If They Hadn’t Been Breaking the Law,
This Wouldn’t Have Happened
by Jacob G. Hornberger
The federal government’s response to the deaths of those 18 illegal Latin American immigrants in South Texas was predictable because it’s the same response that the feds have made every time such a tragedy has occurred.
The government’s response: criticism, condemnation, and prosecution of either the immigrant for illegal entry or the transporter of the illegal aliens for transporting illegal aliens or both. The federal mindset is: “If they hadn’t been breaking the law, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Make no mistake about it: This is not the first time that immigrants have died in the attempt to seek a better way of life in our country. The history of ever-tightening immigration controls on our southern border is filled with the deaths and injuries of multitudes of innocent people, either on arid deserts, in the trunks of cars, in locked railroad cars, from the bullets of federal agents, from vigilantes, or in the backs of tractor-trailers.
Nothing — not even the virtually impregnable Berlin Wall — has ever kept people from attempting to better their lives by moving to places that provide greater freedom and opportunities for themselves and their families.
What never ceases to amaze me about immigrants is how they continue to come to our country despite all of the adversity that they know that they’re going to encounter — prejudice, abuse, ridicule, harassment, prosecution, and persecution.
Yet still they come. And they not only pay to come, they risk their lives to come.
Immigrants generally are among the most impressive people in the world. Every time I get into a conversation with one, I can’t help but ask, “What made you leave your country to come to ours?”
U.S. border controls are no different from any other government interference with free markets. Always and inevitably, such interference causes human beings to adjust their conduct, even to the extent of oftentimes producing a black market, but it doesn’t stop them from still trying to achieve their original aim.
For example, consider drug prohibition. The purported purpose of drug laws is to prevent people from ingesting drugs. The law, however, doesn’t cause very many drug users to stop using drugs; instead it simply causes them to adjust their conduct, say, by buying the drugs from a black-market drug lord rather than from the local pharmacy.
When the drug user dies from using corrupted drugs or when he is killed by a disgruntled drug dealer, government officials inevitably blame the victim and the drug seller. “If they hadn’t been breaking the law, this wouldn’t have happened.”
But despite all their protestations, federal officials share moral responsibility for those deaths because but for the drug laws, those deaths would not have occurred.
The reasoning is the same with respect to the federal government’s decades-old, failed and bankrupt immigration policy. The ever-increasing enforcement along the southern border has obviously not stopped people from continuing to do what they have done for centuries — move elsewhere in the hope of bettering their lives. It has simply caused them to alter their conduct in such a way as still to achieve their goal.
For example, when the feds built America’s counterpart to the Berlin Wall in southern California, illegal immigrants began entering the United States further west, which has caused many of them to die from thirst and dehydration on Arizona’s arid deserts.
Of course, the federal government blamed those deaths on the victims. “If they hadn’t been breaking the law, this wouldn’t have happened.”
Anyone who is familiar with markets would have accurately predicted that stricter enforcement of border controls would inevitably give rise to entrepreneurs who would be willing to transport illegal immigrants into the United States. Since we’re dealing with a black market, it also wouldn’t surprise a free-marketeer that black-market transporters are generally unsavory characters, much as drugs lords tend to be. The result has been that over the years, many illegal immigrants have died at the hands of those transporters.
Of course, the federal government has always blamed those deaths on the victims and on the transporters. “If they hadn’t been breaking the law, this wouldn’t have happened.”
What such reasoning fails to recognize, however, is that a government that enacts immoral and perverse laws, such as drug laws and immigration laws, shares moral responsibility for the deaths that result, either directly or indirectly, from the enforcement of those laws. “If they hadn’t passed the law, this wouldn’t have happened.”
After all, let’s not forget that people who attempted to cross the Berlin Wall were breaking the law. And let’s also not forget who bore moral responsibility for the deaths of people who were caught breaking that law.
No matter how powerful a government might be, it cannot repeal the laws of supply and demand, and when it attempts to do so, it shares moral culpability for the perverse consequences.
Mr. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org.) and co-editor of The Case for Free Trade and Open Immigration.
by Jacob G. Hornberger
Copyright © 2002 The Future of Freedom Foundation. All rights reserved.