Stopping the Flow of Illegal Immigrants

Steven Taylor has a long post on the futility of our current supply-side approach to illegal immigration. Among the problems he details are the sheer size of the border with Mexico, the incredible demand that drives people to risk everything to take menial jobs, and the unbearable costs entailed in measures that would actually work.

Illegal immigration presents exactly the same enforcement problems as illegal drugs. As long as the demand for a good is sufficiently strong that people are willing to break the law to secure it, all criminalization does is drive prices up and create ancillary crime. In the case of drugs, we get junkies robbing and killing in order to get the money to support their habit and an entire organized crime apparatus to protect the sellers and their market share. In the case of illegal immigration, it’s smuggling, forged documents, unpaid taxes, and other mostly white collar crime.

Ultimately, then, this becomes a problem to be solved on the demand side. Ideally, this would entail bringing the Mexican economy to the level where a job picking lettuce in the hot sun is not worth dying for while simultaneously allowing more workers to come across legally.

As the story this morning about subsidizing the medical care of illegals demonstrates, we’re not willing to bear the burdens of enforcing the law. That’s a bad thing. There should be no laws on the books that we don’t actually intend to enforce, let alone that are impossible to enforce. Doing so undermines respect for the law.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, US Politics, , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    “There should be no laws on the books that we don’t actually intend to enforce, let alone that are impossible to enforce.”

    Well, there are lots of those on the books. Just look at your own comments about the NC cohatibitation laws, or the various anti-sodomy laws on the books. I’m sure 90% of us have violated one form of those laws or another in our lifetime. So which laws do we think are worth enforcing? Like I said before, we think about our pocketbooks more than the immigration laws. Lots of people come by the 7-11s in NoVA looking for illegal immigrant day laborers. Who do you think work in the kitchens of the many restaurants that serve food at the low prices most of us like? Why is California produce so cheap? Who doesn’t like the cheap landscaping costs from the companies that hire these illegals?…and so on.

  2. James Joyner says:

    DCL: I agree that there are many antiquated laws on the books that are seldom enforced. I’d like to see them formally repealed so they can’t be selectively enforced. Indeed, I wouldn’t mind seeing most laws (aside from obvious ones like murder, rape, robbery, etc.) have sunset provisions so that they have to be renewed every decade or so on an individual basis.

    I’m not sure that the economy would fold if restaurant owners were forced to pay legal wages to dishwashers and such. Regardless, though, we need to either enshrine our desire for cheap Mexican labor in our laws–via more readily obtained work visas or some such–or otherwise rethink our policy. Having something be explicitly illegal yet tacitly condoned is a bad thing.

    I make the same argument about such things as speed limits, by the way.

  3. Susie says:

    i think that the law is stupid for not letting Immigrants come into the U.S. they are just jelous because the gov. knows that immigrants are hard workers and they are scared to admittit. they should band all this stupid laws and let everybody come in. if that happend the world would be a better place.

  4. LJD says:

    We should, admit tit. LOL