Saturday, February 11, 2006

Federalism and immigration

I had never thought about this before: one potential problem with federalism is the breaking-up of authorities that are needed to present a uniform front on immigration. I know this is obvious, but I usually think of federalism as presenting a great solution to the problem of trying to manage the costs and benefits of dispersal of power for any subject matter. Activities that have enormous spillover effects you bump up to regulating at the federal level, and things without such externalities you keep at the local level. (No, I'm not adopting Amar's view of the constitution; I'm just repeating what economists would say.)

But for immigration, this doesn't work. The subject is one that neither the federal govt nor the state govt can handle separately. When it's handled at the federal level, as it is now, states like Texas find that border protection is out of its control because they are merely one vote among many, and the US can impose large costs on Texas. But if Texas took it over, it could impose huge costs on the rest of the nation by, say, letting in everyone and then encouraging them to go to Virginia or Iowa.

The subject is simultaneously local and federal. So it requires cooperation, which, as we see from our discussion of water law and the Colorado River and the Seven State Compact, isn't always easy.

There's something unusual here, but I'm not quite putting my finger on it. I'll think about it later.


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