Illegal Immigration

Local leaders of Chesterfield County asked the school board to investigate the legal status of children they suspected of being illegal immigrants. The school leaders denied the request, leaving local leaders a little annoyed, but as determined as ever to fight illegal immigration.

Leaders of the movement against illegal immigration frame the issue as an economic and legal one. For example in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article, Kelly Miller, the Chairman of the Board of Supervisor said “I feel we have a duty to the citizens of Chesterfield County to try to find out what these people are costing us and find out how we can deal with this in a lawful fashion”, while earlier noting that “if there are kids in the county schools here illegally from Richmond or Petersburg and we find out about those kids, they can be removed from our schools. But if they happen to be in this country illegally, we can’t do a thing.”

And while I certainly agree with the leaders of the movement against illegal immigration that there is an economic and legal dimension to the issue, I am not convinced economic and legal issues are the heart of the larger issue that they make it out to be. Without getting into the argument about exactly how much illegal immigrants contribute economically and cost economically, in which there is both sides offer conflicting data, I don’t buy the economic argument because those against immigration who base their arguments on the high costs often cite example of illegal immigrants using public goods.

Some goods like a bridge or road, while open to the public, were built to benefit a certain class of people, possibly those who live adjacent to the road or those who could find e more profitable work if a bridge was built connecting them to bigger job markets. Often, such bridges or roads charge user fees or tolls so that those who benefit from their construction, pay the taxes that ultimately pay for their costs. Other goods, because of the nature of the benefits derived from them are spread out to a society of a whole, and because they are crucial to providing opportunities to all that we don’t use user fees, but pay for through general funds. Something like education creates an educated workforce, creates an informed population, instills fundamental values in our youth (thus decreasing things like future crime rate and such), teaches social skills to our youth, and gives people enough training and skills that allegedly anybody can make(a highly valued idea in our society). Thus same benefits derive whether we are educating a citizen or child of an illegal immigrant. Assuming that they will stay in the area, children of illegal immigrants will be much productive members of society if they have an education, have been instilled with moral values, and have obtained the other benefits of an education. Thus not only do they benefit from the investment, but society as a whole benefits from the investment.

My guess is websites like Mothers Against Illegal Immigration are better true indicators of what drives the anti-illegal immigration movement. The mission statement from the website in part reads:

Our beautiful Nation has been turned into a jungle by the mass invasion of illegal aliens – the streets of America; the neighborhoods and communities where we live; the malls and stores where we shop; the schools where our LEGAL children attend – and yes, even the churches where we worship – are now the Citadels of fear, bigotry, racism, physical danger and hate! The LEGAL children of America’s 21st century have become the scapegoats and the victims of this invasion of illegal aliens. They have become – the get behind, the left behind, the back of the class, the back of the bus, the get off the playground, the get out of my way – pawns and victims of peer abuse and societal indifference.

I see no reason not to take the website at face value, that they are against illegal immigration because they are against the ills of modern society, racism, high crime, and though not explicitly mentioned like economic uncertainty and the weakening of the family core.

But what the statement fails to do is establish a connection between illegal immigration and any of problems they cite. Arguments could be made that there is a connection. At the most obvious level you could say illegal immigrates commit crimes and cause racism. However, according to the last census Chesterfield County was composed of 77% Caucasians and 18% African Americans. If we believe Chesterfield County to be fairly typical of the areas complaining about illegal immigration it is doubtful that illegal immigrants would play such a large role in crime and racism because of their small numbers. Alternatively you could argue that illegal immigrates indirectly cause such problems. The argument would go, that in reaction to higher crime, weakening families, economic up’s and downs and the social consequences of those cycles, the remedy is in forming tight knit communities that create large, but strong social support networks for people and that immigrants by the fact that they are different weakened and destroy such networks, hence the “even the churches where we worship” statement from the Mothers Against Illegal Immigration’s mission statement (wouldn’t they be happy immigrants were worshipping at church?) This indirect explanation might explain why a place like Chesterfield County feels so threatened by a small number of illegal immigrants.

Yet such an argument fails because such arguments misunderstand the complicated reasons for the rise of modern societies problems, misunderstands the reason for the failure of social networks to counter-balance these new problems (which are probably more attributable to things like long hours parents work, influence of TV, rampant consumerism, and so on), and finally scapegoat a set of people who cannot only socially be defined as “others”, but can also be legally defined as “others.”

I don’t doubt for a minute that the leaders of Chesterfield County feel like the have an obligation to investigate potential free riders (which is necessarily correct, as employers tend to deduct taxes just the same as everybody else from most immigrants pay checks and which also misunderstands the nature of goods like education), who are costing taxpayers their hard earned money. Likewise I have no doubt that groups like the Mother’s Against Illegal Immigration feel they are fighting for the future of their children, but until such groups recognize the complexity of the issues they are dealing with, in effect all they are doing is scape goating a vulnerable segment of our society for society’s ills as a whole.

Click here for ACS W&M’s previous coverage of this issue

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Published in: on March 5, 2007 at 10:43 pm Comments (1)

One Comment

  1. On March 17, 2007 at 9:09 pm pfwag Said:

    The collateral affects of illegal immigration are far more complicated and worse than most people imagine.

    I researched it for a year. My conclusions are posted at http://www.usillegalaliens.com/

    Peter Wagner – the author of the report