Q. How is an “open-borders” immigration policy compatible with the principle of self-interest? While we have a welfare state, isn’t it irrational to encourage immigration? Shouldn’t the openness of our borders be tied to phasing out the redistribution of our wealth? What type of principled argument is possible to allow Elián Gonzalez in, but refuse all the potential welfare beneficiaries of every other dictatorship across the globe?
A. One insidious consequence of our welfare state is the effect it has on how we evaluate others. As money is taken from us and given to those who do not deserve it, inevitably we come to regard other people primarily as threats instead of potential values. This hostility rears its ugly head in the area of immigration: potential citizens are regarded suspiciously as a drain on our lives, rather than as contributors to them. Unfortunately, this view drops the total context of why people want to move to America, and is made in ignorance of the actual economic impact of immigrants. No principled argument can be made for allowing Elián to stay and barring Chinese, Cuban or any other refugee — and none should be; we should welcome them all.
It is true that America as a whole is an international “welfare-magnet” to leeches, just as states with higher welfare payments attract more American-born bums than other states. However, that is not the only reason — nor is it even the primary reason — that people want to move here. America may provide the greatest largesse, but it also remains the freest and most productive country in the world. Liberty and opportunity are values that draw many more, higher caliber people than the welfare state does of the indolent.
That leeches are relatively few and inconsequential is supported by the fact that American immigrants pay nearly $90 billion per year in taxes, consuming only $5 billion in welfare payments. (If you want to fight international welfare, note that this is far less than we contribute in state-to-state handouts around the world, including payments to a hostile United Nations and allegedly friendly totalitarian states such as North Korea.) In general, immigrants pay between $15,000 and $20,000 more in taxes than they receive in handouts over the course of their lives, and are less likely to use public benefits or become dependent on welfare than American-born citizens.
There is a ready explanation for the self-reliance of immigrants. To become an American citizen is a challenge that appeals to industrious, courageous, and determined individuals. To paraphrase Francisco d’Anconia, “None of us has ever been permitted to think he is born an American. We are expected to become one.” Even the tortuous obstacles created by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (which I fully oppose) do something to “weed out” the less persistent individuals. Conversely, those attracted by a welfare state are chronically lazy to begin with; many who would like to draw our blood are too lazy to make the effort. The result is that while America’s welfare state does attract parasites, the world’s last bastion of capitalism attracts hard-working producers.
That someone recognizes his own country is a dictatorship, and further, that he will risk his life to escape it, are attributes that we should embrace. This is the courage of every man who fought in the American Revolution. Such individuals are morally superior to any lethargic American-born citizen who ignores the metamorphosis of this country from freedom to statism. We desperately need more of these people, not fewer, and the same can be said for those who leave other mixed economies, particularly the highly-skilled, whose only desire is to make more money. The economic value of immigrants to the fields of science and technology is widely known, and as employment levels rise we will need more workers of every kind to perpetuate our economic growth. (This is about the only thing Greenspan has right at the moment.) We need every freedom-loving and money-loving individual we can lay our hands on.
Would it be better to have an “open-borders” policy (which we don’t) without a welfare “safety-net”? Absolutely, and we should proselytize for that, but there is no reason to punish the best people in the world — and ourselves — by shutting them out for the sake of the welfare bums who don’t amount to much, anyway.