Among its many virtues, America is a nation where laws are generally reasonable, respected and impartially enforced. A glaring exception is immigration.
Today an estimated 12 million people live in the U.S. without authorization, 1.6 million in Texas alone, and that number grows every year. Many Americans understandably want the rule of law restored to a system where law-breaking has become the norm.
The fundamental choice before us is whether we redouble our efforts to enforce existing immigration law, whatever the cost, or whether we change the law to match the reality of a dynamic society and labor market.
Low-skilled immigrants cross the Mexican border illegally or overstay their visas for a simple reason: There are jobs waiting here for them to fill, especially in Texas and other, faster growing states. Each year our economy creates hundreds of thousands of net new jobs — in such sectors as retail, cleaning, food preparation, construction and tourism — that require only short-term, on-the-job training.
At the same time, the supply of Americans who have traditionally filled many of those jobs — those without a high school diploma — continues to shrink. Their numbers have declined by 4.6 million in the past decade, as the typical American worker becomes older and better educated.
Yet our system offers no legal channel for anywhere near a sufficient number of peaceful, hardworking immigrants to legally enter the United States even temporarily to fill this growing gap. The predictable result is illegal immigration.
In response, we can spend billions more to beef up border patrols. We can erect hundreds of miles of ugly fence slicing through private property along the Rio Grande. We can raid more discount stores and chicken-processing plants from coast to coast. We can require all Americans to carry a national ID card and seek approval from a government computer before starting a new job.
Or we can change our immigration law to more closely conform to how millions of normal people actually live.
Crossing an international border to support your family and pursue dreams of a better life is not an inherently criminal act like rape or robbery. If it were, then most of us descend from criminals. As the people of Texas know well, the large majority of illegal immigrants are not bad people. They are people who value family, faith and hard work trying to live within a bad system.
When large numbers of otherwise decent people routinely violate a law, the law itself is probably the problem. To argue that illegal immigration is bad merely because it is illegal avoids the threshold question of whether we should prohibit this kind of immigration in the first place.
We’ve faced this choice on immigration before. In the early 1950s, federal agents were making a million arrests a year along the Mexican border. In response, Congress ramped up enforcement, but it also dramatically increased the number of visas available through the Bracero guest worker program. As a result, apprehensions at the border dropped 95 percent. By changing the law, we transformed an illegal inflow of workers into a legal flow.
For those workers already in the United States illegally, we can avoid “amnesty” and still offer a pathway out of the underground economy. Newly legalized workers can be assessed fines and back taxes and serve probation befitting the misdemeanor they’ve committed. They can be required to take their place at the back of the line should they eventually apply for permanent residency.
The fatal flaw of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act was not that it offered legal status to workers already here but that it made no provision for future workers to enter legally.
In the 19th century, America’s frontier was settled largely by illegal squatters. In his influential book on property rights, The Mystery of Capital, economist Hernando de Soto describes how these so-called extralegals began to farm, mine and otherwise improve land to which they did not have strict legal title. After failed attempts by the authorities to destroy their cabins and evict them, federal and state officials finally recognized reality, changed the laws, declared amnesty and issued legal documents conferring title to the land the settlers had improved.
As Mr. de Soto wisely concluded: “The law must be compatible with how people actually arrange their lives.” That must be a guiding principle when Congress returns to the important task of fixing our immigration laws.
Daniel Griswold the is director of the Cato Institute’s Center for Trade Policy Studies. For a copy of the original article, please visit Cato’s Web site here.
Lower the Drinking Age
Libertarians support lowering the age to consume alcohol to adults 18 years or older
Adults are considered to be 18 years of age. Turning 18 provides a person the rights and responsibilities of adulthood to vote, get married, enter into contracts, serve on juries, join the military and fight in wars-which includes taking on the responsibilities of life and death-and be prosecuted as adults. To adults between the ages of 18 and 20, those who in the eyes of the law are, in every other respect legal adults, it is Prohibition.
Under the federal constitution, determining the legal drinking age is a state matter and Congress has no authority. On July 17, 1984 the National Minimum Drinking Act of 1984 was passed by Congress. This law required all states to legislate and enforce the age of 21 as the minimum age to purchase and publicly possess alcoholic beverages. Any state that was found not enforcing this law would be subjected to a 10% decrease in the annual federal highway apportionment for that state. Libertarians feel the new revenues would far outweigh the decrease in annual funding from the federal government.
Many productive, civilized countries manage with a lower drinking age: no minimum in China or Portugal, 14 in Switzerland, 16 in most of Europe.
By lowering the drinking age to 18, people could learn about alcohol long before they turned 16 and get their driver’s license. We should prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol in the same way we prepare them to operate a motor vehicle; to exercise the full privileges of adulthood so long as they demonstrate their ability to observe the law. Alcohol is a reality in the lives of young adults. We can either try to change the reality – which has been our principal focus since 1984, by imposing Prohibition on young adults 18 to 20 – or we can create the safest possible environment for that reality.
Libertarians support marriage equality
Same-sex couples deserve the same property rights as straight couples. People, regardless of their sexual identity, should have the same access to due process when applying for any type of state license. Relationships of love should not be determined by the state, nor should any state certified marriage be given more legal protection than another.
Libertarians do not believe it is the government’s job to define marriage, however, as long the government is in the marriage business the law should not favor one group over another. Consenting adults should be free to choose their own sexual practices, personal relationships and marry whomever they want regardless of sexual identity, preference, gender.
War on Drugs
Libertarians want to end the failed “War on Drugs” and legalize marijuana
What right could be more basic, more inherent in human nature, than the right to choose what substances to put in one’s own body? Whether we’re talking about alcohol, tobacco, herbal cures, saturated fat, or marijuana, this is a decision that should be made by the individual, not the government.
Drug-related crime (which is over 85% of all crime) is caused not by drugs but by drug laws that make the it expensive and a monopoly of criminals. This stance isn’t “approving” of drugs; it’s just realism, prohibition doesn’t work. In addition to the significant financial strain, the worst hazard of the drug war may be the expansion of police powers through asset forfeiture laws, “no-knock” warrants and other “anti-drug” measures. These tactics can’t stop the drug trade, but they are making a mockery of our supposed Constitutional freedoms.
Libertarians would leave in place laws against actions which directly endanger the physical safety of others, like driving under the influence of drugs, or carrying a firearm under the influence.
Make Marijuana Legal
Over a million and a half Americans were arrested last year on drug charges, and nearly 40% of those arrests were for marijuana possession alone. Does this make sense?
A recent Gallup poll reports that 58% of Americans now agree that marijuana should be legalized, a dramatic increase in support that reflects Americans’ increased knowledge and understanding of the issue. Proposals to regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol have been considered in several states, and the Libertarian Party has supported those efforts; Libertarians believes the federal government should end its prohibition mandate and allow each state to pursue its own desired policy.
Before we can get serious about reducing the harms associated with drugs, we have to accept that there will never be a drug-free society. In 2012, the Libertarian Presidential Candidate, Governor Gary Johnson said “it will never be legal for a person to smoke marijuana, become impaired, and get behind the wheel of a car or otherwise do harm to others, and it will never be legal for kids to smoke marijuana. But we have to understand that marijuana is our nation’s #1 cash crop despite the prohibition; it will always be available to those who really wish to use it.”
When polled, high school kids say marijuana is easier to get than alcohol. Is this perhaps because they buy from black market dealers who do not ask for ID? Legalization of marijuana would instantly and dramatically improve conditions on our southern border. Marijuana is Mexico’s #1 illegal export; legalizing it would result in dramatically reducing the power and wealth of the drug lords, and instantly helping to restore stability in a nation whose stability and sustainability is truly vital to our economic and national security interests. If we truly wish to reduce border violence, take the profit out of it.
To create a drug-free society, we’d have to build a police apparatus so intrusive that all Americans would have to be under surveillance 24 hours a day… presumably for their own good. Should citizens of the “land of the free” ever stand for that? Abuse of hard drugs is a health problem that should be dealt with by health experts, not a problem that should be clogging up our courts, jails, and prisons with addicts. Instead of continuing to arrest and incarcerate drug users, we should seriously consider the examples of countries such as Portugal, the Netherlands, and Uganda, and we should ultimately choose to adopt policies which aim to reduce death, disease, violence, and crime associated with dangerous drugs. Honest, effective education will be key to succeeding with this transition. America has cut teen cigarette use in half, not by criminalizing possession and use, but through a combination of honest education and sensible regulation. We can never totally eliminate drug addiction and drug abuse. We can, however, minimize these harms and reduce the negative effects they have on society by making sure drug abusers are able to access effective treatment options (jail is not an effective treatment option).
Lastly, Libertarians believe the government should not be able to tell us what we can and cannot put into our body.