Mom and dad do immigration

Jennifer Roback Morse
Posted: Jun 19, 2006 12:05 AM
The humanitarian argument for increasing immigration appeals to many people of deep religious sensibilities. According to this argument, the United States is morally obligated to admit any poor suffering people of the world who manage to make it into the United States. Here is an analogy that illustrates the limitations of that moral obligation.

My husband and I do foster care. When the placement coordinator calls and says, “Do you have any openings?” my impulse is to say yes to every homeless kid in San Diego. Since that isn’t possible, it is up to my husband to remind me that taking on one more passenger may very well sink the ship.

Intelligent social workers know that when they hear “no,” the family has good reason. They really don’t want to place a child in a family that feels themselves to be over extended.

Imagine, however, that the social workers didn’t understand that. Here is how the conversation might go.

“Mrs. Morse, do you have any openings?”

“Not really.”

“We have this sibling group of three kids who really need your help. We are really desperate. You owe it to them to take them. You owe it to the best version of yourself.”

“Yeah, Mom! Let’s get more kids!” chimes in the Greek Child Chorus from the background.

“Hold on a minute. I don’t think we can handle any more.” “What about your friend, Mrs. Norse? She has ten kids and she handles them all. Why can’t you handle three more?”

“God gave her all those kids. You aren’t God.”

“Well, what about your friends the Borse family? They adopted a sibling group of seven children. Why can’t you be open-hearted and generous like them?”

“They had to leave California to be able to afford all those kids. They live in Mississippi where the cost of living is lower.”

“You have to take this group of three kids, whether you want to or not. It’s in your foster care contract. Take them. Or we take your foster care license away.”

Just then, Dad walks in from the job that keeps the HMS Morse afloat.

“You are bullying my wife. Get out of my house.”

“But then we have to take away the kids you already have.”

“No!” cried all the kids.

“Oh, honey, we can’t let them do that.”

“Yes, I can. Watch me. Take your license and the kids you brought with you.”

The insensitivity of our governing classes is exactly analogous to the insensitivity of the (very imaginary) social workers in my little story. Just as social workers have no business trying to “guilt” a family into taking on more than they can handle, the Open Borders Lobby has no business trying to “guilt” the middle and lower classes of this country into accepting more immigrants than they can handle.

The benefits of immigration (and there are many) are spread over large numbers of people. The costs of immigration are concentrated on the people at the lower end of the economic ladder. George Borjas estimates that the immigration of the last 20 years has resulted in nearly 5% reduction in the wages of those without high school diplomas. If the ruling elites in this country had taken these people and their concerns seriously for the last twenty years, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in today.

Just as foster parents do a noble thing to take in needy children, America is doing a fine thing to take in so many economic and political refugees. But the moral responsibility for their plight is not America’s. We didn’t cause other countries to become poor or chaotic, any more than the foster parents caused the children to be neglected by their birth parents.

America is not morally required to take in every poor person who wants to come, any more than foster parents are required to take every child that comes into the system. The most direct way to help the economic refugees is to straighten out the economies of their home countries, so they can provide jobs for their own people.

Asking a family to take more kids than they can handle is asking them to be permanently overextended. They won’t be able to take care of genuine emergencies. America has responded to refugee crises time and again. We won’t be able to absorb the next wave of the equivalent of the Vietnamese boat people, if we are dealing with a permanent emergency with illegal Mexican immigrants.

Finally, consider this. The economics of open immigration suggests that migrants will be drawn here until their standard of living here approximates the standard of living in their home country. They are better off, but only marginally so. My imaginary foster family could convince themselves to continue taking in children until the whole family was only marginally better off than the families the kids were taken from in the first place. They might listen to every sad story and say, “sure, let’s get this poor child out of the filthy, rat-infested drug den they came from. We have room on the sofa.” But we want more for our children than being just marginally better off than the most neglected. Likewise, America’s first obligation is to the people we already have. We owe it to ourselves to be good stewards of our resources.

America’s deserves its vision of itself as a generous, welcoming, open people. But we also reserve to ourselves the right to say when enough is enough. The Tough Guy Father figures who are trying to deal with the immigration issue are not being a bunch of meanies. They are really trying to protect us from our own generosity, so we can live to give another day.