Give me your tired, your poor … and everyone else

Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is stepping out on a very flimsy metaphorical branch, which threatens to snap under his weight. That limb is immigration reform.

But I am glad he is stepping on it, and I hope the limb doesn’t break.

I will admit from the outset that I have had, for a long time now, a different opinion about immigration than most of the rest of my party.

Despite being to the right of most Republicans on issues like the size and scope of government and reforming entitlements, my opinion on immigration has — more than once — gotten me in trouble.

That disagreeing on this issue is viewed as some kind of ideological apostasy has always been disappointing to me — because my position is not only better for the electoral prospects of the party but also the more conservative option as it champions free choice, free association and opposes a giant government program to deal with the issue.

The main arguments for limiting immigration into the country break down into three basic categories: economic protectionism, nativism and security.

To deal with the first issue, it is my contention that those concerned with supposedly protecting American workers fail to understand market economics, and actually end up hurting that worker.  As population grows, so too does the economy. New hordes of foreigners pouring into the United States do not arrive and then fight with natives over the same-sized economic pie that they started with. They expand the pie.

Immigrants buy watches. They go to the movies. They eat at restaurants. They buy clothes. They do all the things that non-immigrants do, providing a brand new and expanding market for citizens to sell to.

This grows the economy, which in turn expands the job market, that is itself satisfied by the new people who are participating in the economy. If the capitalistic synergy was any more beautifully coordinated I would burst into tears.

Conservatives love to ridicule Europe for its supposedly socialist-induced anemic growth in the past few decades — which is certainly a big part of their struggle — but the real failure there is lack of population growth.

Europeans have a birth rate that is below replacement level in most countries. Without more people to expand both market demand and supply, economic growth stalls. This isn’t rocket science. Healthy capitalistic societies need growth, and the key to that is more people.

The next argument, one based in nativism, is real but too absurd to spend any real time addressing. “They don’t look like me or sound like me or speak my language” is not a reason to deny someone the God-given right to self-determination and to seek freedom and prosperity. Concerns about cultural impact should not be dismissed, but also shouldn’t be overblown.

It is the third argument, those relating to security concerns, that are the most justifiable and least sinister ones used to argue against immigration broadly. Yet, even still, it falls short.

I recently heard a conservative pundit point out that the 9/11 hijackers were essentially illegal immigrants and that restricting immigration of all kinds is the only way to protect ourselves.

It’s true. They were illegal, and we should do all we can to restrict illegality.

Yet, for all the laws forbidding illegal immigration at the time, those men did get into the country, and they did it through Canada. They did hijack planes, and they did crash them into the World Trade Center buildings and Pentagon.

A person who wants to do America harm can always find a way in here. Don’t think they can sneak over the 5,000-mile Canadian border? Forge documents? Pay the right people off? We should make it as hard as possible for them, but let’s be honest, there is virtually no level of security that can stop a person dedicated to doing us harm.

In the end, I do want immigrants to come here, and I want them to do it legally. My solution is to make the legal immigration process more open, faster and simpler, incentivizing legality and dis-incentivizing illegality.

If you want to be a citizen in this country, and you aren’t a criminal, I want you here. Our current system, with its decades-long legal entanglements to become a citizen, actually encourages illegal immigration.

At the same time, I understand the concerns of those who oppose the Rubio plan. Rewarding those who have broken the law is in no one’s best interest, and we should guard ferociously against it.

But let us keep in mind that the law being broken is not being done out of malice. It is not in and of itself a violent crime. It should be viewed as such, and the vitriol with which we currently treat those who break that law should stop.

As we chart what to do about the people who are here now, let us be realistic, let us make certain that those who have broken the law are dealt with humanely and with the appropriate level of punishment. It is possible to advocate deportations and protection of the border without demonizing.

And, in the end, let us start to understand that people wanting to come to this country is a good thing, both for them and for us.


Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.