Immigration and Drug Prohibition

A collection of thoughts, copied directly from posts I have made in a really crappy political forum:

Phoenix’s extreme crime and violence problem, correct me if I’m wrong, is largely drug related, and not necessarily an undocumented immigrant problem. If Arizona wants to deal with that problem, they need to deal with drug prohibition. Trying to take on immigration to deal with the negative externalities of drug prohibition is like attacking the symptom of a symptom of a symptom of a disease.


Leave alone alone the fact that immigrants commit much less crime than natives do and consider the proper narrative we should have here:

Drug prohibition creates a shadow market that is rife with crime and violence. There is a market for drugs in Phoenix and the rest of the country and, for some bizarre reason, Phoenix is at the center of this shadow market in that the negative externals that come from the drug prohibition manifest strongly in that city. Drug prohibition creates the need for mules from across the border to this side of the line. The crime and violence come along with these mules and those who are doing the business in this shadow market.

No one, I think, would argue that this shouldn’t be policed. The problem, however, doesn’t stem from illegal immigration. The drug trade would exist irrespective of illegal immigration. The drug mules that illegally cross the border to transport drugs; the shadow market will find a way to do it, whether through tunnels or simply being smarter at hiding the drugs in a vehicle. If we’re going with the concept that illegal immigrants are the main source of transporting these drugs, if anything, drug prohibition promotes illegal immigration to avoid border patrolling for drugs.

So drug prohibition: the source of crime and violence and, perhaps more illegal immigration, and the primary suspect of the high crime and violence in Phoenix.

I hope this, at least, can be agreed on: immigrants come here, or stay here beyond their official welcome, for primarily two reasons: 1) criminal activities, 2) employment.

My argument is that the negative externals that come from undocumented residents/immigrants can largely be avoided by enacting smarter immigration policies. The undocumented who come here for honest work and plan on going back could go through a guest worker program. That would limit a huge chunk of the undocumented immigrant problem by documenting their border crossing and presence. Guest worker programs can be easily managed: the number of guest workers allowed entry and temporary residency can be flexible depending on the state of native employment. Obama added an amendment to the failed attempt at immigration reform four years ago which would have placed a 9% unemployment cap which would have frozen the guest worker program that would have been created if the law passed.

When Will Wilkinson wrote "[t]he best way to get rid of the bad external effects of unlawful immigration is to bring what is lawful in line with what is right," he’s saying that we need to change immigration policy to meet the demands of labor. There is no doubt that there’s demand for cheap labor here in the US. Companies get busted for employing undocumented workers all the time. There is a high supply of people, mostly from Mexico, willing to come to the US to work even as cheap labor (our version of cheap is different than their version of cheap; an American dollar goes farther in Mexico than it does here). A guest worker program would streamline that supply of laborers who are willing to cross the border illegally (or come here legally but remain beyond their welcome).

All that would be left is the immigrants who come here for criminal or nefarious purposes. With the labor-immigrants problem streamlined and minimizing the illegal immigrant problem (if they’re documented and here legally, are they still a problem?), police can concentrate on the crime and violence aspects of drug prohibition.

Then we can take the same things we learned from alcohol prohibition and migration prohibition and apply it to the drug prohibition problem. Drug-related crime, just like undocumented immigrant-related crime, stems from the same problem: prohibition. The strict limitations on immigration, ignoring the supply/demand of labor, amounts to a lose form of prohibition. In effect, the negative externalities of illegal immigration exist in the same way as the negative externalities of drug prohibition: when you create a black market (undocumented workers are "products" in a black market, of sorts), you create the environment for crime.


Domestic businesses love illegal immigration because they can get higher productivity by paying the undocumented workers less and the business don’t have to pay their portion of FICA taxes or any other tax that comes from employing someone. It’s in their interest to keep illegal immigration the way it is. What first needs to be done is the general populace needs to be re-educated with facts instead of rage-inducing rhetoric based that uses ignorance of those facts and fear to shove the Overton window in the wrong direction—a direction that benefits these unethical businesses.

What is to be done is the impossible. The narrative needs to be changed; the facts need to be known by the general public so we don’t have 60%+ of the people thinking this type of law Arizona passed actually fixes anything. The issue is completely economic and so is the solution. Unless the narrative can be changed from ZOMG IMMIGRANTS ZOMG ILLEGALS ZOMG! to this is clearly a problem of supply/demand in the labor market and the proper solution should address this gap, nothing can be done.

The immigration plan that was being proposed four years ago would have been a great start. It wasn’t perfect, for sure, but it was a damn good start. The garbage the Democrats are trying to pawn off as immigration reform right now is a waste. It concentrates on border security a lot (which I agree with) but it pretty much ignores the bigger problem.

As for really dealing with the problems Arizona, especially Phoenix, is facing, we need to take a market-based approach to drugs.

More from Cheap Seats:

…[I]n 2001, Portugal decriminalized all popular drugs and narcotic substances, including cocaine, heroin, lsd, amphetamines, etc. Nine years later, the findings of the Portuguese experience, released in a report by the Cato Institute (2009), support the assertions of those who wish to see drugs decriminalized (still!).
You can read the report here
. [pdf]

On July 1, 2001, a nationwide law in Portugal took effect that decriminalized all drugs, including cocaine and heroin. Under the new legal framework, all drugs were “decriminalized,” not “legalized.” Thus, drug possession for personal use and drug usage itself are still legally prohibited, but violations of those prohibitions are deemed to be exclusively administrative violations and are removed completely from the criminal realm. Drug trafficking continues to be prosecuted as a criminal offense.

While other states in the European Union have developed various forms of de facto decriminalization— whereby substances perceived to be less serious (such as cannabis) rarely lead to criminal prosecution—Portugal remains the only
EU member state with a law explicitly declaring drugs to be “decriminalized.”
Because more than seven years have now elapsed since enactment of Portugal’s decriminalization system, there are ample data enabling its effects to be assessed.

One of the more interesting points in the report is that drug prohibition creates a wall of mistrust between society and the state, and thus severely retards the state’s ability to reach out to those who are using drugs in a positive, supporting manner.

The same problem exists in due to the strict, inflexible immigration policy we have, by the way. The Arizona law exacerbates this exponentially as those undocumented persons will try to avoid the police even more which can lead to exaggerations of the negative externalities that inherently exist due to the shadow market of illegals. The fact these residents are here illegally creates situations where these people would be more willing to commit criminal acts to maintain their presence in the country; if they were documented and here legally, they wouldn’t fear the police or law enforcement as much. Distrust in police tends to lead to incivility.

Drug prohibition actually makes it more difficult for the state to help people who use drugs. This leads to more drug abuse than necessary, especially because the drug market creates dirty drugs which can be more harmful and addicting than may otherwise be.

As you can see from the chart above, in a short time, most adolescent drug use has fallen due to liberalization. Recidivism has also declined, as well as drug-related crime.

And unfortunately it is not the United States that suffers from its own stupidity, it is the poorer countries in Central and South America. Mexico particularly suffers simply because of the border that we share. In a free and open market for drugs, violence would not be a viable option — indeed, it would severely hurt the bottom line. That is not to say violence wouldn’t exist, but that mutual cooperation through trade would be much more profitable. Not only would we be doing Mexico an immense favor, we would also be doing a favor to all of the people who are addicted to drugs and wish to seek help — but can’t currently, because we take a hard-line stance against drugs… not to mention we would be respecting the personal choices of law-abiding citizens.

In conclusion, the solution is impossible if we continue with the intellectually shallow narrative that dominates at the moment—a mental midgetry that clearly dominates in this forum. What needs to be done is we need to change the narrative and educate the public. For that, we’re going to need some serious politicians seeking serious change. Sadly, the voters decide who becomes our politicians and we’re at fault for electing trash incapable of showing backbone to the ignorant masses.

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