On Illegal Immigration and World Economics

So my mother sent me a story about the children of illegal immigrants being ungrateful for the free breakfasts they get and things like that, which spured me on to write what follows. At first it was an e-mail addressed to her, but then I figured I would just post it, seeing as how I haven’t written anything about immigration on this blog. (If this is too long for you, go to the bottom to get my final take, though it won't make sense without everything in between)

Mother, the story is standard propaganda. Just as stories about immigrants dying of thirst in the desert is propaganda from the other side. They are probably true, but also probably inflated. More importantly, consider the source and the reason for writing. There are so many competing interests on the issue of immigration, I don’t know where to start.

First off this is about illegal immigration, not racist anti-immigration in general… and it’s also not. It’s also about the deficiencies of capitalism and our global economy. (Which doesn’t automatically mean I’m a communist, much as I might like to be.)

Just a few things. (Ok, so having finished this, I guess it’s not a few things.)

You can’t read the stories of Jesus and not care about the poor.

Christians need to have the primary identity in Christ, not in America, or Republicans, or Democrats or Kennedy, or Bush, or whatever.

As Christians we believe in both justice and mercy. Can anyone say “woman at the well”?

It is not about security. 9.11, Spain, London, these were all carried out by legal immigrants. So what if we have a terrorist watch list? The bosses just send a bomber over here that’s not on the list, and there is no shortage of those. They’ll fly over here on an American Airlines flight with all their paper work in order, walking right past the INS. Six months or six years later, they will carry out a terrorist attack. And if it is about security, I’ll grant you that we would be marginally safer with 10,000 more border guards and a fence. But at what price, and would it really work?

At the end of the day the border and illegal immigration is about money, more than anything else.

No matter how this goes, someone it going to benefit financially. The question is who. Arguably, more people benefit from the status quo than in any other arrangement. (Which in no way means that’s what I’m in favor of.) The illegal immigrants have moved up a few rungs so they are happy (not really, but…), even though their working conditions are terrible. Corporations make bigger profits, which translate into higher stock prices so the upper middle class and rich get richer, and some of those savings are passed on to everyone at the grocery store, so we all benefit.

Who isn’t happy? Poor Americans, who’s wages are driven lower. And the illegal immigrants, who though better off, are routinely taken advantage of.

That whole, “Americans don’t want to do these jobs” thing. They probably would if the price was right, but then you would be paying twice as much for your produce, and that is something we just can’t tolerate! Better that a few million families be split up, dad in the fields of the US, mom and kids back home than I pay even a nickel more for my oranges.

If you are barely making it here in the States as an illegal, and you can’t go to the authorities if you are abused, and your boss realizes this… think about it. How many illegal immigrant women have been raped, or men for that matter? Now you can say, “go home, and it won’t happen” but if we stop and think about it, we know this isn’t true. Many of these people would be in similar circumstances back home, different dynamics, but still poor and living hand to mouth.

(Jesus still cares about the poor, that hasn’t changed in the time it’s taken to read this far)

On this rule of law thing. Would those that advocate for “rule of law” do so if the law were open borders? Somehow, I don’t think so. Any anti-abortion advocate realizes that laws don’t necessarily represent morality or wisdom. That said, I’m not in favor of breaking them to do what is right. At least, that is my stance as an American. But if I was born a poor Guatemalan, you bet I would be headed to the US, consequences and “morality” be damned.

What this issue really highlights is our broken international finance and labor market/economy. This is about more than just the border between Mexico and the U.S. Of course its not broken by Wall Street’s standards, things are humming along just fine there. A few million, getting rich on the backs of the billions working our mines, fields, brothels (usually not by choice), and hotels; here and around the world. Again this is not just about illegal immigration between the US and Mexico, it’s about the haves and the have nots the world over.

The question for Christians is so what? There is a lot more I could say, but I’ll just leave it at this, focusing on the illegal immigration thing.

At the end of the day I’m in favor of helping the poor, no matter where they come from or what they have done. And I’m in favor of tougher illegal immigration standards, and I’m in favor of more legal immigrants, and I’m in favor of raising the standard of living for all of America’s poor. Full Stop. (as the British would say.)


Bill said...

I think we are very much on the same page.

David Fields said...

I think I can get behind most of what you say, but I think that you might be making the issue a little too broad. Before we start berating American and Western consumption, we have to understand that this very consumption is driving the world economy and allowing for a rise in living standards of people all over the world. This system of the America and Western Europe consuming while the rest of the world producers is not ideal, but it is the system that we have and it is not going to be changed any time soon. I am no expert but I think part of the answer is for countries to develop their own markets rather than export to America and Europe, but that is probably easier said then done.

I think that we need stricter immigration laws, but at the same time we need a much high quota. We need immigrants to come but we make it very difficult to get here. I think you are right that many people do not want the laws changed because they want to keep illegal immigrants marginalized so they can be exploited. This needs to stop.

David Best said...


"but I think that you might be making the issue a little too broad."

probably. If I was talking just about economics, definately. But this is more about ethics, ethics I will leave up to Christian and moreal econimists and business leaders to work out.

The fact is that the haves, wherever they live, often get rich on the backs of the have-nots. not always, but often.

wennejunk said...

I've written very few real letters to Congress and The President. I posted the one I sent recently on just this topic.

I'm no expert, but:

1. Yes we have a moral obligation to help those who are poor. That help can take many forms. As Christians, who are charged to obey our officials (put in place by God), this help to the illegal poor, who have broken our laws, places us in the wrong. If we feel the laws are wrong, we should lobby to change them. If we feel they are immoral (ala abortion), we have an obligation to act on our conscience, regardless of the personal consequences. A wrong law does not automatically equal immoral. I think the law is neither wrong nor immoral.

2. Supply and Demand. Ultimately, it is about money. That's why they come, that's why employers use them. Affect demand, you affect supply. (Not really, but you decrease the incentive to break the law as the payoffs are lower, so the effect is the same). Either enforce the law or change the law.

3. A larger issue is why are they not employed in Mexico? It is an oil wealthy country, which should enjoy a much higher and broader standard of living. Our efforts should be focused towards helping Mexico reform and grow, while closing down the borders to illegal immigration.

4. I think it is about security or at least the perception. From what I believe to be true, if I had ill intentions towards the U.S. I wouldn't fly here. I'd fly to anywhere south and work my way north. I would be much less likely to do so if I knew that there was a high probability I would be caught.

David Best said...

thanks for your comments wennejunk. This is not an easy topic.