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Don't Make Me Check IDs

All efforts to regulate immigration aren't racist, but some people are using the discussion to disguise prejudice in code.
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Thanks to Melissa Lafsky for Case for Open Immigration today on the Freakonomics blog on The New York Times. She interviews Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. He has a very healthy perspective:

I think freedom of movement is one of the most basic human rights, as anyone who is denied it can confirm. It is abhorrent that the rich and the educated are allowed to circulate around the world more or less freely, while the poor are not -- causing, in effect, a form of global apartheid.

Yes, thank you, this moves the discussion up a few notches to where it really belongs. Just as water seeks to level its surface, so, too, humans, moving en masse, seek to level their opportunity. Let's at least recognize, as we discuss immigration, what's at stake.

This has been bothering me since last spring when I first saw the proposal that, as a business owner, I'm supposed to enforce INS law -- catching fake social security numbers. I don't want to do that and I don't want anybody in my employ to do that. Won't that point first at ethnic Hispanics? Won't they feel that they've been assumed guilty until proven innocent? Is that what we want for any ethnic group in this country? What about the vast majority of Hispanics who aren't illegal? Is this what we want to do for them?

You can't pull this apart from ethnic discrimination. I don't mean that all efforts to regulate immigration are racist, but rather that some people are using the discussion to disguise prejudice in code. When they say illegal aliens they mean Mexicans. They use that code to reinforce negative stereotypes. For example, would trash in the desert be news without "illegal aliens?" Why do we suppose the Minutemen promote that story? Or how about the example of the recently-publicized crime wave in Arizona; would that have been news if it hadn't involved "illegal aliens?"

So I hope this is really about economics and policy, not xenophobia, and not prejudice. But Legrain, in the interview posted today in Freakonomics, has something to say about the economic side too:

The economic case for open borders is as compelling as the moral one. No government, except perhaps North Korea's, would dream of trying to ban the movement of goods and services across borders; trying to ban the movement of most people who produce goods and services is equally self-defeating. When it comes to the domestic economy, politicians and policymakers are forever urging people to be more mobile, and to move to where the jobs are. But if it is a good thing for people to move from Kentucky to California in search of a better job, why is it so terrible for people to move from Mexico to the U.S. to work?

Does that mean he's right? I don't know, and neither do you. At least it's a real discussion. Ultimately, I think Mexican immigration has a lot more to do with inequality of opportunity than protecting jobs. It's not about the crimes committed by losers who happen to be illegal aliens and it's not about trash left in the desert. I have two suggestions: 1.) that we separate real discussion from collective racial slurs hidden in code. And 2.) that we don't make businesses check IDs.

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