Who Decides?

At Outside the Beltway Doug Mataconis presents his argument in favor of giving DACA beneficiaries and “other illegal immigrants” a path to citizenship. Here’s the meat of his argument:

As it stands, of course, the conservative position regarding citizenship for illegal immigrants is one that is not held by most Americans. According to many polls taken over the last five years or longer, the majority of Americans and even the majority of self-identified Republicans support a path to citizenship for both DACA beneficiaries specifically and illegal immigrants generally. I’ve made note of the results of many of these polls in posts that can be found here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. This issue, of course, is just one of the examples of the extent to which the hardline position that conservatives continue to take on immigration issues is out of step with the rest of the country, and it’s one of the many reasons why Republicans continue to lose ground with Latino voters, especially younger Latino voters who will become more and more of an important segment of a voting bloc that is only going to grow over the coming years. Taken in that light, I suppose that it’s understandable why many on the right would take the position that people who are in the United States illegally should never be allowed to become citizens. Given current voting patterns, such a prospect would be bad news for the GOP in many states, or even worse news considering that many states such as Arizona, Virginia, Georgia, and Florida are seemingly destined to become less hospitable to Republicans in the future unless the GOP becomes more palatable to Latino voters.

In reality, of course, isn’t any valid policy-based or moral argument against the idea that DACA beneficiaries, or indeed anyone who is in the country illegally, should eventually be allowed to become citizens provided that they meet the criteria.

or, in other words, proof by assertion and appeal to popular opinion, both fallacies.

I’ve made my views of immigration clear. I think that total immigration is presently higher than our society can reasonably assimilate, especially immigration of unskilled workers with poor command of English, and I think that mass immigration of low-skill and unskilled workers injures the workers with whom they’re in competition for jobs, particularly blacks. That’s what the preponderance of the evidence shows.

Here’s the Migration Policy Institute’s summary analysis of the present Mexican population in the United States. The MPI is generally favorably disposed to immigration, Mexican immigration in particular:

  • In 2010, over 11.7 million Mexican immigrants (of all ages) resided in the United States.
  • There were more than 10.6 million Mexican immigrants ages 18 and older in the United States.
  • Nearly half of Mexican adults reside in two states: California and Texas.
  • About three-quarters of Mexican adults residing in the United States were non-U.S. citizens in 2010.
  • Nearly two-thirds of adult Mexican immigrants in the United States came after 1990.
  • Six in ten Mexican immigrants in the United States did not have a high school diploma in 2010.
  • In 2010, three out of four Mexican immigrant adults were limited English proficient.
  • More than one-third of all employed Mexican-born men reported working in construction, extraction, and transportation in 2010.
  • Over 62 percent of Mexican adults living in the United States were in low-income families in 2010.

Generally, I think the DACA beneficiaries should be given legal status, I’m open on the idea of giving them a path to citizenship although I think there are good reasons not to, and I’m opposed to granting their parents a path to citizenship. Here are my reasons:

  • During the last amnesty in the 1980s only a minority of those eligible sought citizenship. We don’t have a lot of other evidence. Based on the information we have at hand, the issue of a path to citizenship isn’t nearly as pressing, except to those who want a grateful client population, as might seem to be the case.
  • There is no practical way to verify eligibility under any set of criteria other than no criteria at all.
  • No criteria at all is de facto open borders.
  • The same arguments being made in favor of a path to citizenship for DACA beneficiaries will be deployed to erode any criteria over time.
  • Unlimited immigration of people with no skills or low skills injures blacks, poor whites, and previous cohorts of immigrants.
  • The characteristics of Mexican immigrants noted by the MPI tell us that they’re creating their own subclass, we’re not creating it for them. That argument is misdirection. If you want more social equality you should want to limit immigration rather than incentivize its expansion.
  • The U. S. has poor social cohesion at best. It’s a structural issue.
  • A large concentration of immigrants from a single country reduces our already weak social cohesion.
  • Weakened social cohesion makes other things (e.g. sensible health care reform) politically more difficult than they otherwise might be.
  • We shouldn’t incentivize illegal immigration.
  • A path to citizenship is an incentive, even if a weak one.
  • Separating the issue of legal status from the issue of citizenship reduces the political incentives for unlimited immigration, shifting it just a little from the political arena to the economic one. It will make it easier to craft a policy.
  • The citizenry should decide who gets to be a citizen, not non-citizen immigrants.

In the absence of any actual counter-argument, any reasonable argument should prevail and the above are reasonable arguments.

14 comments… add one
  • Guarneri

    Its a shame Doug has become afflicted with a serious case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. He otherwise writes interesting and thought provoking essays.

    I think he errs in asserting conservative views on DACA without noting that opposition by many, if not most, conservatives is rooted in the fact that DACA fixes are inevitably linked with failure to address the chain migration issue, not to mention your points. It becomes a deal killer, and a convenient political tool for DACA amnesty supporters.

  • Just a few points.

    My citation of the poll data was directed more to the argument that conservatives who oppose a path to citizenship are out of step not only with the majority of Americans but with the majority of self-identified Republicans. To the extent that they care about the political fortunes of their party, this seems to me to be a valid consideration. Indeed, in the wake of the 2012 elections, it was one of the primary arguments of the “autopsy” conducted by the Republican National Committee. Instead of paying attention to those arguments, Republicans (principally in the House of Representatives) cast their lot with the immigration restrictionists, including people who are openly calling for massive reductions in *legal immigration*.

    And yes, there is a moral element to the immigration debate. I think it’s a mistake not to recognize that. If the DACA beneficiaries and others are to be legalized, I haven’t really seen any policy-based arguments for why they should not eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship when they become eligible to do so. Also, the fact that many people with Permanent Resident status don’t take advantage of the law that allows them to apply for citizenship doesn’t strike me as being very convincing. Perhaps the majority of Dreamers will do this, perhaps they won’t. My point is that there really isn’t any good reason for why they should not eventually be given that opportunity.

    As I also note in the post, it also seems reasonable for any solution to the DACA issue specifically or illegal immigration generally could provide that such people will have to wait longer than others before becoming eligible for citizenship. It would be an appropriate way to address the argument that these people are being given something that many people are still waiting after many years to obtain thanks to a sclerotic and far too complication legal immigration system such as the one we currently have in place.

    I also disagree with the assertion that the proposal I put forward, which was really more of a response to an argument common among those on the right, is equal to “open borders.” I have never said I support that, although I have said I support reforms to legal immigration that would make the process easier and far more open. This would include changes both for people who would be on a path toward Permanent Resident Status and eventual eligibility for citizenship and for those who seek to come to the United States for more limited periods of time, such as those who come under H1-B and other employment-related vias and some solution to the migrant worker issue, specifically migrant farm workers, that would grant such people more certain status and some protections under labor laws that they do not currently have.

    In any case, this is far too complicated an issue to address completely in a blog post or a blog comment, but that’s basically the framework from which I’d start.

  • Guarini,

    This has nothing to do with Trump.

    Indeed, Republican immigration restrictionists are the ones responsible for wrecking both the entirely reasonable immigration reform proposal that was pending in Congress during George W. Bush’s second term and the immigration reform package put forward by a bipartisan group of Senators in 2013.

    What the rise of Trumpism in the GOP proves, though, is that the immigration restrictionists have won the debate in that party. This is not in the long-term political interests of the GOP due to the rising importance of the Latino vote.

  • I haven’t really seen any policy-based arguments for why they should not eventually be allowed to apply for citizenship when they become eligible to do so.

    If you haven’t seen them, you should read more carefully because I present several of them.

    I also disagree with the assertion that the proposal I put forward, which was really more of a response to an argument common among those on the right, is equal to “open borders.”

    If there are no verifiable and enforced criteria for determining who comes into the country and who does not or who becomes a citizen and who does not, you are de facto supporting open borders.

    Consider the case of the DACA recipients. A 35 year old man came into the United States at age 15 by himself. He did in fact break the law by doing do. He should not be eligible. If he claims that he came with his parents and his parents are dead now or returned to Mexico, how in the world would his claims be verified? There is no practical way to do so.

    As I’ve said, I support legal status for the DACA beneficiaries and even a path to citizenship when a) criteria are established for it and b) their claims can be verified. I think it’s difficult if not impossible to do so unless the criteria are so loose than practically anyone can qualify.

  • There’s a moral argument, too. Mercy isn’t the only virtue. Justice is a virtue, too. Taking something that doesn’t belong to you is unjust.

    Neither residency nor citizenship belong to illegal immigrants. They’re being unjust. To the best of my knowledge no country in the world accepts squatters rights as a sole basis for citizenship. Birthright citizenship, yes. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims a right of emigration but not a right of immigration.

  • Guarneri


    Please read carefully. The Trump snark dealt with your inordinate volume of Trump postings over there, not immigration. Its grown embarrassing to watch. And by the way, I meant what I said. Your essays, especially when you deconstruct legal issues have always been interesting to read. Its your blog, not mine, and you can do whatever you want. But the Trump-bashing has become downright petty at times. But I suppose it feeds the similarly inclined commenters there these days.

    As far as immigration, in the here and now I maintain that the chain migration issue is the poison pill provision. Its not an unreasonable position to restrict the DACA fix to the DACA fix, and not incorporate an immigration multiplier provision of 9-15x. Dave can obviously speak for himself, but he has observed in the past that Democrats really want, as he puts it, the issue, and not the solution.

  • Guarini,

    Donald Trump is President and the manner in which is erratic, irrational, and downright bizarre behavior is impacting the nation domestically and internationally seems to me like a relevant topic. This is a man who has attacked the free press, insulted everyone who dares to disagree with him, engaged in an insane mocking campaign against North Korea, defended men who sexually harass and abuse women as long as they are men he likes, and demonstrated over the past year that my long-held belief that he doesn’t belong anywhere near the Oval Office is being proven on a daily basis.

    I’m not going to discuss this topic with you any further except to say that if you don’t like something, nobody is compelling you to read it.

  • Dave,

    I did read your arguments both in the original post and in the comments and I understand where you’re coming from. I simply disagree with them. I agree that, to some extent at least, how we handle the DACA issue and the broader issue of what to do with the 11 million other people in the country illegally could have an impact on how people outside the country view things and influence a decision to try to get into the U.S. illegally. That’s one reason why I support enhanced border security as well as some version of E-Verify (although I have many privacy-based concerns about that issue that are subject for another day.) Both of these measures would likely go a long way toward reducing cross-border illegal immigration, although its worth noting that a substantial portion of “illegal immigrants” consist of people who overstayed their visas. Border security isn’t going to do much of anything to address that issue.

    Additionally, though, as I said in my comment above, I think we need to consider measures making legal immigration easier, less bureaucratic, and swifter than it presently is. This includes not only people seeking become Permanent Residents but also those seeking to come here for work, such as the H1-B and migrant worker issues I noted above. Fixing the legal immigration issue would likely have the impact of reducing the incentive of people who want a better life from them and their children to follow that legal path rather than the far more dangerous path of trying to get into the country illegally.

    On the whole, though, what I’m envisioning is based on the premise that, on the whole, immigration is good for the country. I am aware of the counter-arguments on this point, both cultural and economic, but I find them ultimately unconvincing. In the long run, immigration has always benefited the United States both economically and culturally and I see no reason to believe why this wouldn’t be the case going forward. I also note that many of the arguments made against immigration today are the same ones that were raised in the past when immigrants were coming here from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe. They didn’t prove to be true then, and I don’t think they’ll be proven to be true now despite the fact that the primary sources of immigration now can be found in Latin America, Asia, and, to some extent, Africa. I suppose someone who doesn’t believe this premise will reject my position, but then we’re ultimately talking about moral and policy positions that people are going to disagree about.

  • I simply disagree with them.

    That’s right. It’s not that there aren’t any good arguments. You just disagree with them.

    The circumstances a century ago were markedly different than those now and Italy or Sweden is not Mexico, because of proximity not ethnicity.

  • The circumstances a century ago were markedly different than those now and Italy or Sweden is not Mexico, because of proximity not ethnicity.

    Of course, in recent years Mexico has become a far smaller source of immigration into the United States, either legal or illegal, than it was in the past. This is due in no small part to improvements in the Mexican economy. Present day immigration from Latin America is principally coming from Central America, and it’s far more difficult to get to the U.S. from Honodura, Guatamala, or El Salvador than it is to get here from Mexico. One of the ways we can address immigration from these nations is to find ways to help the governments in these countries improve their economies so that the incentives to leave are reduced. As evidenced by his rhetoric about NAFTA and other issues, it seems clear that the current Administration is not interested in pursuing those options. It’s also worth noting that the fastest growing source of immigration into the U.S is Asia, not Latin America.

  • Guarneri

    Doug takes his ball and goes home. Not surprised.

    BTW. Guarneri. Guarneri. He was an Italian lute maker. The moniker is simply a reference to the stereo speakers in one of my systems. Made by Sonus Faber. Quite beautiful in particular with opera and male/female voice in general. If you get a chance take a listen.

  • Doug takes his ball and goes home. Not surprised.

    No, merely stating the obvious. You can choose what to read and what not to read. I can choose to state my opinions.

  • From your response to my observation I see you don’t understand what’s changed since 1900. In 1900 wages for low-skilled or unskilled workers were rising. Today they’re flat or declining. The new unskilled immigrants of 1900 didn’t push wages down at the bottom of the scale. Today’s unskilled immigrants do. That hurts native-born blacks, poor whites, and previous cohorts of immigrants.

    Additionally, Mexico’s proximity and the heavy clustering of Mexican-American populations facilitate lack of assimilation. That’s reflected in the much later adoption of English by Mexican immigrants and their native American children than is true of most immigrant groups—a whole generation more if not longer.

    If we shared a 1,500 mile land border with Ireland or Sweden and their median incomes were a quarter of ours, I’d want to limit Irish or Swedish immigration, too.

    One of the ways we can address immigration from these nations is to find ways to help the governments in these countries improve their economies so that the incentives to leave are reduced.

    I agree with that. I’m one of the minority of Americans who think that our foreign aid, particularly to Latin America, should be increased.

    However, we shouldn’t lose sight of the waggish comment about foreign aid to the effect that it consists of poor people in rich countries giving money to rich people in poor countries. Programs need to be tailored carefully to what the people in the countries actually need rather than backdoor subsidies to American companies.

  • TastyBits

    @Dave Schuler

    In the absence of any actual counter-argument, any reasonable argument should prevail and the above are reasonable arguments.

    So, you are a stupidface & poopiehead (or as the sophisticated crowd says, “wear a diaper on your head”.

    @Drew (AKA @Guarneri)

    … chain migration issue …

    You may or may not agree, but it includes a physical barrier that will outlast one president’s term. E-verify and unreasonably strong employer consequences should be included. (Crippling fines, lengthy prison sentences, etc.)

    … Guarneri… a reference to the stereo speakers …

    Then, you should have been “@Airship too Heavy to Fly” a long time ago. (Hopefully, I do not need to explain.)

    Morality is not pulled from thin air. Nor is it created fully-formed. Moral issues require a philosophical framework, and a philosophical framework requires a metaphysical and epistemological basis.

    Our host uses a Catholic framework, and others use a pre-Darwinian philosophical framework. ‘Just because I say so’ is not a philosophical basis for anything, and no amount of consensus can make it so.

    If the people who ‘want a better life for them and their children’ were not allowed to flee their shithole country, their country might be less of a shithole.

    Recently, Geraldo Rivera said that he was willing to compromise on The Wall, and he admitted that he opposed The Wall because he believes in “free-flow across the border”.

    Other than money, there is no reason to oppose The Wall. It simply restricts “free-flow across the border”. All the stomping, pouting, and holding of one’s breath is because the alternative is to say, “I support Open Borders.”

    Interestingly, the pro-Infrastructure Spending crowd is opposed to spending money on The Wall or its upkeep. Without a philosophical basis, there are no contradictions.

    Finally, there will always be a group that wants all illegal immigrants thrown out. Big deal. There is always some group who want the extremes. Exhibit A: bakers and photographers. (Are there no anti-gay marriage wedding planners, wedding staff, ice sculptors, etc.?)

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