Immigration Rant


As I watch the immigration debate, I remain astounded at the views expressed by various sides. I am an immigrant to the USA, of course (of the legal type) so naturally I have some sympathies with immigrants, but the inconsistency of some viewpoints bothers me.

If you needed an argument for encouraging immigration, you should have been with me at Agenda in the year 2000. Agenda is a high-priced computer/internet industry executive conference (I used to be one). In that year, it was filled with all the people who were building all the hot new companies and the people running some of the older ones. The very people who were being held up as the engine of economic creation in the USA. That boom wilted a little bit, but there was still a lot of real stuff underneath.

Some high level government official was speaking and immigration came up. Another person at the lunch asked all those in the crowd who were born outside the USA to raise their hands. I would guess at least 60% of us raised our hands. Everybody knows that immigrants built the USA. What some people seem to have lost is that this never stopped. It's going on just as much today.

Being anti-immigrant reminds me of racism, to use an inflamatory term. Racism is the belief that the broad circumstances of a person's ancestry affect their worth as a person, and should affect their rights in society. Anti-immigrant nationalism is actually stronger. I was born 20 miles from the U.S. border, to parents also born there (though they were born to immigrant parents from Europe.) What moral code says that those like me deserve less of such fundamental rights as the ability to work, freedom to travel, freedom to live on my land, or to vote for those that will govern us? How can a few miles difference in birthplace morally command such a difference?

It can't. People are not inherently superior or more or less worthy of human rights based on their parentage or the accidents of their birth. The reasons for sealed borders are entirely pragmatic, ends-justify-the-means reasons. But few are willing to admit that. This has become more true as societies move to offering not just rights but welfare and social support systems to people who live within them. No country can provide welfare to the world, so nations decide to set up an arbitrary rule (birth and parentage) to control who can get in to receive it. I'm not saying these pragmatic arguments aren't real, just that we should admit what they are. When people get on soapboxes and decry Indians taking jobs from Americans, they seem to be saying that Indians are less worthy than Americans. That there is a moral reason we should contract for labour from people with the same ancestry or birth situation as ourselves over those who don't share that. There is no such moral reason.

Addendum: I also think every country should encourage as many foreign students as it can. As my privacy sparring partner (but still friend) David Brin puts it, they send their children to our country and get infused with our values and ideas, and come to know us as human beings, and then some go home to spread those ideas -- and they pay for this privilege. Who could possibly be against that?


I, too, am an immigrant, from the U.S. to Germany. I probably will
emigrate once again in my life.

The main problem in the U.S. is the hypocrisy of having an economy
which would collapse without illegal immigrants but sees these as
undesirable. In Europe this is also a lot of debate about
immigration, but the issues are different. (Most new immigrants are
political refugees of one sort or another who in many cases are not
allowed to work, so they definitely do not contribute to the economy.
Of course, we are talking about tens of thousands, not tens of
millions. There was a time when foreign labour was important for
the economy, particularly in Germany after the war, but that is no
longer the case today. These immigrants are legal, although the
problem there is that both they and Germany thought they would go
back after a few years, but they didn't, so the lack of assimilation
is a problem.)

One aspect which might in some sense be similar is the right of
a nation to decide who will enter it. Every nation has some sort
of policy like this, unless they allow anyone in for whatever reason
they want to come. Many left-leaning folks who see this as a moral
right of some Indian tribe in the rain forest would deny this same
right to other nations, as if the culture of that nation is not as
worthy of preservation as that of the Indians.

IF one accepts this right (and, if not, one has to be honest and
say "open the borders"), then one cannot just turn a blind eye to
illegal immigrants. That's not to say that there is no problem, just
to say that it should be addressed at the right place. For example,
there are certainly people who, through no fault of their own, are
born poor, just as those who, through no fault of their own, are born
in a poor country. However, would you say that this gives them the
right to rob a bank? If not, then the situation with illegal
immigrants is similar. Just as I can say that eradicating poverty
is a desirable goal and at the same time say that it is wrong to
rob a bank because one is poor, I can say that evils in the world
which cause people to immigrate should be eradicated and at the same
time say that illegal immigration is wrong.

Of course, even in an almost perfect world, some people would still
immigrate, but they would be "good immigrants" like you and I.

Just yesterday, there was a court ruling in Germany which said that
citizenship could be revoked if an immigrant had obtained it through
fraud. (Since Germany---and some other countries---generally requires
the old citizenship to be given up before the new is obtained, this
means the people then have no citizenship.)

In Europe, the idea of assimilation is more important than in the
U.S., which hasn't existed for very long and whose current culture
is the direct result of immigration. While there has always been
immigration in Europe, for thousands of years, most of the culture
of most countries is not the direct result of immigration.

Perhaps nations in Europe should not compare themselves with the
current U.S., but rather with the Indians. In other words, is there
a danger that immigration will essentially eradicate the "indigenous"

I certainly think that every nation has the right to say that all
immigrants must obey the laws and learn the local language and, if
they don't, then they risk being kicked out. One should then
essentially say that all are welcome if they obey these rules, or
else limit immigration to cases like allowing immigration for
couples with different nationalities etc.

In practice, countries choose which immigrants they want. However,
is this a good thing? If the good immigrants are building up
their new country, it means that they are not available to do so
in their own country. While this is fine if they voluntarily leave
their old country, and indeed such brain drain might give their
home country the idea that they should try to keep these desirable
people, I think it is rather a bad thing if developed nations actively
encourage brain drain from other countries, since this deprives these
countries of a resource they need and exacerbates the problem.

Discuss. :-)

Many people, myself included, have zero issue with immigrants. My parents are legal immigrants. We have problems with ILLEGAL immigrants. I do not believe the economy of the US would collapse if all illegals were to 'disappear'. As far as morality and 20 miles. How about 10 feet? Do I have a right, morally, to deny you access to my house, even if you were born in the house next door? We have property rights in this country and it extends all the way to the border.

You immigrated legally, welcome. Thank you for your energy, your passion, your knowledge and experience, your willingness to work to improve yourself and your family. Our daughter is adopted from China, she will contribute to the wonderful diversity that is a fundemental part of who we are as a nation.

Like every other endeavor in life, trust starts with basic actions. Coming to this country illegally clearly states that when confronted with high hurdles and legal requirements, some people prefer to break the law. And this is someone you want to reward?


Everybody in the world is treated the same as to their right to enter your house, they all need your permission as landowner.

The key question in immigration is that people have different basic human rights, such as the right to work, to contract, to travel freely on public land, based on the accident of where they were born or where their parents were.

I know the pragmatic reasons that some immigration is legal and some is illegal. But I question the moral reasons. Sometimes it seems to boild down to "we europeans stole this country fair and square from the natives, so we have to set the rules to control who else can come in because we have a safety net and public infrastructure they'll abuse."

One simple question: Why should taxpaying (ie. property-owning) immigrants not be able to vote in municipal elections, at the very least? I joke that I hear Americans fought a war to defeat taxation without representation and I must conclude you lost.

"How do you dare tell me that I'm my Father's son
when that was just an accident of Birth." (From
the Jethro Tull song "Wind Up" from the AQUALUNG

What I don't understand is that you limit the discussion
to immigration. There are many other accidents of birth,
such as being born to poor parents. By the same token,
such a person would have the right to take money (from
where is not clear) at least until he possesses the average
amount of money of people in the world.

Again, being poor is quite often not one's own fault, but
I doubt you would argue that that is carte blanche for robbing
a bank.

It SHOULD be a goal of society to provide equal CHANCES for
everyone. Not only between nations, but within nations. Do
that and the immigration problem takes care of itself (most,
though not all, immigrants, at least these days, immigrate
to improve their financial situation).

By the way, my wife and I are both immigrants. I immigrated
from America to northern Europe to improve my quality of life
(not necessarily financially) and my wife immigrated in order
to live with me.

For better or worse, today's social morality has come to mean that you are not discriminated against for the broad circumstances of your birth (race, creed, community, sex, orientation) but can be discriminated against for the very specific circumstances -- how wealthy your parents are, how good your personal genes are in making you smart or athletic etc.

But nationality, either that of your birth site or your parents, seems like a broad circumstance, similar to race, not a specific one. Races actually don't truly exist. They are loose collections of characteristics developed among geographic groups that didn't do much interbreeding with other groups for long enough to develop certain traits based largely on sexual selection, though in some cases, like melanin, environment. They are certainly not more arbitrary than nationalities.

We have problems with ILLEGAL immigrants.

What, simply because it's illegal? Would you have a problem with the Underground Railroad if you were alive in 1850? If illegality is the problem, let's repeal the laws restricting immigration, end of problem (except perhaps for some transition effects).

But I suspect that you really mean you have problems with indiscriminate immigration; that you want some (potential) immigrants to remain illegal, you want the government to say: "You get in, you don't." Is the government really a better judge of who's desirable and not than, say, the people who would decide whether or not to have Felipe and Consuelo as employees or tenants? Do you really have zero problems with any of the government's past choices in this respect?

Do I have a right, morally, to deny you access to my house, even if you were born in the house next door?

You have a right to exclude me or Brad (or your house's previous occupants!) from your house, but no right to exclude us from Romana's house: only Romana has that right.

We have property rights in this country and it extends all the way to the border.

Then I choose to exercise my property rights by inviting any and all persons of goodwill onto that portion of my property that I am not personally using.

But jurisdiction is not the same thing as property. (When territory is transferred from one government to another the landowners therein are not automatically dispossessed.)

Hey Brad,
I like your blog and that your an immigrant. Immigrants make this country great, and even some of the illegal senoritas are hot, so I'm cool with smokin' chicks irregardless of status.

Still I'm really concerned about immigration fraud of all things and wondered if you're aware of this problem? I just read the new book "Legal US Immigration: Truth, Fraud and the American Way" by Adam Edward Rothwell, an immigration lawyer, and I couldn't believe how much fraud there is in the system. And the book's website ( ) says it all. I mean, which is worse, illegal immigrants or people who come here legally by filing illegal applications?

Add new comment