The Libertarians Get It...

| Tue Jun. 14, 2005 6:59 PM EDT

Since I got a chance to agree with a conservative, below, I may as well go all the way and note that the libertarians at CATO make a very good point about immigration. (Okay, so it's a liberal—Doug Massey—writing for a libertarian site. Still.)

Increased border enforcement has only succeeded in pushing immigration flows into more remote regions. That has resulted in a tripling of the death rate at the border and, at the same time, a dramatic fall in the rate of apprehension. As a result, the cost to U.S. taxpayers of making one arrest along the border increased from $300 in 1992 to $1,700 in 2002, an increase of 467 percent in just a decade.

Enforcement has driven up the cost of crossing the border illegally, but that has had the unintended consequence of encouraging illegal immigrants to stay longer in the United States to recoup the cost of entry. The result is that illegal immigrants are less likely to return to their home country, causing an increase in the number of illegal immigrants remaining in the United States. Whatever one thinks about the goal of reducing migration from Mexico, U.S. policies toward that end have clearly failed, and at great cost to U.S. taxpayers.

A border policy that relies solely on enforcement is bound to fail. Congress should build on President Bush's immigration initiative to enact a temporary visa program that would allow workers from Canada, Mexico, and other countries to work in the United States without restriction for a certain limited time. Undocumented workers already in the United States who do not have a criminal record should be given temporary legal status.

There's nothing even remotely approaching a consensus on immigration in this country; if you look at this Pew poll, the main proponents of temporary visas for immigrants are liberals, pro-business "enterpriser" Republicans, and swing voters positive about the economy. And even within that position, there's a lot of leeway: I would argue, for instance, that handing out "temporary" work visas without offering a clear path for citizenship, as Bush is proposing, will only encourage immigrants to work for three years and then "disappear" shortly before their time is up, staying on illegally. Widespread legalization is the way to go. Nevertheless, setting aside the larger disputes here, people ought to be able to agree, at the very least, that the emphasis on "increased border enforcement" as a panacea for all our immigration problems is inhumane, expensive, and largely ineffective.