A Voice in the Wilderness In Defense of "Mere Conservatism"

18Jan/12Off

The Plumb Line: Immigration (Part 4)

By: Caitlin Doemner, Contributor

(For Part 3, click here)

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In My Opinion

The Alabama law hits on two large issues in the immigration debate – the relationship between the federal and state government in immigration enforcement, as well as the proper scope for public benefits offered to illegal immigrants.

Federal Authority vs. State Power

As in many other cases, the lawsuits that the Department of Justice has brought against Arizona, Alabama, and other states will bring an issue that ought to be resolved in Congress to the Supreme Court’s docket.  Congress (a body of 535 elected officials with distinct views) has exclusive authority to determine immigration policy; not the Supreme Court, a body of 9 appointed members with fairly predictable viewpoints and almost no public accountability. What I fear is that when these lawsuits are brought before the Supreme Court, regardless of what they decide, it will set a significant precedent that will dramatically affect the legislation Congress is able to pass in the future.federalist_papers

In my view, the states are currently within their rights to establish enforcement policies that do not conflict with the federally-established immigration laws.  I believe one of the greatest advantages of living in a states-based country is the freedom it allows; states can respond to the different needs of their citizens while remaining unified.  If some states, like Oregon and Alaska, wish to become “sanctuary states,” and others, like Arizona and Alabama, wish to practice “attrition through enforcement,” it falls within the rights of the people. Now, by definition, this practice will result in an inconsistent enforcement of laws, with the almost inevitable result of frustration and confusion, but these are secondary to the constitutionality of the matter. My Conclusion: So long as Congress does not prohibit the states from establishing legislation regarding the enforcement of federal policy, they should be allowed to do so.

Education for Undocumented Residents

What I find ironic is that opponents of states’ rights to enact harsher legislation that is in keeping with federal law are the same people you find supporting states’ rights to enact legislation that opposes federal law, i.e. individuals who want to keep Alabama from passing legislation that mirrors Title 8 advocate giving state funding to undocumented residents which is prohibited according to Title 8.

In order to be consistent, I feel that states should have a right to establish their own legislation regarding college tuition for undocumented students, and therefore I support the DREAM Act’s initiative to eliminate the federal provision denying postsecondary benefits on the basis of residency. 

My Conclusion: Let each state’s citizens decide how to allocate their own resources, but these applicants should not be eligible for federal financial aid because it suggests an unsupported unity by the states on this matter.

If you noticed, I didn’t touch deeply on the economic consequences of providing benefits to immigrants, and that is because my research indicated (1) a lack of hard numbers substantiated by actual data, and (2) even where the numbers were available, they were nuanced and difficult to interpret alone.  For example, regarding the Alabama state law, Alabama spent an estimated $298 million on immigrants; but immigrants paid an estimated $130 million in state and local taxes (personal income, property, and sales).  Add to that the value migrant workers provide farmers in labor alone, and you have very likely evened the cost-benefit playing field. Therefore, I do not feel that economic arguments lend themselves decisively to either side of the debate.

General Thoughts

I knew very little about the immigration debate before embarking on this series of articles and honestly did not know where I would land on the issue.  Now, at the end of my research, I have decided that I favor making it increasingly difficult to enter the country illegally and increasingly easy to enter legally. As an example of what I mean: Build walls. Increase funding for border security. Allow states to enact harsh measures against illegal immigrants. But also enact the DREAM Act. Create programs that enable migrant workers to work seasonally in the United States and return to their homes when done Streamline the citizen application process to get people through as quickly and safely as possible.

I believe we would see a large increase in economic fecundity if we established a quick and simple tiered approach to working and living legally in the United States. This report about the effect of immigration on American jobs published by AEI supports my belief that immigration has a positive impact on domestic job growth.


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The basic ideas, ideals, and values that generally define and characterize the central tenets of what today might be termed "modern conservative thought."

We believe that a proper understanding of history, economics, and theology leads to certain conclusions. Many of these are the same conclusions our Founding Fathers arrived at in constructing a "more perfect union."

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