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July 25, 2005

Defense in Depth

One of the things that really bugs me is that people tend to think very thinly - even supposed experts. Sometimes, I suppose, that is simply a result of not being willing to say what they really, think, because it would be unpopular. I prefer to think that people are Machiavellian, rather than dumb. (Evidence suggests I'm probably giving too much credit.) A key example, the one that got me writing this, is immigration.

I am a strong supporter of immigration. I think that it should basically be legal for anyone (with a few exceptions, like terrorists or organized criminals or people who have been expelled) to come to the US, for any or no reason, with next to no requirements except that we know who they are and where they are, so that we can get hold of them if we need to. I think that to make this possible, it should be very, very easy to immigrate legally to the US. Would this lower our standard of living? Temporarily, it undoubtedly would, as labor supply overbalanced labor demand, particularly at the low end.

On the other hand, if we have really open trade policies and minimal subsidies (for example, if we had only reciprocal tariffs to balance tariffs and subsidies from particular places), then the balance would be quickly struck with the rest of the world, and we'd grow in synchronization (as we do internally in the US, for the most part). This would be good for all concerned.

With all of that taken into account, we don't live in that world. And it's true, whether we like it or not, that our immigration policies are such a mess that it's easier to get and stay here illegally than legally. This will last until shortly after we figure out that coyotes smuggled a group of jihadis over the border, and they afterwards carried out a mass casualty terrorist attack. But for the moment, the proponents of illegal immigration (however much they deny it) have the field.

OK, but we have these laws about immigration, and as a matter of curiosity, I'd like to think about how we could enforce them, to prevent the aforementioned terrorists from getting and staying here. And here's where the bad thinking comes in. Most people I've been able to find recommend that we go after the employers, or that we build a wall on the border, or some other magic bullet method. Here's something that I've learned about magic bullets in my life: there aren't any. Perfection simply isn't attainable except in very, very limited areas for very, very limited times. Try going to the store to get something, and see how many times such a simple trip goes wrong due to a flat, or the store being out of stock, or forgetting your credit card.

The only kind of defense that works is a defense in depth: it is necessary to put so many different layers between your core and that which you want to stop, with different characteristics (both strengths and weaknesses) in each layer, that one of the layers will catch any given attack or effort. If we want to stop illegal immigration, we need to do all of these:

  • Make legal immigration easier for non-criminals and non-terrorists (or terrorist supporters). This includes such efforts as guest worker programs, as well as dramatic reductions in the wait times and paperwork necessary to come here.
  • Patrol the borders much more vigorously, land and sea.
  • Make deportation of non-citizens who do not have legal documents illegal unless they make a valid claim for asylum.
  • Make that deportation fast.
  • Make deportation ironclad: do not release illegals from custody until they are in their destination country.
  • Heavily fine any employers who hire illegal immigrants.
  • To catch such employers, offer a conditional amnesty: the first illegal immigrant who turns in a particular employer, provided they are otherwise eligible to be here (ie: would not be kept out if they applied legally to immigrate), gets citizenship short-circuited, while the rest of the illegals that work there are deported.
  • Do not give automatic citizenship to children born in the US: only if their parents are here legally should they be given citizenship.
  • Require proof of legal residence before issuing any government identification or providing any government services.
  • Hold liable, and fine, anyone who knowingly aids an illegal immigrant in remaining in the country.

There are more things we could do, really, but this would go a long way towards fixing the immigration problem.

If, that is, we cared about fixing the immigration problem. My hunch is that we, as a society, don't.

UPDATE: Mark in Mexico notes one part of the problem that I mentioned above: illegals who are caught get released with an order to appear before the court for a deportation hearing later. Guess how many show up?

Posted by jeff at July 25, 2005 9:10 PM

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» Cutting the immigration knot from The Glittering Eye
Jeff Medcalf of Caerdroia has a solid, intelligent post on immigration. As is usual for Jeff the post is well thought-out, sensible, and humane. I'm afraid I differ from Jeff rather substantially on this issue. In a perfect world I'd... [Read More]

Tracked on July 26, 2005 9:44 AM

» More on Immigration from Outside The Beltway
Jeff at Caerdroia has an interesting post on immigration. OK, but we have these laws about immigration, and as a matter of curiosity, I’d like to think about how we could enforce them, to prevent the aforementioned terrorists from getting and... [Read More]

Tracked on July 27, 2005 1:38 PM


Fighting illegal immigration is like the "Made in America" tags. People say they like it, but their actions speak louder. Wal-Mart used to stock a lot of American-made products in the Sam Walton days, but push for lower pricing made most of the manufacturing go overseas. People say they don't want illegal immigration, but a lot of cheap construction and farm labor would go away if we really cracked down.

Posted by: Mark L [TypeKey Profile Page] at July 26, 2005 7:41 AM

I hope people are coming to the realization that "cheap" labor is not cheap when the taxes paid by the "cheap" laborer are far outbalanced by the benefits he gets in terms of taxpayer-funded education and health care for his children.
There are plenty of people ages 15-30 who have no business being in school (no source, this is just my opinion). They can damn well work in the construction and agricultural fields (pun intended) and if prices rise a bit to cover the wages they earn, which should be sufficient for a decent living (pardon the fuzzy term), I for one am willing to pay them.

Posted by: Morenuancedthanyou at July 26, 2005 4:35 PM