Immigration and National Health Care
Ryan Avent argues that failing to include illegal immigrants in a national health care plan is shameful:
We’ll treat an immigrant kid with tuberculosis, because we don’t want him infecting our American kids, but you know, we’re not about to acknowledge the basic humanity of people who are enduring many hardships to give their families a better life, just as the ancestors of most of the population of America did.
This whole health care mess is enough to make a man lose his faith in people.
Derek Thompson (from whom I found the above) concurs:
Again, I'm with Ryan all the way morally. I think every person in America deserves health care. I think it's an issue of morality, of human rights. And immigrants are people, too.
I realize that few readers of the DR are both (1) in favor of immigration limits, and (2) in favor of national health care. But those are probably both majority opinions on the left, and so I hope someone here can explain this to me.
Here's my question, and I mean it in a completely non-snarky, honest-inquiry way: How can it possibly be the case that by breaking the law of a country, one acquires a claim against its inhabitants?
Consider: Virtually no one would argue that American taxpayers have an obligation to pay for the health care of a Nicaraguan in Nicaragua[*]. But if that person comes to the United States illegally, then apparently it becomes an obligation of Americans to care for him.
So what is it that the illegal immigrant has done that suddenly entitles him to my taxes to pay for his health care? Thompson thinks he deserves health care because he is "in America". But if health care is a "human right", then surely it belongs to the Nicaraguan while he was in his native land.
Maybe it's because the illegal immigrant contributed to the economy here? But I don't see how that can be the case. Suppose the person had remained in Nicaragua as a farmer exporting his entire crop to the United States. Then he is economically linked with Americans just as the immigrant is, but few argue he is entitled to health care.
Now for something like a communicable disease, then one rationale for providing health care would be naked self-interest. But I don't see how that applies to something like cancer or heart disease.
And I think it violates many (most?) peoples' sense of propriety to reward people for breaking the law, even if they don't agree with it. I spoke to several people during the immigration debates of '06 who were outraged about the amnesty proposal despite being in favor of continued (and even increased) immigration. They just did not think it was right that someone from India who had trouble keeping his visa (to take one example I know of) got nothing out of the amnesty, while someone who came here illegally did. And I have very strong sympathy for that viewpoint. Even if you think bad laws should be disobeyed, does it then naturally follow that legal advantages should accrue to that person? That is very odd to me.
So, I'm posing this question to Avent, Thompson, or anyone else who holds positions (1) and (2) above: Suppose there are two brothers in Nicaragua. Brother A illegally comes to the United States and gets cancer. Brother B stays in Nicaragua and gets cancer. Why should I pay for Brother A's chemo and not Brother B?
I'd like to avoid a discussion here of the morality of immigration restrictions and national health care, if possible. I'm saying that taking those as given, why should illegal immigrants here get preference over, say, those who stayed in their native countries?
[*] I'm going to use Nicaragua as a random example of a foreign country from whom many immigrate illegally to the United States here for concreteness sake, but I do not intend to stereotype.