A Modest Response on Immigration

I appreciated my Berans colleague Bert Wheeler’s post on immigration.  But I would like to offer an alternative viewpoint that does not totally disagree with his.  I understand that Dr. Wheeler is not suggesting a “no borders” policy.  Nor does he deny the necessity to screen criminals or potential terrorists.  He also does agree with the need for border security to guard against illegal immigration.  But otherwise he supports an “open borders” policy that, as I understand him, would simply allow anyone not otherwise screened out to enter legally, apply for, and receive citizenship.  I very much sympathize with his view, but cannot follow it all the way.

 

The problem, as I see it, is twofold.  First, many potential immigrants are extremely low-skilled, that is, they have little or no human capital.  That would not necessarily be a problem in an era in which only basic minimal skills are all that are required for most jobs and/or where we didn’t already have a fairly large pool of unskilled workers.  But higher skilled jobs are becoming the norm, if they haven’t already.  And many low-skilled people already live in this country.  In saying this, I am not attacking low-human capital individuals as somehow inferior as persons before God.  Nevertheless, they do possess that characteristic to the extent they have very little skill as potential employees.  And that has ramifications.

Second, the Federal government and a good many states, especially California, have in place extensive welfare programs. Kerry Jackson wrote this, published in the National Review (january 23, 2018):

 

“In fact, California recipients of state aid receive a disproportionately large share of it in no-strings-attached cash disbursements. It’s as if welfare reform passed California by, leaving a dependency trap in place. Immigrants are falling into it: Fifty-five percent of immigrant families in the state get some kind of means-tested benefits, compared with just 30 percent of natives, according to City Journal contributing editor Kay S. Hymowitz.” (emphasis added)

 

If hundreds of thousands of immigrants with low skills come to the United States, our welfare systems will be strained, to say the least, and possibly unsustainable.  Moreover, is it fair or just to force everyone else to support this potentially large number of immigrants.

 

It might be supposed that any large number of low-skilled immigrants would be effectively self-regulating.  As the job markets became glutted, they would stop coming.  But what about the welfare programs?  And would the lack of good information prevent any fast response to fewer jobs?  

 

But let’s also address the claim that Dr. Wheeler’s policy is the Biblical one.  The basis for his policy was Genesis 1: 26-31, that all humans are created in the image of God.  That is a correct statement with many important implications.  However, I cannot see how he went from that true proposition to the policy conclusion he reached.  There may be some implied steps in the argument, but they aren’t stated, so I can’t give any good evaluation.

 

Dr. Wheeler also cites a few other verses that don’t seem to make his case.  He lists several verses about “the sojourner.”  They are relevant and do refer to a non-Hebrew.  But none say how the non-Hebrew got where he was, only that since he is there, he should be treated with dignity under a rule of law, and not oppressed.  But he may have arrived through some kind of immigration process, although I do doubt that the Hebrew polity had any such mechanism.  The problem though is that those verses are an argument sanctioning an open policy from silence. An argument from silence is at best speculative.  Moreover, Dr. Wheeler omits verses requiring the stranger/sojourner to obey the laws of the Hebrew polity.  

 

Of course, if the United States moved to a merit-based immigration system, we would still have to have a discussion about the criteria to be applied for allowing some individuals in and denying other entry.  Let’s not pretend that will be easy.  Nor should Christians be too flippant about it.  I don’t like having to deny people entry to a nation where they might flourish.  But on the other hand, if we don’t limit some kinds of people (not based at all on race, etc.), then we could end up killing the “goose that laid the golden egg” and then no one flourishes.  Perhaps there is some way to allow those low-skilled people in without promising and delivering massive welfare benefits.  Perhaps we could limit benefits to a short time period, on condition that they get jobs within some time frame.  Yes, this is a massive economic problem but also a huge moral issue for Christians.  Dr. Wheeler has raised one side of the issue, and I appreciate it and sympathize, but there is another side.

45 thoughts on “A Modest Response on Immigration”

  1. If God had wanted us to use the Bible to find answers regarding modern issues such as immigration, God would have clearly given us those answers. There would be no need for a debate–it would be settled.

    But God has not done so. God apparently expects us to use our own reason to come up with answers.

    Regarding using their reason, Bert and Marc both have done a better job here than the White House has done. Not damning with faint praise, but giving out a sincere compliment.

    1. I agree with your caution, which is why I appreciate that none of the Bereans cast dogmatic lines on policy as a habit. It’s good to be focused on biblical principles even if we can’t say for certain that something this modern is necessarily proscribed clearly.

  2. Agreed, and let’s also not forget recent Obama era DOJ figures that show almost 25% of violent crimes are committed by illegals. Ignoring this would not make us very good stewards either.

    1. No one is suggesting that we not take people’s criminal history into account. I fail to see how this is relevant. Can you explain how deregulating immigration to make legal immigration easier makes this worse?

      1. So you think we will be able to obtain factual criminal records from their previous countries? We know the push back that was received for extreme vetting. There should be no easing of immigration rules in an era where terrorism and major crimes are disproportionately committed by legal and illegal immigrants.

      2. Yes, most of the time we can obtain factual records from other countries.

        No one is suggesting extreme vetting but you. What do you even mean by that?

        Terrorism and crime are not an immigration problem. Most of our mass shootings are perpetrated by our citizens. Or are you referring to the Bowling Green Massacre?

        Now you’re against legal immigration as well?

      3. So do you think a criminal from Mexico would submit themselves to an immigration process? Back to where we are now, stopping illegal immigrants.

      4. How does that answer anything I asked you? No one is saying criminals should be allowed. Everyone is okay with deporting violent criminals. You’re arguing with nobody, and ignoring the people talking to you.

  3. A couple of points:

    1) I couldn’t agree more with your position that the social welfare costs are a major impediment to having a more open immigration system. I believe, as I suspect you do too, that the social welfare system is already substantially strained, and its capacity to rapidly absorb large numbers of applicants is quite limited. Of course, this has some implications for the soon-to-be-retired baby boomer generation, but we best not deal with too many problems at one time.

    2) I’m not sure I’m completely in agreement with your proposition that the job market would be “glutted” as a result of new workers. It’s entirely possible that there may be some disproportionality in the distribution of workers, but would there be a general glut? I’m not so sure of that. Low-skilled labor is highly mobile and easily employable in any field, thus the imbalance will work itself out. The problem, I believe, is not necessarily that we can’t absorb the workers, but, rather, that we can’t absorb them at a minimum wage of $15/hr. If wages are entirely negotiable, the low-skilled workers will find work (which is apparently better than what they get in their home countries, otherwise they wouldn’t be here), and they will proceed to gain the necessary skills for a promotion. Thus, I can’t help but think that the immigration issue and the minimum wage issue are linked. Employers are profit-seeking (and by implication, cost-minimizing) and will hire low-skilled labor if is offered at an affordable rate. At $15/hr., I doubt they will spring for an army of low-skilled workers. $5/hr. isn’t optimal, but it’s markedly better than $0/hr.

    3) Thank you for raising the issue that the Bible only talks about how to treat the sojourner once they are in the country and not about whether or not they should be allowed in. It’s an important distinction to make.

    4) All this being said, there is good cause for believing that an increase in immigration is ultimately beneficial considering the pitiful replacement rate being experienced in this country. https://www.wsj.com/articles/immigration-is-practically-a-free-lunch-for-america-1516320376
    Sustainable growth needs to come from somewhere, and I am curious to know how open you would like the border to be?

    1. Another closely related topic is the political angle. Clearly the Democrats are motivated by seeking low skilled immigrants as an increase to their voter base. Anytime entitlements are involved they will use them to increase power. Imagine the socialistic slide if they are able to stack the deck with handout seekers.

      1. This post is incredibly insulting. I suggest you think about how rude you are being to people who disagree with you. You are not being loving or trying to understand your neighbor.

      2. I understand just fine. But the truth is not always a pleasant thing. Many today are more concerned with hurt feelings than the truth.

      3. Yes, but sometimes being insulting is also incorrect, as in this case. You’re making up a conspiracy. You can’t prove anything you’ve claimed, you’re just attacking democrats.

        Which is really confusing because Clauson isn’t even arguing with a Democratic position: Dr. Wheeler suggested open immigration, not Obama.

      4. No conspiracy. You need to study voting demographics. But yelling conspiracy is a popular defense of those denying the obvious. I suspect neither of us will convince the other to change our minds.

      5. Maybe minorities don’t vote for Republicans because Republicans don’t appeal to them. Have you considered that voting trends could be because of what the parties offer, not because of a sabotage?

        I’m not denying the obvious. You aren’t even making an argument, you’re just saying it’s obvious. Can you explain? Using facts?

      6. If you do not understand that the current radical leftist Dems stand for entitlements, the welfare state and anything goes morality while Republicans expect work ethic, accountability and traditional morals, then you’re beyond reasoning with. Goodbye.

      7. You’re a strange one. If you can’t give evidence for your attack it’s odd you’d expect anyone else to believe it. Keep throwing out caricatures though, I’m sure it’ll help you have productive discussions in the future.

      8. Tom T.

        Theophilus is well worth reasoning with. All he is asking for evidence.

        That said…

        Theophilus,

        Tom T. is not incorrect. His problem is he is using too broad a brush. Not all Democrats think in the way he says, but some clearly do. Evidence?

        Here is a quote from a memo written by former Clinton communications director Jennifer Palmieri for the Center For American Progress (CAP) Action Fund…

        “The fight to protect Dreamers is not only a moral imperative, it is also a critical component of the Democratic Party’s future electoral success… If Democrats don’t try to do everything in their power to defend Dreamers, that will jeopardize Democrats’ electoral chances in 2018 and beyond,”

        So yes, many Democrats might view helping Dreamers and immigrants as a moral issue, but they are hardly ignoring the potential “electoral benefits”.

      9. Nathan,

        Tom T is absolutely incorrect. You even admit this when you go on to explain why you think he is incorrect.

        DACA is not a path to citizenship. Legal protections would protect Dreamers from deportation, not give them a vote. You’re interpreting this in the most cynical way possible. You can just as easily figure that she means that betraying their base on this issue will hurt their odds in the coming elections. And all of this is coming from a leaked memo, something I routinely hear we aren’t supposed to give much credibility. Or are we now believing leaks? If that’s the case we have a lot to talk about.

        More importantly, this doesn’t help Tom in the slightest. It does not prove they are stacking the deck with handout seekers. It does not prove that low skill voters are in their pockets. Most democrats aren’t even socialists. They don’t stand for handouts and ‘anything goes’ morality, that’s completely preposterous.

        And, for the record, the part of Trump does not stand for morality and accountability either. It cannot without collapsing under a crushing weight of hypocrisy.

        I’m disappointed, Nathan. He’s not worth defending, and neither are his weird conspiratorial ideas that you don’t agree with. It’d be like someone else saying the Koch brothers are controlling our government or that Republicans are all beholden to the Military Industrial Complex. We’re better than this.

        Or, if we’re not, then I’m afraid we’re never going to have a productive discourse with different views. How can you if you think your opponents are a radical, existential threat to your country and morality itself? That’s how we talk about ISIS. We should not talk about fellow citizens like that.

      10. I have a quick question, Theo. Where do you fall on the political diamond? I can’t pin you to a certain corner…

      11. Honestly I see myself as a centrist, I seem to be left of my conservative friends and right of my liberal ones. I support a generally free market with robust regulations drawn outside of partisan lines. I generally support welfare as an efficient means of helping poor people, and I think most of my conservative friends do not give credit to our public programs that have undeniably done us a lot of good. I don’t think my position on racial issues is a partisan one: I think an honest look at the facts should make us all concerned, because intentionally or not something is wrong. I would need more specific questions to give more specific answers, but I’m not sure I fit in a corner. Especially right now, when I feel like an outsider in the party that I naturally sympathize with.

      12. I took a political spectrum quiz of some sort and it more or less confirmed what I was thinking. I’m pretty moderate, though I do have a strong preference for international concerns and diplomacy. If that helps.

      13. Theophilus,

        At the risk of further disappointing you, you seem to be under the impression that I disagree with what Tom T. said. I do not. Here is what I was saying. In much the same manner in which you have previously cautioned Mr. Adams on some of his broad brush assaults on Republicans, so I am cautioning Tom T. on his broad brush strokes against Democrats. Just as your phrasing indicated to me that, though you disagree with the notion that all Republicans are the scum he often suggests, you still believe that at least some Republicans are what he says.

        This was my intent here. I believe there are many good, decent, Democrats who genuinely care about the welfare of this nation. I also believe there are some who are exactly what Tom T says. Since the founding of our country such people have always been with us and many times they are in places of power.

        And a brief word about socialism. I believe the Democrats are trending in that direction. Evidence? For myself, I need look no further than the popularity of Bernie Sanders, a self-avowed socialist. But just a word on him personally. You see, I actually have grudging respect for Bernie because, though I pretty much completely disagree with him politically, he is honest and forthright about who he is and what he wants. I believe he genuinely thinks going down a path to socialism is in the best interests of the country. This is where I disagree with Tom. He suggests that the Democrats motives are sinister and hostile. Me, though I think their policies are wrongheaded, do not see many of them that way.

        I believe it is perfectly logical for the Democrats to try getting people who will vote for them legalized and eligible to vote. With immigration, I think they are playing the long game. True, in the near term these people will not be voting. You are right about that. But I think many Democrats are looking ten or twenty years down the road. I have heard the phrase “path to citizenship” used too often to believe that citizenship and voting rights is not an end goal.

        Regarding welfare and handouts, the same there as well. I think the Democrats believe that people will be better off if they are taken care of by the state. I couldn’t disagree more strongly with them, but disagreement is not a questioning of their motives.

        I hope this clears up what I was trying to get at.

      14. It does, but it also further proves that you aren’t on Tom’s side here. If you think, fundamentally, that the other side is reasonable and can be talked with, you disagree with Tom. Tom isn’t interested in talking with people more liberal than him. He thinks they’re terrorists pretending to love the country in order to destroy it. You do not. Please stop misrepresenting your position to defend him.

        Some people are bad. Some conservatives run over protesters with their car. Some shoot hundreds of people from a hotel. But if I believe that is representative of my opposition I cannot say I want a representative government. Luckily, neither of us think these unfortunate incidents represent our opponents.

        So yes, we have an understanding. But no, that does not even remotely defend Tom. He’s unequivocally wrong, and not even interested in defending himself. Whether Bernie is representative of the party that didn’t nominate him for president in favor of a moderate is irrelevant.

        Some people believe it is perfectly logical for Republicans to gerrymander and pass laws that suppress votes. Some people point to the fact that Republicans don’t win majorities but still have control of our government as evidence that they are sabotaging the process. That’s not evidence that they are doing so, though. In the long run, the fact that they are repeatedly losing the popular vote will probably be a problem, but that’s a problem regardless of whether immigration happens.

        And most importantly, immigrants aren’t innately democrats, whatever Tom says. The GOP could win their vote by being relevant to their interests. If they don’t want to that’s their call, but it isn’t an argument against open immigration, unless you think policies are right or wrong based on how they benefit Republican politics.

        My point, at its core, is that Tom’s way of thinking is poisonous to the idea of representative government. We can’t have debates if both sides are so polarized that they can only see the other as a threat. And we need to recognize this and call it out, or we risk losing civility, which I think is important.

        Out of curiosity, what would you do with the Dreamers if you were dictator for a day?

      15. Theophilus,

        I appreciate your response. But where I am getting confused in your insistence that Tom T. views the other side as “terrorists pretending to love the country in order to destroy it”. Maybe he can clarify this for me if this is indeed what he thinks, but I reviewed all of his comments and nowhere did he say that Democrats were terrorists pretending to love the country. Just as you believe he is manufacturing conspiracy, it seems like you are extrapolating what is not necessarily there from his comments.”

        “And most importantly, immigrants aren’t innately democrats, whatever Tom says.”

        Oh, I definitely agree. I do not see “Demographic Armageddon” for Republicans. I just think that there are some, perhaps many, Democrats who are consciously considering being rewarded at the ballot box by these groups.

        If I were dictator for a day? …I bet you just scared alot of people with that thought 😉
        As far as Dreamers are concerned, if I were dictator for a day, they would have little to fear from me. I would most likely force Congress to accept some sort of deal that would legalize the Dreamers and fund the wall/border security.

        And I think this is perhaps one of the reasons why people like Tom T. might distrust the motives of Democrats on this issue… Personally, I thought the deal, protections for Dreamers in exchange for the wall, was a reasonable one. Many of us cannot understand why the Democrats are so against the border security measures the Republicans want in exchange that they would rather shutdown the government and imperil the very people they claim they want to help. If I were a Democrat, letting Trump have his wall would be a small price to pay for protecting Dreamers.

      16. It’s in the attitude, Nathan, and I don’t think I need to explain this. If you believe like Mark Levin or Mr. Limbaugh, then you cannot logically compromise with the other side. It’s a war, and they’re the enemy. Tom thinks his opponents want to ‘stack the deck’ with violent criminals and terrorists, and stand for ‘anything goes’ morality. These are all things he has said in his posts here. This attitude is incompatible with respectful debate. That’s my only point regarding Tom, and he proved it when he refused to defend his baseless accusations when I asked because I’m ‘beyond reasoning with.’

        I get that you like the deal being offered. What I’d like to know is what you’d do with complete control. What would you do with the DACA kids, if you could do whatever you want, no deals. Your ideal solution.

        I think a lot of what the Democrats do would make sense if we saw them like the GOP saw itself under Obama. Opposition parties are often playing hardball rather than cooperate with the other side, especially because the compromise being offered here really is not acceptable to their side.

      17. I see your point about the attitude. I am curious, do you see any responsibility for Tom T’s attitude as resting with those Democrats who feel the same way about Republicans? Personally, I think those who view other side as enemies to be beaten are at least partly that way because the other side has given them like treatment.

        My ideal solution to the Dreamers, if I had full control, would be part of a larger “package”.
        I would, had I the dictatorial power, do the following all at once in one swoop…

        1. Illegals (including Dreamers) who have lives here and otherwise have no criminal record I would pardon and grant legal residence. But before any of them can becomes citizens they would have to get in the back of the line behind all the people who patiently are going through the legal process of legally immigrating.
        2. I would build the wall
        3. Any illegal immigrant with a criminal record (by this I mean felonies, not traffic citations or minor misdemeanors) is outta here and excluded from #1.
        4. All further illegal immigrants who enter the nation would be immediately sent back upon discovery.
        5. Sanctuary cities would be abolished.

        Lastly, I would make a minor adjustment to the 14th amendment. The Birther Clause, instead of reading “All persons born… are citizens” would be changed to “All persons born to parents legally residing in the United States… are citizens”.

      18. Thanks for explaining your position. Not always easy with big issues like this. :)

        In my experience militant radicals on both sides have come to the conclusion that everyone else thinks like their hypothetical enemy does. I’ve never personally had a conversation with someone who actually is like that though. I think some people are feeding their side a tribalistic position that people who don’t know any better fall into. If you listen to some of these guys, usually big media opinion people, I don’t know how you can walk away thinking something moderate and reasonable. Almost all of the big talk personalities feed into it.

        So, no, I don’t blame the other side, because the people I know (on both sides) who are like this are not usually arguing with people who act like the stereotype they have in their head. In fact, usually they only talk to people who think like they already do.

    2. This feels more like an argument for limiting welfare, not immigration. Especially when most immigrants are ineligible for the ‘blanket’ welfare programs (states and localities may differ, of course) I feel like deregulated immigration really has no downside if you trust the markets.

      1. Yah, you’ve basically got my point. Ben Shapiro holds essentially the same position; if immigrants are allowed to negotiate wages/living conditions/etc. and don’t flood the welfare system, the market will work it out eventually.

  4. Amid a cacophony of unsustainable (albeit well-intentioned) immigration solutions, your alternate view is balanced and logical.

    Well stated.

  5. I see the same core issue here that I see brought out by Dr. Wheeler’s article; the welfare system is broken. Ultimately, it warps incentives, dishes out money the government does not have, and exacerbates the poverty problem. Fixing welfare will go a long way to fixing immigration.

  6. I agree that the welfare system is not working out very well.

    However, I think that we shouldn’t fear unskilled immigrants so much because their children and grandchildren tend to be net contributors to the American economy, which is a win-win for everyone.

      1. Sure, I was being too broad.

        To get slightly more specific, welfare should serve as a hand-up not a handout. All levels of government should look at their welfare expenditures to make sure that each dollar spent on welfare earns positive returns for individuals and for society. That should be the basic framework for all smart government.

      2. Right, but what program is failing on this? I agree, we should limit waste, I was just wondering what failure you were thinking of.

  7. I appreciate this other view on the immigration issue with our country, and I too believe that there should be some merit based system to allow entry into the country. Regarding the strain on welfare that was mentioned, are there ways we could change the welfare laws so that it is only rewarded for people searching for work and a career and to make that “merit” based in a sense too?

  8. Well-stated counter to some of Dr. Wheeler’s points. Perhaps the problem with the immigration policy we have instituted presently is that it has no firm foundation on any specific philosophy. I believe that both of your ideas have some good Biblical support, and both might be better ideas than that which we have set in place right now.

  9. I strongly agree with the statements that have been made in this discussion. There should be no reason that we allow immigrants to come into our country just to have us pay for their welfare checks. I believe that everyone should be treated fairly and that each person should have the opportunity to be an American citizen. With that said, there has to be some guidelines. There has to be a limit on welfare that they can receive and they should have a time limit on how long before they have to find a job. This will encourage the people who want to be an American citizen to not only come to America but also flourish here.

    1. Actually, if you looked into our laws immigrants are limited in terms of the welfare they can receive, barring programs that a state or local government voluntarily put in place. They don’t get TANF food stamps or disability or medicare, and they actually benefit social security because their pay is taken into the system but they are ineligible to receive social security. They can get WIC if they have kids that were born here and emergency services though.

      What welfare checks are you talking about? I’m not aware of any program that gives free money to illegal immigrants.

  10. OK, let me clarify on welfare. Most immigrants come to a limited number of states. Those states also offer generous welfare programs to legal immigrants and in some cases, illegal immigrants. The Federal government is more limited, but my statement remains valid since we are also including the states.

    1. But then, as I see it, much of the impetus of your argument is lost if we acknowledge that the places with more robust welfare systems put them in place intentionally, and that they pay for them at no cost to the good folks in Ohio. What Californians do with the people living in their state is, to some extent at least, their business. They have a thriving economy, and I imagine that they have done the groundwork to figure out what kinds of programs are good for their situation. We don’t want to force a Californian solution on Appalachia, sure, but California isn’t a failing economy, what they do doesn’t seem to be collapsing their private sector. Appalachia seems to be doing a great job of keeping people from moving there, which I suppose is their prerogative.

      And with all due respect, Mrs. Hymowitz lives about as far away from California as you can get. What they do to offer assistance to people in poverty in their state does absolutely nothing to her comfortable life. She’s not ‘supporting’ their immigrants. They are, and their duly elected representatives made that decision with the sanction of their electorate.

      I don’t think we run the risk of overburdening our welfare programs if states have control of their situation and the federal government isn’t offering blanket incentives. No one’s going to Arkansas (though it’s up for debate if that’s because they offer limited welfare or because, in spite of their austerity, they’re not a growing economy).

  11. I appreciate this alternative viewpoint and commentary on Dr. Wheeler’s position on immigration, as I feel that it is more realistic. While I am inclined to believe that Dr. Wheeler’s viewpoint might be ideal, I also must acknowledge the potential problems that his preferred form of open borders would bring upon our economy and welfare system. That being said, the whole idea of “merit-based” immigration seems somewhat vague. How could we determine what the acceptable level of productivity, potential, or “merit” is to allow immigrants into the country? Even so, would this type of screening have any effect on the volume of unskilled people or criminals that would enter illegally?

  12. I resonate with the more conservative policy presented here concerning immigration. I don’t think that because we have a biblical command to care for the poor and value them as being made in the image of God it necessitates that we allow all of the poor to come live in America. I think this assertion doesn’t fully address the strategy of meeting the needs of the poor where they are. Why can’t we reach out to those in poverty and fashion policies that try to respect them as fellow created beings while helping them abroad?

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