The current immigration debate revolves around the supposed cruelty of separating minors from their parents. Concern over immigrant children is a good motivation in abstract, but there are numerous facets of the debate being lost in the moral preening. This outrage selectively ignores a decades-old policy of separating children from parents, and uses pictures of children in cages from the Obama administration to stoke outrage against President Trump. Additionally, the debate begins in the middle of the story, ignoring the decisions of parents to bypass safe options closer to home in favor of traveling to a country that has been explicit about its policies.
Leaving that aside, there is a hidden conservative argument given by critics of Trump and the immigration plan. Critics contend that part of the cruelty comes from taking children from their parents and putting them into an inefficient, chaotic, and often capricious government system that is increasingly overwhelmed with the number of children in their care. Some reports even indicated that the government has “lost” thousands of children.
Conservatives have long argued that government programs are ineffective, wasteful, and even cruel. In a previous article, I discussed the “benefits cliff” created by welfare benefits, where somebody who starts earning more money ends up losing benefits worth more than what they made—essentially a punishment for succeeding. The goal of family preservation or reunification by family services is a good one, but that goal often overrides other concerns that prove deadly for abused children. And the waste from government programs goes on and on, ranging from not protecting abused children, to a missing $25 billion, to embezzled funds. And all of this isn’t including the local examples of misused funds and stupefying decisions by government officials that I see everyday in Las Vegas, or the years I spent in the military witnessing the same.
The best case against big government actually came from David Axelrod’s defense of President Obama. IRS officials admitted to targeting and slow-walking applications from conservative groups. Axelrod said the government is so “vast” that it is “unreasonable to expect President Obama, or any president, to keep tabs on every development in every agency.”
This is exactly the argument that conservatives have made for years. Even with the best of intentions, government is so vast, and so often operates without accountability, that you could argue corruption is its natural state. The only way to avoid it is to not have the agency, bureau, or program in the first place. While wanting to help people is noble, a government program is often the worst and most inefficient way to help, so much so that when President Reagan said “I’m from the government and I’m here to help,” they were the scariest words ever heard.
Early in the Trump administration, critics were attacking the expense of Trump’s frequent travels to Mar-A-Lago. I couldn’t help but notice how insincere it was for liberals to suddenly become fiscal conservatives when they have a long history of never meeting a problem that couldn’t be solved through spending more money on a government program. Even though conservatives have long argued that government programs are not the answer, and opponents found critics of those programs heartless and harsh, on this matter, conveniently when it is an attack against Trump, liberals are finding that the government is incredibly inefficient and not really helping. In short, they are small government conservatives when it can be used to make a moral case against Trump.
Conservatives wish for children to live safely with their parents. But it shows how over-the-top the moral outrage is that conservatives have to remind their opponents that they don’t hate children. This debate begins in the middle of the story, ignores the responsibility of the parents coming with their children, and rather duplicitously borrows arguments from small government conservatives to attack Trump. A truly small government solution would be to encourage private charitable organizations to provide targeted and necessary assistance and enable NGOs to offer the option for potential refugees to stay at or closer to home. But the answer is not to bash Trump by using arguments they don’t believe in, in the pursuit of open borders that many if not most Americans don’t like or want.