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Treat the Cause, Not the Symptom: Welfare State Is Draw for Illegals

While I commiserate with Arizona voters, public services are the problem, not illegals.

by
Gus Van Horn

Bio

April 30, 2010 - 12:00 am

With Governor Jan Brewer’s signing of SB 1070, the battle lines were drawn. The prospect of empowering and requiring law enforcement in Arizona to enforce federal immigration law raises civil rights concerns on both sides of the debate. Many supporters seem torn between these concerns and the prospect of overwhelming schools, social services, and the police if illegal immigration is left unchecked. However, as someone who sympathizes with its proponents, I must say that SB 1070 is wrong for Arizona for reasons far beyond civil rights issues.

SB 1070 deserves only one fundamental criticism: It would fail to protect the individual rights of American citizens — even if it hermetically sealed our borders and the police never touched a single American hair in the process of enforcing it. This is because the biggest headaches attributed to illegal immigration are not caused by it at all.

Take education. In Texas, where I lived for twenty years, schoolchildren commonly cross the border from Mexico to attend public schools. Many Americans there are justifiably upset about being taxed to educate non-citizens. I sympathize, but see this as a symptom of an even larger problem: I have no children at all, and yet I have been taxed to finance the educations of other people’s children for decades. I still am, even though I now live far from the Mexican border.

Take so-called social services. In 1986, Congress mandated that emergency care facilities not turn patients away on the basis of an inability to pay. My taxes and part of my personal outlays for medical care are taken from me to help finance that of other people. So what if some of the people I used to pay for in Texas were here illegally? No matter where I am in America today, my pocket is being picked to mend my neighbor’s leg although I have done nothing to harm him.

What difference does fencing out “freeloaders” make to me if my own countrymen scoff at the very idea of paying to educate their own children, or budgeting for their own medical expenses? Were the educational and medical sectors privately run, we would not attract or encourage freeloaders, and non-citizens who used these facilities would be paying customers. Who could complain about that?

Finally, take law and order. One does not need large numbers of immigrants around to suffer the dangerous consequences of another foolish government policy: the war on drugs. As recently as 2005, the National Survey on Drug Use and Health showed that the war on drugs has done nothing to reduce the frequency of drug use in America. It does succeed in many other respects, though. It fills our prisons (mostly with violators of possession laws), creates dangerous black markets for drugs that could be sold openly, and it already preoccupies and corrupts law enforcement. Exactly the same phenomena were observed nearly a century ago in Prohibition-era Chicago.

SB 1070 is wrong because it targets illegal immigration when the real problem is the existence of the welfare state. Immigrants did not start socialized education. Immigrants did not force law-abiding emergency care personnel to accept non-paying customers. Immigrants did not make it illegal for some of us to ingest chemicals that others disapprove of. Americans, forgetting that their government was established to protect the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, passed (and support) these laws. Americans chose to plunder each other’s pockets and run each other’s lives.

America has long benefited from freedom and immigration. She should re-embrace the former, not discourage the latter. Hard-working immigrants will appreciate this, while the lazy and shiftless will stay home.

Gus Van Horn is a neuroscientist and freelance cultural and political commentator who resides in the Boston area.
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