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Message to Restrictionists: Infants are Just Crappy Immigrants

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By Ahren Lembke-Windler on October 15, 2010

They don’t pay taxes! They show up in emergency rooms demanding treatment! They are free-riders on our national defense system! They expect to be educated FOR FREE! They look different physically! They have no knowledge of our rules and laws! They’ve never even read the constitution! They might depend on welfare or foodstamps! They refuse to work hard! They never ever volunteer! THEY DON’T EVEN SPEAK ENGLISH!!!! They are a scourge upon our society and they must be eliminated. They are…newborn babies.

If the above paragraph was written with any seriousness, I’d probably be typing it from a mental institution. Yet seemingly sane people, some of whom are considered dignified enough to be elected to public office make all of these arguments in justifying a policy that prohibits (with threat of force) people from other countries from freely living and working in the United States.

For a thought experiment, let’s consider the differences between the shiftless newborn from paragraph one and a 20-year-old immigrant from a very poor country. The immigrant’s primary education is already paid for. He is much more likely to get a job (recent statistics put the unemployment rate of newborns at nearly 100%) and begin paying taxes immediately. One of the most expensive periods of his life, health-care-wise, is already over. By basically every measure, anyone in their right mind would have to agree that the immigrant is more likely to be an economic net positive than the infant.

Oddly, nobody ever proposes disallowing newborns from entering society. I suspect even constructing a serious argument in defense of such a policy would make you seem rather off. In any case, it’s rare that I’ve heard an American come to the defense of other countries’ population control measures.

So why are people so eager to sign that newborn up for his Social Security card at the same time the immigrant’s green card is kept from him and surrendered only after a long, arduous, and fairly random process? Probably because it just seems really inhumane to not let people be born. I agree. But isn’t it also incredibly inhumane to deprive a willing-and-able adult, currently living in abject poverty, from attempting to improve his lot by participating in our economy?

I acknowledge that this is an over-simplification. Immigration is a very complicated issue, and there are much more reasonable (though still untrue, in my opinion) arguments for limiting it. Though, over time, even those arguments seem to be falling apart, as it’s been found recently that immigrants are likely to be net taxpayers and increase the wages of “natives”.

So, let’s be honest. The real reason we prefer new citizens in the form of infants to new citizens in the form of 20-year-olds from other countries, is that they are somehow “more like us.” The faux-economic arguments that get repeated over and over are just red herrings that allow us to not have to face our own prejudices. An infant is produced by somebody who is already a citizen, already “in the club.” And we too, belong to that club. When it comes down to it, we just care more about that person’s life than we do about the immigrant’s, DESPITE the fact that it makes no sense from a social welfare standpoint.

At best, this a bizarre, loose form of nepotism. You could also call it xenophobia, nationalism, or even bigotry. Take your pick. Maybe it’s even just “human nature.” But how much better (and better off!) would our country be if every time an immigrant crossed our borders, we felt the same joy at the emergence of a new citizen, as we do when a new baby arrives?

Ahren Lembke-Windler prefers orders that emerge to those that are shouted. An analyst and economics graduate student, his favorite pastime is drunkenly arguing whatever the opposite of your opinion is. He believes that Milton Friedman lies too far to the left, that live music is the ultimate expression of a civilization, and that American football teams punt way too often. Ironic, given that he holds the MIT single-season record for punting attempts.

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