Why do we bother with immigration laws, anyway?

Posted on August 13, 2010


I love Penn Jillette. He is one of the most brutally honest political commentators I know of, and his willingness to avoid aligning himself entirely with either the left or the right is refreshing. He is also very good at stating large moral issues in very simple terms. Case in point: His views on immigration policy can be stated in three words: Let everyone in. Penn’s argument is that the best way for Americans to make the world a better place is not to try to improve life in other countries, but simply to bring their citizens to the United States where life is already relatively good.

My view is similar, but even more pronounced when applied to Canada. Canada has a lot of vacant land. We have the eighth lowest population density of any sovereign state on the planet. The land we have is also quite hospitable. The seven countries that are less populated than us includes such verdant paradises as Mongolia, Australia and Iceland. Compare the land there to the relatively fertile uninhabited land to be found in Canada, and you have to notice that we have a lot of good land to share.

So why don’t we go ahead and share it? Lifeboat ethics seems a bit far-fetched when our country is so far from being full to capacity. Some might say (presumably while chugging a Molson and/or driving a pickup truck) that Canada is our country, and we have a right to keep it for ourselves. As xkcd hillariously shows, however, this line of reasoning involves a pretty big double standard. Even baldly self-interested arguments tend to fail, because new immigrants can add value to the economy, which helps everyone.

Whether it is due to racism, misguided self-interest, or bureaucratic inertia, we have a cumbersome, expensive and ultimately unnecessary system designed to decide who is allowed to move to our country. It is this system that is currently deliberating what to do with 490 Tamil refugees on the MV Sun Sea, which is currently headed for Vancouver Island. The passengers aboard the boat have been accused of taking advantage of Canada’s immigration policies to jump the line. I would like to ask why there should be a line in the first place.

As for the suggestion that some of the passengers on the boat might be terrorists, I would first like to point out that as of this writing, the public has not been given any substantial evidence, beyond the fact that the passengers are Tamil, that this is indeed the case. Secondly, it is important to note that terrorism, for the most part, does not travel on boats. Terrorism is a meme, and memes easily bypass both oceans and border guards. Many of the high-profile terrorist attacks of the last decade, including the London Underground bombing and the Toronto 18, were home-grown. Militant Tamils who already reside in Canada are likely to be further radicalized if these refugees are detained, deported, or otherwise abused. By all means ask the migrants a few questions, but there is no reason to think that denying these refugees access to the country will make us any safer.

To conclude, I think that Penn Jillette’s three words on US immigration apply equally well in the Great White North: Let everyone (including Tamil migrants on boats) in.

For more information on this issue, check out no one is illegal. They’re pretty awesome.

Posted in: Canada, Crime, Immigration