January 22nd, 2011

Immigration, Geography, and Public Parks


photo credit: t0m_ka

Last night, I attended The Sutherland Institute‘s immigration debate, bringing together five individuals for, and five against, Representative Sandstrom’s “Arizona-style” immigration bill. I went in with low expectations and am glad I did; the philosophical black hole nearly sucked me in. I left early to escape its draw.

While volumes could be written in response to the pragmatic-based questions, comments, and diatribes to which audience members were subjected, I would like to address one in particular. Representative Chris Herrod, arguing in favor of enforcing current federal immigration laws, advanced an argument he has used on many occasions to describe the “unfairness” of “illegal” immigration.

This argument is explained in his book The Forgotten Immigrant, in which the following quotes are found:

The most important reason to be against illegal immigration is that tolerating illegal immigration is fundamentally unfair and immoral. (p. 31)

I simply believe that the immigration process should be fair and we should not punish those who are going to great lengths to follow the law. (p. 3)

I resent that some illegal aliens feel entitled to be here when so many around the world suffer as they wait to legally come. This is injustice plain and simple. (p. 4)

People in these countries, as well as every other country, should have an equal opportunity to experience the blessings of this great country. This is my single greatest motivation for resisting amnesty and talking about the unfairness of not enforcing our current laws. (p. 1)

Our toleration of illegal immigration is just as big an injustice as anything I have seen overseas. It discriminates, is wrong, and immoral. (p. 12)

What many call compassion in reality creates millions of innocent victims around the world. To forcefully take at the expense of another is never compassionate. (p. 17)

In summary, Rep. Herrod argues that the “fairness” of our immigration process is crippled with the influx of “illegal immigrants” coming across the southern border, since they are taking up space that, in their absence, would be able to be allotted to those who have “played by the rules”, “waited in line”, and followed the legal path of securing permission from the government to enter the United States. He feels it is wrong that those who are advantaged by their geographical proximity to the country “forcefully take” the opportunity for immigration from those who go to great lengths to “follow the law”.

I believe this is a poor argument, and to explain why, I’ll use an analogy of a public park. Think, for a moment, of a public park in your community. How far away do you live from that park? Do you “suffer” by having to travel to that park, whereas those who live across the street can easily travel to and use the park as they please? Are you legitimately discriminated against because you happen to live ten miles away from the park to which all have equal access?

Considering that example, let’s reword one of the above quotes by Rep. Herrod to fit the analogy:

People on this street, as well as every other street in the city, should have an equal opportunity to experience the blessings of this great city park.

Under such an argument, Rep. Herrod might support a centralized system whereby all individuals in the city would have to register for park use, reserve a time to use it, and wait their turn to come back until everybody else around the city had an “equal opportunity.” I don’t need to point out the absurdity of such an initiative.

The same idea applies to immigration; a geographical advantage does not by definition make something “unfair”. Just as the park is open to all who wish to use it at any time, regardless of their travel distance, so too should America be open to those who can come. Granted, it’s far easier for an inhabitant of Tijuana to enter California than it is for a person from Sudan to make his way over. But any respect for liberty requires denying the government’s attempts to provide “equal opportunity” to avoid “discrimination” and “suffering” on the part of those who might feel slighted by their geographical disadvantage.

God gave us diversity in many ways, including geography. Some areas of land have an abundance of natural resources such as water, gold, coal, or wood, and others are outright barren or extremely scarce in anything of value. Should the individuals who own valuable land be forced to redistribute those resources to others who “suffer” that there might be “equal opportunity”? Clearly not.

Those who benefit by a close proximity to America—through ease of migration (legal or otherwise), trade, communication, protection, etc.—because of their birth and natural geographic diversity are not upholding an “unfair” system. They are, rather, manifesting a natural system that relates to a variety of other areas in life.

Those who live across the street from a public park will clearly be more frequent visitors to that park than a family of children whose mother has to pack up the kids in the car, get gas, drive 15 miles, and keep a close eye on them in an unfamiliar area of town. The difficulty of distance and its other attending factors impedes—but certainly does not prevent—those in the outskirts of the town from enjoying the park as often and as much as those who live closer.

So, too, with migration to America. Assuming legal migration respected liberty and entailed the welcoming of those who might wish to come, we would naturally see a higher percentage of migrants who lived closer to America. To call this “unfair” is to ignore and protest the natural geographic diversity inherent in our world.

One Response to “Immigration, Geography, and Public Parks”

  1. January 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm #

    In some respects Sandstrom would make a great liberal.

    “I simply believe that the immigration process should be fair and we should not punish those who are going to great lengths to follow the law.”

    The only way we are punishing those people is by making them go through the pain and agony and years of frustration that it currently requires for them to come legally. The people that come here illegally are not causing any of that.

    “I resent that some illegal aliens feel entitled to be here when so many around the world suffer as they wait to legally come. This is injustice plain and simple.”

    Again, the one has nothing to do with the other. The “so many” around the world that are suffering as they wait to legally come are clearly suffering due to the laws that require them to wait to legally come here. It has nothing to do with the illegal immigrant. The illegal immigrant neither adds to nore removes from this “suffering”.

    “People in these countries, as well as every other country, should have an equal opportunity to experience the blessings of this great country. This is my single greatest motivation for resisting amnesty and talking about the unfairness of not enforcing our current laws.”

    This, along with every other quote from him, would argue that we should make it easier for people to immigrate legally.

    “What many call compassion in reality creates millions of innocent victims around the world. To forcefully take at the expense of another is never compassionate.”

    This argument couldn’t be more in line with liberal arguments about welfare, etc. The assumption here is that if person A gets something, then he must have taken it from someone else. Correct me if I’m wrong, but we don’t reduce our legal immigration quotas based on the number of illegal immigrants. So the illigeal immigrant doesn’t take anything “at the expense” of the legal immigrant.

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