The NYT has an op-ed today about DACA and immigration more generally. The argument is that pointing to the economic benefits that immigrant communities provide to America distracts from the more important issue in the immigration debate: kicking or keeping people out is inhumane. It’s not enough to oppose the rescission of DACA because it’s bad policy. You have to oppose it because it’s immoral. Masha Gessen writes:
But what’s wrong with the decision to discontinue DACA is that people — not workers — will be deported. Lives — not careers — will be shattered. The problem is that it’s inhumane. As long as politicians consider it necessary to qualify the victims as ‘hardworking’ or ‘talented,’ they fail to stand up to the administration’s fundamentally hateful immigration agenda.
To a degree, I agree with Gessen’s point, especially as applied to immigrants fleeing terrible conditions at home (such as refugees). At the same time, however, I don’t think it’s necessarily inhumane for us to be selective as to whom we allow to enter the country. People who want to come here have to earn a place here by making a positive contribution to our society. Some people cannot do that. It’s reasonable to say that we don’t want those people here. Indeed, I think most people on both sides of the political spectrum would agree with me that we should prefer immigrants who have something of value to offer to us to those who don’t.
Here’s a way of thinking about this: Suppose you operate a business and you’re looking to hire some employees. You would obviously prefer to hire people who are qualified and skillful over people who wouldn’t be able to do the job you need done. And if you happened to hire someone incompetent, you would probably want to fire them. Is it immoral to ignore the adverse effects that firing or refusing to hire an incompetent person will have on his livelihood? Perhaps that person has a family to support. What about his children? Are you a monster for putting those concerns aside and doing what’s in your economic interest?
If Gessen is right, then you are. It is unacceptable for you to view your employees and potential employees merely as workers. You need to consider their personal life and the circumstances they face. Unfortunately, this means that you cannot choose to hire only competent people, nor can you fire incompetent people, and you will likely go out of business.
Gessen says that we have adopted a reductive and harmful way of viewing people: “When we agree to talk about people as cogs, we lose our humanity.” I agree that it’s reductive to focus exclusively on economics when discussing immigration, but every way of discussing people is reductive, because people are too complex for us to comprehend. Moreover, I take issue with her assertion that discussing certain groups of people in economic terms causes us to lose our humanity. People have an economic aspect. Acknowledging that does not negate all the other facets of their humanity.
For Gessen, economics shouldn’t even be a part of the equation. The way she discusses it, her opponents believe it should be the only part of the equation. Fortunately, we don’t have to choose between these two extremes. We can consider the whole person when deciding who to let into our borders, including but not limited to their potential economic contributions. In fact, I’m pretty sure that this is what most of us want: holism. This way, we can look after our own interests while also helping those who most need it.