Both Sides of the Illegal Immigration Argument – Where are YOU?

by Darwin on July 11, 2010

There are two sides to every story and the story of illegal immigration in the US is stacking up to be a major issue in US politics and water cooler talk as rhetoric on both sides of the debate increases.  I’ll seek to be as objective as possible and in doing so, immigrants who are in the US illegally are hereinafter referred to as “illegal immigrants” and not “undocumented workers”.  The latter is a politically correct term put forth by advocates and contradicts the fact that many are not even working (children, etc) not to mention that they are here illegally…but I’m looking at both sides seriously so bear with me.  Let’s start by looking at why the immigration issue may be overblown given the benefits and unintended consequences of a change in direction:

Arguments Against Vilifying Illegal Immigration

  • Net Benefit to all Americans – Low costs and outsourcing of work that our prior generations did themselves is rampant amongst this generation of Americans.  More than any prior generation, we pay people to mow our lawns, clean our houses, we eat out a lot more, and in general, we like things on the cheap so we can have more of it.  This is the American way.  My father and his father and those before them mowed their own lawns (me too), but these days, most of my friends and family outsource this.  Our parents didn’t order out on Friday nights like we do.  We have friends where even with mom or dad at home and not in the workforce Monday to Friday, they still use housekeepers instead of mom and dad teaming up to keep the house clean.  Without cheap labor (well below the Federal or state minimum wage and/or going market rate), we’d pay much more for everything from landscaping to fresh fruit to McMansions in the burbs (all those cheap houses and cheap loans are now resulting in Strategic Defaults).
  • Doing Jobs Americans Won’t Do – This is a common argument and while it has some merit, I don’t think it is stated properly.  There’s no such thing as a job Americans won’t do.  It should be framed more as a job Americans won’t do on a large scale at such a cheap rate.  After all, there are plenty of legal US residents cleaning out septic tanks, working in sewers, in the sanitation industry, and even doing the same jobs many illegal immigrants are currently employed in.  It’s a free market and in this current free market, the government stated unemployment rate is close to 10%, with the real number much higher.  The bottom line is that there are ample Americans to do the jobs that need to be done, but many find it beneath them to do that type of work at the going pay rate.  We all know that if you pay someone enough to do a given job, no matter how undesirable, they’ll do it (do you think little girls grow up saying they want to be a prostitute when they grow up?  No, but it pays quite well compared to their other prospects).  So, the real issue is that illegal immigrants do jobs for less money than legal residents.
  • You’d Do the same for Your Family – If you were living in a horribly depressed area in Mexico and you were all too aware of your friends and neighbors who had went north to the land of opportunity and were able to send money back home to their families and be virtual heroes in their eyes, wouldn’t you seek to do the same?  With Western Union, it’s as simple as earning money, wiring it home and being able to take care of mom, dad and the whole family unit while being able to feed and house oneself in America.  If you were in this situation, wouldn’t you do the same?  I know I would.  I do see the perspective of the struggling worker who wants to provide a better life for their family though.  But just because I’d want to do the same, it doesn’t make it right – or legal.
  • Discrimination Against Legal US Residents – As seen by the recent Arizona legislation allowing law officers to question civilians when reasonable causes presents itself and the subsequent announcement that the White House will file a lawsuit to stop the enactment of the policy, there are advocates concerned that legal residents will be subjected to harassment and detention simply for looking the way they do or speaking their native language.  While many say, “Well if there are 8 of them in a car and they’re speaking Spanish, it’s obvious they’re illegal immigrants”, I always remind to think about your own ancestors.  My grandmother only spoke French and I had friends that had an elderly relative that only spoke Italian or Greek or wherever their ancestors came from.  At no time did I ever question their legal status or think they shouldn’t be here.  America’s a melting pot after all and we all came from somewhere else over the past few generations (save for Native American Indians of course).

Arguments for Taking on Illegal Immigration

  • American Jobs Are Being Lost – While I cited the notion above that illegals aren’t necessarily doing jobs that Americans won’t do, but rather, they’re just doing them at a lower rate, it stands to reason that if employers were forced to employ American citizens, they’d have to pay the Federal or State minimum wage to Americans.  This would certainly have the immediate result of more job openings for Americans.  Indirectly though, it may result in layoffs and less jobs elsewhere as cost structures are whipsawed.  If you’re a restaurant that normally have 5 employees in the kitchen at 4 bucks an hour and now you’ve got to pay double that, the theory goes, you might try and get by with 1 or 2 fewer workers in the kitchen by changing some things around.  Maybe it makes sense to rely on productivity (equipment) to cut labor costs.  Maybe some other changes.  Bottom line is it’s not clear what the net impact would be since the equation is so complex, but there would be some winners and some losers.
  • Crime – Many people point to the increase of drug-related crime both along the border and within the US cities in border states.  Over the border, there’s an all-out war between police and drug gangs with shootouts and horrific acts of terror against law enforcement being carried out daily.  Within US cities, there are some pretty surprising kidnappings and killings all being perpetrated by illegal immigrants in the drug trade but these crimes seem to get little air-time since they are often perpetrated against other immigrants, and not US citizens.  Should suburban Americans start getting caught up in these crimes, you can bet there’d be more anti-immigration sentiment nationally.
  • Overwhelming the System – A key complaint supported by both anecdotal and economic evidence is the notion that the system is being overrun by illegal immigrants.  All kinds of public services like emergency rooms and police resources are being diverted to deal with issues related to non-Americans while they’re not paying local or federal taxes.  They may pay sales taxes on locally purchased items, but many cities are seeing their systems overwhelmed treating and caring for people who haven’t contributed to the tax coffers.  This is a continual sense of frustration and resentment that is festering.

My Take

From a pragmatic standpoint, I understand that no amount of enforcement, deterrents, walls or otherwise is going to completely put an end to the driving force to leave a lousy area and migrate to a better one, in this case, to America.  I also recognize that there would be financial consequences to having zero illegal immigrants in the country.  However, in viewing the situation in terms of right and wrong, aren’t we a country of laws?  We used to be, but our own Federal government is actually fighting states that are trying to enforce laws that aren’t being enforced by the Feds out of desperation.  It’s absurd.  Illegal immigrants are able to get driver’s licenses, attend schools on the public dime, get medical treatment and bear children who automatically become Americans.  The funny part is, for all the complaining from Mexico on Arizona’s “draconian” policy, Mexico’s immigration policy is more more rigid than that of the US, but everyone’s a hypocrite, right?  There’s no easy solution.  A few things are apparent.  People are driven by incentives.  If you incentivize people to come here they will.  Because it is so easy to find employment at a rate higher than they can find in their home countries, people always have, and always will seek to come here, even at their own peril.  If you really wanted to deter illegal immigration, you’d make it prohibitively expensive to employ illegals.  The vast majority of money we’ve spent actually trying to stop them has been a complete and utter waste.  The walls don’t work, the high-tech deals we did with Boeing and others for cameras and sensors in the deserts are a joke (issues with reliability, working in the rain, etc), and once you catch them and send them packing, they just come back again.  It’s that easy, many return 6 and 7 times until they finally make it through.  So, there’s got to be a different approach, but it’s doubtful that Congress will ever enact anything that’s actually efficient and useful – it’s not in their lexicon.  In looking at the current state of affairs, it’s evident millions of illegals are here to stay and there will always be some form of under the table employment.  The question is, do we start legalizing them through some means of qualification and fees?  Do we do a mass amnesty program?  Do we start getting more aggressive with deportations?  These are all options, but there’s the political component to consider as well.  There’s a democratic supermajority and the same legal demographic votes overwhelmingly in favor of the dems.  Do you really think there’s going to be any actions whatsoever from the Federal government on this?  That leaves it to the states.  It’s really a difficult situation that pits states against the Feds.  I have some ideas that mix the spirit of the law with pragmatism but I’m not so naive to believe I have all the answers or that there’s an easy solution that’s both fair and effective for the net outcome to the country – because there will certainly be individuals unhappy with any particular outcome.

I’m interested in your thoughts.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

David Leonhardt July 11, 2010 at 10:17 pm

On the one hand the USA i a country of laws; yes, agreed, absolutely. And the world also accepts laws between countries (since that is hat we are talking about – migration between countries) regarding rights and responsibilities related to borders.

On the other hand, who says that any human being (or group of humans – “tribes” – such as those forming a country like the USA) has the right to put up a fence to keep other human beings from moving freely where they wish? In other words, what right does a country have to establish and patrol a border? (Yes, I am a libertarian.)

On the other hand (my third hand?), when people are free to freely wander, they are also freed from protection against wild beasts and other tribes of humans…such as those who make laws in the name of their tribe, in this case a tribe called the USA?

On a philosophical level, I find the whole thing gets pretty circular and it comes down to practical matters. While laws must be respected, I deplore the hatred which many people have shown. Darn tootin’ I’d do the same for my family. I would try to get in legally, but when you’re sinking in a latrine, you’d get out illegally if that’s the only way. And I have yet to hear of a single ship-em-out protester offering to step in and pick dates or oranges or whatever for $4.00/hour. So I have a lot of sympathy for the “illegals”.

I think my take would be to grant selected amnesty, that is to say “Not so fast!”, and process quickly those that seem to have the potential to be upstanding citizens down the road. Is this practical? No idea. But it sure is better than just throwing hatred at the problem.


Doug July 12, 2011 at 7:07 pm

Wow David, you’re an idiot. Of course illegals can earn $4/hour cause when they ship that money back to Mexico it will be a fortune for their families. Illegals driving wage prices down is a huge problem for Americans who actually pay for taxes and services. No wonder LEGAL Americans can’t find jobs. And it’s a lot cheaper to be illegal anyway thanks to our dumbass government. I can’t walk over to Canada and say “I think I’ll just chill here from now on, but not gonna pay for any taxes or services. But if my kids get sick you’ll take care of them, right?” Laughable. Only in America do you find such disillusioned liberals with this “everyone should have a chance” attitude. Do some research and you will find out why it’s nice and theory but totally impossible.


Shaun September 3, 2011 at 6:57 am

Can the guy not have an opinion on the subject without being called an idiot? Every argument you make afterward is clouded by the first ad hominem attack you made. No where in his rather clearly stated post did he call anyone opposing his views an idiot. But you did. Think about that, you rigid-thinking imbecile (see how nice that feels?)


Carmen November 21, 2012 at 4:48 am

If you WANT all the jobs that Americans “can’t find”, why not call the landscaper, or restaurant worker, or the person driving the trash collecting truck who is so obviously illegal, call the cops on them, and take their job of trash collecting for 4.50/hr? I’ll have you know, the only reason an American can’t FIND a job, is because they’re not looking. I’ve put out two job applications in my whole life, granted I’m still young, and guess what? I got two jobs! And, I also got asked to work at, at least THREE other jobs without even turning in an application or knowing anyone there.
And what’s wrong with having a “everyone should have a chance” attitude? I’ll have you know, that your ancestors were illegal immigrants. Want to know why? Because they American Indians’ didn’t want them here. Our ancestors took their land, we took land from Mexico, we attempted to take land from Canada, and you know something? All those people didn’t want us there. So you, good sir, should clean your own eye out before you try to tell someone else what they have in theirs, because I’ll have you know there should only be one race on this planet, and you want to know what it is? Humans.


Cormac March 7, 2013 at 12:10 am

“I’ll have you know, that your ancestors were illegal immigrants. Want to know why? Because they American Indians’ didn’t want them here. Our ancestors took their land, we took land from Mexico,”
Do you realize what you’re saying. The Native Americans lost their lands due to an overwhelming influx of foreign populations that did not assimilate into their way of life (Same story with Texas leaving Mexico.) and you’re saying we should allow overwhelming amounts of Latin Americans into the United States and just hope that there is no gross repetition of history.


Jesse July 12, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I agree that hatred only fuels the fire and doesn’t fix any of the problems. My take is that yes, they are breaking the law by being here illegally, but the government makes it so difficult for anyone to legally get into the country, there is little choice in the matter.

My other thoughts are that, how they entered and are staying in the country aside, illegals do jobs that no one wants to do, and they do it happily. For those workers, I say, welcome, grant them citizenship so they start paying taxes like the rest of us.

But to those that don’t work and are actually taking advantage of programs meant for citizens, (welfare, food stamps, soup kitchens, etc.) and feel they deserve the same benefits of living in America that citizens do, that’s not fair to citizens here.

It is circular logic and there is good with the bad, on both sides.


eggdogg October 9, 2011 at 6:03 pm

The thing with amnesty is, if and once this illegal is granted that then he/she has made it more difficult for the “legal” immigrant to obtain a job because now he will be assed out by the illegal who was given amnesty, who will except an even lower wage to work.


Darwin July 12, 2010 at 10:57 pm

It’s a tough issue and add political voting segments to it and you know the politicians will screw it up. Ideally, you figure out a solution for the people here now and you figure out a solution for people who want to come. Apparently Germany recently considered intelligence tests for immigrants there and that was found to be offensive so that idea was killed (the horror! only letting in the best and the brightest). There should be some criteria that is reasonable though – no criminal history, some sort of skill/ambition once in country, ensuring we’re at least getting something in return for what the country has to offer. We do benefit from immigrants; population growth is a strong driving force for our economy and some countries are suffering as a result of stagnant population/declines. However, who are we getting? At the moment, we have no idea…


eggdogg October 9, 2011 at 6:07 pm

who are we getting? people who have destroyed their own country basically. Maybe it’s not their fault of their own because of ignorance and no education on how to be self contained and productive and to clean up their own messes, can you imagine what this people will do to our state? Some of these people have no sense of wanting to learn “our” culture, they think “we” need to adapt to them. If Mexico is a mess, what do you think will happen to our cities? Our state/s? sure, this makes me sound horrible but in reality, what will it create?


cocao October 20, 2012 at 11:39 pm

1st . I think it is a mistake to assume that the people responsible for the cause of poverty stricken mexico as well as the people unable to bring mexico out of poverty are correlated with the current immigrants trying to cross illegally. …
2nd our state? please define our because currently in california there are estimated 3 million illegal immigrants in our state according to so they’ve been apart of “our” state for a while .
3. what will it create? this is not a new fad coming to the united states from a foreign country . specifically mexico. if we blame them for our low employment rate can we really determine illegal immigration is a SINGLE cause to our current struggling economic system?

as far as a solution seeing as the current situation is not fitting.

i think it would be nice if the hard working illegal immigrants could become citizens; then get taxed so we have more money able to pay for gov’t spending aka SCHOOLS ( lets stop laying of teachers and get good education ).

side note: its not just illegal immigrants were paying taxes on for healthcare and etc. the U.S also has a significant amount of drugged out mother and fathers on welfare, food stamps , and health care systems that when we give them these benefits they are only the begging dog coming back because they know they don’t really need to work for there fix. .. Yes they might be legal citizens but why should they be? what are they contributing?
At least a vast majority of illegal immigrants are working sometimes up to 12 hours a day,not supporting our drug industry (simply because they need to save all the money they have to send it back home), and applying by all laws enforced by police because if they don’t they will be found and deported .


Financial Bondage July 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm

We don’t need new laws. Follow the laws on the books. Come here legally and you are welcome here. Otherwise you are not. A country that won’t protect it’s borders is no longer a country. Hatred or politics has nothing to do with it. The law is the law.


aeon November 18, 2010 at 10:01 am

Our country was built on freedom, not laws. Nowhere in the constitution does it even mention immigration. Not only that, but we started this country by stealing the land in the first place, now we don’t want to share it by creating rigid immigration laws? And now we’re profiling Mexicans-Americans by having our police stop them and check their papers? It’s pretty ridiculous. Coming to live in our country is a compliment to us, we should be grateful that they want to work here and help our country grow.


eggdogg October 9, 2011 at 6:12 pm

what’s wrong with being stopped and asked for papers? citizens get stopped all the freakin time, get over that. Instead, police ask for your license and reg and if you don’t have, then the next question about insurance, then rises more questions, that’s where they first start off with, not “sir or ma’am, do you speak English and are you from Mexico”? I don’t think so. And how are they helping the country, aside from the obvious that we know of when it comes to benefits of a corporation.


Darwin November 18, 2010 at 10:35 am

So…you’re in favor of anarchy? You CAN have Freedom and Laws, they are not mutually exclusive.


whitney February 28, 2011 at 11:50 pm

hi! I am using your arguements for a college paper on illegal immigration….i was hoping to get the authors full name for my work cited page…any help would be greatly appreciated!


Darwin March 12, 2011 at 5:51 pm

I flattered. But I blog anonymously. So, please link to my article.


John March 8, 2011 at 7:56 am

As an American, I just want to go where the jobs are. In the current global economy America may not have the most competitive and lucrative jobs. In fact, the idea of a country as an economic unit is an anachronism. Governments don’t create wealth, they collect it (through taxes) and re-distribute it. Businesses, work across borders, nations, and jurisdictions. Why do multinational corporations get to work internationally, but as an individual I am tied to my country of origin (where the job prospects may not be so good)? I want the freedom to work in India, Jordan, Italy, and Thailand without special sponsorship and visa requirements. Just like Multinational Corporations have the freedom to operate where the cost of labor is the cheapest, I want the freedom to work where my skills can be best compensated. From this standpoint, I can only support illegal immigrants.
On another note, I have friends in Italy, China, and the Czech Republic who live in foreign countries but work online for US companies. They are essentially living in a foreign country but being paid in their native country. Is this situation okay since they are not taking jobs away from locals? Or is it okay because they are in the countries legally?


Darwin December 15, 2012 at 3:49 pm

I’d say both are OK. They are there legally and employers should employ whoever they want, especially if it’s a virtual job. If it’s totally online and someone works from Italy, I wouldn’t care if it’s an American or an Italian


Koda Hagan March 10, 2011 at 1:06 pm

You know, just because there are fewer jobs in the world, doesn’t mean we can blame the immigrants for it. It’s the economy. It’s just life. We can continue to blame people who came here looking for a job, OR we can try to fix the economy and try to get more jobs open out there for everyone. I choose the second one because some of my friends came from other countries and I choose to keep them.


Darwin December 15, 2012 at 3:51 pm

I think the “quality” of illegal immigrants is part of what fuels the flames. Americans seem to like that they do jobs many Americans won’t, but when they commit a crime, then it’s time to deport them all. There needs to be serious consideration of how to address the whole population at large


Cormac March 7, 2013 at 12:17 am

Excuse me. Our unemployment rate has been above 8% for the last 4 years (With the exception of that dip during the election). It’s not a matter of people not wanting to do the work, it’s a matter of people not being able to do the work.


Erik Barone May 12, 2011 at 9:57 pm

If anybody noticed how Europe is handling their immigration problem, which is FAR worse than ours, they are much more drastic than even Arizona. There they have huge sections of cities that are Muslim, and there are laws, especially in France, where their culture is restricted. Even in this day and age we are much more of a melting pot than Europe. A tenth generation Frenchman whose family was originally from Algeria is no more French than a first generation immigrant (in the eyes of the French). I do not believe in some of our laws, such as those where we can stop people for their papers, this isn’t Nazi Germany, but there is a line. Perhaps we should open up legal immigration slightly, and try to scale back on illegal immigration. No matter what we do, no one will be completely happy. Maybe we could get law enforcement to run a check on every illegal that they find. If said person is living a good life and making an honest living, then they could be brought into the immigration process, or even just made a citizen. But if the person is involved in crime or drugs, then kick them back to whence they came. I’m a sixteen year old, and I personally do not tolerate drugs among my friends, and even though many say that pot is harmless, it isn’t. A major source of the drug trade is through illegals, and it is simply absurd that we are not doing enough.


eggdogg October 9, 2011 at 6:22 pm

no s*** it isn’t Nazi Germany. And nor do illegals who are caught , get put into a gas chamber or concentration camp or forced to work till they die in a camp, nor are they told to strip off their clothing till they are naked in the middle of January and told to march or work. Nor are they put into groups of firing squad and shot to death. I think when people say that that law Arizona has comes close to a latter Nazi era, they are totally insulting what the holocaust survivors went through. You can’t compare this particular law to that. You want to compare any law to Nazi Germany is Mexico’s laws on illegal immigrants who come from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, etc. If you have no idea what they do, do a little research.


Darwin December 15, 2012 at 3:52 pm

As soon as someone invokes Nazi comparisons, I know they have very little intelligence or credibility. Unions like to use this whenever a free market bill is proposed as well.


MLP November 1, 2012 at 1:12 am

I have read the article and comments and I think that each individual brings up some valid points and definitely provide many different perspectives but what I would like to remind people is that although immigrants from Mexico are a big portion of the immigrant population, they are not the only country from which illegal immigrants come from. So in a sense I feel it is a bit unfair to simply target Mexicans when they are not the only illegal immigranta in the country.


Darwin November 1, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Mexicans compose the majority of all illegals in the country (est 61%). But yes, there are others.


Jay December 14, 2012 at 9:17 pm

Qualifications and fees would be great. Learn English and fees for crossing the border would make up for some access to social services and tax revenue. The incentives to learn english would put the inconvience at their feet not ours. Citizen tests, DMV forms, Social Security and Welfare forms all in english. American applicants not denied employment in local government jobs in social service because they’re not bilingual. Save money by outsourcing translation services to private for-profit third parties if individuals show up with no translators of their own, now looking around the room like a deer in head lights asking any or everyone passing by “habla espanol”, holding up the line. If every time they have to come out of pocket for translation (hospitals possible exemption) they would learn to bring their own translators or learn the language.


Darwin December 15, 2012 at 3:54 pm

Interesting ideas, but all these assume that we have some sort of control over who comes in and how. We don’t. We’d have to start at square 1, control the border, and then enact importation based on requirements. 10+ years from start to even contemplate getting there


NoWarningShots February 22, 2014 at 2:42 am

I feel empathy for both sides, but I feel the only solutions are to round up all illegals and seal the border or annex Mexico (if necessary by force). Their government is causing all of this and their citizens want to come over. We take over Mexico and grant citizenship to any people willing to obey our laws. The cartels and corrupt government will have to be killed, but unless Mexico is fixed from the inside it is a matter of national security.


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