Mexican American border, Wikipedia

Immi­gration has become a con­tro­versial policy debate in the modern era, and even more so with the rise of Donald Trump and nation­alist pop­ulism. There are valid argu­ments for main­taining security along the physical border. But this only con­sti­tutes a fraction of immi­gration policy. In reality, a large portion of immi­gration enforcement requires increased scrutiny of American cit­izens within the country.

The Wash­ington Post recently pub­lished a story chron­i­cling mul­tiple inci­dents in which Mexican-American cit­izens were denied pass­ports or had them revoked in the southern border region due to skep­ticism of the validity of their birth cer­tifi­cates. Many of those ques­tioned or denied were birthed by mid­wives iden­tified by the gov­ernment as poten­tially pro­viding forged cit­i­zenship doc­u­ments to children not born in the United States. Of course, those pos­sessing fraud­ulent doc­u­men­tation should not be granted pass­ports. However, this heavy-handed approach to denying and revoking pass­ports, a fun­da­mental civil right, results in unin­tended con­se­quences that affect valid cit­izens and dis­pro­por­tion­ately low-income minorities.

I do not mean to imply that there is an inherent racism within the indi­viduals enforcing these policies. Aspects of the enforcement of immi­gration laws will nat­u­rally be arbi­trary given the dif­fi­culty of iden­ti­fying fraud­ulent doc­u­ments and those sup­plying them. Stan­dards must be set at some level, and those that do not meet those qual­i­fi­ca­tions will be ques­tioned. I do mean to state, however, that due to the nec­es­sarily arbi­trary nature of the enforcement of these laws, a dis­pro­por­tionate number of minority cit­izens and legal res­i­dents will be unjustly affected by them.

This assertion is sup­ported by his­torical and present-day evi­dence. After being blamed for exac­er­bating the Great Depression, an esti­mated minimum of 400,000 Mex­icans living in the U.S. were repa­triated to Mexico, an esti­mated 60 percent of which were legit­imate cit­izens. Today, the denial of pass­ports along the southern border area also affects cit­izens’ freedoms. As reported by the Los Angeles Times, Immi­gration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has released 1,480 people from their custody after con­firming their cit­i­zenship since 2012, and held one citizen in custody for more than three years as he attempted to prove his cit­i­zenship.

Race, though not nec­es­sarily the moti­vator of immi­gration crack­downs, plays an important role in the prac­tical imple­men­tation of strict immi­gration policy. This is not dif­ficult to deduce. In an imperfect world, agents’ resources will be allo­cated to best achieve their goals. In a nation with a non-His­panic, white majority (63 percent of the pop­u­lation in 2012), it does not make prac­tical sense for an immi­gration agent enforcing a check­point or reviewing passport appli­ca­tions to treat non-His­panic whites with the same scrutiny as minorities, espe­cially given the his­torical record of Mexican immi­gration and the U.S.’s close prox­imity to Mexico, a country with vastly dif­ferent demo­graphics.  Again, this does not mean ICE agents are racist, nor are the policies them­selves. But the process of allo­cating limited resources to reach a goal nec­es­sarily results in minority cit­izens facing more scrutiny than non-His­panic whites.

Why does this matter? An obvious issue is it sets dif­ferent stan­dards for cit­izens based on arbi­trary dis­tinc­tions outside of their control. It also dis­pro­por­tion­ately impacts those who have the least amount of resources available to handle legal dis­putes. Mid­wives are largely used in southern border areas by those who cannot afford typical medical care, and the Wash­ington Post reports that many mid­wives iden­tified by the federal gov­ernment as potential law­breakers gave out thou­sands of valid birth cer­tifi­cates throughout their careers.

Not only will Mexican-American cit­izens face increased bar­riers to accessing their civil rights, they are also more likely to fail to overcome them. Low-income descen­dants of immi­grants are least likely to possess ade­quate paperwork when faced with increased scrutiny. A Mexican-American veteran inter­viewed by the Wash­ington Post said that, when the validity of his birth cer­tificate was ques­tioned, doc­u­ments such as evi­dence of his mother’s pre­natal care and rental agree­ments from when he was a baby were requested. This incon­sis­tency can breed resentment and dis­trust of American society among pop­u­la­tions attempting to assim­ilate.

Some will likely argue that the ben­efits out­weigh the costs. Better that one citizen be denied their lib­erties than those ille­gally in the country be pro­vided rights many would argue they do not deserve. But is this the standard by which we judge all policy deci­sions, con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions be damned? The answer would be obvious if con­ser­v­a­tives place the con­sistent preser­vation and pro­motion of cit­izens’ indi­vidual rights at the core of the government’s purpose and our country’s values.

There are indeed policies in which this standard is rightly crit­i­cized by con­ser­v­a­tives, who are most likely to be immi­gration hard­liners. The debate sur­rounding gun control and second amendment rights stands as a rel­evant example. Con­ser­v­a­tives defend the right to bear arms when pro­gres­sives argue that it is better to restrict the rights of gun owners to protect innocent lives from those who would abuse that right. Why do they then make this argument in the immi­gration debate? Con­sis­tency requires going the extra step to declare both argu­ments ridiculous.

Alex Taylor is a senior studying eco­nomics.