Victor Davis Hanson

We know illegal immigration is no longer really unlawful, but is it moral?

Usually Americans debate the fiscal costs of illegal immigration. Supporters of open borders rightly remind us that illegal immigrants pay sales taxes. Often their payroll-tax contributions are not later tapped by Social Security payouts.

Opponents counter that illegal immigrants are more likely to end up on state assistance, are less likely to report cash income, and cost the state more through the duplicate issuing of services and documents in both English and Spanish. Such to-and-fro talking points are endless.

So is the debate over beneficiaries of illegal immigration. Are profit-minded employers villains who want cheap labor in lieu of hiring more expensive Americans? Or is the culprit a cynical Mexican government that counts on billions of dollars in remittances from its expatriate poor that it otherwise ignored?

Or is the engine that drives illegal immigration the American middle class? Why should millions of suburbanites assume that, like 18th-century French aristocrats, they should have imported labor to clean their homes, manicure their lawns and watch over their kids?

Or is the catalyst the self-interested professional Latino lobby in politics and academia that sees a steady stream of impoverished Latin American nationals as a permanent victimized constituency, empowering and showcasing elite self-appointed spokesmen such as themselves?

Or is the real advocate the Democratic Party that wishes to remake the electoral map of the American Southwest by ensuring larger future pools of natural supporters? Again, the debate over who benefits and why is never-ending.

But what is often left out of the equation is the moral dimension of illegal immigration. We see the issue too often reduced to caricature, involving a noble, impoverished victim without much free will and subject to cosmic forces of sinister oppression. But everyone makes free choices that affect others. So ponder the ethics of a guest arriving in a host country knowingly against its sovereign protocols and laws.

First, there is the larger effect on the sanctity of a legal system. If a guest ignores the law -- and thereby often must keep breaking more laws -- should citizens also have the right to similarly pick and choose which statutes they find worthy of honoring and which are too bothersome? Once it is deemed moral for the impoverished to cross a border without a passport, could not the same arguments of social justice be used for the poor of any status not to report earned income or even file a 1040 form?


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.