An Open (and Closed) Policy on Immigration

by Kevin Freels

Often it is said that the ability to reason is what separates human beings from the rest of the animal world. For the most part, this seems accurate. People form contrary opinions on a variety of topics, but usually these opinions are at least somewhat based on facts. When it comes to immigration however, reason often takes a backseat to the basic animal instinct to protect the tribe’s resources. Of all of the political topics, none seem to evoke such strong feelings of fear and anger based on such limited information.

I frequently debate a number of people on many topics and it seems to me that immigration is the one topic where I am repeatedly forced into an emotional debate because of a complete lack of data. It’s almost as if every debate point made has its roots in a bumper sticker or news headline.

Most humanists that I know have mixed feelings on immigration. I suspect that this is because for the most part, humanists are a thoughtful, reasonable bunch. Sometimes it is just difficult to form an opinion that protects one’s turf while at the same time being humanistic. It can be especially difficult when one is surrounded by myths that are repeated so frequently in news headlines and basic conversation that they become the truth to an unaware public.

This is unfortunate because if people could move beyond those basic instincts to protect their water hole, most would find that immigration is a benefit to us all, and that a position can be taken that is both humanistic and also protective of the people. 

There is no shortage of myths surrounding immigration. Before we can look at the benefits to be gained, we need to tear down the two most often cited.

The first is the concept of overpopulation in the United States. I’m not referring to global population levels. I’m simply referring to the idea that that adding more people would reduce resources available to the existing population. This fear is generally from the labor force worried that others will come to the U.S. to do their jobs for lower wages. There are also some who fear that we could not adequately feed a lot more people or that food prices may increase.

Such fears have been around since the country’s beginnings. The nativists didn’t want the Irish here, the old immigrants didn’t want the new immigrants here. None of them wanted to let in the Chinese, Japanese, or even the Protestants. Each of these groups, and many more, faced fierce resistance and legal restrictions on immigration in their time. Yet in every case, every wave of immigration has been followed by an economic boom. This is easy to understand when you think about it. Population increases drive consumerism. Consumerism drives economic growth. The more people that are added, the more food needs to bought, the more houses need to be built, and the more clothes need to be bought. Even the baby boom itself was followed with a dramatic increase in economic growth.

As for food prices, it’s no secret that we pay farmers to not grow food to keep prices artificially high. Farm land is being sold off all over the country at an alarming rate simply because we have too much. When viewed from a historical perspective it is clear that there is plenty of room for growth and that population growth causes economic growth. 

The other major myth is in regards to welfare, unemployment, and other such programs. The myth usually goes something like this: lazy people from other countries run over our borders so they can get on welfare and have our tax dollars take care of them for the rest of their lives while they sit on their rear.

This is just flat wrong. The statistics are readily available for anyone who cares to look. The fact is that illegal immigrants are not eligible for any kind of benefits at all. Legal immigrants must be U.S. citizens for at least five years before qualifying. From here, they are subject to the same qualification processes than anyone else. Meanwhile, various studies show that unemployment for legal immigrants is actually lower than that of native born Americans. (Welfare recipients on average pay lifetime taxes of over 21 times what they receive in welfare benefits and this number does not change for immigrants). Even illegal immigrants are five times more likely to hold jobs than they are to be unemployed. In short, they don’t come here looking for a handout. They come here looking for work and often work jobs the rest of us think we’re too good to do.

So what does this mean from a humanistic policy perspective? At the moment, the demographics of the U.S. is shifting upwards. Although the population continues to increase, the age of that population is growing exponentially. Fertility rates in the U.S. are at 2.06 which is below the replacement level of 2.1 needed to have a flat population. Many studies show that if fertility rates do not change and if there were no immigration, the U.S. population would decline over the next 50 years. To make matters worse, the overwhelming majority of this population would be non-working—either too old or too young to work. The remaining working age population would not be able to earn enough to support themselves while simultaneously supporting Social Security and Medicare.

Indeed, it is entirely possible that many of the problems in the U.S. now can be attributed to the lack of growth we are experiencing as Social Security and Medicare continue to take up a larger percentage of the overall budget and the number of houses exceeds the number of homebuyers. Immigration is good

for the country. There is a great deal of evidence to support the idea of dramatically increasing the number of legal immigrants in the nation to expand the workforce and the tax base. France is actively trying to get people to move there from other countries because of the same kind of demographic shift.

But while immigration itself is good, illegal immigration is harmful. Illegal immigrants are not documented so there is no way to collect tax revenue. Illegal immigrants can’t take out loans to buy cars and houses or get an education to take part in the upward mobility that legal citizens enjoy. Also, failure to protect our border from illegal crossings of any type is dangerous. Given the potential of nuclear or biological weapons to make that same border crossing, it is necessary to improve security at the borders and stop anyone coming across illegally.

Once the myths are dispelled and the facts examined, it is fairly easy to determine a policy on immigration in the U.S. that is both humanistic and beneficial to Americans. Such a policy would provide ample opportunity for people to immigrate through the front gates. Anyone who wishes to come to the U.S. and passes a background check would be allowed through the front door. Many more doors need to be put up for people to come through legally. One every hundred miles would be good.

At this point, there is no reason someone should want to make an illegal border crossing. This means that any crossing of the border outside those front doors should be considered a threat to national security and should be handled as such. Deportation is not enough here. This may not seem humanistic but there is nothing humanistic about letting someone cross the border if they could be possibly carrying nukes or biological weapons. If you have an open door policy, to not treat illegal border crossings as anything but a threat to the American people would be wrong. 

When it comes to existing illegal aliens, I advocate amnesty. Making such changes as described will take some time. In the interim we have a huge, untapped resource to increase the tax base and there is no reason not to take advantage of it and help these people earn citizenship. I believe that for a period of three years, any illegal immigrant requesting citizenship should be granted it. This will allow adequate time to get everyone. Just as with the illegal border crossings, anyone left after that three year period that is not a citizen should be treated as a threat to national security. Jail would be the appropriate place for them, not deportation so they can just come back over. I have heard the argument “they broke the law” to justify denying citizenship. But they are here illegally, not because they are criminals, but because the law and policies of the United States has been wrong. To penalize illegal immigrants after we change the law would make as much sense as punishing runaway slaves after slavery was ended. The shortest path to making certain that Social Security and Medicare remain solvent is to increase the tax base. I believe that such a goal is humanistic as it helps to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. If we can do this by also allowing more people opportunities for a better lifestyle and by promoting citizenship for millions of people who desire it, we are achieving one humanistic goal by promoting a totally different humanistic goal. The implications for humanism are enormous as this could be one of the greatest accomplishments of humanism if we could only get past our animal instincts and embrace immigration. 

Kevin Freels lives in rural southern Indiana and work as an account executive for a national telecommunications carrier. He spends his spare time shooting photographs, remodeling his home, and helping his children spread humanistic principles in their school.