On Thursday, we’ll be one of ten states officially observing Cesar Chavez Day. Looking for something to do? Maybe listen to a recent Donald Trump speech!
Trump, the likely republican nominee (!), favors going further than we already do to enforce restrictions on immigration from Mexico. He favors these policies because he thinks Mexican immigrants “are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” Even more often, Trump justifies his policies, which include a “huuge wall,” in terms of the economic and fiscal costs of Mexican immigration. Last year, for instance, he said, “The effects on jobseekers have been disastrous.” An ad he ran in January purported to show people “pouring across the southern border.”
During the 1960s and 70s, Chavez had a similar concern that Mexican immigrants would disadvantage American workers, mainly workers who were members of his United Farm Workers union. The typical concern is that new entrants willing to work for less will depress wages. This led Chavez to take drastic measures to restrict movement across the Mexico border. For example, he directed his union officials to investigate farms and report undocumented workers to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and to picket in front of INS offices demanding that they crack down on undocumented workers. The most controversial episode occurred in 1973 when Chavez helped organize an Arizona Minutemen-like hundred-mile “wetline” encampment of UFW workers to prevent those he sometimes referred to as “illegals” and “wetbacks” from entering the US at the Mexico border. According to reports of the incident in a New York Times story, the UFW representatives used “clubs, chains and five-foot-long flogging whips comprised of intertwined strands of barbed wire” to beat back job-seeking Mexicans.
Of course, Chavez and Trump’s concerns about the social and economic effects of immigration are silly. As reported by The Economist, violent crime has dropped over the last 30 years while immigration from Mexico was increasing (sorry, full story gated). And Brookings reports that immigration increases incomes and opportunities for Americans.
But the moral and political philosophy of Chavez and Trump’s preferred policies are even more worrisome. They advocate standing between and forcibly interfering with people who would otherwise be able to trade or work with each other. Again, I think they do this for economically dubious reasons, but let’s assume they’re right. Let’s also assume that, for some reason, it’s morally appropriate to implement policies that prioritize the economic interests of Americans over those of Mexicans. Even if it is, that’s still very different from forcibly interfering with Mexicans (as well as the Americans they would otherwise be able to trade or work with) in order to prioritize the interests of (some other) Americans. I just can’t see how to justify that.
For example, my oldest daughter is interested in getting a job at a used bookstore this summer. Now, I prioritize her interests over those of every other person who also wants to have that job. She isn’t just a fellow citizen, she’s my daughter and I love her. A lot. Still, I just can’t see how that could justify me using force to interfere with a voluntary agreement between the bookstore owner and someone else’s daughter or son who also wants that job. Surely it would be wrong of me to do that.
But why should that case be different than similar cases involving Mexican workers? If the priority I assign to my daughter’s interests doesn't justify my use of coercion to prevent others from getting the job my daughter wants, how does the priority others might assign to fellow citizens justify their use of coercion against people who were born in Mexico?
For that matter, why should it be permissible to coercively interfere with Mexican migration (as well as the Americans who want to trade or work with them) but impermissible to coercively interfere with internal migration? After all, job markets don’t care where the increased competition for scarce jobs comes from. If Chavez and Trump’s mercantilist arguments for barring migrants from Mexico work, the same considerations should apply to migrants wherever they come from. Should we build a wall to protect our economic interests from job seekers from Oregon, Nevada and Arizona, in addition to Mexico, to keep out those who want to trade, work or live with people here in California? How huuge should it be? I can’t think of a single anti-immigration argument that, in principle, couldn’t also justify restrictions on internal migration.
One more example: in the 1950s, 60s and 70s there was a massive migration into the US workforce. There was over that time, in fact, a supply shock of about 27 million women. Was this influx of, for the most part, lower-wage workers bad for domestic wages or the economy more generally? Well, of course not, but should that even matter in an evaluation of whether or not policies designed to keep women out of the work force are justified? I don’t think so. Such policies were illiberal. We should think the same thing about restrictive immigration policies.
I actually don’t recommend using your time off on Thursday to listen to a Donald Trump speech. You might instead read up on my favorite March holiday.
Department of Philosophy