Immigration Reform: California Immigration Law is Step In Right Direction, But Ultimately Fails


Over the weekend, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill into law that would allow the DMV to issue driver licenses to illegal immigrants that are eligible for work permits under a new Obama administration policy. While not addressing many of the problems of illegal immigration, Brown's bill looks to be a step in the right direction in encouraging state-based immigration reform.

According to the sponsor of the bill, Los Angeles Democrat Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, this bill "will make roads safer while letting young immigrants drive to school and to work. His reasoning drew support from several Republican lawmakers, while other Republicans argued the state should leave immigration issues to the federal government."

Cedillo is right in the sense that without driver's licenses and work permits, illegal immigrants are essentially working in the black market. And in black markets, law and order are usually the exception. Whenever governments pass bans or prohibitions of services or actions that do not directly harm others (like drugs and prostitution), these services will still be provided — just by criminals instead of honest and open participants in the market.

As someone who has spent his whole life in California, I have witnessed first hand the effects of illegal immigration. In San Francisco where I live and work, I often come across groups of people (undoubtedly illegal) hanging out around U-Haul stops and construction sites looking for work and waiting for anyone who will hire them.

On the flip-side, immigrants, whether legal or illegal, do not pay much in taxes. and do receive the benefit of many tax-funded programs like medicine and education. This is just as unfair and wrongheaded as the other extreme of having the U.S. government centrally plan the border by building a fence or using federal troops to prevent their entrance.

No immigration reform can be complete without this requisite prohibition on the use of government services. There is nothing wrong with immigration, and one of the most exceptional things about the early U.S. was that there was virtually no immigration standards or passports. Like the free flow of capital, free immigration is a part of any market economy and the division of labor. But a nation can only have the wise policy of free immigration if there is also the equally wise policy of no mandated welfare benefits. Otherwise, resentment is built, and in the cases of many states in the South and Southwest, hospitals and schools going bankrupt and closing because of these coercive government mandates, including many federal ones.

Unfortunately, most Americans have come to accept the notion that every issue must be handled by the state in some form or another, and immigration is no exception. From a philosophical standpoint, what right does the government have to interfere in a voluntary labor agreement by fining and even jailing business owners who hire illegal immigrants? It is a common myth that immigrants "steal jobs" and "drive down wages." Immigration is actually a boost to the economy because in a world of scare resources; there is never a cap on the amount of work that is needed to be done. Just like the flood of women into the workforce in the last few decades, productive employment creates a ripple effect in demand and innovation. 

Besides, why draw the line at the Southern border? If New Yorkers banned all-non New York products and labor from their city, there would undoubtedly be plenty of jobs, but a tremendous dip in their standard of living.

It is a cliche, but America truly is a nation of immigrants — and broke ones too. The problem is not immigration, but like nearly every problem facing the world, it can be traced back to government intervention. A real solution to immigration and border security would be the extension of private property owners to exercise their right to defend their lives and property. Honest people simply looking for a better life would have no problem melting into a vibrant market economy, and admission and exclusion would be governed by private property owners, not bureaucrats in Washington. 

But potential criminals from across the border would be warned that trespassing will not be tolerated and met with force if necessary. Free association combined with properly defined private "borders" would do wonders to address the immigration issue.

Instead, like the production of money, security, and countless other industries, we have nationalized the immigration issue to predictably bad results. The drug war has turned the border into a war-zone, and the U.S. government (even if it were somehow capable of centrally planning the movement of people across a border) would rather protect the borders between North and South Korea and countless other hot-spots around the globe than our own.

So while Brown's bill is a step in the right direction for immigration reform, the best any government can do is to simply butt out, allow free individuals associate (or not associate) with whoever they please, and let the decentralized diversity of the market and private property determine who comes and goes.