Some journalists like to cite stories of farms that would be empty without migrant workers. Many of the same journalists also refer to academic studies which point out that immigration actually increases the wages of would-be displaced workers. It’s impossible to believe that both of these narratives are generally true. We cannot reason about economic decisions without reference to price – there is definitely a wage at which native American workers are more than happy to till the Alabama soil. It is also implausible that farms would just disappear under the weight of higher wages. Increases in the input cost for goods with inelastic demand, like basic food and shelter, are substantially represented in the market price. It might be that with existing citizenship laws the efficient market outcome requires more food to be imported, though that may not be worse than relying on low wages guaranteed by the captive supply of illegal workers.
This isn’t to say that an ideal outcome would not tolerate all willing immigrants. Unfortunately, the liabilities incurred on behalf of foreigners that avail themselves of birthright citizenship creates a “second-best” world where further liberalization of cross-national labor is not always optimal. Electoral franchise in a country where the government can choose which jobs deserve to be subsidized and which to be taxed – where it can choose who should be richer, and who poorer; where it adjudicates which parents love their children and which are negligent; indeed where it can choose who should live, and who should die – is a sacred institution protecting the essence of freedom.
It ill behooves the proponents of a more cosmopolitan society to belittle the concerns of those whose franchise is diluted on the altar of immigrants chosen not by cultural affinity or economic genius, but sheer geographic happenstance. That the harbinger of this sentiment may sound angry and crass does not excuse public thinkers from arguing against the most ideal version of their opponent’s argument, instead of its ugly manifestation. It is not Donald Trump’s fault that flagship American media outlets make scant effort to understand and interpret his followers’ beliefs, with the same benefit of the doubt they frequently afford equally unsophisticated advocates of their own received wisdom.