Is Immigrant Amnesty a Conservative Policy?

Latinos are religious, morally conservative, and tend disproportionately to join the military. They also tend to be hard working and entrepreneurial. Do we really have too many of them?

Do we really want to pack them up, forcibly, by the millions in the greatest forced migration in human history? How many are there, 15, maybe 20 million? No one has ever moved 15 million people against their will. No one has ever moved half that many without concentration camps, forced marches of one form or another and mass death through plague.

If there’s another way to do it, please tell me what it is. But I haven’t heard one. What I hear is slogans like ‘what part of illegal don’t you understand’ and attacks on ‘amnesty.’  Slogans move callers to dial in to talk radio, but they don’t move 20 million people voluntarily back into poverty and squalor. Soldiers do that (unhappy ones); box cars full of people do that. Camps surrounded by barbed wire do that. In the end you either let them stay or you herd them out. If you want to call it amnesty, go ahead.

After all, what’s wrong with amnesty? The idea has a well-worn legal tradition, one strongly associated with the Christian faith. It means forgiveness. After the Civil War, Lincoln offered amnesty to rebel soldiers. Was he wrong to do so? They had taken up arms against their own government; they had killed hundreds of thousands. But Lincoln (as opposed to the radical Republicans) had the wisdom to offer forgiveness. What about runaway slaves after emancipation? They had broken the law. Shouldn’t they have had to pay the price even after the laws were changed? Of course not. Why should immigration laws be any different? If we liberalize them, which seems well overdue, should we still punish the people who violated the law which we later deemed too harsh?

Amnesty is a strong part of the U.S. political tradition. Vietnam draft dodgers received amnesty. Do you think we should track them down and imprison them now? Conservatives often argue for amnesty. Tax amnesties are a favored release for overburdened tax payers.

Supply-siders rightly argue that widespread tax cheating is a sign that taxes are too high, that they are driving productive people into the black market. They argued that widespread violation of the national 55 mph speed limit was a sign that law was too restrictive.

Americans concluded that widespread violation of prohibition laws (not just statutes, but an actual part of the Constitution) was evidence that the law was too strict and that laws like prohibition which are so onerous that otherwise law-abiding citizens broke them, undermine the rule of law.

Ronald Reagan saw it, even if alleged ‘Reaganites’ don’t. He signed amnesty into law in 1986, inviting three million ‘illegals’ to become ‘legals.’ He even defended the idea in his 1984 debate with Fritz Mondale: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though some time back they may have entered illegally.” Would he do otherwise now?

Would the man who didn’t want to deport 3 million of God’s children, now deport 15 or 20 million of them? Reagan had a completely different idea about immigration and the border from the wall/moat/electrocution/drone model. His diaries show an emotional discomfort with militarized borders with Mexico. He met with the President of Mexico to try to discuss ways to do something better with the border then to turn it into a fence. Reagan was concerned about a fence, while the recent crop of would-be-Reagans spout nonsense about walls with moats topped by electrified fences.

Reagan was influenced by free-market thought in this regard. Milton Friedman believed that immigration, even illegal immigration, was good for freedom. His argument, which was in this regard identical to Austrian economists like Ludwig Von Mises, was that human capital should be free to cross borders just like financial capital should be. Forcible interventions into immigration were really just forcible interventions into the labor market designed to restrict wage competition, just like unionism, just like mandated 30-hour work weeks or forced retirement or wage floors.
Go to Page 2 Below