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Within the confusion surrounding the immigration issue is a crucial moral question

Much has been said about the recent Arizona law that requires police to verify the immigration status of anyone they suspect of being in the country illegally. Critics argue the law is vague, unconstitutional, and will lead to racial profiling as police try to enforce it. Defenders respond that it is simply a means to enforce the rule of law – if people are committing crimes, shouldn’t the police be empowered to bring them to justice? On its face, there seems to be a conflict between two compelling cases: the rights of citizens on the one hand, and the rule of law on the other.

The issue has become a confusing maze of seemingly unrelated aspects. A short list would include racial profiling, police-public relations, federal versus state jurisdiction, drug smuggling, employment of undocumented workers, untaxed welfare benefits, and social impacts on immigrant families. Consequently, our media pundits and politicians offer up uncertain, inconclusive attempts at solutions.

Despite this, the Arizona law has done something clarifying: The chilling image of a police officer demanding proof of citizenship from a person they “suspect” of being illegal has reminded us of the fact that all one has to do to break the law is to have been born in the wrong country. What the papers in question represent is the fact that even the most peaceful, hardworking, and good-natured person is considered a criminal simply by lacking the permission of the federal government to pursue his peaceful, hardworking life in the United States.

But there is no rational basis for such policies, and never has been. America’s founding doctrine of freedom rightly framed a society where no man is causelessly presumed a threat to his neighbor. So long as one respects the freedom of others, he was to be granted the same. Unfortunately, that idea was distorted and replaced by the contradiction that still persists today: that a nation literally born of immigrants considers outsiders criminals until and unless they are granted legal permission to breath, walk, and work inside our borders.

Fundamentally, there is only one thing to say about the issue of immigration: the very existence of the term “illegal immigrant” is a disgrace. Immigration is a legitimate human activity fully consistent with individual rights. Provided he poses no objective threat to anyone else, any man who wants to work or live in America should have his freedom respected by our government—not violated by it. Politically, this means a policy of open immigration, where immigrants are able to register with the government upon arrival in order to properly participate in the legal system and receive protection of their rights. So long as a would-be immigrant poses no clear threat by entering the country (for example, by having a criminal background or an infectious disease), the government imposes no obstacle to entrance. Immigrants would then be free to live their lives as any other resident, bearing full responsibility for earning their own livelihood. (Read more about open immigration here.)

The other issues–racial profiling, legality, alleged economic impact—only serve to distract from the crucial question that the Arizona law prompts us to confront: what has a man done wrong by standing on an American street without permission?

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