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Our American Heritage: A Critique of the Heritage Foundation Special Report on Immigration


I had intended today to write more about immigration in response to the Heritage Foundation's report which has been getting quite a lot of media attention.  However, in reading the report I find that it is really not about immigration at all.  Hence, neither is this blog.

I keep in my office a slim volume entitled "American Legacy: The United States Constitution and other Essential Documents of American Democracy."  I will begin today's blog with a quotation to remind us all of our nation's founding principles.  

"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness--That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government, laying its Foundation on such Principles, and organizing its Powers in such Form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

This is from the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, the foundational document of our nation.  Two vital principles are declared here, the first is found in that which is stated, the second in what is clearly and obtrusively missing.

A nation state, our forefathers declared, is not defined by its king or its territory, but by its people.  "Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed." This was a revolutionary idea for the founding of a state, though one which held much currency among the philosophers of the time.  

Absent from the Declaration is any mention of property, wealth, or possessions.  This was no oversight, but a deliberate choice of the drafters.  Much has been written, for instance about the influence of John Locke on the Declaration of Independence. Locke's Second Treatise on Government indeed describes the natural rights of people and how a legislature derives power only from the concession of power by the people.  However, the theme of property runs powerfully through Locke's treatise.  He refers to "life liberty, or possession..." and states that "the great end of men's entering into society [is] the enjoyment of their property in peace and safety..."  In contrast, the Declaration of Independence speaks not of property, but of Happiness.  Locke's phrases are turned into "Life, Liberty and Pursuit of Happiness,"  and the people are said to form a government "most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness," with no mention of property.

Thus, it is the people who are the foundation for our nation, and its reason for being.  It is their lives, liberty, and happiness which the government is created to protect. This principle has been reaffirmed through the centuries of our nation's existence, most eloquently by President Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg, stating that the sacrifice of lives in our Civil War was for the purpose that "government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."  

The Heritage Foundation report is all about people also-- about protecting our Nation from people.  Not people who are threatening violence or harm, but people who are going to diminish our country's wealth by using "police, fire, highways, parks, and similar services," and by going to school and by eventually becoming eligible for Social Security, Medicare, or even means-tested benefits.  The report is, in effect, a cost-benefit analysis of certain segments of the population.

Interestingly, it is not really a cost-benefit analysis of immigrants.  Rather, the report divides our nation in to "net tax contributors" and "net tax consumers."  The implication being that these "net tax contributors" are the worthwhile folks which we would do well to keep and perhaps get more of, while the "net tax consumers" we would do well to be rid of.  Who are these "tax consumers" who are running up such deficits?  1. Children, who "receive heavily subsidized public education." 2. Retired people who receive Social Security and Medicare, and 3. Poorly educated people who earn low wages.

It seems that the Heritage Foundation would like not so much to keep out immigrants, as to hire and fire our entire population at will.  I stated at the beginning that the report is not about immigration.  It is about class and wealth.  The report is nominally about undocumented immigrants, but that is only because that is the sole sector of the population that it is possible to "fire."

Undocumented Immigrants are a problem, according to the report, not because of their alienage, but because they have children and will eventually grow old.  Specifically: "Partly because they are younger, unlawful immigrant households have more children, with an average of 1.6 children per household compared to 0.6 among non-immigrant households. The higher number of children tends to raise governmental costs among unlawful immigrant households."  Of course, young families are not all bad because "the absence of elderly persons in unlawful immigrant households significantly reduces current government costs."  Lest you think that these immigrants will become less of a burden as they age and their children stop greedily devouring textbooks and school lunches, though, Heritage reminds you that they are mere mortals like the rest of us and "however, if unlawful immigrants remain in the U.S. permanently, the number who are elderly will obviously increase significantly."  If only we could rid our nation of the economically unproductive portions of the human lifecycle!

It is not just the kids and the old folks who are dragging us down though.  It is all those uneducated workers. Should any readers romanticize the noble laborer, Heritage Foundation cautions: "Many conservatives believe that if an individual has a job and works hard, he will inevitably be a net tax contributor (paying more in taxes than he takes in benefits). In our society, this has not been true for a very long time."  Yes, those busboys, landscapers, and hotel maids are all "net tax consumers" running up deficits.  The logical inconsistency of complaining both about the cost of educating children and about the cost of putting up with so many uneducated workers is not addressed in this report.

The solutions that Heritage recommends at the end include denying these workers Social Security, welfare, and Medicare, or making it so hard to get a job that they just leave. (They nicely do not go so far as to suggest we deny them use of police, fire, roads, and parks.)  Of course, these solutions only apply to the uneducated workers who are also undocumented.  Interestingly, they do NOT propose any solutions which might reduce the tax deficits run by all uneducated workers such as increasing workers' income and education.  

Now the Heritage Foundation claims "We believe the principles and ideas of the American Founding are worth conserving and renewing," but how does a cost-benefit analysis of the people of our nation conserve or renew the principle of a government of the people, by the people, and for the people?  What principles and ideas are advanced by dividing the nation into makers and takers?  Not the principles in the Declaration of Independence.  Not the principles and ideas in the U.S. Constitution which empowers Congress to collect taxes "to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare." This report is not an analysis of immigration policy, it is a call for the ideals of Ayn Rand to be applied against the only segment of the population which is not legally or politically protected from such social engineering.

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