Free Immigration and Welfare State

Donald Trump’s controversial policies have sparked an immigration debate like no other. However, it would wrong to say that this is a recent development. This is because America has always had a segment of people who believe that immigration is harming the nation.

There has always been a lobby working to stop immigration right from the time of Milton Friedman i.e. the 1980’s. He once addressed the topic in a conference and made the famous remark that You can’t have open borders in a welfare state!. In this article, we will have a closer look at the meaning of that remark.

The Case against Free Immigration in a Welfare State

  • The Immigration Inconsistency:

    One of the biggest differences in the way people in America think today can be seen in their contrasting opinions on immigration through the ages. Almost all American believe that before 1914, immigration was a good thing. They think that the people that came across the border made America great in the first place and this is true. However, if they are asked if the same policy of open borders can be implemented now, almost everybody unanimously says that it would have a disastrous effect. The same people believe that America would be on the verge of bankruptcy in just a couple of decades if open borders were implemented.

  • Welfare State:

    Why is there such a stark difference in the immigration policy then and now? What has changed in 1914? Well, the answer is obvious. America is now a welfare state. This means that the state provides a minimum level of wages, medical care, etc, to each one of its citizens. America is now an exclusive club and membership to this club cannot be given out freely.

    The earlier immigrants used to come to America because that was their best opportunity. If they did not add value to America and earn enough money, they would starve, and the state wouldn’t be worse off. However, after implementing open welfare immigration and a borderless world are remote possibilities, forcefully implementing which will lead to huge losses.

    To sum it up, immigrants did make America great again. However, that was at a time when immigration meant something very different than what it does today.

  • Good as Long as Illegal:

    In the present scenario, therefore, Mexican immigration would be good for America as long as it is illegal. This is because the state would not be held responsible for paying out any benefits to these immigrants because they are illegal. The employers may benefit by paying lower wages, but this may harm the local workers. Since Mexicans typically take over jobs that Americans don’t want to do, this should not be much of an issue.

The Case for Free Immigration in a Welfare State

Although the Milton Friedman argument is quite logical, many believe that free immigration must not necessarily be stopped because of the welfare state provision. That argument is as follows:

  • Immigrants are not Interested in Welfare: Immigrants that take the pain of leaving their country and coming into the United States are ambitious people. They are out here to earn a lot of money and not live a life where the do nothing. Hence, it is unlikely that immigrants would add to the welfare recipients list. Also, this can be avoided by having extreme vetting to ensure that only those who are not likely to go on welfare are given visas.

  • Treating Vast Majority-Based on Paranoia: Many critics also call the United States policy as being paranoid. This is because they are leaving out a vast majority of people with good skills and capabilities because they fear that small amount of slackers might also come through. They believe that the additional tax revenue generated by the hardworking immigrants will more than pay for the freeloaders that come along. It would, therefore, be an unwise decision to ban the majority because of the minority. The argument does not take into account the fact that the number of freeloaders might increase3 significantly after free immigration becomes the state policy. This kind of policy might attract freeloaders from all over the world, and they may outnumber the genuine immigrants.

  • Have a Better Legal System: Also, the critics argue that the legal system of the United States is well developed for handling these cases. There is nothing in the law that does not allow the state to restrict the welfare payments only to people who have been residents for a certain number of years. Just like having your kid born in the United States does not automatically entitle you to a green card, similarly being an immigrant should not automatically entitle you to welfare benefits. The law should not promote xenophobia and boycott.

To sum it up, open borders and welfare state are inherently opposite constructs. It is not possible to have the two in conjunction without making special arrangements. The United States government will have to put in place laws that would prevent it from being ripped off by freeloaders in the name of free immigration.

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