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Fabio Rojas’s Weak Argument for Subsidizing Illegal Aliens

Summary:
Somehow I missed Indiana University sociology professor Fabio Rojas’s April article titled “Conservative Arguments in Support of Undocumented College Students,” published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. It appeared on April 19. I won’t comment on whether his arguments are conservative; I don’t care. The problem is that they’re not good arguments. He starts out strong, defending the idea that people should be able to move here, a view I largely share. But I combed the article looking for any mention of the fact that the students whom he wants the government to subsidize are not “undocumented;” they are illegal. I hasten to add that I’m not advocating that they be kicked out of the country. Like him, I want them to be able to stay. That’s

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Fabio Rojas’s Weak Argument for Subsidizing Illegal Aliens

Somehow I missed Indiana University sociology professor Fabio Rojas’s April article titled “Conservative Arguments in Support of Undocumented College Students,” published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. It appeared on April 19. I won’t comment on whether his arguments are conservative; I don’t care. The problem is that they’re not good arguments.

He starts out strong, defending the idea that people should be able to move here, a view I largely share.

But I combed the article looking for any mention of the fact that the students whom he wants the government to subsidize are not “undocumented;” they are illegal. I hasten to add that I’m not advocating that they be kicked out of the country. Like him, I want them to be able to stay.

That’s different, though, from claiming, as Rojas does, that they should be subsidized. What is his argument? Here is one of his main ones:

The exclusion of undocumented students also runs afoul of our most cherished legal traditions. The Eighth Amendment to the Constitution prohibits “cruel and unusual punishment.” If one were to take the text in its original meaning, it would certainly imply that rules and regulations that prohibit people from obtaining an education because of a non-criminal procedural violation are not valid. This is because educational credentials are often needed for many well-paying jobs in society. They are also needed if one wants to practice a variety of occupations, such as medicine, law, and teaching. Not only would the exclusion of undocumented students result in vast losses of income, but it also deprives these students of the freedom to compete for jobs and thus contribute to their society.

In Rojas’s view, telling someone that you are not going to subsidize one of his actions is the same as prohibiting that person from acting. I hope I don’t need to tell readers of this blog why they’re not the same. But just in case, not subsidizing illegal aliens does not in any way reduce their freedom to get an education; it just means that they won’t be funded by taxpayers.

Interestingly, some of the commenters on his article state that his view is like that of my co-blogger Bryan Caplan. But if so, Bryan has done a great job of hiding it. Like Rojas, Bryan believes in open borders. But Bryan, like me, wants to respond to critics who worry that immigrants will come here to be subsidized. That’s why he spends a lot of space in his recent book advocating keyhole solutions. One standard keyhole solution is not to subsidize immigrants, illegal or otherwise.

We already have tens of millions of strong opponents of immigration and they seem to be having a loud voice in the policy discussion. We aren’t going to handle one of their main objections if we advocate subsidizing illegal immigrants. If Rojas wants immigrants to be more welcome, he should advocate the opposite of what he advocates. Immigrants should be free to go to college but should not be able to be subsidized by taxpayers. How about U.S. citizens and legal immigrants? Should they receive subsidies to go to college? No, but adding a few more hundred thousand wrongs to about 15 to 20 million wrongs doesn’t make a right.

David Henderson
David Henderson is a British economist. He was the Head of the Economics and Statistics Department at the OECD in 1984–1992. Before that he worked as an academic economist in Britain, first at Oxford (Fellow of Lincoln College) and later at University College London (Professor of Economics, 1975–1983); as a British civil servant (first as an Economic Advisor in HM Treasury, and later as Chief Economist in the Ministry of Aviation); and as a staff member of the World Bank (1969–1975). In 1985 he gave the BBC Reith Lectures, which were published in the book Innocence and Design: The Influence of Economic Ideas on Policy (Blackwell, 1986).

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