I must confess that, contrary to my former anarcho-capitalist stance for unrestricted immigration (shared by many of my co-bloggers here), I now find the topic more complicated. I of course have no economic objection to immigration, if by “economic” is meant its effects on wages, incomes, and the allocation of resources. Basically, as Jean-Baptiste Say would have said, supply creates its own demand. As far as value judgments are concerned—some are ultimately needed to evaluate any government policy—I find no moral case for banning competition by the poorest. Any newborn citizen is an immigrant from within, and—except for Malthusian environmentalists—we understandably don’t worry about that.

The invasion argument is more difficult to reject. Assume that “our” state is a contractual agent for protecting our liberty. An invasion of immigrants who do not share that value would compromise it. We then have a classical-liberal argument against open immigration. How many and what sort of immigrants would actually come is an empirical issue that cannot be decided in advance, and it may be impossible to go back after the fact.

But whatever one’s stance on the general issue, I think we should agree that the way illegal-immigrant families are treated at the U.S. border is inconsistent with common humanity and decency, not to speak of individualist values. (Christian churches should be up in arms.) Saying that the law mandates such treatment of illegal immigrants is false, for the new “zero tolerance” policy is not required by law. The legal argument would be a poor justification anyway.

At about the time I published my last post on a related event, the New York Times documented the case of a Guatemalan woman who, travelling with her son, had entered the United States illegally through the Texas border. She was arrested, separated from her son, and deported back to Guatemala without him. After about two weeks of separation, the boy remains in the United States under the care of Health and Human Services, and the mother does not know when she will see her son again. From Guatemala, she was able to talk to him once on the phone late last week.

This inhumane separation was partly caused by bureaucratic snafus, as the New York Times story shows. An inhumane state is not more efficient than a benevolent one. This is one economic lesson of the episode. The federal government is too big to manage.

The story also illustrates the incentives and behavior of government agents. “I can’t go without my son,” the mother pleaded as government agents put her on the deportation flight. The government agents who committed this infamy were not necessarily thugs, but they were all following orders and complying with the team. One of them, a female agent, was apparently crying. (Perhaps all these cops should be women: we might have more humanity.) The main culprits are the people at the top of the pyramid: politicians, political appointees, and high-level bureaucrats in Washington, DC. My value judgment is that these actions are totally unacceptable.