David R. Henderson  

Arizona Immigration: Battle of the Collectivists

Europe's TARP... Go See Matt Ridley...

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It's not hard for me to take sides on whether police in Arizona should be able to stop people simply on suspicion that they're in the United States illegally. I think this is one more step on the road to a police state. And the steps are happening quickly. This weekend, the Attorney General of the United States suggested dropping the Miranda warning for people who are suspected of being terrorists. This, despite the fact that old-fashioned law enforcement that respected Miranda was what led to the bomber's capture.

But what's particularly interesting to me is how a little methodological individualism, plus some grasp of the facts, go a long way to clarifying the issues. Many people on both sides of the issue have fuzzed it up by rejecting the idea of thinking about specific people being responsible for their actions and not those of others.

The Side That Likes the Law

Many of those who like the new Arizona law say that they want it because of the huge wave of violent crime engaged in by illegal immigrants. They seem to have in mind the recent killing of an innocent rancher and the alleged wave of kidnappings in Phoenix. Yet, if this is their difficulty--that is, if their goal is to change or avoid such things--doesn't it make sense to go after the people doing such things and not illegal immigrants as a class? After all, according to Dan Griswold, as immigration rates have increased, crime has fallen. This is suggestive evidence that illegal immigrants, who appear to be the main source of immigration in recent years, do not have higher crime rates (putting aside the peaceful crime of being here illegally) than others here legally. If they kept their eye on the goal, wouldn't they start wondering why illegal immigrants are increasingly entering via Arizona instead of the traditional California? Wouldn't that lead them to wonder about the tightening up of the border in California, leading to the unintended, but totally predictable, consequence for Arizona? And, since another of their upsets seems to be the increasingly violent nature of the illegal drug business, something they would like to change, wouldn't it make sense for them to look into why it got more violent? My own tentative answer is that the U.S. drug enforcement authorities have become more successful in fighting home-grown drug dealers and so the ones who come in to fill the gap are the ones who are more violent and more willing to kill police, informers, etc. At a conference in Canada I attended a few years ago, a police official told the attendees that the police had been increasingly successful at jailing Canadian members of drug gangs. What had replaced them, he said, were more-violent and more-ruthless foreign gangs. Paradoxically, therefore, the way to make the illegal drug industry less violent is to reduce enforcement.

But if you see all illegal immigrants as part of a big, undifferentiated mass, you are likely to fail to ask such questions.

The Side That Dislikes the Law

I wish I could say that the side I'm on has no collectivist thinking. But I can't. Many people have responded to the law, not by holding accountable and protesting the individual legislators who voted for it and the Arizonans who favor it, but by calling for a boycott of Arizona. Boycotts are unlikely to be effective but, even if they were effective, they would tend to penalize the wrong people. They're like sanctions. They don't single out the specific people who did something the boycotters object to. Instead, they treat Arizonans as one undifferentiated mass.

Note: Mary O'Grady has an excellent column on these issues in today's Wall Street Journal.

Update: As was pointed out by various commenters below, I misstated the law. In a follow-on post, I acknowledge that fact and try, somewhat successfully, to get the discussion back to what I wanted to discuss, which is not the law per se but the collectivism on both sides of the issue.

COMMENTS (11 to date)
Scrutineer writes:

It's not hard for me to take sides on whether police in Arizona should be able to stop people simply on suspicion that they're in the United States illegally.

It's much easier to take sides if you start by mischaracterizing the law. Police may ask for proof of immigration status only after there has already been a "lawful stop, detention or arrest."

Pincher Martin writes:



Too bad David Henderson can't take the time to learn a little about what he criticizes so harshly. I guess it's much easier to reflexively make a judgment.

Tom writes:

I think "This is suggestive evidence that illegal immigrants, who appear to be the main source of immigration in recent years, do not have higher crime rates (putting aside the peaceful crime of being here illegally) than others here legally."
is pretty poor logic for an economist.

I'd like to compare areas of high illegal immigrants vs areas of low illegal immigrants.

Immigration seems to be the Achilles heal of libertarians, probably the sole area where they (or we) reject rational thinking.

Carl The EconGuy writes:

What DH does not seem to appreciate is this:
The AZ law creates no obligations for aliens that are not already in federal law.
The AZ does not violate any rights for individuals, alien or not, that are already guaranteed in federal and state laws.

If DH does not like the law, he could propose the libertarian alternative. It goes like this.

Congress enacts a new law that says the following. "Since we never intended for federal statutes that require aliens to prove their legality by carrying IDs, we hereby delete that requirement from any federal laws. This means that any state laws that purport to enforce the old law are now null and void. It is now the will of the Congress that any aliens present in the US do not have to prove their right to stay here."

End of story. It means that from now on anyone here can stay. Welcome the US.

But if you want to keep the current federal law, either enforce it with federal resources, or leave AZ alone.

By the way, ICE already practices stopping whomever whenever they please, without cause, and forcing US citizens to prove that they have a right to be here. I know, it's happened to me, in New Mexico. So the argument that the new AZ law infringes on the rights of US citizens is bunk -- you already don't have those rights.

Brian Clendinen writes:

Dennis, I think you need to read the law and federal immigration law before you criticize it. The devil is in the details, and the media is as bad if not worse about reporting on laws they do not like as I am sure you know they are on academic studies.

I have never understood open boarders with a semi-socialist nation as we are nor letting 50% plus of your new population come from immigration (somewhat of a guess on the % because not sure what the max % should be). I do not think if one hundred million people wanted to move to American in the next ten years we should let them and pay the medical cost of their kids let alone social unrest. Talk about socially overwhelming and significantly changing culture, we could be invaded and in a generation taken over by say Muslims governments who send huge amounts of their unemployed population to us, so we can become Islam (just one worst case scenario). I think we need some sort of quota but that is it. Minimal selection criteria but if you can purchase through an open action one of the quota spots, you should be able to immigrant/ get a green card.

Douglass Holmes writes:

Mischaracterizing the law and suggesting that Miranda rights had something to do with barely apprehending the Times Square bomber do not seem to be typical of your normally clear thinking, David. It seems to me that everyone has some issue in the immigration debate that causes them to go off into an irrational rant.

I believe that even a libertarian should admit that we should have something in place to keep terrorists and criminals out, if possible. You are quite right that the vast majority of people crossing the border are simply seeking economic opportunity, even the ones who are involved in the drug trade. I would like to see a policy of allowing a lot more people to come in legally if we could just put something in place to keep out the violent criminals.

The state of Arizona is not being unreasonable in expecting people to obey federal law. The President and his party (which still controls both houses of Congress) can repeal existing immigration limits anytime now. It should be a LOT easier than passing healthcare "reform."

And yes, Mary O'Brady's article is excellent. I find the statistics indicating that increased immigration leads to lower crime rates to be very persuasive. Where I live, (Kentucky) the immigrants from Mexico are all hard working and well behaved.
(Am I a racist for noticing that?)

Jeremy, Alabama writes:

The counter-argument is political, not economic or libertarian or philosophical. It goes something like illegal immigrant -> legalized immigrant -> Democrat voter. Of course not all illegal immigrants will end up voting social services for themselves, but enough may to make it a left/right political issue.

This segues into Clendinen's point on semi-socialist states and open borders. The UK has the same problem, and, just like the US, it has become a hot political topic that has been labeled as "racist" to discuss, with a general understanding (rightly or wrongly) of giveaways to illegal immigrants to buy votes for the social-democrat party.

AJ writes:

What is it about "illegal" that you lefties in ivory tower academia do not understand?

It's illegal immigrants that are targeted.

O.k. let me repeat. LEGAL = GOOD. ILLEGAL = BAD.

Apparently graduate school clouds this.

Apolloswabbie writes:

My understanding is the law does not allow an officer to detain based on suspicion of illegal status alone.

This issue will never get solved because political calculus isn't potent enough to deal with any of the individual issues - restricting peaceful immigration, the drug war, the entitlement network - much less all three interwoven issues at the same time.

AJ - your formula hardly seems worth taking seriously, though it does offer the powerful appeal of being simple. Was slavery right when it was legal? Was gun restriction right in DC when it was legal? Legality is never a surrogate for good/bad, no matter how much we may wish it were so.

PK writes:

AJ (et al):

The essay here does assume some degree of economic thinking background, and while I'd love to impart some of that on you, you seem to prefer ad hominem shouting attacks. In the spirit of the golden rule, therefore:

How come you tea-Bagging, Sara Palin loving neocons are all touting SMALL government until you have the chance to round up and hassle BROWN people or invade other countries?


What part of "I'll work, illegally if I have to, in order to FEED my Family" don't you neocons understand?


IT's a Black Market because willing buyers and sellers are de Jure criminals!

OK, so that last one wasn't really shouting enough, and this shouting match is starting to show signs of rational argument. I love immigration arguments, because of the role reversals between the progressives and neocons. So, as I see it, the major themes aren't merely "legal vs illegal", but:

*Entitlement to welfare state benefits
*Responsibility to pay for welfare state costs
*Labor market, especially minimum wage
*Protectionism (see: Labor market)
*Crime (see: Black market, Labor, and Black Market, Drugs)
*Attracting voters (see: Handing out candy and quid pro quo)
*Reasonable search & seizure (see: State Power and Big Brother)
*Federalism (Federal Responsibilities vs state, 10th amendment)

And, of course Racism/Xenophobia

BTW, when it is illegal to not to have health insurance, how are you going to feel about rounding up the criminals then?

Tim writes:

The problem is that so many traditional conservatives don't recognize that it is near impossible for low skill workers who are in demand in certain industries here to get in legally, and thus they don't have much of a care to change the existing law that perpetuates the problem. Border security is important to keep a variety of bad actors out, but we need a rational immigration policy that meets the needs of our economy rather than panders to protectionists. If America is short on jobs then the immigrants go home as many are doing now. Even then, immigrants don't come here to collect meager welfare benefits; the only thing they "leech" is the schools but if the schools are performing their function, a big if, then society in return gets educated children of immigrants who will go on and contribute just like everyone else. Markets ration jobs and living space, we don't need immigration laws to attempt to do so because government has no idea what it is doing.

Immigrants still pay state taxes though, as anyone who rents pays property taxes through rent and anyone who buys something pays sales taxes; while I believe that welfare reform walled off immigrants from federal welfare benefits and the health care bill excludes them from even using their own money to buy in.

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