Law & Economics Working Papers
Immigration law and scholarship are pervasively organized around the principle that rules for selecting immigrants are (and should be) fundamentally different from rules that regulate the lives of immigrants outside the selection context. Both courts and commentators generally conclude that the government should have considerably more leeway to adopt whatever selection rules it sees fit. Consequently, the selection/regulation dichotomy shapes the central debates in immigration law—including debates about the legality and legitimacy of guest worker programs, America's criminal deportation system, and restrictions on immigrant access to public benefits. This Article argues that this central organizing principle is misguided: legal rules cannot be classified as concerning either selection or regulation because every rule concerns both. Every rule that imposes duties on noncitizens imposes both selection pressure, potentially influencing noncitizens' decisions about whether to enter or depart the United States, and regulatory pressure, potentially influencing the way in which noncitizens who choose to stay live their lives. Moreover, even if it were possible to overcome a century of radical disagreement about which rules are "really" about selection rather than regulation, there would still be little reason to ascribe constitutional or moral significance to the distinction between the two. As the Article shows, selection and regulation are simply two alternative mechanisms that a state may use to achieve a particular end. There is no a priori reason to prefer one mechanism over the other. These central conclusions have a number of important implications for immigration law and institutional design.
Adam B. Cox, "Immigration Law's Organizing Principles" (John M. Olin Program in Law and Economics Working Paper No. 453, 2009).