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Social Fantasy and Libertarian Reality

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The idea you can bring unskilled people into the country and not impose huge costs on taxpayers is a fallacy. Its a kind of libertarian fantasy. So said Steven A. Camarota, director of research at the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), on the occasion of his organizations releasing a report on the rise in welfare use by immigrants.

According to the CIS study, 21.9 percent of immigrant households were using at least one major welfare program in 1996. That number dropped to 19.7 percent in 1999, but by 2001 it had passed its former peak and climbed all the way up to 22.7 percent. How was this possible, given the 1996 Welfare Reform Law, which sought, among other things, to lower welfare use among immigrants? They found ways around [the law], some states began to fund benefits on their own and the federal government retreated on several of the [benefit] cuts, wrote the Washington Times in a paraphrase of Camarotas diagnosis.

The predictable conclusion? You cant cut immigrants off of welfare. Thats what the 96 law shows, Camarota claims. Youre either going to have to accept the fact that theyre using a lot more programs, or youre going to have to change immigration policy. Theres no middle ground.

Actually, there is another way, but because it does not accept the flawed paradigm either of immigrants using a lot more programs a subtle yet powerful bit of demagoguery on the part of Camarota or of greater restrictions on immigration, its understandable how it might escape the notice of the Center for Immigration Studies. For what both Steven Camarota and his organization fail to mention is that, though open immigration is certainly a distinctly libertarian idea, its wedding with the socialist policies of the welfare state most certainly is not.

The CIS report showed that in 2001 more than 3 million immigrant families used a welfare program. Of these, 2.4 million were estimated to be led by legal immigrants, with a further 663,000 welfare-receiving families being led by illegal immigrants. The total of 22.7 percent of immigrant families using welfare is offered as a stark contrast to the estimated 15 percent of native families using such programs.

But is that disparity as great as it is obviously meant to appear? It only stands to reason that those who are just starting out in this country particularly those who, owing to their legal status, face even greater obstacles to gaining employment will be most likely to turn to welfare, if it is available. Yet clearly they are not alone in their dependence. Even the natives at a rate of 15 percent just 7.7 percent fewer than immigrants are suckling at the welfare spout in large numbers, making pretty good use of socialisms juicy perks themselves.

Doesnt that mean, to follow Camarotas logic, that as long as the welfare state is around, you cant really cut anyone off welfare?

Freedom of movement is both a moral right of every individual and an economic boon to any country that recognizes it. The history of 19th-century America, when millions of poor Latinos, Asians, Africans, and Europeans came to this land and helped build a civilization of freedom and prosperity unparalleled in the history of the world, testifies to this truth.

For 125 years our forefathers embraced foreign people while rejecting the redistributionist policies of the welfare state. Medicaid, Medicare, public education, income taxation, AFDC, WIC, HUD, food stamps, and every other form of socialistic paternalism were considered anathema to the spirit of independence on which this country was built, and rejected by those who knew that enjoying the reward for their own hard work meant leaving to others every penny of what they earned.

When those who come to America today decide instead to make themselves a burden on others by embracing the welfare state, it is wrong and it ought to be stopped. At the same time, when those who were born here likewise wish to live off of the fruit of others labor, that too is wrong and ought to be stopped. The problem, then, is not immigration, but welfarism, and an organization such as the Center for Immigration Studies ought to be able to see the difference.

A society in which every individual is free to come and go as he pleases, so long as he takes responsibility for himself and respects the equal rights of others, is not a fantasy, but the reality of our nations moral and highly successful libertarian roots. The fantasy, on the other hand, is the continued faith of so many who try to live at the expense of everyone else the socialist fantasy of the welfare state.

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    Scott McPherson is policy adviser at The Future of Freedom Foundation. An advocate of the Free State Project, he lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.