Another question: Why are you so upset about this particular form of lawbreaking? After all, there are lots of laws, not all of them enforced with vigor. The suspicion naturally arises that the illegality is not what bothers you. What bothers you is the immigration. There is an easy way to test this. Reducing illegal immigration is hard, but increasing legal immigration would be easy. If your view is that legal immigration is good and illegal immigration is bad, how about increasing legal immigration? How about doubling it? Any takers? So in the end, this is not really a debate about illegal immigration. This is a debate about immigration.That's not a good test, unless Kinsley is arguing that a politician's desired amount of legal immigration should not depend (negatively) on the number of illegal immigrants who are already here. One does not have to argue that there are no differences between illegal and legal immigrants (for example, in their economic or fiscal impact) to assert that the key distinction of legality is relevant for public policy.
Additionally, why does Kinsley develop his article by excluding the possibility that a politician believes that the number of legally authorized immigrants each year is the appropriate one and wants to reduce total immigration to that target which emerged out of the democratic process? Later in the article, he suggests this is possible:
There is some number of immigrants that is too many. I don't believe we're past that point, but maybe we are. In any event, a democracy has the right to decide that it has reached such a point. There is no obligation to be fair to foreigners.But he should have written, "no obligation to be generous to foreigners." This is an important distinction. Telling the ones here illegally "to go home and not come back" is the way to be fair to "foreigners," particularly the ones near the front of that very long line.
But let's not kid ourselves that all we care about is obeying the law and all we are asking illegals to do is go home and get in line like everybody else. We know perfectly well that the line is too long, and we are basically telling people to go home and not come back.
He should also have written that we have no obligation to cede our decisions about who enters the country to the "foreigners." Insisting on a distinction between legal and illegal immigration is a way to keep control of that process. Why should we give up that prerogative? To be generous to some and unfair to others? I'm going to need a better reason than that.
And while we are on the topic of obligations, we should clarify what our obligations are to those who are here illegally. We are obligated to protect their basic human rights. We are not obligated beyond that to ease the considerable burdens they face in being here illegally, whether through issuing them drivers' licenses or providing a path to citizenship that recognizes their illegal tenure here. We may choose to do so, but we are certainly not obligated to do so.
And, referring back to the first excerpt, we are not obligated to ensure that immigration laws are "enforced with vigor" against those who have managed to enter illegally if the cost of enforcement is perceived to be too high or the consequences too disruptive. That in no way undermines our authority to enforce them with vigor against those who would seek to enter illegally in the future to prevent them from doing so. That seems to be where most of the Republican candidates are, and on this issue, that's where I am, too.