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May 04, 2010



The recent attempted car bombing by a naturalized citizen who had been radicalized by an extreme form of Islam should give you pause in your "justice and human dignity" argument for open borders. It's just not that simple. An open border free-for-all would inevitably increase this sort of problem. In addition, think about the effects of a generous immigration policy in Europe. Western European countries are quickly becoming Islamic. Now I have nothing against peaceful forms of Islam, but at the same time, if I were a citizen of one of these countries I would be alarmed because I would value my own cultural heritage and would not be pleased to see it commandeered by a different culture. I would fear the effects of radical Islam on my freedom and "human dignity." Inour own country, only by the grace of God were many American lives spared thanks to bombs that did not detonate last week-end and on Christmas day. I support humanitarian efforts all over the world, but it is naive to think that an open border policy would be simple or that it would necessarily promote "justice and human dignity."


So "border controls exist for the sole purpose (because of course if national security were their motive they would look totally different) of violating justice and human dignity." Really? The "sole purpose"? So some really bad people get up in the morning, maybe, and think, "Gee, I really feel a need to violate justice and human dignity today. How can I do it? How about . . . imposing border controls." I would gently suggest that anyone who can so demonize those who disagree with him in these stark terms should perhaps step back and reflect a bit on his own thinking, motives, and prejudices.

Nathan Smith

Our border controls are designed for purposes of labor protectionism. If we wanted to stop people like the car bomber in NYC we would run the system totally differently. Many, many people who have no connections with terror and are not from demographics with propensities for terrorism are excluded from the United States. I don't think the fact that a different border control regime could have a different purpose and have a different justification is a mitigating factor as far as the institution is concerned.

Did slavery exist for the sole purpose of violating justice and human dignity? Yes and no. Of course, people wanted to get the cotton picked. But the institution by which they got this done, by its very nature, violated justice and human dignity-- or so I would claim. If you want to say that border restrictions, likewise, sustain higher wages for the American-born in a fashion inseparable from violations the justice and human dignity of our fellow human beings, by, for example, separating families by force (!!!), then fine.

Please note that the phrase SDS quotes does not, as he suggests, "demonize people who disagree with me." It demonizes an *institution,* not the supporters of that institution. Hate the sin but love the sinner. So SDS is attacking a straw man. I think there are some people in immigration politics-- Tom Tancredo, Pat Buchanan-- who do seem to just be bad people. But most people have a mixture of good intentions with a bit of cowardice and a good deal of ignorance. Sometimes it inspires in me thoughts of hope. For example, if MS understood that excluding, say, Vietnamese people, or Zimbabweans, from the US, has absolutely nothing to do with preventing terrorism, would she join me in advocating freedom of migration for those whom there are not the slightest grounds for believing are anything other than peaceful workers? Would the men chatting with Mary Kate Cary reverse their position on illegal immigration if they were informed that hardly any of those who enter illegally have the option of immigrating through legal channels?

At a time when his tax dollars are paying men to separate families by force, I wonder if SDS has anything to add on this question. For starters, might he be interested in following up on his hint, opaque to me, about my "thinking, motives, and prejudices?" I've been quite frank about my thinking and motives, and the prejudices, I would say, are all on the other side. If he thinks I have some hidden motive of which I'm unaware, would he care to explain?


There's a rather large difference, I would think, between asserting that some law, institution, or practice, adopted for understandable and prima facie legitimate reasons, in fact violates justice and human dignity (and should therefore be reformed or eliminated) and saying that the law, institution, or practice exists "for the sole purpose" of violating justice and human dignity. In my humble opinion, the latter sort of charge (on this or any other issue) will almost always be radically implausible, and it's the sort of charge that will lead most readers to conclude that the person making the charge is in the grip of some manichean delusion and is just not seeing the world clearly. Either that or the accuser is being egregiously careless in his use of language; and that isn't likely to elicit respectful engagement with the argument either.

Are only institutions, not individuals, being demonized? Let's see. "But immigration critics are rarely honest, or at least, rarely honest and well-informed. Usually they are like Mary Kate Cary and her interlocutors, masking their guilt by the threadbare rationalizations which can't stand up for one second to a glance at the facts." Sounds pretty personal to me. Basically, everyone who believes that border control is legitimate or important is either a liar or in the grip of lies and rationalizations. If only institutions were the target, the post would have to be completely rewritten.

For myself, I think the question of borders and immigration are complicated, not simple. I have no definite view on the matter, but I think people-- honest people of good will-- can have a range of views on these issues. Fairly radical or extreme "open borders" views are and should be part of the mix. But I doubt that those who hold these views will contribute much to the discussion, or will do their own positions any good, by accusing all the people who favor border controls of one kind or another (meaning nearly everyone) of promoting lies and rationalizations, or of supporting an institution that exists for the "sole purpose" of violating justice and human dignity.

Nathan Smith

To the second paragraph it is sufficient, indeed almost superfluous as it is stated even in what SDS quotes, to point out that I left open the possibility of extreme ignorance on the part of Cary. Is it "demonization" to call someone inexcusably ignorant? I should have thought not, but I don't know and I don't really care. What I would be more interested in is the following? Can SDS offer any defense of the claim, even a plausible defense which he does not himself believe, of the proposition that a non-dishonest, non-extremely-ignorant person could make the arguments made by Cary? If not, should SDS admit that the argument in the post is correct?

I did not in any way claim that "everyone who believes that border control is legitimate or important is either a liar or in the grip of lies and rationalizations." For one thing, see the mention of Mickey Kaus above. For another, my attack is on border control *as such,* but on border control for purpose of labor protectionism, which-- I would argue-- is the only motive that can account for our immigration regime, which admitted Faisal Shahzad yet deports harmless Mexican labors.

I have been feeling a little guilty, though, about the claim that our border controls serve the sole purpose of violating justice and human dignity. That statement does now seem to be indefensible. A more accurate statement (still slightly hyperbolic but mostly correct) would be to say that our border controls exist for the sole purpose of violating justice. We have high living standards; other parts of the world don't; we know that if we let them in their living standards would rise; but we're afraid that ours would fall. We're the beneficiaries of injustice and want it to continue. It's unfair to say that we want to violate human dignity. We want to violate justice, and violations of human dignity are only a side-effect.


Hmm. I must be missing something here. But I don't see anything dishonest, or ignorant, about the statement by Cary. She says, as I read her statement, that whatever the best or fairest immigration policy is, we will be able to implement it best if we first have control over our borders. Is that such an outlandish suggestion? To me, the following paragraph by Nathan comes across as pretty much a non sequitur. Cary probably knows perfectly well that not everyone will be allowed to immigrate here, and she probably doesn't believe everyone has any such right. (Although nothing in what she says precludes her, so far as I can see, from endorsing such a right.) Nathan likely has a different view about what the best and fairest immigration policy would be. Fine. But I just don't see how this difference provides any basis at all for accusing her of being either ignorant or dishonest. As I said, I must be missing something.

I also don't see how it helps matters at all to say that "our border controls exist for the sole purpose of violating justice," while eliminating the part about human dignity. The revised statement seems to me just as untenable as the previous one. To be sure, one might well believe and contend that the border controls ARE in fact unjust. But that they exist "for the sole purpose of violating justice"? As if we had some Department of Injustice, maybe, charged with coming up with ways of "violating justice."

My more general point through all of this is that I think it would be more helpful if people of different views could treat others with a bit of respect, rather than accusing them of being dishonest or ignorant. We've had go-arounds on this blog before about immigration policy. Although I have no definite overall views, I myself do find Nathan's strong "open borders" views to be . . . well, to be candid, wildly implausible. But I don't think he's dishonest or ignorant. Isn't it possible for him to make the same allowance to those who disagree with him? I strongly suspect that other people would take his views more seriously if he did.

Of course, someone might not want to be taken seriously in that way. Someone might make the judgment that he or she is likely to be more effective in promoting what seems just by being extreme, inflammatory, uncompromising, and denunciatory. Surely such people have had an impact in our history, sometimes for causes that most of us now believe to be right and just. (William Lloyd Garrison, for example. Maybe Samuel Adams?) Before making that judgment, though, Ibelieve someone would need to think both about whether this is indeed the course most likely to do good in the world and about whether this is the sort of person one ought to or wants to be.


"Western European countries are quickly becoming Islamic"

If you mean that the Muslim population has swelled rapidly on a percentage basis, then this is true. However, the above phrasing lends itself to a rather broader interpretation that is untrue: Western European nations are becoming "Islamicized" either in terms of law or demographic preponderance. If anything, Western Europe is more hostile toward Islamic culture than the US is, at least partially because it is far more secular.*

Further, it would appear that the radicalization took place in the wake of the implosion of the perpetrator's life and that his terrorist attempt was, if not half-hearted, at least not the product of long dedication. If the only people willing to commit these acts are people whose lives have collapsed, then we are being protected by our (relatively) pluralistic welcome.

"...our border controls exist for the sole purpose of violating justice. We have high living standards; other parts of the world don't; we know that if we let them in their living standards would rise; but we're afraid that ours would fall..."

I think this is definitely a conscious thought for most who oppose immigration liberalization, and most of them (in my experience) don't even pause to consider whether this kind of quasi rent-seeking is unfair. We have something (unearned) and we don't want other people to take it.

A less frequently conscious worry is the one that we're going to lose our American culture** if we allow too many immigrants in at a time, especially if 'too many' are from a single one. I think this gets things backwards, however. If immigration liberalizes all the way, then those who stay in the US permanently will will do so primarily because they find our way of life fits them well. Those who don't will make their nut and go home. Those who stay because their children don't want to leave are clearly not determining what culture is home for their children, so it seems unlikely that they're going to turn the US is (for example) Mexico. It is primarily because of the difficulty of reentering the US once one leaves that those with no real interest in integrating stay.

Throw open the borders, and I think we'd find that we haven't invited the whole world to come life here, only those who were already latent Americans anyway.

*I'm aware of the various ways in which Western European countries "endorse" religions including Islam, but this does more to place those religions under the control of the state than vice-versa.

**Whatever "American culture" is supposed to mean. Sometimes this is racial code, more often linguistic, sometimes culinary, etc. I'm unbelievably proud, however, that my culture is the most open, flexible and yet resilient culture in the world. It seems like more races, languages, food, and other influences would only strengthen that.


Security concerns are a red herring. Most of the terrorists admitted to this country are admitted legally. According to most of the research I've read on the topic, immigrants illegal or otherwise actually commit less crime per capita than native-born citizens.

Social service concerns are also a red herring. Again according to most of the research I've read on the topic, immigrants use proportionally less social services than native-born citizens, and they do contribute to payroll taxes, social security, and medicare.

Regarding the feasibility of open borders, states and municipalities (mostly) allow the free flow of commerce. What would the US be like if states had border policies similar to the federal border policy? Europe used to have stricter border controls, but the European Union has gradually started to move in the direction of a collection of nation-states just like the US. Do you think Europe is better or worse off for this change? Is it a bad thing for Europe to try to emulate the US?

Considering the above analysis, it's difficult to find any rational justification for our current border control policies.

Nathan Smith

When SDS says he finds my advocacy of open borders "wildly implausible," I don't know what he means. A *proposition* can be implausible, but what does it mean for the advocacy of a policy to be implausible? Let me suggest two possible interpretations:

(1) Nathan claims that justice demands a policy of largely open borders, similar to what America had in the 19th century. It is wildly implausible that justice demands this.

(2) Nathan claims that it would be advantageous [... to whom?... in what sense?...] for America to adopt a policy of largely open borders, similar to what America had in the 19th century. It is wildly implausible that this policy would be advantageous.

Maybe there's a third interpretation.

(3) Nathan advocates largely open borders, like what America had in the 19th century. It is wildly implausible that this policy will be adopted.

If SDS means (3), that is in a way irrelevant. I will speak the truth, I will stand up for the right, no matter how hopeless the cause may seem. If SDS means (2), important questions are being begged. If SDS means (1), I would like to hear more. What notion of justice could a person have that would render "wildly implausible" the idea that justice condemsn the use of force to maintain vast inequalities in the opportunities available to people that originate not in any action or merit of their own, but on the basis of their mere place of birth? What can the word "justice" mean to SDS?

But I don't think SDS means (1), (2), or (3). He finds open borders implausible for exactly the same reason that most people in the Old South, or the ancient Roman empire, found the abolition of slavery implausible: because he refuses to let the voices of conscience and reason force him to question widely-held assumptions and condemn an important part of the way most of his contemporaries live.

As for SDS's questions about why Cary's position is untenable, I'm surprised that there's any difficulty understanding this, but let me make it as clear as I can. Cary quotes approvingly the following statement:

"They had to go to some trouble to become citizens, and that’s all we’re asking now," said one guy. "Just put forth some effort, and come in legally, like our families did. That’s all we’re asking."

This is false. It is not possible, for most people, to "just put forth some effort, and come in legally." That isn't "all we're asking." Because immigration is not recognized as a right, because the right to enter the US is allotted by the discretionary decision of bureaucrats, what we're asking, at least when it comes to almost any of the people who are currently here illegally, is that they accept a permanent reduction of their opportunities and standard of living, for themselves and their children, in order to comply with laws we have passed which have no basis in justice and to which they never consented. If one is not aware of this, if, instead, one believes, not perhaps that there is a legal right to immigrate, but that there is one *de facto* in the sense that just about anyone who follows the appropriate procedures can get in-- like what America used to have, back in the 19th century-- then one could say that "all we're asking" is that people "put forth some effort and come here legally." If one is aware that some people are permanently excluded, one cannot claim that "all we're asking" is that they come legally; we're asking that they do not come at all. Is that clear?


I acknowledge that the statement of the "one guy" does seem misconceived insofar as it presupposes that anyone could be admitted to the country if they're willing to wait, etc. Thanks for pointing that out. I read Cary, charitably perhaps, as reinterpreting that "one guy" statement to mean that securing borders is a priority, without clearly endorsing any particular view of what a just immigration policy would be. That actually strikes me as a very sensible position to take, especially for people who think the general issue is complicated and difficult. But if Cary meant to endorse the full "one guy" statement, then I agree that her view would be similarly misconceived.

I never said that "advocacy" of anything was wildly implausible, but instead that Nathan's strong open border "views" seem to me wildly implausible. By those views, I was indeed referring to something akin to(1), although only with reference to particular arguments Nathan has made in the past for something like a general "right" to immigrate, including in current circumstances. I think those issues and arguments have been hashed out at some length on this blog at various times in the past. Rather than going over all that ground again, could I simply incorporate the earlier discussions by reference? My own judgment, with which other people of course can and do disagree, is that the arguments Nathan offered were, let's say, manifestly unpersuasive.

I might be tempted to go further and say that for reasons not fully apparent to me (or perhaps to himself), Nathan "refuses to let the voices of . . . reason force him to question [deeply-held] assumptions." But it would be arrogant and unfair to say that. How can I know why Nathan or anyone else hold the views they do? Am I so virtuous that I can be sure that people who disagree me with are acting in bad faith or against conscience. So I'll just say we disagree. What's wrong with leaving things on that plane?

Nathan Smith

I don't think it would be arrogant for SDS to say that I was "refusing to let the voices of reason force me to question deeply-held assumptions," if that's what he believes I am doing. Actually, I think he *is* saying that, he just isn't telling me what his grounds for that accusation are, which is unfortunate, because I'd be curious to hear them. From the rest of his comment, maybe he thinks that I've been vanquished in previous discussions and am refusing to admit it? That's not how I recall past discussions at all. My own impression is that I was singularly successful, even against quite skilful interlocutors; that I was even surprised at how much my interlocutors conceded; and that my success was owing not to the skill of my arguments-- I was sometimes hasty and sloppy, and was if anything overmatched by some of those I debated in terms of mere argumentative skill-- but to the rightness of my position. Of course, SDS can't *know* I'm in bad faith here, but he can *think* it, and if he does, I'd be interested to know his grounds, as I am quite at a loss to guess what they could be.

As far as "what's wrong with leaving things on [the] plane" of just saying we disagree; well, if people disagree, one of them must be wrong, and it's better for people to be right, that is, to have true beliefs, no? However, I'd agree there are situations where we can tolerate disagreement with equanimity or even celebrate a diversity of views. It often happens that Scholar A thinks X and Scholar B thinks Y, and they think they are in fierce disagreement with each other and hold passionately antagonistic debates, and later it becomes clear that neither X nor Y is quite right, but that the truth, Z, is a little like X and a little like Y, in ways that A and B didn't see and that nobody would have seen if they didn't have the benefit of reading A's and B's ferocious debates.

However, there is a time for denunciation and anathematization. We are glad, perhaps, that some adhere to the philosophy of Plato, some of Aristotle, some of Bertrand Russell; that some think Mozart is better, others Brahms, others Bruce Springsteen; that there are partisans of Democrats, Republicans, and Greens; that some are more optimistic and others more pessimistic. But we do not, in post-Martin Luther King America, celebrate differences of opinion about whether blacks should have the same rights as whites. We do not want opinions to differ on whether the occasional infanticide or rape is OK. We do not value different points of view on the question of whether one ought to blow up New York for the sake of the jihad.

A boy at the protest spoke, spoke matter-of-factly and without weepy emotion which made it the more heartbreaking because it showed he had gotten used to the idea in one way though it was still inconceivable, about how he was afraid that at any time his mother, an illegal immigrant, might be deported, and he would have to choose to go back to El Salvador or stay here. "How can I choose between my mom and my dad?" he asked. Atrocities like this occur because of ideas that exist in certain people's minds. Those ideas should not be just tolerated. We cannot agree to disagree. If, as I believe, to "secure the border" is an impossibility without massive human rights violations which, aside from being wrong in themselves, will destroy our free society-- the "papers please" fascism of Arizona is a foretaste-- then it is an urgent duty to denounce, to condemn, to seek to destroy the idea that the social-engineering fantasy of "securing the border" is possible or moral, let alone normal.

Joyless Moralist

Actually, depending on how it was said (and other issues of context that we don't have here), even the statement of the "one guy" isn't necessarily ignorant, though I guess it does at least imply a rejection of Nathan's "right to migrate". But obviously what the person is saying is something like, "I'm not racist, I have nothing against people from these countries, and it's perfectly okay with me if they live here... legally. But I don't like them sneaking in against the law."

That position would be completely compatible with a suggestion that we should greatly increase our immigration quotas or even open our borders. It does seem to suggest that, in the event that the borders *haven't* been opened, people should accept that and stay at home. So probably the guy doesn't believe in a right to migrate. Then again, hardly anyone does.

Nathan Smith

On the contrary, the statement of the "one guy" does imply a belief in a right to migrate. Specifically, he thinks that if people "put forth some effort" they can "come here legally." He's saying more than just that he's fine with people coming here legally if they can. He's saying that "all we're asking" is that they come legally, rather than illegally. Cary is saying the same thing, as she completely endorses his statement, and I don't see how the article as a whole can be read any other way.

Whenever people use the phrase "go to the back of the line," they're talking in ways that imply a right to migrate. When you stand in line for something, eventually you get to the front of the line and get the thing you're standing in line for. Rhetoric about illegal immigrants having to "go to the back of the line" is meaningless unless this is implied, and the fact that it is used indicates that a lot of Americans do vaguely think that people can come here if they want to, that there are legal processes in place for that and you just need to follow them. Which is true, for a privileged few.

"Go to the back of the line" is the 21st-century equivalent of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake." The cruelty of the phrase lies in its cluelessness; it mocks and insults the unfortunate; yet at the same time it reveals a certain innocence on the part of the one saying it. Marie Antoinette couldn't understand what the problem was with the masses having no bread, because she couldn't imagine a life in which one couldn't eat more luxurious foods at will. Likewise, it has never occurred to the type of American to whom the argument that illegal immigrants should "go to the back of the line" is targeted that most of mankind is shut out of America permanently based on their place of birth. They know there are processes for coming in legally; and they're irritated with illegal immigrants for gratuitously, as they imagine, not following them.

It took a personal encounter to bring this home to me. I was staying with my great-aunt at the time and was engaged to a Russian girl. Between studying international development for a year, and having traveled to western Europe and Russia and Africa to visit my fiancee, it had been thoroughly brought home to me that world apartheid, the system, unique to the later part of the 20th century, whereby a person's station in life is largely determined by their place of birth, not because of any natural distribution of opportunities or talents but because of man-made restrictions to human movement, was the most important fact about the human condition of our times. Anyway, I was talking with my great-aunt and mentioned that she had never been here, and her response absolutely amazed me: "Why not? Doesn't she like it here?" What?! Can she really not have known that *most foreigners aren't allowed in here?* But then, why should she know it? The foreigners *she* meets have been allowed in, and since she'll never have to deal with the immigration bureaucracy, why should she learn how it works? It's safe to say that Americans are the most ignorant people in the world about our immigration system, since we're the only ones who will never be on the receiving end of it. Which is why border controls are the limiting case of undemocratic law: the set of people who are subject to them is the exact inverse of the set of people who make them.

A certain forgiveness may be extended to those Americans who are complacent about our the system because they mistakenly thinking that our immigration system can be relied on to let people in legally if they go through the paperwork. This indulgence, alas, is not available to JM and SDS.


"A certain forgiveness may be extended . . . This indulgence, alas, is not available to JM and SDS." Well, I suppose that someone so supremely sure of the correctness of his own views and so confident of his ability to judge not only the views but the hearts and consciences of all those who disagree with him would naturally also assume the power to extend or deny forgiveness. I'd like to have that sort of confidence in my own righteousness. Come to think of it, no, I wouldn't.

Nathan Smith

Did I "judge... the heart and consciences of," well, never mind "all those who disagree with me," but even of SDS and JM? No, I didn't. What I said was that one particular defense which could be made of many Americans could not be made of them. Perhaps other defenses could be made.

Let me provide a parallel example. A man is beaten and robbed on road to Jericho and left bleeding and inert on the side of the road. The first passerby, a farmer, let's say, simply doesn't happen to turn his head in the direction of the beaten man. He doesn't know he is there. The second, a peddler, does see him, and doesn't stop to help.

In this situation, a defense, ignorance, is available to the farmer which is not available to the peddler. If I say that on the basis of the facts presented I'm inclined to take a forgiving view of the farmer but a more critical view of the peddler, it would seem a little bit odd to condemn me for being "confident of his ability to judge... the hearts and consciences of" the two men; I might, after all, allow that the peddler might have some good excuse of which I'm not aware. (Maybe he mistook the wounded man for another man who had previously lured him into a trap by feigning wounds.) I am, of course, assuming some degree of ability on my own part to make appropriate inferences about hearts and consciences on the basis of facts; to completely abandon this assumption seems like a kind of moral nihilism.

What I am certainly NOT doing, in any way, is "assuming the power to extend or deny forgiveness," Jesus Christ-like. The passive voice is the clue here. If I say, "A man may be forgiven if logic compels him to a conclusion which he deplores," I am not saying that I have the power to create moral reality, but that I am doing my best to *perceive* moral reality, namely that repugnant views are more forgivable if adopted reluctantly for the sake of truth. "Judge not that ye be not judged" is a wise saying but it can be misinterpreted. SDS seems to be attacking my moral judgments in ways that are really attacks on *all* moral judgments.

What I was trying to provoke with the last remark was an attempt by SDS and JM at a principled defense at the system of world apartheid in which we live, the system in which there are vast differences among nations in living standards and wealth and opportunity and political freedom, which migration is proven to be the most effective means to ameliorate, and yet which is infested with draconian restrictions on migration. I find that when someone attempts to do that, it's usually salutary. People don't necessarily come round to my point of view, but they almost always move in the right direction.


Read through the original post and Nathan's subsequent comments and it's overwhelmingly clear that Nathan has not only condemned border restrictions as unjust, but has confidently passed judgment, over and over again, on the character and consciences of the broad mass of those who disagree with him by favoring border restrictions. People who hold that view (meaning virtually everyone in this country) pervasively resort to lies and rationalizations. They refuse to listen to the voices of conscience. They are like the antebellum Southerners who defended slavery. The only excuse, available to some, is that they may be invincibly or at least excusably ignorant. And alas, even that mitigation is denied to some of us, because we know too much.

It is precisely this confident passing of judgment, not just on others' views but on their character, that I find so offensive(not to mention, since Nathan quoted the Lord, un-Christian). I'm perfectly content to let Nathan hold his open borders views, untenable though they seem to me. It could be (though I very much doubt it) that at some point when things become clearer, all of us will come to see that he was right. I concede that possibility, and given that Nathan is evidently convinced that he was successful in past discussions of this point, I don't see much value in arguing further about that issue. My concern, and my only reason for taking the trouble to comment here at all, is this: Is it necessary (or helpful to one's one cause, . . . or Christian) to be so accusatory, so insufferably judgmental, in arguing for one's position on the substantive issue?

Joyless Moralist

I've articulated my defense of border controls in discussions with you (Nathan) on multiple other occasions. My views have undergone no significant alteration. I'm not interested in repeating the exercise because past experience leads me to believe that it would be incredibly time-consuming and ultimately fruitless. But I think my main point still stands; it might be that the use of the plural "we" in "the guy's" statement does indicate something like a defense of the system as a whole, but it needn't, and I don't think ignorance or lack of such is the main point.

The main point, as I said before, is: "I'm not racist. People want to immigrate here, fine by me. Do we need to ease up on immigration restrictions and allow more people in? Maybe so, I'm persuadable. But don't sneak in behind our backs."

Maybe there is a note of naivete to that view, insofar as it does seem to presume that most people in the world could manage this if they really tried. And yes, it would be pleasing to hear a bit more humility/gratitude for the good fortune that these people (and their ancestors) must have had; like almost all worthwhile accomplishments, their success at gaining citizenship was surely the result of some hard work, but also of some lucky breaks and the support of people who loved them. I can understand your frustration at their not wanting to engage what *you* see as the critical issue, namely, the justice or injustice of immigration restrictions.

Still, you can see what they're saying, and particularly now when the Arizona law has people focused on the divide between legal and illegal immigration. I think SDS' point is that you could do yourself a lot more good by finding what common ground you can in that sentiment and working with it, instead of spouting off inflammatory rhetoric like this. These people aren't racist, and are sympathetic to the desire to immigrate. But they think that our government has the right (and probably the obligation) to set the terms on which people enter the country. Engaging this sort of person in a more sympathetic way, you might persuade them to be advocates for more generous immigration quotas or lenient "amnesty" policies for those illegal aliens who are already here. I doubt you're ever going to win many over to your "right to migrate" view, but if you really wanted to help immigrants, you could probably play some role in marshaling support for a less radical position. Or just continue on in bitter, ranting irrelevance. That's always an option too.

Nathan Smith

re: "Given that Nathan is evidently convinced that he was successful in past discussions of this point, I don't see much value in arguing further about that issue."

This is very odd. If SDS doesn't have the *time* to get into a substantive discussion of immigration, that's understandable. SDS may have better things to do. But how can my perception of past success in discussions about immigration be a reason that further argument has no value? It would seem that if SDS thinks I have been defeated in past arguments and failed to see it, he ought to help me see how. The only interpretation I can give to this phrase is that my defeat in previous arguments was so obvious that if I didn't recognize it, I'll never understand any further discussion. Does SDS really mean that? It's not that I'm personally offended, I'm just curious what he thinks, and disappointed that I'm too stupid to be worthy of hearing it.

re: "Nathan has... confidently passed judgment, over and over again, on the character and consciences of the broad mass of those who disagree with him by favoring border restrictions... (meaning virtually everyone in this country)"

I think it was clear in the post above, and I have certainly made it clear in the past, that I regard *national security* as a legitimate motive for border restrictions. What I object to is border restrictions as a form of labor or cultural protectionism. There are plenty who agree with me, not just the obvious ones, the 12 million illegal immigrants who do not merely believe in but are actually exercising their right to migrate, but plenty of others who are sympathetic to migration. And then, as I've kept saying, a lot of people seem to believe that some sort of right to migrate (if you "put forth some effort," you can "come legally") seems to be widespread. I often encounter people in discussions who are sympathetic to my views. Even in this discussion Nato and Tom seem to agree with me. SDS is not entitled to claim "virtually everyone in this country" on his side here.

I tried to make clear in the last comment why a charge that I am "confidently passing judgment on people's characters" is a mischaracterization, and I don't have much to add. But here's the really strange thing. In charging me with being "so accusatory, so insufferably judgmental," SDS writes that:

"They are [according to Nathan] like the antebellum Southerners who defended slavery."

Now, I wouldn't want to "confidently pass judgment," in the sense in which SDS is using those words, on the characters of antebellum Southerners who defended slavery. Ultimately slavery was a wicked and indefensible institution, but lots of arguments that were made for it had plausibility in a limited way. Simply as a practical matter it was probably true that a lot of Southern black slaves, given the way they had been raised and had lived, weren't ready to manage their own lives as well as some of the better white masters could manage them, at least in the short run. It was true that some slaves were well-treated, even became like family to their masters. It was also true that it was hard to envision how the social order in the South would adapt to the abolition of such an important institution. One might justly fear chaos and disorder. Even in hindsight it's tenable that the South was a worse place in 1880 than in 1860. Ultimately, I do believe that a faithful adherence to the dictates of reason and conscience would infallibly turn an antebellum Southerner into an opponent of slavery; and to that extent defenders of slavery are, I think, guilty. But I might be as guilty as they of failing to adhere to the dictates of reason and conscience, and I might have done no better had I been subject to such pernicious moral influences. No, I am not "confidently passing judgment on the characters" of antebellum Southerners any more than I am on the contemporary immigration-restrictionists to whom I compare them.

BUT SDS IS PASSING JUDGMENT ON THEM-- or so it seems to me. That is, if SDS thinks that to compare X to an antebellum Southerner who defends slavery is to pass judgment on X's character, presumably the character of antebellum Southerners has already been judged. In condemning a whole class of people spread across a large geographic region and many generations, SDS is not unrepresentative of his culture. Cultures often define themselves in opposition to other cultures or other time periods. A horror of paganism was part of the culture of early Christianity; a horror of papism, of the Protestant Reformation; a horror of communism, of Cold War liberalism; and so forth. Does that mean that all pagans, or papists, or communists, were personally wicked? Well, that's a thorny question, but probably not. The blanket judgment that I am in one sense making of contemporary America is the same kind of blanket judgment that most of us make of Nazism or pre-feminist gender relations or segregation or the gladiatorial combats of ancient Rome or some other social practice that was once widespread and is now regarded (by some at least) with horror-- and which, in particular, SDS is making towards antebellum Southerners. SDS is being inconsistent in condemning me for this kind of judgment while he makes it himself; but, also, he ought to have a subtler understanding of how a belief that a practice or an idea that prevails among a broad population is morally abhorrent relates to one's moral attitude towards the individuals in that population who accept, somewhat passively and uncritically, the practices and the ideas in which they are immersed.

Nathan Smith

To JM:

First, even if I thought it would be tactically effective to concede more to the idea that preventing migration by force for purposes other than national security, conscience forbids me to do so since I do not think it is justified. In the conflict between the illegal immigrant and the Border Police, the immigrant is right and the Border Police wrong. If I were to say, for political advantage, that the illegal immigrant is in the wrong and the Border Police is in the right, I would be lying. I also think JM is completely mistaken as a tactical matter. I think that, empirically, on this issue at least, people tend to look for compromises with whatever position you take, and the more extreme position you take, the further they'll try to compromise.

Second, did I call anyone racist? I'm inclined to agree with JM that that's not what motivates this, or at least that most immigration critics can plausibly be given the benefit of the doubt. When I talk about fascism I'm not talking about racism, I'm talking about invasive police powers that violate human rights.

Joyless Moralist

Nobody suggested that you change your view. It's possible to support (in word or deed) a less dramatic measure while still holding (openly, not secretly) that a more dramatic would be the most appropriate. If you want to actually see some amelioration of the harms you lament here (like, for example, the separation of families due to the deportation of illegals), you should care very much about persuading people that more generous quotas, amnesty policies, and so forth, are a good idea. But you're never going to make win many people over with the "right to migrate", and you certainly aren't going to do it with poisonous rhetoric like this.

Your claim about getting people to compromise by arguing radical positions doesn't square very well with my experience, actually. I find that polarizing writing is, well, polarizing, in the sense of helping to rally those who are already convinced or mostly convinced, while driving those who *don't* agree in the opposite direction. And since there are very few people on board with your open borders/right to migrate agenda, that's not likely to be a good thing for your cause. If this kind of thing is really all your conscience will permit you to write on immigration, it might well be that the best thing you could do from the standpoint of helping actual immigrants would be to keep your views quietly to yourself.

Nathan Smith

I don't really know what is meant by "poisonous rhetoric," actually. "World apartheid?" I'm sorry, it's an apt analogy. It's the best way summarize the facts. "Fascism?" That's what a law which allows the police to arbitrarily demand papers from someone just for standing on the street is. It's not rhetoric, it's just my best effort to describe reality. Sorry if it sounds ugly. Sometimes truth is ugly.

As for "persuading people that more generous quotas, amnesty policies, and so forth" are a good idea, I don't even think they would be a good idea if there weren't a right to migrate. In this respect some of the fiercer voices on the right are correct: amnesty will just make more people come. As long as the probably unattainable end of "securing the borders" is regarded as legitimate and people are serious about achieving it, I don't see any limit to the crimes that will continue to be carried out in its name. A complete border fence would a hideous national disgrace, I would weep wish shame that such a monument to human cowardice and greed defiled the earth, but at least, if it worked, it would prevent worse crimes. But I don't think it would work. If we want to "secure the borders," then yes, we have to keep deporting millions, we have to keep tearing apart families, we have to keep millions of people-- including children-- living in fear, and even that will, I fear, not be enough. Honestly I think nothing short of pogroms would do it. And I don't think there really are valid arguments against any of these horrors, the ones that are happening or the ones that are logically implied by the dominant ideology although people stop short of it, other than the ones I'm making. There are considerable reserves of decency in the American people which will act as a brake on these things, but as long as the ideology of border control prevails these can only continue be eroded. Already there are people who have lived here since one or two years old with no prospect of ever being citizens, who in principle are "illegal," liable to deportation to countries they don't even remember. In America? It's hard to believe it but it's true. As for more generous quotas, sure I'm for them, but unless they're made available to people who are already here which they usually aren't, that will do nothing to prevent the separation of families by deportation.

I should note, by the way, that while the Arizona law as it originally passed, with its dangerous vagueness, had a fascist character, the amendments that were made to it have, as far as I can tell, largely gutted it. And the amendments were made because there was an outcry. "It might well be that the best thing you could do from the standpoint of helping actual immigrants would be to keep your views quietly to yourself." Yes, it might be. But the opposite is more likely.


Paraphrase: "I don't mind immigrants as long as they come here legally." This idea kind of reminds me of: "I don't mind black people sitting on a bus, as long as they do so legally (i.e, sitting in the black section)."

Some people seem to have way too much respect for laws. If the law is good, fair, and just, then by all means people should, and in general will, follow it. If the law is bad, unfair, or unjust, then people shouldn't, and probably won't, follow it. Prohibition is a good example of the phenomenon of massive amounts of people civilly disobeying a very bad law. Our immigration laws seem to be among the most violated of all of our laws, and that by itself should give one pause as to their efficacy and value. Another good intuitive test of a law is to ask yourself what you would do if you were in the positions of the people who are breaking that law. For my part, you bet your ass I would violate some stupid border policy of another nation if I knew it would bring a wealth of opportunities to me and my family. Why in the hell should some starving impoverished family with no decent source of income wait in an admission line that will most likely never admit them? Even if they knew they would be admitted in 5 years, why should anyone wait that long?

I don't understand anything about the "secure the borders" camp. Not a damn thing. I think anyone who wants to "secure the borders first" is a coward. Plain and simple.


I wouldn't call them cowards for two reasons: 1)it's tactically inadvisable and 2) I don't think those afraid of immigration are aware of capitulating to fear. If anything, it seems like it's a failure of moral discipline that allows fear to rule thought and action because the fearful mind shies from unpleasant truths. That said, if they really perceived the foreigner as being carrying all the moral value of a 'native' and divested themselves of the seeming assumption that the presence of 'foreign' cultures is corrosive to their own both in gross terms and in terms of delegitimizing foundational assumptions, then those people who currently fight immigration vehemently might well be as vehement in its defense, come what may.

But I do think that most 'native' Americans have a vague (or not-so-vague!) sense that they are benefiting from a great deal of unearned good luck in having been born here, and that the easy/simple work they do is well remunerated only because of government-imposed scarcity. For them, the end of that government largesse is scary not only economically, but because it undermines their feeling of personal value.

Of course, most of us commenting here have no reason to hold such fears. Though people with our skills are scarce in the developing world, there are enough of them amongst those billions to where they could furnish quite a massive influx. Yet we understand that we would merely find our industries growing and thriving, putting ever more permanent roots into the locales where we already are. Work that doesn't require extensive training and relatively specialized skills, however, doesn't have the same self-reinforcing effects and is much closer to a zero sum game. The US have been moving away from those sorts of zero-sum industries for half a century and more, but many (most?) people aren't in a position to benefit. They're not bad people, and it's easy to criticize people for moral indiscipline, but considering I haven't had to exercise much discipline in this matter, I feel I have questionable standing to do so.

Still, they are hurting many other human beings, so my compassion is considerably tempered.


The Governator:
"I was also going to give a graduation speech in Arizona this weekend. But with my accent, I was afraid they would try to deport me."


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