Justified Civil Disobedience.

I rarely go political. I’m going to do so today, against my better judgment.

Illegal Immigration is justified Civil Disobedience on a massive scale.

A few points:

1.  I refuse to use PC terms like “undocumented worker” or simply “migrant” (or “immigrant”);  that robs it if the true power of what is happening.  Yes – it’s illegal – and that’s the whole point.  Civil Disobedience isn’t really civil disobedience if it  isn’t breaking a law.

2.  Opposition and a desire to enforce the borders is not, in my mind, usually racist.  It’s a disagreement.  Some people value keeping the law, and while I disagree in this one instance, I despise the constant accusations of racism that occur when this debate happens.  Yes, there is racism, and I’ve seen it (I have relatives who hate Mexicans merely because of their darker skin and different language), but the accusation of racism is too casually thrown about.

3.  Read this article (warning – some bad language) which only scratches the surface of what is wrong with current immigration law.  I am not necessarily a totally 100% open border advocate, but our current immigration laws and policies are evil and deserve to be ignored.

I think that’s good for now.  We’ll see what the rest of all y’all have to say.

This entry was posted in Any, General, In real life, Latin America, Politics by Ivan Wolfe. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ivan Wolfe

Ivan Wolfe teaches rhetoric at Arizona State University. He has a PhD in English from the University of Texas - Austin, and a BA and MA in English (with minors in Classical Greek, Music, and Philosophy) from BYU. He has several credits on various Christmas albums aimed at the LDS market, several essays in Open Court's Popular Culture and Philosophy series, and various book reviews in academic and popular venues. He also competes in Scottish Highland Games and mud run/obstacle course races, and he can deadlit over double his bodyweight (his last PR was over 500 pounds). He is currently married to Lisa Renee Wolfe. He has six kids and four stepkids.

83 thoughts on “Justified Civil Disobedience.

  1. Mulling over the Church’s public pro-immigration stance, I’ve begun to wonder if it’s an application of the teaching to give your cloak to one who has demanded your coat. It’s not an easy thing to swallow. It’s not just, it takes away from your personal interests, it rewards the one taking those interests away from you. But it is merciful and peaceful and detaches us from earthly cares.

  2. Here’s a little immigration wrinkle. We are used to missionaries leaving the U.S. having some sort of trouble getting visas, sometimes trouble that can’t be fixed that results in assignment elsewhere. Last year and this year I’ve taken in a Christmas program that the sister missionaries put on at the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center. It was noticeable that their are now many fewer sisters there from other countries than in the past. I asked a senior couple (my in-laws) who will soon finish their 18 month mission about it. They said that missionaries are having much more trouble getting visas to enter the U.S. than they used to.

  3. That’s a really interesting take I’ve not heard before. I’m not yet sure what to think about it.

    That said I do agree current immigration law in terms of how to enter the country legally is a mess. I’d have a lot more sympathy for the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric if they simultaneously were for real reform of a horrible system. However I rarely hear those ranting about Mexican migrants asking to improve the laws and bureaucracy of the immigration service. Which makes me often think it is either racism or xenophobia.

  4. As a former Berkeley radical of the 1960’s, I find this discussion took me back almost 50 years. I would suggest that a Mormon could have no better idea of a rationale for civil disobedience than by reading Martin Luther King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

    We in the church have no better reminder of our responsibilities than Martin Niemoller’s simple statement:

    “First they came for the communists
    And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist

    Then they came for the trade unionists
    And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist

    Then they came for the Jews
    And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t Jewish

    Then they came for the Catholics
    And I didn’t speak out because I was a Protestant

    Then they came for me
    And there was no one left to speak for me.

    A member could have no better example of an individual Mormon’s civil disobedience than by the story of Helmuth Hubener, a 17 year old German Mormon executed by the Nazis for distributing material critical of the state.

    Henry David Toreau was in the Concord Jail for refusing to pay his taxes because he believed the Mexican War to be unjust. Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him and asked, “Henry, why are you in here?” Thoreau supposedly answered, “Ralph, why aren’t you here.” It has been a core part of my religious beliefs that on Judgement Day I do not want to be asked, “Stan why weren’t you there.”

  5. Serious, non-rhetorical questions:

    If everyone who lives in the United States switched places with everyone from Mexico, what kind of country would America be 25 years hence? Would Silicon Valley still exist? Would the United States still have greater economic freedom than Mexico? Or does the population that lives in a country have something to do with what kind of country it is?

    Is it possible that the United States is the goose that laid the golden egg, but will be crushed if too many people with low human capital (I speak not of raw congenital ability but of human capital as currently constituted) move here and drain the real economy with their demands for social welfare? In that case, it might be more merciful to keep the United States as it is rather than to let in the huddled masses.

  6. I need to post this question again: I agree that our immigration system is unjust and that civil disobedience is an appropriate response. I also agree that civil disobedience was an appropriate response to Jim Crow laws and the military draft. How about other unjust laws? How do we determine which laws are unjust and which are just? How about accepting the idea that laws that violate our God-given rights to life liberty and property are unjust? Basically, people should be able to do what they want as long as they don’t harm others. If that is not the justification, then where do you draw the line on just and unjust civil disobedience?

  7. Amen. You have stated my views on this, and I don’t think I have ever read anything else that I agreed with so much. I am also sympathetic to those who are “anti-immigrant” because I think they really are mostly concerned about the importance of following the law. I feel that many of those who are constantly accusing others of racism simply enjoy the feeling of superiority that engenders.

  8. The idea that immigration takes away from “our personal interests” is just plain not true. So it’s not a matter of giving our cloaks to those who have asked for our coats. Since when is coming to this country and working long hours for low pay “asking” for anything?

    But it’s time to quit wasting money on the huge enforcement mechanism we’ve been building up for the past few decades. The fact is that the demographic wheel is turning (births per woman in Mexico have dropped to 2.1, from 6.8 40 years ago) as is the economic wheel (no net inflows the past few years, and a reduction of about 200,000 per year in the number of undocumented migrants in the country), so it’s time to wave the magic wand and make them all legal.

  9. Are citizens of other countries bound by the laws of countries they do not belong to?

    Being a citizen of a country obviously binds you from a moral and legal standpoint to the laws of the land to which you belong.

    But what exactly is the legal status with regards to disobeying US laws, when you do not belong to the US? Does standing on US soil automatically make a person subject to all the laws of a US citizen, both morally and legally?

    In times of war, one country may invade another, and still be following the laws of their country of origin, even if they are breaking the laws of the country they invade. The Mexican government publishes brochures on how to safely cross the border illegally, thus tacitly approving of the “invasion.” Therefore, can Mexicans be thus morally within the bounds of their own laws when they invade another country? They still retain their Mexican identity and citizenship, and thus are acting as legal representatives of that country’s corrupt and inept governance. They risk being punished by the US, but from a moral perspective, they are still law abiding Mexicans, who are acting according to the laws and culture of their country.

  10. Geoff B. –
    “How do we determine which laws are unjust and which are just? How about accepting the idea that laws that violate our God-given rights to life liberty and property are unjust?”

    That’s a much larger issue I may try to tackle someday.

    Nate –

    Good questions, but it’s also hard to see how one can be civilly disobedient about something like immigration if they are already a citizen.

    Clark –
    “That’s a really interesting take I’ve not heard before.”

    Part of my reason for posting this. I assumed this would be a common stance, but in talking with others and doing some internet searching, I seem to one of the very few who looks at it from this perspective.

  11. Milton Friedman had an interesting take on this subject. This is what he had to say:

    “If you have free immigration, in the way we had it before 1914, everybody benefited. The people who were here benefited. The people who came benefited. Because nobody would come unless he, or his family, thought he would do better here than he would elsewhere. And, the new immigrants provided additional resources, provided additional possibilities for the people already here. So everybody can mutually benefit.

    But on the other hand, if you come under circumstances where each person is entitled to a pro-rata share of the pot, to take an extreme example, or even to a low level or the pie, than the effect of that situation is that free immigration, would mean a reduction of everybody to the same, uniform level. Of course, I’m exaggerating, it wouldn’t go quite that far, but it would go in that direction. And it is that perception, that leads people to adopt what at first seems like inconsistent values.

    Look, for example, at the obvious, immediate, practical example of illegal Mexican immigration. Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal.

    That’s an interesting paradox to think about. Make it legal and it’s no good. Why? Because as long as it’s illegal the people who come in do not qualify for welfare, they don’t qualify for social security, they don’t qualify for the other myriad of benefits that we pour out from our left pocket to our right pocket. So long as they don’t qualify they migrate to jobs. They take jobs that most residents of this country are unwilling to take. They provide employers with the kind of workers that they cannot get. They’re hard workers, they’re good workers, and they are clearly better off.”

  12. “I’d have a lot more sympathy for the anti-illegal immigration rhetoric if they simultaneously were for real reform of a horrible system.”

    Have you actually talked to the anti-illegal immigration people, or just read newspapers about them? They do talk about real reform, but they don’t see how reform can happen if enforcement isn’t put in to make the reform meaningful and not a blanket amnesty. I also think that Civil Disobedience is ethically questionable. If you don’t agree with the laws of the land seek to change them, go to war, or move to a more hospitable place. That is all I have to say at the moment.

  13. Are citizens of other countries bound by the laws of countries they do not belong to?

    Go up to Canada and see if they give you a speeding ticket for going 120 km/hr in a 90 km/hr zone.

  14. Jettboy, early leaders of our church practiced deliberate civil disobedience when it comes to polygamy. Alexander Doniphan practiced a form of civl disobedience.

    Blind obedience to unjust laws is ethically and morally questionable.

  15. It’s ridiculous to waste money on enforcement when the “problem” that the enforcement is directed at–rampant illegal border crossing–is over. It’s over now because our economy is such a basket case that it’s not creating any jobs, and it’s over in the future because of the rapidly declining birth rate in Mexico.

    So, grant a blanket amnesty, and what will happen? Those who are here will gain legal status, and can be encouraged to become part of the body politic, rather than hiding underground. Will this unleash a flood of new migrants? I don’t think so. Why should they come? There are no jobs here, and the demographic forces that resulted in large-scale migration are over, for Mexico at least.

  16. Isn’t civil disobedience something more than merely being a scofflaw, where you openly challenge those who enforce the law to do so? Merely ignoring a law or sidestepping enforcement is not civil disobedience.

  17. Good question John M. A comment I made on facebook to someone else, I think, may cover this:

    “[Illegal Immigrants] may not think in terms of ‘civil disobedience’ but I bet a decent percentage think in terms of ‘yes, doing this is illegal in the USA, but I am going to ignore that law [and do it anyway because the law is wrong/unjust].’ Works pretty much the same [as Civil Disobedience] in practice.”

  18. Having worked with immigrants from around the world, some legal and some illegal, and having served as Bishop to a ward of almost exclusively immigrants, I have a few observations to share. One, we tend to look at the situation as “Americans”, because it’s our only base of experience. If we want to understand the issue, we have to open up and see it from others’ views. Two, almost all immigrants, illegal and legal, have a different experience base. I’ll distill this down to a short note. Most of the world does not live under what we might call “rule of law”, but rather, “rule of men”. If you are a Mexican or Peruvian or Dominican or former East German, for that matter, you live in a situation where no matter what you do, you are breaking a law. You and everyone you know can be prosecuted for something. By obeying one law, you violate another. You’re focus and efforts go into providing for yourself and family, and trying to improve your lot. By doing whatever is necessary (but available), you go where there is greater hope and potential. You know it’s illegal, but what is the law, anyway? Just something in the way to improving your lot. Then, as you gain an ability to earn and send money to family, and improve a familly situation, you come to understand that violating a law in this new place really might be a “big deal”, but you are now becoming established, your life is improved, so you stay. Simplified, but this is what “illegals” have shared with me. the Church’s position is that an illegal can attend, get a temple recommend, have most callings (not that of a Bishop), and I think a reasonable approach. Over time, as an illegal, you may find yourself unworthy of a temple recommend for that reason only. You make the judgement yourself. There is no conscious “civil disobedience”, it’s just to do what all thoughtful and motivated people do.

  19. Do you have a source or reason to believe that illegal immigrants can’t be bishops? I know of more than one that served as branch president, more than one that served as a missionary, etc., so I’m a bit skeptical that one can’t be a bishop.

  20. Tim, my source was the Church office helpline. I needed to know what the official policy was, so I and my Stake Pres. had long discussions. Branch President needs only approval by a Stake Pres., but Bishop is approved by (officially called by) the 1st Presidency. I know of one Bp who was released as soon as it was known he was illegal (resident status isn’t on the form to approve Bishops, so if the 1st Presidency or even the Stake Pres who makes the recommendation doesn’t know or doesn’t know to ask, well, anything is possible). Exceptions can be found for almost anything. For instance, I had an uncle who had been divorced who served as Bishop, and that’s supposed to be against the rules. I’m surprised about illegal missionaries, because that IS a question, and one is SUPPOSED to be called as a missionary only from the country where one is a legal resident. I had a few who wanted to serve, but couldn’t, and we tried for years to find a way around it.

  21. “Blind obedience to unjust laws is ethically and morally questionable.”

    Can’t they BOTH be ethically and morally questionable? The assumption here is “law bad, disobedience good.” From Satan’s vantage point what he did was civil disobedience. Why shouldn’t everyone be saved? What the early Saints did with polygamy was be put between a rock and a hard place and I hope never to have to come face to face with that again. They weren’t practicing civil disobedience. They were at war with the United States, even if unconventional. What Doniphan did was follow the law, as it was the others who were breaking it by pronouncing a death sentence without due process of a trial.

  22. In the context of this discussion, it is relevant to note that the early saints were also undocumented immigrants, into Mexico. The great basin where they found refuge in 1847 was Mexican territory and Brigham Young didn’t ask for anybody’s permission or apply for a visa. Upper California, of which the territory which encompasses Utah was a part, did not become part of the U.S. until the Mexican-American war ended with the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in February 1848.

  23. Bruce, the rules for missionaries have changed in the past few years, and quite a few young men and women who are in the U.S. illegally are currently serving the Lord in the U.S. The church is aware of their immigration status and makes sure they get called to missions within the U.S. I was living in Cincinnati three years ago when a missionary there, on his way back home after an honorable full-time mission, was detained by ICE at the airport and deported. The church started being more careful about how it got missionaries back home after that (instead of a plane, they’d send a relative to go pick them up, etc.) My sister served a Spanish-speaking mission within the U.S. a couple of years ago and knows quite a few illegal immigrants who either served with her or went on missions later on. The Salt Lake Tribune had a couple of articles about the Cincinnati Elder; the Deseret News kept quite about that incident, but later joined the Tribune in discussing incidents where branch presidents were deported.

    I’m not sure when the rules on missionaries changed, but I’m pretty sure it was sometime within the last ten years. It’s not an exception any more–it’s a pretty common occurrence. To the anti-illegal-immigrant crowd, next time you have the missionaries over, or even give them a ride somewhere, you could be aiding and abetting an illegal immigrant. Ouch.

  24. I had no problem with immigration until my daughter began attending Kindergarten where she has to sit half of the time and listen to her teacher explain things in Spanish, and where 75% of the children (many non-citizens) get free lunches from the government, while she has to eat sack lunch because I can’t afford to buy her hot lunches every day.

    Now, I’m not so sure.

  25. And, I might add, where most of the parents have the blessing of being able to pick their children up from school every day because they don’t have to work for a living.

    But that’s a welfare issue, not immigration.

  26. “But that’s a welfare issue, not immigration.”

    It’s both, obviously. It makes no sense for libertarians to say, “Immigrants wouldn’t receive government benefits if there were no government benefits.” There are government benefits, and while I don’t like them either, they aren’t going anywhere, and I think our immigration policy ought to reflect that fact.

  27. Bruce, I personally know 2 (one former and one current) Bishop who served and is serving as Bishop and they are both with “out of status” visa, in other words, Illegal.

    On the same line on how Mormons in general feel about Immigrants.. they tend to differentiate with the rest of the conservative base..

    “The Pew Foundation survey of Mormons released this past week confirms that U.S. Mormons are more conservative (66 percent) compared to the general public (37 percent), and on most issues, they closely track white evangelicals. But immigration is one issue that sets Mormons apart from their evangelical counterparts.

    Asked whether immigrants are a strength or a burden, 59 percent of white evangelicals said they were a burden, while only 41 percent of Mormons felt the same, compared to 44 percent of the general public. The result is surprising given how staunchly conservative Mormons are on nearly every measure. ” – Deseret news.

  28. And Tim, about that missionary that was stopped by ICE on the airport, he was pardon and actually was given way to become a resident.. a blessing in disguise.

  29. Phill,

    I didn’t know that–do you have a source? I hope he’s doing well, wherever he is–from all accounts, he was a good missionary.

    As far as immigrants and welfare, my understanding is that only American citizens can get most kinds of welfare–so what ends up happening is that their children often do end up on food stamp programs, etc.

    From what I’ve seen of immigrants:

    1. Often only the father (or sometimes a single mother) will come here to work, and send money home so the family back home doesn’t starve. Very often their children are not in the U.S. We get the financial benefit without having to educate the children.

    2. If the whole family’s here, including both parents, quite often the father will work and the mother will take care of the children (and thus is able to pick them up from school, etc.)

    3. Illegal immigrants are often paid “under the table,” which means if they have children who are American citizens, they’re almost certainly understating their income when applying for welfare. I’d like to say that this would change if they could work legally, and I’m sure in some circumstances it would change. Tax fraud, however, is extremely common, and I have a feeling many of the immigrants, like many American citizens, would continue to work at least partly under the table.

    4. Despite this, most immigrants are hard-working and devoted to their families. We’re not talking about welfare queens here.

  30. The problems I often hear of immigration is learning English, gangs and drugs, and welfare. If those are the problems I fail to see why we don’t reform the problems than attack those, many of who are being guided by the spirit of the Lord to come to this land. If you don’t think the spirit is guiding them here reread the BoM and then notice what it says about the fate of a nation that goes contrary to the will of the Lord. No one will be guided here save the Lord inspire them and here we are throwing up barriers to the Lords will… wonder how that will work out. If you see so many of the problems of our nation its all related to thing that plate contrary to the Lords will… from welfare to immigration to wars, etc. I wonder who was the architect of these plans unwittingly carried out by the Dems and Gop as our nation continues down the path of binding ourselves with chains that have left us blinded to the light.

  31. I served my mission in Arizona. All of the poor Mexican illegal immigrant families were on both AHCCCS (Arizona’s Medicaid) and, if they had kids, WIC. They went to the ER for mild illnesses because they didn’t have to make an appointment and it would always be covered. I’m not saying that as an insult; they were wonderful people and I love them dearly. But it is a fact. I don’t know how they did it, but I suspect that most social workers see it as their mission to provide benefits to everyone they can regardless of legality.

    “The problems I often hear of immigration is learning English, gangs and drugs, and welfare. If those are the problems I fail to see why we don’t reform the problems than attack those”

    Why didn’t I think of that? You think that the government hasn’t yet realized it needs to fight gangs and drugs? Let me flip it around on you. Instead of continuing to struggle against gangs and drugs, why wouldn’t we go where the low-hanging fruit is, i.e. emforcing our already-existent immigration laws to prevent the problem in the first place? If you think that allowing immigration is worthwhile despite the documented problems, I have no problem with that point of view. But don’t pretend those problems don’t exist by saying, “All we have to do is solve all of the immigrants’ social problems.”

  32. MC
    You don’t get it. Making people the problem is not going to improve things and will not draw you nearer to God. Reform welfare, seek to erradocate gangs, part of a problem that would be alleviated if we got the melting pot functioning…. Have English programs a requirement. But it’s strange the “right to work” party would seem to think rights to work can be given or denied by the government. You’ll remember work is one of the very first principles in this world upon leaving Eden. Once again we see some govt, going contrary to some of gods basic commandments. Making people the problem is the surest way to not only create decisiveness but to lose the spirit as well. If you consider the principles that are founded in what I’m saying you’ll see they are going red in Christ, not a notion of economics or nationalism or culturalism. The most anyone can say otherwise is “follow the laws” which I surely agreed with but remember the law is never an excuse to do contrary to what Christ would do. Lets seek to reform the laws which includes immigration and casting off the chains of welfare that not only seek to bind us but would seemingly bind us to uncharitable actions toward our felowmam in the name of economics.

  33. I’m skeptical that the gang problem is a melting pot problem. There’s lots and lots of gangs with members who come from a long line of Americans.

    Getting the economic benefits down to the poor probably would have more of an effect on gangs.

  34. It’s ridiculous to waste money on enforcement when the “problem” that the enforcement is directed at–rampant illegal border crossing–is over. It’s over now because our economy is such a basket case that it’s not creating any jobs, and it’s over in the future because of the rapidly declining birth rate in Mexico.

    This is true. The anger over illegal immigration is a bit head scratching when it is’t a problem anymore. I think it’s much more a kind of easy place to direct populist rage for the real problem which is our economic situation. I’m convinced some politicians also use it as a way to appear to be doing things without being held accountable for actually solving things.

  35. Chris,

    I actually have no beef with the immigrants themselves. They are doing what anyone would do in their situation. But that doesn’t mean we are morally obligated to let them do it. Let’s say I own a farm. Does “right to work” mean you can trespass on my farm to work it? Does Christ-like love compel me to let homeless people move into my house? More to the point, if everyone else in my home does NOT want a homeless person to move in, does it make sense for me to call them bigots and let him in anyway? Would you?

    I don’t even know what it means to “make people the problem.” Gangs, like soylent green, are made out of people. I’ll make you a deal. First we’ll “erradocate” gangs and “get the melting pot functioning,” and THEN we can have free immigration. Deal?

  36. “The anger over illegal immigration is a bit head scratching when it is’t a problem anymore.”

    Define “isn’t a problem anymore.” We have 8.5% unemployment in this country. And at a time when illegal immigration supposedly isn’t a problem, the U.S. immigrant population increased by 1.5 million just in 2010: http://cis.org/2000-2010-record-setting-decade-of-immigration. Considering there’s been no job growth…

    There is plenty of work for people with high human capital, and precious little work for people with low human capital. What work there is has wages that are depressed by the availability of cheap immigrant laborers who compete with our own unskilled labor force. Does this have anything to do with the exceedingly high unemployment rate among young black men? I suspect it does.

    Of course, when the economy finally recovers, everyone will go from saying, “illegal immigration has stopped” to “illegal immigration cannot be stopped so deal with it.” Bad times mean quit talking about immigration. Good times mean quit talking about immigration.

  37. “I’m skeptical that the gang problem is a melting pot problem. There’s lots and lots of gangs with members who come from a long line of Americans.”

    And there are lots and lots of gangs that aren’t. When the LAPD put out a list of the most violent street gangs in that area, half of them were Latino.


    The gang members probably aren’t themselves immigrants, but it’s hard to argue that their existence isn’t due to recent immigration. And if the second or third generation continues to be mired in underclass violence, that’s pretty much the textbook definition of a “melting pot problem” isn’t it?

  38. I do not believe that most illegals are applying Civil Disobedience concepts to their being here illegally.

    Most are here simply to find better employment. Others are here to traffic drugs or humans. Few actually work diligently to have the system changed, except that they want amnesty. This does not change a broken system, but just gives those who’ve broken the law an escape clause.

    While I understand their plight and desire to be here, I do not think it merits Thoreau’s view on Civil Disobedience.

    That said, a strong border equals a strong defense against enemies: primarily terrorists and drug traffickers. It also reduces the chances of death in the desert for many families.

    I personally believe we need to fix our system. Sadly, that probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon. It is a tragedy that the Democratic controlled Congress did not accomplish this in their time in office, instead of pushing for larger government via healthcare, etc. Early on, they had the power to push the Dream Act, but waited until it would be DOA. So, I don’t think either party has the cajones to really enact decent immigration law.

  39. I don’t think its possible to practice civil disobedience if you aren’t part of the civis. Illegal immigrants aren’t.

  40. Also, the whole point of civil disobedience is to mske a public statement. Most illegal immigrants try not to broadcast the fact.

    I think what you mean to say is that for illegals, law-breaking isn’t immoral because the law is sufficiently unjust. That’s not the same thing as civil disobedience.

  41. Adam –

    Good questions, and I’m not sure I have any answers. However, you’re statement that “I don’t think its possible to practice civil disobedience if you aren’t part of the civis. Illegal immigrants aren’t.” means that, if we take that as truth, it is impossible to do any sort of civil disobedience.

    However, since these illegal immigrants are here, and they partake of public schools, emergency rooms, pay sales tax, etc. – they are participating in the civis. Unless you want to decide that all the government has to do to end civil disobedience is declare that the disobeyers are no longer citizens.

  42. “Let’s say I own a farm. Does “right to work” mean you can trespass on my farm to work it?”

    Let’s say I own a farm, and want to hire Pedro to work for me. What right do YOU have to tell me I can’t do it?

  43. “Let’s say I own a farm, and want to hire Pedro to work for me. What right do YOU have to tell me I can’t do it?”

    In my analogy the “farm” is the country. And since the people are sovereign, we “own” it collectively, which means we collectively decide who gets to come here and who doesn’t. If you and I owned a farm together with one other fellow in equal shares, and two of us said we didn’t want to bring Pedro onto the farm to work for whatever reason, we would be well within our rights to exclude him whether you like it or not.

    We don’t let non-citizens take part in our elections, and we have the right to exclude them from that. Why don’t we have the right to exclude them from residency? I suspect that most libertarians reject the legitimacy of the nation-state, but I do not (I am no libertarian despite some libertarian sympathies).

  44. By farm, I’m talking personal property here. Let’s say I own a farm (not a metaphor). I want to hire Pedro. You’re saying that the voice of the majority has every right to prohibit me from doing so? So, some people in DC can tell me in Provo that I can’t hire Pedro on my farm, because of bunch of other people in a certain geographic region disagree with it?

    Sounds rather silly and contrived to me. This idea of “collective ownership” obviates personal property, because I can’t really own property if my ownership is subject to the say-so of others.

  45. The idea that we all collectively own the United States, and therefore we all have a say in what others can or can’t do with their property, is completely antithetical to liberty and the principles of the American experiment.

  46. I wouldn’t deign to tell you what you can do with your property. But it is perfectly legitimate for me (i.e., the American people) to tell Pedro that he cannot enter the country. If that means he’s unavailable to work on your farm, that’s totally beside the point. Convicted murderers in prison can’t work on your farm either. Does that mean it’s a violation of property rights to put people in jail for murder?

    What is the difference between withholding the vote from Pedro and withholding residency from him? If there is such a thing as a nation, then it must have the right to exclude or it would cease to have any meaning. I do not mean that a nation must exclude others, but that it must have that right, or it is not a nation at all. If a flotilla of 500,000 Taliban fighters made way for the U.S. to work on a farm, do the people of the United States lack the collective right to deny them entry? Would we be morally obligated to let them in because you wanted to hire some of them?

    We do not collectively own the United States in the sense of owning all that exists within it. But we are sovereign. A sovereign king does not own all property in his kingdom, but he has dominion sufficient to define who may enter his country. Property rights were highly respected in British Hong Kong, yet no one questioned the King’s authority to limit entry to that territory. Replace the king with the sovereign people and the same conclusion obtains. Again, if you assert that we have no right to deny entry to non-citizens, does that no also compel the conclusion that we have no right to deny them the vote? And if we have no right to exclude anyone from any of the privileges of citizenship, then in what sense are we a nation at all?

    By the way, I have deep respect for private property rights and economic liberty. How do you suppose economic liberty will survive when most of this country consists of immigrants from cultures that have little respect for it? Go back to my original question; what would our economic system look like if half of our population were replaced overnight with Mexicans, or Russians, or Greeks? Would it have no effect whatsoever?

  47. Ivan W.,
    To clarify “if we take that as truth, it is impossible to do any sort of civil disobedience on the issue of immigration.”

    Yes, that’s my point. Or at least its impossible for illegals. US citizens could still do civil disobedience by publicly flouting immigration laws in various ways.

    However, since these illegal immigrants are here, and they partake of public schools, emergency rooms, pay sales tax, etc. – they are participating in the civis.

    This is question-begging. The very point of contention is whether they are properly members of the civis or not.

    you’re absolutely right, but LDSPhilosopher is an anarchist. His idea of “the principles of the American experiment” is contrary to the forms and organization in which that experiment has actually been carried out.

  48. MC, a few points.

    1)If you look at demographic trends (ie, births per woman are way, way down), the possibility of the US being overrun by anybody is increasingly small. If we opened up the borders tomorrow (as we did for most of our early history), we would get a few million more immigrants than we currently get, not the dystopia of 500,000 Taliban (I know that was hyperbole).

    2)There was widespread acceptance for the first 130 years of the American experiment that liberty also meant freedom of movement. We also understood that immigrants benefit society in the long run more than they hurt it by bringing innovation, new capital, etc. The wonder of the free market is that it is not a zero-sum game: new ideas from new people always brings new prosperity. For our own survival, we should be encouraging immigration, not discouraging it.

    3)It does not automatically follow that by allowing people in we must immediately make them citizens. We have a long history of having a transition phase. I think five years is reasonable, ie, once you get her you have a work permit and then can apply to become a citizen.

    4)I don’t think you are thinking through carefully enough your claim that the people own the country. This is of course the idea of socialist or Communist idealism, but it is antithetical to countries where individuals reign supreme and of course is nowhere in the Constitution. Remember, “the people own the country” very quickly becomes “the state owns the country,” and if the state is Fidel Castro then Fidel Castro by extension owns the country and the people have no rights at all. Instead, the Constitution makes it clear that we have individual rights granted by our very humanity and that these reign supreme against government encroachment. The Constitution is all about limiting and enumerating the very small powers of the state, and the rest of our rights are left to the people and the states. So, once we recognize that we must admit that individuals own their own property and have individual rights that must be protected from state encroachment. Are immigrants (illegal or not) individuals with rights? Yes they are.

  49. Adam –

    how could a citizen be civilly disobedient? I can’t immigrate to the US illegally, since I’m already a citizen. That sounds question begging/arguing in a circle.

    I would state that the illegal immigrants already here have, for the most part, become de facto members of the civis. Otherwise, you’re arguing that, ultimately, the government can end civil disobedience (as I said above) by declaring any particular protestors to be non-citizens.

  50. Ivan,

    As a citizen, I could disobey immigration law by hiring illegals under the table. This would be a form of civil disobedience.

    There are defined rules as to how one becomes a citizen. One must either be born here or naturalized. The state cannot change the status of those born here, or those already naturalized. They can change the rules for any others wanting to come here. IOW, those illegally here do not become a part of the formal civis, as they cannot legally work, vote, or do other things that are restricted to those who are legal citizens.

  51. Oh, Geoff, Geoff. There are 200 million Indonesians in the world. 82,000 of them live in the United States. Almost a million reside in Saudi Arabia! You don’t think ten or twenty million would come to the United States? Bangladesh is another nation that supplies a couple million laborers to Saudi Arabia, but only 135,000 Bangladeshis live in the U.S. How about the 300 million Chinese peasants living on a dollar a day who are restricted from moving to cities within China?

    Take a look at this table showing the what portion of each nation resides in the United States. Some of them are amazingly low. Only 178,000 Nigerians (0.13%). Only 132,000 Ethiopians (0.17%). The Turks have Europe, but there must be considerably more than 94,000 (0.13%) who wish they lived in the United States.

  52. MC and John, do you realize that until the 1880’s, it was generally assumed by the American populace that the Federal government had no power to restrict immigration? Do you realize that encoded in the Declaration of Independence as one of the colonists’ central complaint against King George was his restriction of immigration to America? Do you realize that history records that the Supreme Court, prior to its inexplicable reversal in 1882, ruled several times that the Federal government could not restrict or regulate the free flow of peoples across the national border? Do you realize that even in that 1882 reversal, the Supreme Court admitted that the Constitution itself does not authorize the Federal government to restrict immigration, and that they were making their decision using extra-constitutional rationale?

    Most people don’t know these things, because they don’t study their history, or if they do, they study their history in the wrong places.

  53. I would state that the illegal immigrants already here have, for the most part, become de facto members of the civis. Otherwise, you’re arguing that, ultimately, the government can end civil disobedience (as I said above) by declaring any particular protestors to be non-citizens.

    No. Whether a state can licitly keep outsiders from coming in and making themselves part of the state–and whether a state’s particular instantiation of its rules for outsiders is just–is a separate question from whether a state can expel people who are already members, and whether expulsion in any particular circumstance is just.

  54. Geoff, re: #55 point 2, can you identify any specific innovation that the recent flood of illegal immigration has brought? Can we quantify how much new capital it has brought? And how much of that new capital is offset by the cost?

    Beyond these valid questions, I might agree with your other points if you could sufficiently back your claim that the average illegal immigrant is no different than your average legal immigrant 130 years ago. Do they really bring the same things to the table?

  55. LDS Philosopher,

    I’d be interested in any reference to those pre-1882 Supreme Court decisions that you discuss. The 1882 one too. My suspicion is that, if there are such cases, the issue was whether the feds could control immigration or only the states, not whether any government at all could control them. I know for a fact that pre-1882 several states did have restrictions about who could enter the state. But I’d like to make sure, so if you have any references for me, I’d appreciate it.

    As for your general argument, (1) America started out as a labor-scarce environment where everybody benefited from more settlement and (2) early immigration was largely British or from northern European groups that were ethnically, culturally, and even religiously similar to the already existing population. Its probably no coincidence that the 1882 date you cite was around the time the frontier closed and when immigration from more culturally and politically distinct locales picked up.

    P.S. With just some quick research, I have found an 1875 Supreme Court case, Chy Lung v. Freeman, 92 U.S. 275, that says “The passage of laws which concern the admission of citizens and subjects of foreign nations to our shores belongs to Congress.” So I think you’re at least partly wrong about what your 1882 case meant. Skimming some research, I also found a case, Smith v. Turner, 48 U.S. 283 (1849), where the arguments to the Court mostly took it for granted that Congress had the power to control immigration. The Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue was that regulating passage to the United States was under the control of Congress because it was part of Congress power to regulate foreign commerce.

    Recall that one of the original powers of Congress is to “regulate Commerce with foreign Nations” and that commerce then meant more than trade (e.g., conversation and visiting was called ‘social commerce’). Recall also that section 9 of the Constitution states “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight.” By implication, Congress could prohibit migration after 1800. The first Congress passed a resolution asking the individual states to pass laws prohibiting the migration of foreigners who had been convicted of crimes, which several states did.

  56. The largest number of immigrants to the U.S. during the fifth decade of the 19th Century were Irish and Roman Catholic.

    The anti-immigrant reaction that followed that surge were, appropriately, called the Know-Nothings. (Yeah, I know that it didn’t refer to their political ignorance–but you’ve got to give them credit for prescience in picking that name for themselves.) The Know-Nothings would be shocked, or in the best DU-ese, appalled, to hear that anyone thought the Irish Papists had a religion or culture anything close to real “American” religion and culture.

    Back then, nativism had to be bold and outspoken–a few years later the nativists would proudly parade under the banner of “Rum, Romanism and Rebellion”–apparently they were against all three. Now, conveniently, nativism can hide under that flimsy negligee of “legality.” Like most flimsy negligees, it doesn’t hide much of the underlying subject.

    It seems that every surge in migration brings a backlash–the Know-Nothings in the 1840s, the anti-Chinese agitation and riots (and federal statutes) in the 1880s, the complaints against Eastern and Southern Europeans and Jews (and the statutory national origin quota system) in the first three decades of the 20th century, and the current sturm und drang. It’s the same tune, played over and over again on the same tinny piano.

    And to take up MC’s question about definition: “isn’t a problem anymore”. Actual migration across the southern border is not a problem anymore. The lousy economy has taken care of that. And the idea that allowing those here to legalize their status will result in another wave of migration is very likely false–in the short run because there are no jobs drawing people to come, and in the medium and long-term, because the rate of population growth in our neighbors to the south has fallen so dramatically.

  57. Irish and German immigration was more alien than the prior largely British immigration, but less alien (and even much less alien) than the immigration waves that followed.

    I just figured out a way around La Wik’s black-out today. If La Wik is to be believed, immigration to the US was pretty low between 1770 and 1830. In other words, the first time that immigration got going strong after independence, you saw the first US moves to restrict immigration. Consequently, I don’t think you can argue that open borders have been an integral part of the American experiment as a historical matter.

  58. How could there be no more jobs drawing migrants to the United States? The foreign-born make up a larger portion of the American population than at any time in the last 90 years, twice the level of thirty years ago. If immigrants is what it takes for boom times, we aren’t lacking.

  59. I think Adam has had the best objections about my ideas, and while I’m not quite ready to abandon my main thesis, he has troubled it somewhat. Overall, I am very pleased with the discussion, though – which was a main objective; I wanted to see what discussion this post would create.

  60. That argument is sailing several points too close to the wind, Adam. It’s true that the Irish immigration evoked an ugly outburst of nativism–but it didn’t result in any change in Federal law. The importation of Chinese labor to work on the railroads in the 1860s and 1870s evoked a similar outburst–there the prejudices of a majority were whipped up to the extent that congress passed the first general restrictive immigration law: the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

    Until then, though, the doors were wide open–except to certain criminals and insane persons–and for another thirty years they were nearly as wide, so long as you weren’t Chinese. Only with the imposition of the National Quota System after World War I–congress attempting to make the immigrant population look like the existing population (keep out the filthy Italians and Hungarians and Jews)–coupled with strict numerical limitations, could it be said that the open door had slammed shut.

    Since for over half our history there were effectively no legal limitations on the number of immigrants. it’s incorrect to suggest that nativist reaction equaled closed borders.

    In the old English laws of distribution and descent, it was the bastard children who ended up the poor outcasts. In the field of immigration law, it turns out that the parents were the bastards, and they’ve spawned an entire clan in their own image.

    John Mansfield: that the percentage of foreign-born persons in the United States is high is evidence that there were jobs that drew people to immigrate. That the number of illegal immigrants in the country has fallen for the past two years is evidence that there are no jobs currently drawing people to migrate. The numbers of people receiving green cards/immigrant visas is not a good marker for current demand–virtually all of those people began their application process, and were integrated into the workforce, years ago.

  61. I fail to see how the fact that immigration was not restricted for a long time in the U.S. is proof that the government lacks the power to regulate immigration. This country existed for a long time before any president ordered the invasion of a state in rebellion. The country existed for a long time before a cental intelligence agency was founded. Regulating immigration, suppressing armed rebellion, and engaging in intelligence gathering on foreign nations (remember Jericho?) are all powers inherent to a sovereign nation. You could make an argument against any of them on the grounds that they are imprudent, but I have yet to see a compelling argument that a sovereign nation lacks the natural right to define its own boundaries and regulate entry therein.

  62. FYI, The federal government sent troops against the Spanish in Florida in 1816, led by Andrew Jackson. The issue was that Seminole Indians were crossing the border and attacking American settlements. America claimed that if the Spanish could not control their borders, then the US had the right to invade, and even take control of the territory, which they did in the panhandle of Florida.

    So, the view even in 1816 was that immigration or at least border control was a necessary issue for the federal government to manage.

  63. MC:

    I was simply responding to Adam’s assertion that an open immigration policy was not an “integral part of the American experiment as a historical matter.” I don’t believe, and have not maintained, that the government lacks the power to control immigration. I do believe that much of what has done in the name of immigration control has sprung from base motives, has often had the exact opposite effect from that desired by its proponents, and, particularly in recent years, has been a woeful waste of resources.


    Conflating raids by armed Seminoles (and what on earth were they thinking, anyway? we had stolen their lands fair and square, and why should they think they had any right to have them back?) with people sneaking over the border to look for jobs in slaughterhouses and truck farms is a bit over the top, don’t you think? I don’t think anyone has ever suggested that we couldn’t fight back against the nefarious Canadians if they ever sent their army over the border from Manitoba. (Although, I don’t much care if they have North Dakota.)

  64. Mark,

    It isn’t an issue of us fighting the Seminoles. It is an issue that America decided that if Spain could not control its own borders, we would control them and even take land from Spain.

    The concept being, even back then, we felt we had a right to have our federal government to manage border security.

  65. Base motives abound on all sides of this thing. Many immigration boosters have played up the economic benefits of immigration in comments above, and some people have positioned themselves to especially reap such benefits.

  66. So if we can’t control our borders from incursions by a legion of gardeners, busboys and chambermaids, then Mexico is justified to take whatever steps it wants to control them for us? Including invading the U.S.?

    I’ll confess that I don’t understand the parallel you’re trying to draw.

    And, as I said before, fighting armed raiders isn’t analogous to poor people looking for a job.

    And, John, are you suggesting that because there are some employers who exploit their employees, that we as a nation are justified in adopting racist immigration policies? Let’s say that the Central Pacific mistreated its Chinese laborers–probably happened. That justifies the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882? Or the whole Asian/Pacific Exclusion Zone that came later? Or the national origin quotas which are still partly in effect?

  67. Mark,

    You are reading it backwards. The Seminoles were in Spanish owned Florida. They were illegally crossing the border to attack American settlements. American troops then chose to control the border, since Spain was unable to do so.

    Since Mexico is unable to control its side of the border today, we have the right to control the border ourselves. Technically and historically, this ostensibly could mean crossing the Rio Grande and taking over territory.

  68. Rameumptom, the U.S. Constitution authorizes the Federal government to defend against invasion. Armed incursions = invasion. Peaceful migrants looking for work ≠ invasion.

  69. MC, read the article I linked to. The argument is much deeper than “they didn’t regulate immigration, therefore they don’t have the power to.” There are strong reasons to believe that the Constitution itself pushes that power to the states.

    Also, in the United States, the federal government does not automatically have all the powers of a “sovereign nation.” Its powers are limited solely to those delegated to it from the states, via the Constitution. Other sovereign nations may believe that they can restrict the flow of immigrants. In our nation, however, that power is left to the states via the 10th amendment.

  70. LDSP,

    Actually, I’m for increasing legal immigration. But it still requires some regulating. I do not believe in a completely porous border, where drug lords and terrorists can come and go as they please.

    Not all the migrants are peaceful. And you can sometimes have a powerful incursion without arms. How would you feel if 20 million unarmed radical Muslims wanted to walk across the border? They could insist they are only “looking for work.” Yet the reality is, they could be seeking to change America, just as they have politically changed many nations in Europe.

  71. LDSPhilosopher,

    I already read the article, but I saw nothing in it that proves that restriction of immigration was widely believed to be beyond the power of the federal government.

    If you want to make the argument that only the states have the authority because they are sovereign and the federal government is not, that’s an interesting and colorable argument based on how the federal system was conceived at the time of the founding, although I’m not convinced. But even if you could prove that the states and not the feds have the authority to restrict immigration, that would be a far cry from proving that all regulation of immigration is immoral, illegitimate, and unamerican, which I believe was the original argument. And if you’re arguing that neither the states nor the federal government possess the inherent powers of a sovereign nation to restrict foreign immigration, I would say that your argument is basically ahistorical and divorced from reality.

  72. LDSPhilosopher,

    I read the sources you linked. They support my position. Besides the evidence I’ve already pointed to, Madison and Story’s comments that the Constitution was meant to federalize naturalization also suggests that controlling immigration was a federal power. But whether it was a federal power or a state power is pretty irrelevant to your argument that the Founders believed that unlimited immigration was an essential component of liberty.. Given the evidence, its pretty conclusive that a natural right to open borders was *not* an integral party of the American experiment.

  73. Mark (#26),

    In 1847 neither the United States nor Mexico had any immigration restrictions. In fact, Mexico’s policy was try to attract as many immigrants as possible. The leaders of Mexico were delighted to have Mormon settlers in northern Mexico decades later. Mexico’s constitution actually stated no visas shall be required to enter the country.

    In addition, for better or worse, virtually everything now part of the United States (Alta California, which included present day Utah) was in United States control almost a year before the Mormons entered the Utah valley, its status was legally in doubt at the time, and formally ceded one year later, in 1848.

    Finally, there were no Mexican officials in the Utah territory to actually enforce any laws. Other than the native Americans, who generally kept to themselves, the day the Mormons arrived in numbers, they were the law. It is borderline ridiculous to claim sovereignty over a territory where the writ of your courts does not extend. If someone had been murdered in the Salt Lake Valley, do you think that Mexican officials would have sent law enforcement officials from California to investigate and arrest the offenders in 1847? I don’t think so.

    Ultimately though, the first argument is conclusive. The Mormons would not have immigrated to Mexican territory if it was illegal to do so. They could have started a war that way, all by themselves, and they were in no position to do that.

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