Arizona is reportedly researching how much it will cost taxpayers to prosecute every case of illegal immigration under a “zero tolerance” policy. So far, the task appears hopelessly daunting:

[T]o prosecute these misdemeanors, Arizona would need to have a federal criminal justice system twice the size of the rest of the country. No one has contemplated what that would cost. There is one estimate of how much it would cost just to detain and hire a lawyer for every illegal immigrant caught entering the Tucson sector: close to $1 billion a year.

As the state undertakes a lengthy $1 million dollar study in hopes of identifying what would necessarily be a costly and complex solution, we should remember that under a proper immigration policy, there would be no problem to solve. As we’ve argued, there is no legitimate basis for outlawing free immigration:

A truly American immigration system would be an individualistic one, in which anyone would be free to come here to live, to work, and to be happy, barring only those known criminals or carriers of infectious diseases who represent a clear threat to those around them. There would be no years-long waits for special permission to enter, no arbitrary quotas, no deportation of people who have committed no legitimate crime–only a system designed to assist newcomers in properly participating in the country they’ve sought out for good reason.

In other words, the “problem” is not the thousands of misdemeanor immigration cases being brought before the court. The problem is the very fact that such cases are being prosecuted in the first place. The harm done is two-fold: first, the lives of productive, freedom-seeking immigrants are upended, and then taxpayers are forced to pay for it.

Of course, many ask: what about the cost of allowing immigrants to pour into the country and burden public services? Again, this is a problem brought about by misguided government policy. Neither immigrants nor others born in here ought to be able to demand our financial support. It is only through welfare programs created by government that an immigrant – or your neighbor – becomes a potential recipient of your paycheck. Under a government that fully respected the right to keep one’s earnings, there would be no such threat.

Many find it tempting to try to solve every problem through more government, more rules and more enforcement, without considering whether the new problem was itself caused by the same thinking. As with any issue, when it comes to immigration we must step back and ask important fundamental questions: should immigration even be restricted at all? If so, why? Are those reasons actually valid, or are there deeper questions to be answered?

In this case, as in others, honest answers to such questions allow clarifying insight into otherwise hopelessly complex issues. Approached properly, the solution to immigration enforcement is both simple and economical, beginning with rejecting the assumptions and policies that made peaceful immigration a costly crime in the first place.

Related reading:
A case for open immigration

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