Utopians believe, or profess to believe, that the best society is one in which no one acts from selfish motives. Hence, they have nothing but contempt for commerce and trade, which are based squarely on the premise that all should be free to pursue their own self-interest. In their desire to "transform" our country to socialism (let's call it what it really is), utopians are loathe to encourage "retrograde" capitalistic tendencies.
The irony is that every time our political dreamers devise a government program to supply the "social justice" supposedly missing from voluntary exchanges in a vast marketplace of goods and services, they make things worse rather than better.
Social Security, Medicare, ObamaCare and Medicaid, not to mention stimulus packages, bailouts, subsidies, disability aid, welfare, student loans and grants, food stamps and unemployment insurance, were introduced to "help" people but instead we wind up with a vast class of dependents and no social justice, unless the productive citizens supporting unproductive ones is what defines social justice.
When the government subsidizes something, we get more of it. The reason is that its perverse incentives encourage sloth and short-term horizons. Why work, save, plan ahead, make sacrifices, postpone urgent desires or forego immediate gain when tangible benefits are broadly available?
These observations are no less true regarding illegal immigration. The ominous shadow over the resurrected debate over what to do about the floodtide of some 12 million border crossers or perpetual visa card holders is the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which failed to accomplish the purposes identified in its title. That law sought to tighten controls on illegal immigration and granted amnesty to an estimated three million aliens who had lived in the country continuously since 1982.
In other words, Congress then could not bring itself to authorize deportation of illegal aliens, instead offering them a path to citizenship by their paying fines and taxes, and learning English and our history—exactly what is being proposed now. On paper, the law was tough on employers who hired illegal aliens, but the bill never would have passed if it had not been amended to prevent "discrimination" against them, effectively neutralizing control.
Any doubts on that score are demolished by the resulting flood of illegal aliens who not unreasonably concluded (given the perverse incentives) that, once they made it past the border, they could count on the federal government not to enforce its laws.
Fences, technology and patrols can do much to stem that tide, but they are no match for lax enforcement and attractive opportunities in the United States.
Fortunately, illegal immigration has declined in the last few years, mainly because of our prolonged economic recession. Indeed, the long economic boom generated by the Reagan Administration encouraged massive illegal immigration.
But these are just excuses for abdication of our responsibilities. Two observations are in order here.
First, we are the only country in the world with such lax immigration policies. You cannot get even temporary, much less permanent, residence, in other countries, Mexico included, if you have no job prospects or possess a skill in demand. American citizenship, too, is a privilege, not a right, which it is the responsibility of the people and their elected representatives to grant only to those who are an asset, rather than a liability.
Second, citizenship in the United States entails much more than mere residence. It means taking an active part in the community, understanding and cherishing our heritage of equality and liberty, making sacrifices for the common good and passing these good things on to our posterity.
One sure way to revalue citizenship and discourage illegal immigration is to end our mistaken policy of birthright citizenship, or naturalizing "anchor babies." Even now, Mexican and Chinese nationals are maintaining birthing clinics where mothers bear children for the express purpose of gaining citizenship for the newborn. These babies are the means by which their parents and siblings gain residency and de facto citizenship.
The 14th Amendment's definition of citizenship for those born or naturalized here requires also that they be subject to American jurisdiction, not merely an on-soil birth or a visitor.
A tough policy on illegal immigration is not motivated by xenophobia. The United States is not a vast guest house into which all may enter and stay as long as they like. It is the freest country in the world, but to stay that way citizenship must be honored above mere birth or residency.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Richard Reeb taught political science, philosophy and journalism at Barstow College from 1970 to 2003. He is the author of " Taking Journalism Seriously: 'Objectivity' as a Partisan Cause" (University Press of America, 1999). He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.