The subject of immigration reform is once again a major topic in the news. The sophists who host talk radio and cable news channels have weighed in, of course, and every politician is jockeying to be the loudest and proudest advocate of one side or another of the issue. No surprise here, after all, the second term seems to be the time when presidents decide to address what they like to call immigration reform.

George W. Bush tried to provide what was then termed “comprehensive immigration reform” during his second term. This was meant to overhaul the system enacted during Bill Clinton’s second term. The people of the United States weren’t subjected to a second term by George H.W. Bush, thankfully, but it’s entirely likely he too would have tried passing some onerous legislation in that regard. And it was during Ronald Reagan’s second term as president that amnesty for “illegal aliens” was passed. That Barack Obama is attempting to pass legislation related to immigration in his second term is old hat.

People on the political Left are in-line with reforming the federal government’s immigration legislation, as they say, in order to address to issues of fairness and egalitarianism. Predictably, the Right has risen up against any so-called amnesty, on the grounds that our borders must be protected and it’s not acceptable to break “our” laws. Would it surprise you that both sides of this issue are wrong?

Now I don’t mean that the current laws are just fine and the arguments in favor of immigration reform are without merit. I’m talking about something more fundamental than whether the Dream Act is acceptable to all the right lobby organizations, or how many people reside in the U.S. without so-called proper documentation. Both sides are assuming that immigration legislation is even the prerogative of the federal government – it’s not.

Under the terms of the constitution no such authority was ever delegated to the federal government regarding immigration. Article I, Section 8 stipulates that the federal government shall have authority to “establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” That’s it. They can decide the terms of granting someone status as a naturalized citizen, but this is an entirely different concept than allowing entry into the United States, which is what immigration is really about.

Under the terms of the constitution, the states have retained the authority to determine who may or may not immigrate. Whether an immigrant chooses to become a permanent resident and decides to become a citizen is a different question altogether. Only in such a case should any politician in Washington have a say in the matter. Until someone does decide to become a citizen of one of the states, it is the states that have proper jurisdiction.

Under such a decentralized system we might expect widely different legislation to regulate immigration throughout the U.S. Individual states would decide how many immigrants and from which country would be allowed in, and what the rules governing their stay would be. One consequence of this approach is that labor markets would likely play a larger role in deciding the rules, and that changes would be much easier to make.

We see above that it was nearly two decades ago that any substantive changes were made to the immigration legislation. This is largely due to the fact that one hundred senators, ostensibly representing fifty states, must agree to one extent or another, on how to establish a uniform rule regarding immigration. Such legislation would affect Maine in the same way it did California, despite the particular circumstances, as well as the geographic location of the two states, being a continent apart.

There needn’t be a uniform code regulating the immigration of foreigners into each state any more than there ought to be uniform laws regarding posted highway speed limits, drug legislation, or insurance regulation. In fact, there is a good argument against such centralization of power.

Consider one of the first major pieces of legislation concerning immigration in the United States: the Chinese Exclusion Act. For many of the same reasons we hear today why immigration should be curtailed – national security issues, unemployment, and just plain bigotry – all workers, skilled and unskilled of Chinese descent were prohibited from immigrating into the U.S. The act took effect in 1882, and was intended to last ten years. Wouldn’t you know, it wasn’t repealed for more than sixty years?

Had any one of the thirty eight states at the time chosen to, they could have nullified the act and allowed immigrants to freely enter their borders. Also, those states which did provide a home for Chinese immigrants could have provided a haven for many of those workers who were forcibly removed from the gold mines in California and otherwise abused. Not only would this have been the decent thing to do, morally speaking, it’s arguable that the economy would have benefited from the influx of labor. Even now, immigrants do a lion’s share of the menial labor in this country, and without them, it seems clear that productivity would decline rapidly.

One of the loudest cries seems to be “No Amnesty!” This comes mostly from conservatives, who in truth are really arguing in favor of empowering the central government, and further entrenching Washington’s power over our lives. I say, “Yes to amnesty!” if for no other reason than to say “No!” to the Feds and reclaim some of my own freedom. It’s no bureaucrat’s business where I’m from, whom I employ, or under what terms.

Conservatives are usually correct that it’s not Washington’s business to determine how much a business owner ought to pay his employees, or whether he should provide them with benefits. Why they somehow think bureaucrats have any reason to know where someone was born is beyond me.

But going beyond this point, consider what amnesty really is. Not in terms of immigration, but of the actual word. Amnesty is, according to Google’s dictionary, “an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses.” We’re talking about political offenses, not torts or violations of property, but some contrived offense engineered from within the bowels of Leviathan. Enough already!

There can be no doubt that whatever the federal government ends up forcing upon us, it will mean less freedom for us personally, and more power for it in the long run. Short of blanket amnesty and an end to all of the coercive, dictatorial power being wielded by the Feds, the states ought to nullify any piece of legislation that comes as a result of this go around at immigration reform. Just like sanctuary cities have been established in certain parts of the country, states ought to declare themselves sanctuaries.

As to how this might be done, consider this piece of model legislation:

The people of [State] hereby declare for both moral and constitutional reasons, in pursuance of the 10th Amendment, that any and all peaceful persons are welcome to live, work, and play within the borders of this state, regardless of where they were born and which nation-state claims ownership of them, unmolested so long as they feel inclined.

Joel Poindexter
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