Tuesday, December 18, 2012


I want to start out going straight for the jugular, addressing perhaps the most controversial aspect of the debate surrounding immigration reform, namely amnesty.

There are several reasons why many are in favor of some type of amnesty for unauthorized immigrants that would allow them to both come out of the shadows and remain in the United States. For one, from an economic standpoint, there would be a short term economic fallout if millions of people in the workforce suddenly dropped out (economies are pliable and would eventually readjust). Second, many unauthorized immigrants have family residing in the United States legally. Forcing these individuals to leave the country would impact millions of additional people in myriad ways. For example, children would be forced to leave the country or grow up without a parent. Family members may have to alter their contributions to the family's well-being, which might include work over education or relocating to more economically depressed neighborhoods. The impact on an individual level should not be underestimated. Deportation does rip apart families, and in some instances communities, and this point should not be a matter of debate.

Those opposed to amnesty balk at the message that amnesty would send to prospective immigrants patiently waiting to enter the United States through legal channels. After all, what's the incentive to wait for possibly a decade or more for your paperwork to go through when those who cut the line are now afforded the opportunity to legally reside in the United States? A second argument concerns the impact that any amnesty-type provision would have on future behavior. If you live in a foreign country and you know that lawmakers enact an amnesty-type program every few decades or so in an attempt to "solve" the immigration crisis, wouldn't you be more inclined to take a chance to come here illegally and wait it out? The same incentive structure might make those in the United States more inclined to stick it out as well. Finally, there is the rule of law argument. If we are a society of laws, then how can we justify rewarding individuals who so blatantly disregard the laws of the land?

I will discuss some of these specific points in a future post. At this point, however, I would point out the need for both sides to consider the very real tension between the individual and society as a whole. Those opposed to amnesty need only think about someone they care about deeply and imagine that person may be deported. It really does change the calculus. Those in favor of amnesty must do the opposite. Recognize that in some instances our social structure and legal system are only able to be sustained because we divorce our feelings about the impact a law may have in any specific instance and think more holistically about how a law or set of laws benefits society as a whole.

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