I agree with this NY Times opinion essay by Lawrence Downes about the counterproductive abuse of the term Illegal Immigrant.

I acknowledge that a country should be able to control its borders and to determine who may not enter (mostly to deny entrance to dangerous people). It can also be a problem that the system taxes citizens to provide benefits to those who aren’t subject to those taxes. But, I think the problem is with the taxes and the benefit policies, not the people.

If you think that our system makes it too easy for people’s money to be taken and wasted by inefficiently conferring benefits on many who are undeserving, and thereby creating perverse incentives for further abuse…well so do I. I’ve thought so for many years. Let’s undo our idiotic systems. But, we shouldn’t blame immigrants for our mistakes. If immigrants taking benefits makes the unsustainability of our benefit programs apparent sooner, then maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that will hasten the moral and practical solution.

Most people do things that are illegal (speeding, jaywalking, gambling, etc.) Some things that are illegal are very bad, but many aren’t. I’d say crossing a border to seek a better life in a freer, wealthier, land is generally a good and brave thing to do; not something that should generate the hatred and fear that many seem to give it.

I don’t understand why it should be so important to people where someone was born, or whether he complied with some arcane bureaucratic laws (that are probably much more difficult to comply with than what our ancestors faced).

I understand the fears of cultural changes, but I think they are overblown. People do assimilate, eventually. And, if they don’t learn English perfectly, their children probably will, and their children’s children almost certainly will. People all over the world are learning English, because it’s so valuable and important to be able to trade and communicate with us. Why wouldn’t people here recognize these advantages?

And, if our culture changes…so what? There’s nothing sacred about the way it is now, or was at some imagined perfect time in the recent past. Change is good, and inevitable in any case.

So, I have to agree with those who claim that calling people illegal is often a code for xenophobic racism.


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