Charles Breiterman's Picture

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  by  Charles Breiterman

Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2008. But on the subject of illegal immigration, he is mistaken. He wrote in the New York Times:

And I can’t share the outrage of those who say that illegal immigrants broke the law by coming here. Is that any worse than what my grandfather did by staying in America, when he was supposed to return to Russia to serve in the czar’s army? (5/25/2007 New York Times Opinion Column).

As best as I can tell from public sources, Paul Krugman’s grandfather was a Russian Jew, just like both of my grandfathers.

Illegal immigration is worse than what his grandfather did because his grandfather was fleeing from brutal massacres known as “pogroms,” in which hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed. The pogroms were riot-massacres perpetrated in the Russian Empire against the Jews between the years 1881-1921.1Over 650 pogroms occurred between 1903-1906 alone.2 The San Francisco Call newspaper reported on the pogrom in the city of Odessa in 1905:

Four hundred and twelve Jews, victims of the massacres of last week, were buried to-day. ... The scenes of grief were heartrending and almost indescribable as the bodies were placed in trenches, each trench containing seventy. Similar funerals will continue for three days. Two hundred and forty of the bodies were in such a condition that they could not be recognized. … It appears that the soldiers slaughtered the defenders of the Jewish houses. In one case forty-six railway workmen who were defending the Jews on Frohorsykia street were shot.3

Today’s illegal immigrants are coming here to earn higher wages. “To make more money” is not a valid excuse for breaking the law. If it were, the United States would be full of subprime mortgage scammners and Ponzi schemes. The country would descend to third-world status in short order. We can see this in our current economic crisis. A portion of real estate agents, mortgage brokers, securities rating firms, bankers, and investment banks broke rules, regulations, and laws, and now we are in a very bad situation. The entire economy is structured on the rule of law and would collapse unless the vast majority of people follow the law the vast majority of the time. Ironically, Krugman the economist forgets this.

What Krugman describes as “outrage” over the lawbreaking by illegal immigrants stems from Americans’ intuitive grasp that the rule of law is our civic religion, and it has that status for a darned good reason. The United States is as racially and ethnically diverse as the entire world; one of the only things Americans have in common is our lawmaking process and respect for the laws that we have made. Our alternate national anthem, “America the Beautiful,” contains these words,

America! America!
God mend thine ev'ry flaw,
Confirm thy soul in self-control,
Thy liberty in law.


Illegal immigrants want the liberty, but they would destroy the law to get it, and Krugman doesn’t get that.

CHARLES BREITERMAN is a Lawyer and Research Analyst for NumbersUSA

1John D. Klier and Shlomo Lambroza, Pogroms: Anti-Jewish Violence in Modern Russian History, Cambridge University Press, 1992.
2Shlomo Lambroza, The Tsarist Government and the Pogroms of 1903-06, Modern Judaism, Vol. 7, No. 3 (Oct., 1987), pp. 287-296.
3The San Francisco Call, November 8, 1905, page 5.

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Illegal Immigration
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