orgtheory.net

the denial of public services to immigrants is theft

It is very common for state and federal legislators to pass statutes denying undocumented, or even documented, immigrants state services such as access to public schools, public health services, and driver’s licenses. Many immigrants rights advocates oppose these measures because they impose hardship. I oppose them on more fundamental grounds – denial of public service is theft pure and simple.

Nearly all people who reside in a state must pay taxes and lots of them. Nearly all consumer purchases have sales tax. Anyone who purchases a home pays property tax and those who rent pay that tax indirectly. Most states have income taxes as well. Of course, you can also pay local and state taxes in other ways such as utility tax, hotel tax, cigarette taxes, and taxes on all kinds of services.

Thus, unless an immigrant completely opts out of the economy, they pay a lot of taxes. And denying state services is simply taking money and not giving people what has been promised. That’s stealing by any other name.

In immigration debates, critics will say that there’s a difference between the citizen and the migrant in terms of rights and obligations. This distinction makes little sense. Am I allowed to rob a Mexican just because he is born in another nation? May I murder a Chinese woman simply because she is from China? Of course not. The obligation to respect other people’s life and personal safety is universal. Having a legislature vote does not give me the right to steal from others or harm them.

Those who believe that we have a social contract are morally required to provide services to immigrants so long as taxes are collected. Otherwise, the state just becomes a violent organization that transfers wealth from migrants to natives. Even if you believe undocumented migration is a crime, you should still believe that they should still receive the same services as others who commit crimes of similar severity. If the children of murderers can still go school, then so should the children of undocumented immigrants.

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Written by fabiorojas

April 27, 2016 at 12:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

16 Responses

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  1. My first thought was that lots of government benefits are restricted by things like income. Aid to families with dependent children is of course restricted by the existence of children. So are all those theft? I think it just leads you to the conclusion that taxation is theft.

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    teageegeepea

    April 30, 2016 at 2:21 am

  2. I’m with teageegeepea. This argument makes little sense to me. There is hardly any connection in practice between what one pays in taxes and what one receives in government benefits. Welfare recipients (individual and corporate), dairy farmers, and (ahem) state university employees receive far more in government benefits than they pay in taxes. It’s the reverse for most taxpayers. And many government benefits and access to government services are contingent on age, gender, race, income, family size. I’m not sure why immigration status is more or less relevant than those. So unless you believe that all persons in a geographic area (or on the planet?) are equally entitled to “their” share of the slop in the public trough, then allocating benefits unequally isn’t “stealing.” There may be other arguments against the particular distributions you’re concerned about, but this argument isn’t very compelling.

    BTW on your last point you’re right that a criminal conviction doesn’t pass to the criminal’s children (of course the criminal himself may be barred for life from many government benefits, such as certain government jobs, the right to live in certain areas, etc.). But immigration is trickier. It’s hard to come up with an exact analogy, but suppose someone considers illegal immigration to be trespass. I come home to find you and your family living in my kitchen. Your children are not legally culpable for breaking and entering. But do I have to let them stay?

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 4:23 am

  3. If the state is taking money from a population for a service that the state is offers as part of its reason for existing (e.g., providing public goods to all) and does not offer that service, then it calls the entire purpose of states into question. If a state is supposed to defend us, but only defends some people, it is no longer a public service but is merely transferring wealth. If a state is supposed to provide roads, or provide schools, but excludes an entire population, it is no longer a public service. It is simply a massive income transfer.

    Imagine if we said that Blacks couldn’t go to school or use the roads on the basis that not everyone gets what they pay for. We may argue about the wisdom of specific programs, but we’d likely agree that it’s bad to offer the program and then exclude Blacks for many reasons. One valid reason would simply be that Whites are using state power to simply take money from Blacks and give it to themselves. And that’s bad.

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    fabiorojas

    May 2, 2016 at 5:02 am

  4. Fibally, you understand the state!

    Seriously, the notion that states provide public goods “for all” is sheer fantasy. The hypothetical Samuelsonian pure public good does not exist, because everyone consumes state-procided goods and services differently, by choice or by design. Public roads, bridges, etc are transfer payments to those who drive, travel, or consume imported goods more than others. Public schools are transfer payments to those with kids or more kids in these schools. You think “national defense” dollars are currently protecting the people of Bloomington, Indiana? Even programs that are not fiscal per se are like this. In California, affirmative action transfers lifetime wealth from whites and Asians excluded from Berkeley and UCLA to blacks and Hispanics who are admitted. We can argue about the efficiency or fairness of particular programs but a blanket argument against any program that isn’t given “to all” is simply an argument against all government programs. (If you’re making that argument, then I’m with you!)

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 12:01 pm

  5. This is the theory of state that most people adhere to. But just ask yourself how acceptable it would be to exclude people (likes blacks or jews) from services.

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    fabiorojas

    May 2, 2016 at 1:19 pm

  6. OK I give up. Your original post offered what you claimed was a distinct argument, namely that denying public services to immigrants robs them of their “rightful share.” I pointed out that all public services are transfer payments, hence the concept of a rightful share is meaningless outside some specific theory about who gets what transfer (which is normally decided via some quasi-democratic process). Now you’re making a general anti-discrimination argument. Different argument.

    Look, you don’t like the particular transfer scheme that takes wealth from undocumented sales-tax-payers to citizen public-school users. Fine. Make an argument against that particular scheme. I don’t have kids in public schools, so people who do enjoy specific benefits that I pay for through my property taxes. I am literally excluded from this public service (if I set foot on school property without authorization I could be arrested.) I oppose this system because I favor privatizing education, not because I’m not getting my “fair share” of the services provided by the school.

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 1:38 pm

  7. With public schools, you have the option to use them. I will ask directly: would it be ok to exclude blacks from public schools just because the state is a bunch of wealth transfers and it is normal that you don’t get some benefits?

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    fabiorojas

    May 2, 2016 at 1:40 pm

  8. Huh? Childless people don’t. Asian kids in Indiana don’t have the option to get the IU scholarship for Native American kids. Is this OK? Anyway, I can’t answer your question because it doesn’t make sense. I personally *don’t* think these wealth transfers are OK. People who do favor transfer payments have to make some kind of argument why transfer A is OK but transfer B isn’t. The burden is on you to explain why excluding blacks from public schools is not OK but excluding other people from other benefits is OK.

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 2:30 pm

  9. I would wager most people can see the difference between someone not getting a general public good (such as access to A public school) because they don’t have children vs. someone who want a particular public good (e.g. public school) but can’t get it due to color of their skin or their immigration status.

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    Anonymous

    May 2, 2016 at 2:37 pm

  10. Curious about Anonymous’s comment, I did 30 seconds of Google research and found this poll: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/current_events/immigration/september_2014/voters_strongly_oppose_legal_rights_government_benefits_for_illegal_immigrants. If it’s reliable, then 71% of Americans think illegal immigrants should be denied access to public services, and 53% think illegal immigrant children should not be allowed to attend public schools. You sure about that wager?

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 2:58 pm

  11. I am confused – you do realize that poll is completely irrelevant for my comment?

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    Anonymous

    May 2, 2016 at 3:50 pm

  12. I am confused by your confusion — it seems highly relevant. It is consistent with (though it doesn’t prove) the notion that most Americans think it’s OK to deny government services to illegal immigrants, just as they think it’s OK to deny government services to other groups who don’t qualify for one reason or another. They don’t make the “general public good” versus “particular public good” distinction you find very important. (Actually I don’t get it either — what is a “general public good?)

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 4:04 pm

  13. Two opposing ideas. (1) Denial of public services to some individuals and groups is theft. (2) All public policy (including the taxation of citizens to provide public services) is designed to make some individuals and groups worse off. In the second case, some have proposed that taxation is theft because of the failure to provide compensation or consideration commensurate with the taking of the private property. (Peter, correct me if I misapprehend. I think this was said by Murray Rothbard and has origins in Locke.)

    So, if you are taxed and denied some benefits of public policy paid for by your taxes, is it more heinous if you are an undocumented immigrant — per Fabio, or if you are a middle class citizen whose taxes are taken for the explicit benefit of public policy targets — per Peter? How can one know, as we cannot make interpersonal utility comparisons with confidence?

    I haven’t seen any “public good” that is designed to have universal access, universal impact, or universal value across the citizenry. Especially public schooling.

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    Randy

    May 2, 2016 at 5:15 pm

  14. Randy, yes, Rothbard viewed taxation as theft; with subjective valuations we can never demonstrate that the value of the compensation or services received exceed the value of the tax payments. Also relevant is one of the most important American political theorists, John C. Calhoun — once an esteemed figure at Yale — who developed the distinction between net tax payers and net tax receivers.

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    Peter G. Klein

    May 2, 2016 at 7:34 pm

  15. national parks. clean air and water (secured through government regulation paid for via taxes). public safety, including protection from crime and fire domestically, and external threats. are these not “public goods” that are designed to have universal access, impact, and value?

    also, more controversially, roads, public schooling and similar public goods have disproportionate value only because of a lack of imagination on the part of the person perceiving value. even if i don’t drive a car on the roads, i might drive a bike, or walk on them. i also enjoy life in an industrial economy which depends on those roads being passable. whatever job i work or goods i consume would be existentially threatened were those roads to go away.

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    Susan

    May 2, 2016 at 7:36 pm

  16. […] My argument about the immorality of denying public services to immigrants. […]

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