Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Is Immigration Harmful?

This is like asking, "Are more births harmful?"

And that's because the answer is: It depends on who is being born.

If you know beforehand that a rapist will be born (yes, rapists were babies too at one time), then in that case, you might say, "It will be harmful if this person is born."

Similarly, if you know that a potential immigrant is a rapist, then you might say, "Perhaps this person should not be let in."

The main point, so far, is that how one arrives here, through birth or immigration, is irrelevant. So, immigrants can be a welcome addition -- or not. They can be better than natives: Is there anyone who would not "trade in" one thousand American prison inmates in exchange for one thousand random people from Japan? Or, immigrants can be worse than natives -- flight schools were recently a good source of such people.

Of course, one difference between immigrants and births is that it is considered immoral to sterilize a parent if there's a good chance that they would give birth to a criminal. But it is acceptable to have immigration quotas. The thinking is: Citizens have an absolute right to procreate, even if they are psychopaths -- but foreigners do not have a right to establish residence wherever they choose, even when they are "model citizens" and pay their own way.

All that said, immigrants build things, make things, and provide services for us. And not just by being day laborers, but also by being software designers, pharmaceutical researchers, architects, etc. In general, it's a good idea to have lots of immigration.

But there are three decent arguments against immigration:

1. Immigrants might take advantage of our generous welfare system and make us poorer.

2. Their lifestyles might conflict with ours, and too many immigrants (whatever that number is) from different cultures might prolong the time required for their assimilation. (This problem might be overstated, though, as a March 2007 study shows that "Hispanics" assimilate like other groups, and are in fact more patriotic than some "native" groups.)

3. Immigrants might include people who might willfully harm others.

So, there is a two-part solution:

1. Encourage productive people to immigrate (and honor their foreign professional certifications), and

2. Prevent bad people and too many "different cultured" people from immigrating.

All of which leaves us with minimizing opposing errors: Increasing #1 raises the risks associated with #2, and reducing #2 increases the risks associated with not having #1.

How can this be accomplished? Country quotas and background checks are a start, but are clearly not perfect. But is there any evidence that the government even understands the issues?

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