"... Say that we consider largely removing limits on immigration, as was indeed the law throughout much of the nation’s history. (Let’s set aside narrow limits, such as on people with criminal records, terrorist connections, or easily communicable diseases.) Say also that we will offer these now largely legal immigrants those social welfare benefits that are in fact politically likely — not the bare minimum that some libertarians might like, nor the vast amount that some welfare-state proponents might suggest, but those benefits that are likely: Public education for their children, some level of health care, and the like."It's a great question. The economics are win-win. The morality is inescapable.
There has always been human misery but it is now more visible than ever. Many desperate people take huge risks and many suffer unimaginably to leave the hell-holes where the accident of birth has placed them. They want to take their chances not only by signing up for a perilous journey but also for all of the uncertainties of entering a place they know very little about. If they have contacts such as friends and family that preceded them, so much the better.
But Volokh's "how many people" question is impossible to answer. How would a long run equilibrium look? Would increased immigration flows prompt ever greater demand for entry? Or would it be the opposite; after the most desperate have left would those who stayed behind be more reluctant to uproot?
Our political season is now revealing the extent of nativist sentiment in America: even the crazy idea of deporting millions gets traction. Tyler Cowen reports on similar backlash in Europe.
What to do? Part of the public's antipathy is directed to the awfulness of the status quo. We often proclaim "zero tolerance" only to be overwhelmed by the impossibility of implementing it. Not having a working guest worker program inevitably gives rise to fence-jumping. The latter hardens attitudes all-around and gives us the sorry debate we are now having. How to get to Volokh's "narrow limits"? Look for the most moderate reform. Start with a guest-worker program and build trust. Go incrementally. Forget the "comprehensive" immigration reform packages. Start small.