Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Submitting to the Rising Tide

By David G. Young

Washington DC, June 12, 2007 --  

Trying to stop immigrants from coming is like trying to hold back a rising tide. Given America's heritage of open immigration, it's wrong to even try.

Somewhere in the lonely desert southwest of Tucson, electronic surveillance towers are rising -- a product of America's latest effort to stop immigrants sneaking over the southern border. Many politicians believe such measures are critical. Congressmen know that there is no way they can overcome public opposition to the normalization of the status of America's illegal immigrants without offering a plan to prevent another generation of migrants from following.

An effective barrier, however, is pure fantasy. Since Operation Gatekeeper started putting up the triple fence south of San Diego in 1994, all attempts to build barriers have simply altered the location of immigrants' arrival. Despite all attempts to stop them, the success rate of illegal Mexican immigrants has held steady for years at around 450,000 annually.1 Determined immigrants go around barriers much like a rising tide finds every possible way around a sea wall.

The last major policy reform, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, legalized the presence of about 2.7 million people who had violated immigration laws.2 But because it was a one-time act, the number of illegal immigrants has been rising steadily since then. Estimates of the number of illegal immigrants in America today range from 7 million to 20 million.3

The vast majority of these people have no intention of ever going home, and barring unconstitutionally draconian measures, they never will. These people live in a shady world without full civil rights and legal protections. They are can't use the legal system out of fear of being deported should their immigration status be discovered. If rare, this might be considered an acceptable problem. But it has become so common that a two-tiered society is developing by accident. The only way to prevent America from accidentally becoming a South Africa-like apartheid society is by legalizing the presence of these immigrants.

Many right-leaning Americans are offended by the idea of an amnesty. Illegal immigrants have broken the law, they note, and if Americans are to live under the rule of law, illegal immigrants must not be rewarded. This argument might be more persuasive if it weren't for the utter moral bankruptcy of immigration law.

The American republic was founded on the idea that people posses certain natural rights, including the freedom of movement. America had essentially no restrictions on immigration for most of its history. Until the Chinese Exclusion act of 1882, there were no federal laws regulating migrants. And for the next 40 years, until the Emergency Quota Act of 1921, there were absolutely no limits on European or Latin American immigrants.

During immigration's golden era at Ellis Island during the turn of the 20th Century, new arrivals streamed in almost without hindrance. A stunning 98 percent of everyone who arrived uninvited at Ellis Island were allowed to settle in America, typically after only a few hours processing time.4 A few decades earlier, during the peak of the wave of Irish immigration to America, millions climbed off wooden sailing ships in Boston, Philadelphia or New York without any government review whatsoever.

Compare this to last year, when government bureaucrats allowed a measly 170,000 Mexicans to move to the United States5. Just as with the Irish in the 19th century, there is an enormous desire by Mexican workers to come to America at the exact same time that there is en enormous desire by American employers to hire Mexican workers. Given the government's refusal to allow them to come legally, it is no surprise that 450,000 Mexicans resort to sneaking in the country every single year.

Most of those who complain about the "illegal" behavior of today's immigrants are in a morally dubious position. Their ancestors arrived in America in not-so-distant time when there was no such thing as "illegal" immigration -- all immigration was legal. Today's immigrants are exercising the same natural right to freedom of movement as did the ancestors of every single person born in America6. Now, however, in the vast majority of cases, Americans have the audacity to call such immigration a crime.


1. Pew Hispanic Center, Indicators of Recent Migration Flows from Mexico, May 30, 2007

2. Center for Immigration Studies, New INS Report: 1986 Amnesty Increased Illegal Immigration, October 12, 2000

3. Christian Science Monitor, Illegal immigrants in the US: How many are there? May 6, 2006

4. National Park Service Ellis Island History - A Brief Look, As posted June 10, 2007

5. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics, Annual Flow Report, U.S. Legal Permanent Residents: 2006, 2006

6. While Native Americans arrived on the continent much earlier than other Americans, it is generally accepted that all Native Americans are descended from people who emigrated from northeast Asia many thousands of years ago.

Related Web Columns:

Meet the Parasites, April 4, 2006

Out of the Sand!
America's Failed Immigration Policy
, July 22, 2003

Crossing Borders With Uncrossed T's, April 2, 2002

Constitutional Rights: DENIED, December 11, 2001

Lessons of the Conquistadors, April 4, 2000

Constitutional Apartheid
America's New Political Underclass
, March 9, 1999