Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Posner gives conservative case for amnesty - it's just like snitching!

I don't say this often, but thank heavens for Federal Circuit Judge Richard Posner.

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.


Anonymous said...

Whether one agrees with Justice Posner's proposed solution or not, he sure does lay out the facts and hits at the very core of the reason behind our outrageous immigration laws - fear of culture change.

I think the Democrats and Hillary in particular should go back and read a book by a Democratic Party Icon, JFK: A Nation of Immigrants. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

One of the main reasons people are up in arms is because of the language barrier (not to mention how nationalistic and resistant to assimilation Mexicans are). The judge pointed out that we didn't lose our culture when previous waves of immigrants came, but that is a flawed argument. That was then. People HAD to learn English to function in this society. Plus, when they came to America, they were PROUD to be American. Immigrants today come here and don't want to be American at all. They want to me a Mexican (insert any other country) living in America. Not an American.

Today, with technology, the internet, and the prevalence of Spanish language media (plus the fact that many, many, many immigrants come from Spanish speaking countries), immigrants (legal and otherwise) don't feel they need to learn English. Do other countries cater to immigrants the way we do? If I moved to Brazil, would I expect everything to be in English for me since I don't speak Portuguese?

Someone said it best in another response. For grits in English, press 1. For grits in Spanish, press 2.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

German immigrants in Texas who came here in the mid 19th century continued to speak German in the home well into the 20th (my father claims to have known a fellow at UT in the 50s whose family still spoke German around the house). This isn't the first time in history people speaking a different language came to the US. Give them a chance to assimilate and those who want to stay will do so.

Those who don't want to stay are just here to work, make money, then go back home, so what's the big deal?

Anonymous said...

There are places near San Antonio where even today the only language spoken is Czech. There is a small town North of Waco where everyone speaks French. These are multi-generational communities, not new-comers. There are also many, many first-generation Hispanics who are proudly serving in the US Military, even though their families don't speak more than a few words of English.

Let me put it in language cow people will understand: hybrid vigor. That's a lot of what has made the US great over its history. Old Salty

Anonymous said...

Before World War 2, many of our German immigrants spoke only German, had newspapers of their own in German, sent their kids to German school, and flew the German flag.

They assimilated eventually because the government made no allowances for not understanding English.

Catering to a few of the many immigrant groups is unfairly discriminatory, for one, and only delays assimilation.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

And what harm, precisely, was caused by Germans and Czechs in Texas who took several generations to assimilate? From an historical perspective, everything pretty much worked out, right?

Anonymous said...

From an historical perspective, everything pretty much worked out, right?

Spoken like someone whose wife has never forced him to go antique shopping in Fredericksburg for hours on end.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Dude, if it was only Fredericksburg! I've been dragged antiquing (it's awful that's become a verb) in every little German and Czech nook and cranny in the Hill Country.

Little known fact: The original German immigrants here were all Communists expelled after the 1848 revolutions in Europe. New York didn't want them and they wound up entering through Galveston. Comfort was the most radical town (today a GOP hotbed, if its any consolation to the culture warriors). During the Civil War they were abolitionists and sent a brigade north to join the Union who were slaughtered near Waco. They forbade churches in Comfort into the 20th Century, though anti-German sentiment around WWI pretty much put an end to such open nationalism.

It's worth mentioning that they still considered themselves Americans, though - they wanted to join the Union, not abstain from the fight, after all, just 16 years after they arrived. Today it's hard to imagine that at one time Germans were the immigrants Texans were seriously worried about, but it's within the lifetimes of our grandparents (or at least mine).

Anonymous said...

Only monument to the Union South of the Mason Dixon Line --- Comfort, Texas.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

If it's the one I'm thinking of, I believe that's a monument to the men (including young teenagers) who were massacred on behalf of the Union cause.

States controlled immigration in those days, incidentally, not the feds, was the reason they could enter through Galveston and not NYC.

Another group of immigrant lefties were Italians in Del Rio including expert stonemasons who built the still-functional network of canals running through town from the San Felipe Springs down to the river.

Texas' historical development owes a lot to immigrants who came here who other states didn't want. My bet is the same thing will be true of the immigrants leaving Oklahoma and Arizona.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget the largest monument to opposition to secession in the state. Statue about 50' high, just south of Huntsville. Sam Houston was a badass.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

True, rage, but Houston was a mixed bag. He opposed secession in 1861, but supported slavery as Texas President. His first two official acts as Texas President were to re-legalize slavery and petition for Texas' inclusion in the Union as a slave state.

I agree though, he's seldom given enough credit for opposing secession, which was a brave political act at the time. Robert E. Lee opposed secession, too. He just held a higher loyalty to the state than to the Union, as a matter of principle, but the did not believe the action was a wise one when it happened.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the slavery record in the South and even Texas is not a good thing. Because slavery wasn't as big a deal in Texas as in other CSA states he didn't see the need to secede. Lee was one step ahead and knew the war was imminent, so he chose Virginia out of no other alternative, whereas Houston thought it could be avoided. Because of that and everything Houston had done up to that time, I'd say that out of the two Houston probably had the better loyalty to his state. Lee's choice was primarily made because the war was imminent, and secondarily out of concern for the death of federalism, cloaked in loyalty to Virginia. Kind of like the "Heritage not Hate" folks today, except he wasn't illiterate.

My two cents, anyway.

Anonymous said...

Even better, for grits in English, press 1. For grits in Spanish, move to Mexico and press 2.

What's the big deal? Somewhere between 1000 and 3000 people illegally enter out country every day. We have no idea who these people are. There are somewhere between 10 and 20 million illegals here. They jumped ahead of the line and should NOT be rewarded with citizenship.

The government should secure the borders as exercising sovereignty over its territory is the very first function of government, and only then can have a discussion about some kind of guest worker program to bring these people out of the shadows.

Read _State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America_ by Patrick J. Buchanan. Believe, twenty years ago I thought I would never find myself in agreement with Buchanan on anything.