likely that a mass deportation would be primarily successful with those who are more inclined to be peaceful in the first place? 

There’s a great conservative bumper sticker that states a clever paradox: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.”  A corollary here might be, “If we kick out illegal immigrants, only the criminal immigrants will remain.”   Whatever we do to find and relocate illegals, the worst of the worst will still be here.

But aren’t illegal immigrants all criminals by definition?  Aren’t they all trespassers?  On top of my earlier considerations about the pros and cons of attempting mass deportation, let’s say this: only poor reasoning could make us think it’s realistic to get our problems back in Pandora’s box once it’s been opened.  The genie does not go back into the bottle.  Toothpaste does not go back into the tube.  And millions of people, dispersed across the country, mingled closely with citizens, and far more integrated than we often give them credit for, do not simply get uprooted and moved.  (In this respect, Christians might consult Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares in Matthew 13:24-30.)

As I said in the beginning, conservatism is fundamentally about being pragmatic.  Who wants an unwinnable quagmire in our own backyard?  There is no virtue in going down swinging on an issue when there are other values that are still hanging in the balance.

Does this frustrate our reverence for the rule of law?  Yes.  Yes it does.  But the alternative is unthinkable.  And we have other conservative priorities that also demand to be recognized and served.

Consider the law enforcement benefits of amnesty.  The biggest problems we face in battling the drug dealer / gang member contingent among the illegal alien population are things like anti-profiling paranoia and sanctuary cities.  Our police have been hobbled by political correctness into being unable to protect us from criminals.

However, if amnesty were granted to the illegal immigrant population in general, such obstacles to law enforcement would be erased overnight.  The real criminals would then have nothing to hide behind.  Incarceration rates for the truly dangerous would increase.  More of them would hesitate before perpetrating their atrocities, and might even leave altogether of their own will (wouldn’t that be ironic!).

Finally, what would be the effect for conservatives of advocating amnesty?  For one, the traditional trope among liberals that conservatives are ethnocentric xenophobes who don’t care about minorities would be greatly weakened.  We would have a better inroad to share our ideals with people who have for too long been under the thrall of liberal pandering. 

We could spend more effort on sharing with immigrants our message of limited government, personal responsibility, respect for private rights and property, and traditional morality—which the Hispanic immigrant community is well suited to receive positively—and less effort complaining about how they got here.

William F. Buckley famously said to “nominate the most conservative candidate who is electable.”  I would adapt that here and urge us to embrace the most conservative policies that are realistic.

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2 comments on “A Conservative Case for Amnesty

  1. I’d say the economy is part closed, part open. On the big business side, it takes billions to get to the market with a conventional product. At least. Try replacing Micr0$0ft or Exxon Mobil on top of their respective food chains. The latter just not too long ago replaced WalMart as the top corporation in any way that numbers count: Market cap, Revenue, Profit (bottom line), Profit Margin. Granted, WalMart never had great profit margins.

    But yes, as it seems, the economy is very open to newcomers, with or without documentation, as long as they are willing to work for minimum wage. To lay the question aside as far as the standard of living that min.wage provides, there is the fact that U.S. min.wage is more than, say, Equadorean avg. one.

    But on immigration policy, what tops the bunch is Connor Boyack’s analysis of it. I’m not overall a great fan of his ideas, but I must give credit where it’s due. If you are supposed to be–claiming to be–a libertarian, let liberty reign even where it feels uncomfortable for you… like seeing a bunch of brown-skinned people where you used to have just lilywhites. I believe that we’re all entitled to choose freely the place where we wish to make our living, and that regardless of skin colour or other “race hygiene” issues.

    Those undocumented folks turn out to be more worthy of the system than the natives, because they’ve seen the alternative to democracy, and they want to have the democracy–and naturally a better living standard. To pay back, they pay their taxes and are all-around more law-abiding than legally documented citizens. Explanation: They don’t want to give the cops a reason to start snooping around their business. The murdering drug gangs are an insignificant minority, that naturally would be great not to have around… but they make for great news headlines, especially on Fox “News”.

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