Guests or Gate Crashers

March 29, 2006: Guests or Gate Crashers

Columns: Guests or gate crashers? Part II
Mar 29, 2006
by Thomas Sowell

Bogus arguments are a tip-off that you wouldn't buy the real reasons for what someone is doing. Phony arguments and phony words are the norm in discussions of immigration policy.

It starts with a refusal to call illegal aliens “illegal aliens” and ends with asking for “guest worker” status for people who are not guests but gate crashers. As for the substantive arguments, they are as phony as the verbal evasions.

What about all those illegal workers that we “need”? Many of the illegals are working in agriculture, producing crops that have been in chronic surplus for decades. These surplus crops are costing the American taxpayers billions of dollars in government storage costs and in the inflated prices created by deliberately keeping much of this agricultural output off the market.

Do we “need” illegal workers to produce bigger surpluses?

In California, surplus crops grown and harvested by illegal immigrants are often also subsidized by federal water projects which charge the farmers in dry California valleys far less than the cost to the government of providing that water — and a fraction of what people in Los Angeles or San Francisco pay for the same amount of water.

Surplus crops grown with water supplied at the taxpayers' expense and raised by illegal workers can be grown elsewhere with water provided free of charge from the clouds and raised by American workers paid American wages.

Naturally, when the real costs of those crops have to be paid by the farmers who raise them, less will be grown — that is, there will not be as much of a surplus going to waste in government-rented storage bins.

With some crops, we don't really “need” any of it. If the United States had not produced a single grain of sugar in the past 50 years, Americans could have gotten all the sugar they wanted and at lower prices, simply by buying it on the world market for half or less of what domestic sugar costs.

Sugar has been in chronic surplus on the world market for generations. It can be grown in the tropics far cheaper than it can be grown in the United States. All the land, labor, and capital that has been spent growing sugar here has been one huge waste.

We don't “need” to grow sugar, with or without illegal workers.

Many people are understandably sympathetic toward Mexican workers who come across the border illegally, not only because of the poverty which drives them from their homelands but also because their willingness to work makes them in demand.

When you see beggars on the street, they are usually white or black, but almost never Mexican. But American immigration laws and policies are not about whether you like or don't like Mexicans, though some demagogues try to play the race card.

For too long, we have bought the argument that being unfortunate entitles you to break the law. The consequence has been disastrous, whether the people allowed to get away with breaking the law are Americans or foreigners.

Legalizing illegal actions is the easy way out, so it is hardly surprising that politicians go for that.

One of the ways of legalizing illegal acts is by the automatic conferring of American citizenship on babies born to illegal aliens in the United States.

The law that made all people born here American citizens made sense when people crossed an ocean and made a commitment to become Americans.

Today, it is just another way of essentially legalizing illegal acts by making it harder to deport those who broke the law.

One of the most bogus of all the bogus arguments for a “guest worker” program is that it is impossible to find all the millions of illegal aliens in the country, so it is impossible to deport them.

If tomorrow someone came up with some brilliant way to identify every illegal alien in the country, it would not make the slightest difference. Right now, those who are identified as illegal, whether at the border, in prisons, at traffic stops or in any of our institutions, face no penalty whatsoever.

Identification is not the problem. Doing nothing is the problem.

Thomas Sowell is the prolific author of books such as Black Rednecks and White Liberals and Applied Economics.