Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Basic Division: The GOP and Immigration Reform

In one of yesterday's posts I covered how the immigration issue is dividing GOP congressional candidates heading into the fall midterms. It turns out that yesterday's Wall Street Journal addressed that issue as well, in the paper's lead editorial, "Conservatives and Immigration." WSJ indicates that there's no more divisive issue among conservatives today than immigration, and it's a topic that generates the paper's most critical letters to the editor. The essay offers a reminder of the paper's longstanding tradition of supporting open immigration, a policy position, the editors note, that is in line with those of both President Reagan and President Bush. Here's more:

Our own view is that a philosophy of "free markets and free people" includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right. Far from selling their labor "cheap," they are traveling to the U.S. to sell it more dearly and improve their lives. Like millions of Americans before them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as their skills and education increase.

We realize that critics are not inventing the manifold problems that can arise from illegal immigration: Trespassing, violent crime, overcrowded hospital emergency rooms, document counterfeiting, human smuggling, corpses in the Arizona desert, and a sense that the government has lost control of the border. But all of these result, ultimately, from too many immigrants chasing too few U.S. visas.

Those migrating here to make a better life for themselves and their families would much prefer to come legally. Give them more legal ways to enter the country, and we are likely to reduce illegal immigration far more effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could. This is not about rewarding bad behavior. It's about bringing immigration policy in line with economic and human reality. And the reality is that the U.S. has a growing demand for workers, while Mexico has both a large supply of such workers and too few jobs at home.

Some conservatives concede this point in theory but then insist that liberal immigration is no longer possible in a modern welfare state, which breeds dependency in a way that the America of a century ago did not. But the immigrants who arrive here come to work, not sit on the dole. And thanks to welfare reform, the welfare rolls have declined despite a surge in illegal immigration in the past decade.

The real claims that illegals make on public services are education, which can't be withheld because of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling (Plyer v. Doe), and health care, especially emergency rooms. Since denying urgent medical treatment is immoral, the answer again is to legalize cross-border labor flows and remove government obstacles to affordable health insurance. As for education, even illegals pay for public schools through the indirect property taxes they pay in rent. Overall, immigrants contribute far more to our economy than they extract in public benefits.

By far the largest concern we hear on the right concerns culture, especially the worry that the current Hispanic influx is so large it can resist the American genius for assimilation. Hispanics now comprise nearly a third of the population in California and Texas, the country's two biggest states, and cultural assimilation does matter.

This is where the political left does the cause of immigration no good in pursuing a separatist agenda. When such groups as La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund push for multiculturalism, bilingual education, foreign language ballots, racial quotas and the like, they undermine support for immigration among even the most open-minded Americans. Most Americans don't want to replicate the Bosnia model; nor are they pining for a U.S. version of the Quebec sovereignty movement. President Bush has been right to assert that immigrants must adopt U.S. norms, and we only wish more figures on the political left would say the same.
The editorial goes on to say that robust assimilation among newcomers is trumping identity politics, and that polls show bipartisan support for comprehenisive immigration reform focusing on both border security and guest workers.

This is a excellent editorial: It hits most of the main points of contention in the debate, and it accurately denounces the radicalism found in the multicultural left's immigration agenda. I don't think, however, the editors have given enough consideration to the lawbreaking element of the debate. The essay rightly notes that we need to increase the legal quotas for those seeking to come here, but there's not enough condemnation of the flagrant legal violations of the law as it stands. WSJ can critique the federal government for not securing the borders all it wants. But the fact remains that there's an entitlement mentality that's built up among migrants, immigration activists, and alien rights groups clammoring for the reconquista, and it's likely no immigration policy will make them happy until our sovereign borders become meaningless. Continued record high rates of illegal immigration will likely make such anti-U.S. demands even more pronounced, despite the WSJ's claim of easy generational assimilation. Other sources on assimilation are far more critical on this point, for example, Samuel Huntington, and Business Week's article, "Hispanic Nation," both citing the dramatic difference between this generation of Mexican migrants and 19th century European immigrants (especially in terms of the former's geographic contiguity and the development of Mexican ethnic enclaves resistant to English language acculturation).

Moreover, the question of whether illegals benefit the economic system -- contributing more than they take out -- remains unsettled (see James Goldsborough in Foreign Affairs, for example, or Jorge Borjas, Heaven's Door: Immigration Policy and the American Economy). In the end, though, pragmatism indicates that a variable-pronged approach to immigration reform will be necessary, with both stepped-up border enforcement and an increase in legal immigration quotas (but minus the guest worker program, which will likely encourage more aliens, outside of that process, to come to the U.S. illegally). Hopefully, the passage of such a policy would contribute to what Americans really want, an immigration process that is firm, fair, and equitable, and one that contributes to continued American vitality and dynamism.


prying1 said...

re: "WSJ indicates that there's no more divisive issue among conservatives today than immigration" -

The only real division is between voters, (Left and right) and the politicians who could care less what "the peoples will" is...

a.k.a. Blandly Urbane said...

Per your offer, I posted this at my site moments ago on behalf of CAII. Thanks alot.


There is nothing I could add, great analysis.

Donald Douglas said...

Thanks Urbane One.