It is a commonplace these days to blame – or justify – everything on the bad economy. Need to nationalize the banks? Well, it’s a bad economy. Need to print up trillions of dollars in new debt? It’s the bad economy. Forgot your wife’s birthday; it’s the economy. Something of this, at least, seems to be at play in the recent news from the State Board of Community Colleges that most colleges are making a profit on illegal aliens who pay out-of-state tuition. Why the board needed to spend $75,000 for a Maryland-based consultant to make this claim is unclear. Already in December 2007, then N.C. Community College System (NCCCS) President Martin Lancaster argued that illegal aliens enrolled at the out-of-state tuition rate pay $2,000 more than what the state spends to educate them. The implication was that there was no need to make a fuss because the state is making money on these students. Of course, the numbers being batted around only account for per-pupil spending and so do not include capital costs – in particular, the hundreds of millions ($850 million at the state level alone) of general obligation bond debt dedicated to supporting the community college system. But suppose they did? Is this really a question that should be reduced to money?
I have sometimes wondered about the motives imputed to those of us who support comprehensive immigration enforcement. Behind it all, in other words, what is the real reason why people oppose illegal immigration? One explanation, more popular on the left, is that opponents of illegal immigration are racists. This is what is really meant when people say (as President Lancaster did) that “we are a nation of immigrants” and that new immigrants have always faced “opposition;” that illegal immigration is of particular benefit to folks who are experts at identity politics is left unsaid. Another explanation, more popular on the right, is that the foes of illegal immigration don’t understand economics – in particular, what’s good for the global economy or what must necessarily result from NAFTA or what the market requires in terms of the free movement of labor. That illegal immigration is of particular benefit to the top one percent of wage earners is also left unsaid. When it suits either side (again Lancaster’s remarks come to mind), both points are made in defense of what amounts to asserting that illegal immigration should not really be illegal.
I oppose illegal immigration, not merely because it is illegal, but because it is wrong. This is another way of saying that illegal immigration is unjust. If as a sovereign nation the United States has a right to secure its borders then illegal immigration infringes upon the rights of every American. By contrast, justifying illegal immigration requires conceding that no country has a right to secure its borders because national sovereignty is somehow “outdated,” which is to say based on ignorance and barbarism. More importantly, illegal immigration is wrong because it undermines the rule of law. The rule of law consists of one basic principle: no person is above the law. Even in the case of a monarchy, the king who makes the law is expected to obey it. Insofar as he does not, he is a tyrant. But tyrannies exist in democracies too. As far as immigration goes, we have seen a coalition of special interest groups, politicians and business groups subvert laws the majority of citizens support. It would be one thing if the advocates of illegal immigration agreed to obey the law while using the proper political channels to attempt to amend the Constitution. Instead, however, they wish to bully Americans into accepting an amnesty – and regardless of what President Obama does, we already have a virtual amnesty – for millions of people who have broken a just law.
As for racism, respect for the rule of law is the best remedy for it. Likewise, far from discouraging economic prosperity, the rule of law is the only sure basis of a sound economy. And this leads us back to North Carolina’s community colleges. In May 2008 the community college system estimated that only 112 curriculum degree students (out of nearly 300,000) are illegal aliens. Apparently, the NCCCS feels that educating these 112 people is more important than upholding the rule of law. Likewise, we are now being told that it will cost each college $9,000 annually to verify immigration status using the federal Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program. Never mind that absent such verification, the NCCCS has no way of knowing how many illegal aliens are actually attending at the in-state tuition rate. In any case, this $9,000 is too high a price to uphold the law. In the future, we will be told that economic necessity or fairness or what have you requires granting in-state tuition to illegal aliens who graduate from a North Carolina high school – that is, unless another amnesty makes all of this irrelevant.
This is not to say that enforcing immigration law will not have economic and human costs. Some business owners will make less money if they cannot hire illegal aliens. Some goods will cost more (although far less than you might think). Likewise, some aliens who want to attend community college will be unable to do so if the state maintains its current ban. We should not minimize these costs; yet neither should we pretend that disregarding the rule of law will not have significant costs as well.
Jameson Taylor is a senior policy fellow with the Civitas Institute (nccivitas.org)