Got A Migrant Problem? Legalize Work

Bill Frezza Fellow, Competitive Enterprise Institute
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Donald Trump wants to build a wall on the U.S. southern border. Europeans are terrified of being overrun. No one really knows how to stop what is ballooning into one of the great global mass migrations in history. The drivers are different – economics in Latin America and spreading chaos across the Middle East. But the results are the same. Millions upon millions of people are pulling up stakes, many risking their lives, seeking what developed countries have to offer.

So, what will we offer? THAT is the question. Two very different futures lie ahead depending on how we answer it.

Putting aside thievery and begging, there are two ways that migrants – like most people – can sustain themselves: work or welfare. Human nature being what it is, some will prefer the former and some the latter. And politics being what it is, some host governments will choose the former and some the latter.

What does a future based on providing migrants with generous welfare benefits look like? Imagine vast slums of unassimilated foreigners, receptive to preaching by radical activists, both religious and social, promulgating envy, hate, and revolution against alleged oppressors. Imagine the wasting away of human capital as indolence trumps industry while education withers and hope fades. Imagine hordes of young men imbued with honor-culture instincts that propel them to violence. Imagine lawless zones where police dare not go. Imagine skyrocketing birth rates eclipsing those of host societies that choose to perpetuate this cycle. Imagine all of this festering for multiple generations.

This is the path of welfare.

What does a future based on giving migrants the right to work look like? It means creating a land of opportunity that looks a lot like America did when my grandparents got off the boat at Ellis Island. Bless whoever owned the sweatshops that employed them! It means freedom of contract between employee and employer, corporate or domestic, to do whatever task needs doing for whatever price the market will bear, making the best use of whatever skills the migrant can offer – including no skills at all. It means workers keeping most of their wages, rather than forking them over to feed government bureaucrats or union bosses.

What would such a future look like? Let me remind so-called conservatives that it would look a lot like America’s past, the kind of past that had us proudly place these words on a monument welcoming migrants.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

Legalize work and most middle class families would be able to hire domestics, just like rich people do. A laundress to do laundry, a cook to shop and prepare meals, a driver to schlep the kids around, a gardener to care for the lawn, a nanny for the toddler, a handyman to take care of repairs or build that new garage. Courteous, helpful, loyal – and most importantly, grateful hardworking people who know what a fantastic deal they got escaping from the poverty and violence that drove them across desert sands, or into rickety boats to challenge raging seas. Future citizens of tomorrow eager to educate their children so they can grow up to be doctors and teachers and engineers, one day hiring their own household help, keeping the conveyer belt of opportunity turning. Assimilated citizens doing whatever they can to learn the ways and language of their adopted land, proud to call themselves Americans.

How do we know such a future awaits if we find the will and wisdom to legalize work and forego welfare? Because it happened before. Because I, and most of you, are a product of just such a past.

Wake up, America! Europe may be doomed to take the welfare path, but we are not. Reject the nativist demagogues who would turn our country into a fortress of senescence, denying us the fresh blood we need to rejuvenate a spirit grown weary from progressive policies that have sapped our vigor. Have confidence that we can do what our forebears have done since our nation was founded. Understand that the culture of freedom will always prevail against Old World sectarian strife, ancient superstitions, and religious fanaticism.

So, what will our future be – the pitiful banlieues of Paris or Ellis Island’s proud heritage of liberty?  

The choice is yours.