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Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Biddle's Immigration Fallacy

In this post, Craig Biddle writes: "Although many countries may aptly be described as “shitholes” for being socialist, theocratic, anarchic, or the like, disparaging or maligning people who flee such holes to create a better life for themselves in America is grossly unjust and un-American."  In fact, he regards emanating from a shithole to be a positive virtue, writing: "A person who seeks to escape from a nightmare country in pursuit of the American dream deserves not scorn or disparagement but praise and encouragement." 
He then cites a "thought experiment," which he regards as "obvious," purporting to show that such facts render immigrants to actually be "ambitious and resourceful":  
"Ambitious and resourceful people seek opportunities to improve their lives. If they can’t thrive where they are, they immigrate to where they can (or at least they try). And those who exercise ambition and resourcefulness to come to America tend to continue practicing these virtues once they’re here. They do their best to think, learn, produce, trade, and thrive.
Instead of a "thought experiment," perhaps we should look to an actual experiment - reality.  A recent study summarizes its findings: 
Using newly released detailed data on all prisoners who entered the Arizona state prison from January 1985 through June 2017, we are able to separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents. Unlike other studies, these data do not rely on self-reporting of criminal backgrounds. Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens. Yet, there are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. There are dramatic differences between in the criminal histories of convicts who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.
Here is another summary describing a broader GAO study titled "Information on Incarcerations, Arrests, and Costs."  While this data is sobering, to be fair, here is another author who has concerns about the conclusions from these studies, and I should note there have been other past studies purporting to show differing conclusions from these statistical data.  Suffice to say, actual data is probably more reliable than "thought experiments," i.e., rationalistic deductions, and, in fact, the data at worst flatly contradicts Biddle while other studies are mixed at best.     
Biddle's claim is actually based on a form of positive bigotry and a logical fallacy. He claims that the very fact of one's desire to leave a s*hole country is proof of their "moral ambitiousness" that deserves "praise and encouragement." Biddle concludes: "People who immigrate to America from shithole countries to pursue the American dream are ambitious, resourceful, proud."
A friend rightly pointed out that in logic his argument relies on the fallacy of the excluded middle. For example, some penguins are black and white, some old TV shows are black and white, therefore some penguins are old TV shows. Here: some people leave shitholes, some people from shitholes are achievers, therefore people who want to leave shitholes want to be achievers. 
In reality, if someone is getting their ass kicked, living day to day in grinding poverty, and they and/or their family want to get out any way possible, are they necessarily "moral" people seeking a life of "flourishing" and all that entails, or are they just trying to get the hell out any way they can? Does the fact of their desire to leave their present misery automatically transform them into freedom loving Thomas Jeffersons willing to productively assimilate into an advanced society based on western traditions of law and free market individualism?
What if they are told, "Hey, if you get on this boat and make it, there are all sorts of programs, health, education, food, and the like that you can take advantage of when you get there?"  What if they are young and find assimilation difficult and turn to a street gang of friends for support and guidance through which their "ambition" and "resourcefulness" can be put to work? Well, the stats on immigration and incarceration show that this is happening in a vast number of cases. Biddle's post represents positive bigotry of the worst kind. It ascribes all sorts of moral virtue to an individual based on a logical fallacy.
And, it's particularly insidious, because it relies on the reader's benevolence and turns it against them. It's like the argument equivalent of threatening a hunger strike.
Objectivists should be relying on arguments based on rational self-interest which entails thinking through the practical long-term consequences of immigration policies morally, politically, economically and culturally in the context of a sovereign nation. This is what a rational foreign policy must accomplish with respect to immigration. I never thought I would see the day where prominent Objectivist voices were relying on altruistic appeals to emotion and logical fallacies.

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