The Washington Post’s editorial board recently opined that a national ID card would be the most effective method to thwart illegal immigration. Their idea was bolstered by the fact that both President Obama and a bipartisan group of eight senators recently put forward similar ideas (“fraud-resistant, tamper resistant Social Security card”). Superficially this makes sense. If the problem is uninvited guests crashing your party then the most logical solution would be to demand your guests show their invitation at the door. The Post then dismisses any potential concerns about civil liberties as nothing more than empty rhetoric by citing the fact that 35% of Americans already have a passport.
The Post misses the point in a grandly ironic fashion by citing the innocuousness of the tool the state uses to violate our civil liberties whilst simultaneously ignoring the actual violation. Move along, nothing to see here. The truth is that ID’s don’t harm civil liberties; rather it’s those that require them that do. Government says to step from point A to point B you must show this card. Government says to get a job you must show this card. Government says to start a business you must show this card. There is no end to what new actions the government could conceivably try to control by making one’s right to engage in an action contingent on the possession of “proper” ID. Do you want to go shopping? Buy gas? Go to a movie? Buy a car? Open a bank account? Go to the library? Go to the park? Please – show me your papers. Yes, ID is already required for many of these things. But that is the point. It should not be. Think about it. What are you doing when you show your ID? You – a grown adult – are asking for PERMISSION to engage in some action. It is one thing to ask for permission to engage in something that is not a natural right (i.e. enter a private residence or business), it is quite another to ask permission from the State to engage in an activity that is innocuous to others (traversing a border, starting a business, getting a job, etc.). We are not children, and the State is not our parent. I stopped asking for permission when I turned 18. How about you?
Sadly the real immigration “problem” has never been addressed. The problem is immigration prohibition. In fact the prohibition of anything innocuous to third parties always leads to more harm than ever could result from the prohibited activity itself (violence being the primary result). Drug prohibition is at least plausible albeit still as harmful as alcohol prohibition. But immigration? How can immigration harm anyone? By “stealing” that lucrative low wage job no American wants? Some say immigrants drive wages down. Although nominal wages for low skilled labor may decline, real wages rise for society because cheaper goods and services mean each dollar buys more. Some say immigrants are mooching off our socialist safety net. Well seeing as how it is not so much as a net as it is a luxuriant feather bed what did you expect? Turn it back into a mere net and that problem will vanish. Both big employers and low skilled workers use government to protect themselves from competition. The former uses regulation and the latter uses immigration. A few benefit at the expense of the many.
The solution to “illegal” immigration is to end the prohibition on immigration. Completely free and open borders. Chaos? The end of America? Hardly. Illegal aliens constitute a mere 2% of the US population. Even if every Mexican (all 110 million) came to live in the US (an absurd notion) “native” Americans would still outnumber them 3 to 1. Since even that outlandish scenario would not “end” America, perhaps we should face what immigration control has always been about. Fear. Fear of the unknown, of new customs, of new languages, of new competition. It is only when we humans give in to fear and allow it to guide our actions do we engage in the most reprehensible and irrational behavior. Since fear guides all immigration policy perhaps it is time to examine the rationality of such policies. If the process of entering or exiting this country is indistinguishable from the process of entering or exiting a jail, then are any of us truly free?
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