My wife was politically low-key when I first met her. I have enjoyed the fact that she has started to become more interested in political issues and principles of good government. This morning at breakfast, without any warning, she asked me about my thoughts on the issue of immigration. The conversation that followed led to some interesting insights (and must have been incomprehensible to our children).
First, as I have stated before, we need to make an informed decision on where we stand on the issue of immigration. Knee-jerk reactions (whether it’s “close the border” or “grant some legal status”) don’t fix the fundamental problem that we have created immigration laws that we are unwilling or unable to enforce.
One of the things that came out of the conversation was the idea that quotas are an arbitrary, and hence therefore poor, method for determining who can legally enter the country. In fact, quotas are a bad way to make any public policy. No matter where you set the numbers they are essentially arbitrary. There is no reason why person X+1 has greater potential to burden the nation than person X.
If we think that we should not have completely open borders then we should set criteria for who is allowed to come and then allow all people who meet the criteria to enter. Prior to 1924 when we started using quotas the criteria were essentially that we allowed anyone without major criminal backgrounds or communicable diseases to enter the country. I think those are good criteria to keep and there is no reason that we cannot develop other criteria to keep immigration at sustainable levels and make sure that we are getting the people that we want. For example, if we are looking for people to do menial jobs for us then we should allow people in who have arranged to take those jobs. If we only want people who will work to become citizens then we set criteria that they must achieve citizenship within a set amount of time or be deported.
I’m not saying what criteria we should use – I think that’s a national debate that we need to undertake – but I am saying that the land of the free should not be free only to the first 10000 people in line each year.