Walter E. Williams

My sentiments on immigration are inscribed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: ". . . Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
 
These words of poet Emma Lazarus served as the welcome mat for tens of millions seeking liberty and opportunity in America -- legally. Being a relatively land-rich and labor-scarce nation, immigration has always been good for our country. Plus, for most of our history, there was a guarantee that immigrants would come here to work. The alternative was starvation.

With today's welfare state, there's no such guarantee. People can come here, not work and not starve because the welfare state guarantees that they can live off the rest of us.

At the heart of today's immigration problem is its illegality. According to several estimates, there are 11 million people who are in our country illegally, mostly from Mexico. Many people, including my libertarian friends and associates, advance an argument that differs little from saying that people anywhere in the world have a right to live in the United States irrespective of our laws or preferences.

According to that vision, American people do not have a right to set either the number of people who enter our country or the conditions upon which they enter. Some of the arguments and terms used in the immigration debate defy reason. First, there's the refusal to call these people "illegal aliens." The politically preferred term is "undocumented workers," which is nothing less than verbal sleight-of-hand. After all, I, too, am an undocumented worker.

My colleague, Thomas Sowell, exposes some of this verbal sleight-of-hand in his recent column "Guests or Gate-Crashers?" He questions calling for "guest worker" status for people who, because they weren't invited, are not guests at all but gate-crashers. Sowell argues that the more substantive arguments for flaunting our immigration laws are just as phony.

How about the argument that "We can't catch all the illegals"? That's true, but should we apply that principle to other illegal acts? For example, we can't catch every rapist or burglar, but does it follow that we shouldn't try?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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