Decriminalize It, Don't Legalize It?

Hit & Run commenter Jozef makes an interesting point that I've been going back and forth on for a while. Is it better to legalize or decriminalize immigration?

Responding to Nick Gillespie's claim that "Anything that brings people into the official economy is a good thing," Jozef writes,

That may not always be true. For example, legalizing the status of illegals will price most of them out of the job market, and they'll be replaced with a new wave of (cheaper) illegal labor. As a result, bringing them into official economy will put them into the unemployment benefits/social security bucket, which is not such a great thing.

I'm not so sure I agree entirely with that last sentence. After all, "the existence of easy migration makes welfare state policies less attractive." But the first point remains: legalization - i.e. bringing people into the official economy - necessarily involves subjecting former workers in the black market cash economy to things like minimum wage laws and employment taxes. While it is true that any immigrant who actively chooses to go through the legalization process must believe that participation in the official economy (and the associated welfare benefits that come along with it) is preferable to continued participation in the black market economy, that doesn't necessarily mean this process is good for employers or consumers.

In intra-libertarian immigration debates, the pro-immigration side often argues in favor of second-class citizenship as a way to avoid the "welfare leach" objection of the anti side. The anti side rejoinders that second-class citizenship is politically unpalatable, even though it's the sort of citizenship that every libertarian would choose for themselves - no direct taxes, no direct welfare benefits, and not being subject to minimum wage and other labor laws.

Decriminalization essentially creates this second-class citizenship system, without having to worry about whether it is politically palatable to the electorate. Having border patrol agents look the other way when people cross, and not actively looking for immigrants already here who did not come here legally, might be in many ways preferable to actual immigration legalization. An added benefit is that non-enforcement of laws that are on the books further erodes the public's respect for the rule of law, which is already a huge joke anyway.

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Why government is good

Sourcreamus wrote:

Given the level of irrationality among voters, why aren't our economic policies worse?

I've been meaning to write a comment to that along the lines of, "government isn't only constrained by the choices of the voters, but also by realities that simply are there and force accommodation.' I had trouble finding a significant example, but this may be one. The Mexicans are coming to the US whether the voters want them to or not, whether the government wants them to or not, and Americans are hiring them. It would indeed be highly suggestive of the power of reality to directly liberalize government if you were right in describing the proposed second-class citizenship as the sort of citizenship that every libertarian would choose for themselves. This is something that is being contemplated in Washington only because of the massive influx of people.

The government could of course in theory crack down hard on immigrants, but there isn't the political will for it. This (very welcome - to me) weakness of will with regard to immigrants, combined with the strength of will of the immigrants themselves, may yet force a partial liberalization of some sort.