Immigration is a moral issue

I’m glad to see many of my colleagues in the tech community promoting immigration reform (e.g., FWD.us). They point out that immigrants are often innovators and job-creators, and that immigration helps our economy. This is true and important, and it’s a good reason to loosen our draconian immigration laws.

But there is more that can be said—that must be said—in favor of open immigration. Immigration is an issue of human lives, of individual dreams and ambitions, of personal happiness and love.

Every immigrant is a human being with unalienable individual rights. They want to come here to pursue a better life. Their personal goal might be to teach at one of the world’s best universities, to work at one of the world’s best companies, or to pursue art in a country that gives freedom to artists. Or perhaps they just love our spirit of individualism and want to build their lives here no matter what they do.

We take those goals and we bury them under a mountain of paperwork. We take dreams and we put them on years-long waiting lists. We take futures and subject them to arbitrary caps and quotas. We take love and place it under the review and approval of government bureaucrats.

By what right? By what standard? There is no other form of bigotry in this country still practiced, still institutionalized against so many people. If we had special work permits just for women, it would be denounced as sexism. If we had caps or quotas on the number of blacks living in the country, it would be denounced as racism. But in the name of a misguided protectionism, we impose both of these on immigrants for no crime other than having been born abroad. We make exceptions for skill, for money, for intelligence—as if merely existing inside our borders were a privilege to be bought or earned.

And what of the US citizens who want the immigrants here? Have we no rights? For every worker we keep out of the country, we hurt the company and the team he would have joined. For every teacher we block, we hurt the students whose lives he would have touched. For every artist we deny, we hurt all the fans who would have loved his work. And what of the immigrant and the American who fall in love?

We should look at our immigration laws not merely as an economic inefficiency, but as a moral outrage. We should look at them with indignation and disgust.

In the name of individual rights, we should dismantle the entire bureaucracy of immigration restrictions. Open the doors. Let them in. Short of a threat to public safety, no immigrant should be denied entry to the US or residence here for any reason. Nothing less is morally conscionable.

Ask not what immigrants can do for our country. Ask: by what right, by what privilege, can anyone presume to keep them out?


Thanks to Ben Bayer and Manjari Narayan for commenting on a draft of this post.

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