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Why restrict immigration at all?

The Constitution and the laws of economics compel us to welcome all immigrants.

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Just in time for summer, the Senate is heating things up with immigration reform. The bill it's debating aims to shore up border security and start some 12 million illegal aliens on the path to citizenship. Despite passionate disagreement, voices across the political spectrum concur on two points: They insist the federal government should do something about immigration, and they're sure immigrants threaten American jobs.

People assert these claims as though they're self-evident. But they aren't, as even a basic understanding of the US Constitution and the principles of economics shows. And that means most of the premises about immigration are confused.

Real reform must build on the secure foundation of constitutional and economic truth – not on political talking points.

The US government has been tinkering with immigration law for decades now. Surveying the wreckage – heartbroken families, an underclass of exploited workers, and ruined lives – makes it clear why the Founding Fathers refused to trust the national government with power over immigrants.

That's right: The Constitution does not authorize the federal government to control immigration. Nor does it say anything about illegal aliens. We looked for a clause with directions for ranking immigrants on a points system – another feature of the Senate's reform bill – but we couldn't find one.

Sadly, lawmakers have repeatedly interpreted this silence as license for ill-conceived legislation. Congress began barring entry to the nation in 1875 with prostitutes and convicts. Soon, all sorts of people fell short of congressional glory: ex-convicts in 1882, along with Chinese citizens, lunatics, and idiots. Paupers, polygamists, and people suffering from infectious diseases or insanity made the list in 1891, while the illiterate were banned in 1917.

The biggest spur to antiforeigner fervor is always the same: natives fear that newcomers will swipe their jobs. Take, for example, the 1889 Supreme Court case challenging the Chinese Exclusion Act. The Court upheld the exclusion because the Chinese had competed "with our artisans and mechanics, as well as our laborers in the field.... [Californians wanted] prompt action ... to restrict their immigration."


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