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Friday, July 2, 2010

Border Control Bogey

What's next? Internal passports?

As if we weren’t already aware, the current occupant of the White House yesterday proved himself every bit the social engineer his predecessors were. Health insurance, energy, the financial industry, education, nation building – in each area and more the head of the executive branch, Barack Obama, has embraced the dominant bipartisan doctrine which proclaims that government planners know best and mere people —  interacting according to the principles of consent, cooperation, and competition — know nothing. What would we do without our “leaders”?

And so it comes as no surprise that we see the same doctrine applied to nullify the right of people to move freely – that is, immigration.

Obama gave his first big speech on the issue yesterday in which he tried to satisfy everyone. More than likely he satisfied almost no one. Count me among the dissatisfied.  He rhapsodized about hardworking immigrants in America while boasting he has made great strides in “securing” the border. He read Emma Lazarus’s poem about the huddled masses yearning to breathe free while proclaiming, “Today, we have more boots on the ground near the Southwest border than at any time in our history. Let me repeat that: We have more boots on the ground on the Southwest border than at any time in our history.”

Nice image for America.

Obama’s message: You want to come here? You’ll do it on my terms (if at all). “We should make it easier for the best and the brightest to come to start businesses and develop products and create jobs,” he said. There’s the pretense of knowledge in action.

And to show that you can’t violate some people’s freedom without the violating other people’s freedom, he said:

[B]usinesses must be held accountable if they break the law by deliberately hiring and exploiting undocumented workers. We’ve already begun to step up enforcement against the worst workplace offenders. And we’re implementing and improving a system to give employers a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.

So our “free enterprise system” will not tolerate employers being free to hire whomever wishes to work for them. That’s hard to square with limited government. Note the sly juxtaposition of “hiring and exploiting.” Is Obama saying that any hiring of an undocumented worker  – translation: a human being without government-issued papers – is exploitation? He would prefer you not realize that it’s immigration law which makes exploitation possible. When workers are afraid to protest conditions or quit because they might get turned in to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they are ripe for exploitation. Yes, employers who take advantage of these workers are scoundrels. But the politicians and bureaucrats who write and enforce the restrictions that enable the exploitation are worse. It couldn’t happen without them.

By going after employers the government interferes with desperately poor people trying to make better lives for themselves. Obama acknowledges that that’s what they are doing – but he wants them thwarted anyway. “[U]ltimately,” he said, “if the demand for undocumented workers falls, the incentive for people to come here illegally will decline as well.” Compassion stops at the border.

Let’s not overlook Obama’s phrase “a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.” That’s an ID and a database.

Demanding Responsibility

He went on: “Finally, we have to demand responsibility from people living here illegally. They must be required to admit that they broke the law. They should be required to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, and learn English.”

Yes, how dare they not present themselves at once to the government? Do they think this is America? Oh wait. It is America. Well, never mind. Just confess that you broke a statute that violates the natural law, register (!), pay your tribute, and learn English. Why must they learn English? Does not knowing English violate someone’s rights? (As if there weren’t already some incentive to learn English.)

“They must get right with the law before they can get in line and earn their citizenship — not just because it is fair, not just because it will make clear to those who might wish to come to America they must do so inside the bounds of the law, but because this is how we demonstrate … what being an American means.”

Wasn’t there a time – once long ago – when “being an American” meant that the government operated inside the bounds of the natural law? (At least that was the theory.) It’s different now. The politicians arbitrarily make up the “law” as they go along, and rest of us are expected to live within its bounds as though its our civic duty. That’s what being an American means now

“Being a citizen of this country comes not only with rights but also with certain fundamental responsibilities,” Obama said.

And don’t be so naive as to think that your fundamental responsibilities are confined to respecting other people’s rights and taking care of your family. The government has a long list of other things you’ll have to do.

The politicians can give you lots reasons to “secure the border.” But they’re rationalizations, and each one might one day be used to justify issuing internal passports and securing the state borders. Even if it never came to that, contemplate how powerful government would have to be to prevent unauthorized movement across the 2,000-mile Mexican border, not to mention the Canadian border and the coastlines. It’s not doable, but a lot of power would be accumulated — and liberty destroyed — in trying.

  • Sheldon Richman is the former editor of The Freeman and a contributor to The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. He is the author of Separating School and State: How to Liberate America's Families and thousands of articles.