Stephen Cox, editor of Liberty, sets out a very good one, with which I’m mostly inclined to agree. Particularly this point:
Poor people, and ethnically self-identified recent immigrants vote overwhelmingly for modern-liberal candidates, and modern-liberal candidates, once elected, take as the whole duty of life the effort to raise taxes and expand government programs and entitlements. They seek to bless their constituency with affirmative action programs, ethnic quotas, foreign-language maintenance programs, socialist and race-conscious school curricula, and every other modern-liberal institution that has any potential for transforming the United States into the Canadian or Mexican version of a progressive country. The expectation of political support explains why modern-liberal politicians are such vigorous proponents of immigration, why they are, even now, trying to enlist illegal immigrants in the electoral process (see “The Election of 666,” Reflections, August 2006 – a commentary that prompted a nice little flurry of hate mail). The same goes for labor unions. They used to be the biggest opponents of immigration. No more. Now most of them are endorsing every open-borders proposal that comes along. Why? Because they too have identified their natural constituency: unskilled, politically unsophisticated workers, just waiting to be organized in support of higher minimum wage laws, universal social welfare, and whatever other political demands the unions want to make.
Is it possible that politicians and labor leaders know a few things that libertarian theorists don’t? Is it possible that they have correctly identified the current immigration from third-world countries as the ultimate weapon in the attack on limited government?
To a considerable extent, as much of Cox’s evidence elsewhere in his piece suggests, poor immigrants are a constituency for greater government services whether or not they can vote. They can still exert statist political pressures in a number of ways, relatively weak though they may be. Probably the most serious source of such pressure is the opportunity poor immigrants give liberal (and all too many conservative) do-gooders to show their generosity and compassion by taxing the rest of us. Even if immigrants don’t clamor for social services, their mere existence is enough to provoke bleeding hearts into demanding that government provide for them.
Plainly enough, the potential harm poor immigrants can do to our liberties is mightily exacerbated if they get the vote. But illegal immigrants aren’t queuing up for naturalization and citizenship, right? Perhaps not; but any children of theirs born here are automatically American citizens, thanks to the prevailing jus soli interpretation of the 14th Amendment. If I could have just one immigration reform, this would be it: I’d restict citizenship to the children of citizens and to naturalized immigrants.
It’s true, of course, that by no means do all poor immigrants who get the franchise use it to vote for greater government. Can you exclude the libertarian few in order to keep out the socialist many? Absolutely. To do otherwise would be to sacrifice liberty to democracy. Some libertarians will object here that, hey, maybe tomorrow the odds will change and poor immigrants will be more likely to support less government. My reply is: the probabilities matter. Until we have good reason to believe that such a change has come about, we shouldn’t be gambling on enfranchising hundreds of thousands of unskilled, low-wage workers.
A more challenging objection might be to ask whether the outcome Cox outlines is really so bad relative to the alternative: higher taxes and greater support for affirmative action are certainly bad things, but they have to be weighed against the militarism and corporate cronyism that the other major party supports. (Though in fact both parties are in favor of militarism, affirmative action, and corporate cronyism, and whatever advantage Republicans appear to accrue from being for nominally lower taxes they lose by supporting deficit spending, which has to be paid by taxes or devaluation of the currency sooner or later.)