While in general I find Judge Posner's quirky economics in the "law and economics" field he helped establish a bit ham-handed and supply-sided for my own tastes, for good or ill he's an unabashed conservative, and on debates about immigration these days it's difficult to find actual conservative opinions because of so many nativist ones masquerading in conservatives' garb. Deportation is not plausible, he writes on his blog, because:
The United States does not have enough police and other paramilitary personnel, or sufficient detention facilities, to round up and deport 12 million persons (our prisons and jails are bursting with 2 million inmates), and even if it did, the shock to the economy would be profound, as the vast majority of the illegal immigrants are employed.That's not a controversial comment on this blog, but it's nice to see him get reality out on the table up front instead of chasing phantoms, which is how much anti-immigration rhetoric strikes me. Posner considers much of the vitriol about immigration a product of
fear that immigrants from Mexico and Central America will alter American culture, which is still primarily northern European. The fear is similar to what many Americans felt about Irish and southern and eastern European immigration in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. The fear proved to be unfounded.I was also fascinated to see the judge take on directly the idea that "amnesty" rewards crime, comparing the notion of all things to snitching in a criminal case. Yes, he said, "amnesty"
rewards illegal behavior. But that is something done all the time without controversy. A criminal who agrees to rat on an accomplice may be given a break in sentencing; that is the equivalent of rewarding an illegal immigrant for coming forward and paying a fine to regularize his status.What's good for the goose is good for the gander, huh? As a critic of the overuse of snitching, I'm not sure how I feel about that argument, but it's fascinating to see it made. Here's an example where rewarding criminal informants has become so common and accepted, the practice actually sets a precedent in the mind of a federal appellate court judge for other situations where government rewards lawbreakers when it's deemed to be in the public interest!
Humorously, Posner thinks that the option of doing nothing poses "a number of attractions." His analysis shows why illegal immigration has evolved the way it has - our nation benefits in many ways from the status quo that are downplayed by immigration critics:
Most illegal immigrants are hard-working, many will return to their country of origin after accumulating some savings (but be replaced by others), most do pay taxes but do not receive social security and other benefits, they are less prone to commit crimes than the average American (the reason is that if convicted of a crime they would be deported after serving their prison term), and they consume less health care than the average citizen or lawful resident. Their children attend public schools, which increases the costs to taxpayers, but the parents compensate by working hard for wages that may be depressed because of an illegal worker's precarious status, paying taxes, and receiving few other public benefits besides a free public education for their kids.As it stands, Posner reasons, illegal immigrants are essentially exploited workers, more exploited than the law allows businesses to exploit US citizens. If they choose to subject themselves to this status, perhaps it's best for the bottom line just to acquiesce in the status quo, at least from an economically conservative perspective.
To me, the public safety concerns from having millions of potential crime victims and witnesses who won't cooperate with police, for example, or from so many drivers without license or insurance, outweigh any arguments for doing nothing. (The judge is more concerned with terrorists coming over a porous border, but whatever the threat, it's safety not economics that argues against the status quo.)
Posner concludes that "in practice any measure for closing off future illegal immigration would have to be coupled with an amnesty for the current illegal immigrants." It's an honest assessment based on conservative principles, but as you can tell from the comments accumulating already, it won't improve his popularity among the right-wing base. One of the benefits, I guess, of a lifetime appointment is that you get to say whatever you want.