My lecture “Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem” begins with the following hypothetical:

Moved by the plight of Haitian earthquake victims, you go to Haiti to aid in the relief efforts.  After two weeks, you’re ready to go home.  But when you arrive at the airport, your airline tells you that you don’t have legal permission to travel to the United States.  You head over to the U.S. embassy, but they stonewall you.  “Why can’t I go?”  “The United States government does not have to explain itself to you.”

Here’s how I imagine the full conversation.

You: Why are you denying me permission to travel to the U.S.?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] Agent: You just can’t go.  End of story.

You: Why not?  There’s got to be a reason.

ICE Agent:
Sir, I don’t have to give you a reason.

You: This is going to ruin my life!  Have you looked outside the embassy window?  People here are literally eating dirt.

ICE Agent:
It doesn’t matter.  You can’t come, and I refuse to tell you why.

Well, it would have to be a pretty good reason to do something so awful to me…

ICE Agent:
No comment.

You: Look, I’m not a criminal.  I’m not a parasite.  I’m not asking for charity.  I’ve got a job and an apartment.

ICE Agent: Unfortunately, you don’t have legal permission to work at that job or live in that apartment.

Pleeeease just tell me the reason I can’t go home!

ICE Agent: Home, you say?

Uh… yea.

ICE Agent: Wait a second.  You were born in the United States?


ICE Agent: Oooooooooooooooooooooh!  In that case, we do need to give you a good reason why you can’t come to the United States.

Great.  So what’s your “good reason”?

ICE Agent: We don’t have one.  [Briefly types on his computer.]  Have a good trip home. 

Wait a second.  I was born in Miami.  You’re telling me that if I was born 712 miles to the southeast here in Haiti, you would have forced me to spend the rest of my life here, eating dirt?!  

ICE Agent: U.S. policy, sir.

Even though you don’t have any good reason to do so?

ICE Agent: Correct.

You: Even though I’m not asking for charity?  Even though I’ve got an employer happy employ me and a landlord happy to house me?

ICE Agent:

You: [Feels brief shock of moral horror, then shrugs.]  Lucky for me I was born in Miami.

ICE Agent: Yep.  Enjoy your flight.  [Looks up at a long line of hungry Haitians.]  Next!