Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Immigration Nation" The Key Components of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Tamar Jacoby's got a detailed analysis of the immigration reform debate in the current issue of Foreign Affairs. Jacoby notes that immigration is a top issue for the electorate, and there's little doubt that a major overhaul is due, although Congress is stymied on the way forward to reform. Yet, there may be hope:

In fact, the nation is far less divided on immigration, legal or illegal, than the current debate suggests. In the last six months, virtually every major media outlet has surveyed public attitudes on the issue, and the results have been remarkably consistent. Americans continue to take pride in the United States' heritage as a nation of immigrants. Many are uneasy about the current influx of foreigners. But an overwhelming majority -- between two-thirds and three-quarters in every major poll -- would like to see Congress address the problem with a combination of tougher enforcement and earned citizenship for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already living and working here. A strange-bedfellow coalition -- of business associations, labor unions, and the Catholic Church, among others -- has endorsed this position. In Washington, the consensus behind it is even more striking, with supporters spanning the spectrum from conservative President George W. Bush to left-leaning Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), from mavericks like Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) to party regulars like Senator Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and all but a handful of congressional Democrats. But even this broad agreement may not produce a solution this fall.

Congress' failure to act is largely a product of political circumstances. The high-stakes midterm elections in November put an unusual premium on the opinions of the 20-25 percent of voters who depart from the emerging national consensus. Mostly male, white, and lacking college degrees, these naysayers believe immigrants are bad for the economy; they want to build a wall along the southern border and adamantly oppose allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens. Only about half are Republicans, and they account for no more than a quarter of the GOP. But many Republicans in Congress, particularly in the House, are convinced that this group is more intense -- more concerned, more motivated, more likely to vote on the basis of this single issue -- than anyone else likely to go to the polls. So the naysayers have become the tail wagging the dog of the immigration debate, and they may succeed in blocking a solution this year.

Still, such circumstances will not last forever. The political stars will realign, perhaps sooner than anyone expects, and when they do, Congress will return to the task it has been wrestling with: how to translate the emerging consensus into legislation to repair the nation's broken immigration system.
This is an excellent piece. Jacoby is very clear on the main components of realistic reform: an increase in the number of immigrant worker visas, improved border security, and legalization of the 12 million or so illegal aliens who are already in the country.

The problem here is that Jacoby's essentially advocating an open border. Hers is a market-based approach. She sides with comprehensive reform advocates, who base their arguments on the current fact of high demand for workers in the U.S. economy amid the increasing globalization of international labor. On all of the key issues in debate -- such as public services dependency among illegal aliens and the downward pressure on wages from the massive influx of unskilled workers -- she adopts laissez-faire economics, and suggest at worst that the debate on aliens' fiscal demands and depressed wages is a wash.

Further, Jacoby dodges the current problems of cultural assimilation of today's immigrant population. I wrote yesterday on
the trend in increasing support for English only measures in the 2006 elections. Check as well my detailed critique of the Wall Street Journal's pro-market immigration position. In that post I linked to Samuel Huntington's recent book, Who Are We: The Challenges to America's National Identity. See also Huntington's Foreign Policy article, "The Hispanic Challenge," and Victor Davis Hanson's book on the immigration landslide, Mexifornia.

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