November Diary
NR cruise, , Caribbean, no; immigration morality; and more.


John Derbyshire

Illegal immigration is illegal. Persons found to be resident here illegally should be swiftly and humanely deported to their home countries. If they have children here, those children should be deported with them; and if those children have citizenship, it should be revoked, just as in any other case where citizenship was obtained via an illegal act.

It may be true, as the open-borders cant has it, that we can’t deport all illegals. So what? We can’t ticket everyone who violates the speed limit; but we ticket as many as we can catch, and the knowledge of that keeps the rest of us mindful of the speed-limit laws. Deporting any illegal we find would have a similar magnifying effect, leading many others to self-deport.

With all respect to VDH, whom I admire as a scholar and a gentleman, I think it’s a distraction to moralize the issue. Our job as commentators is to remind public officials of their duties and obligations under the law, to stiffen their spines so that they perform their statutory duties conscientiously and impartially. Appeals to morality don’t accomplish that. If anything they militate against it.

Morality is too squishy a business. Discussions founded in morality too easily degenerate into sanctimony, into “I’m a nicer person than you are!” one-upmanship, especially in the soft, emotional, girlified present state of our culture. Far too much of our public policy is already based not on data and logic but on romantic fantasies, hysterical fads, and hot flashes.

The people’s officials should enforce the people’s laws. If they won’t do so, they should be impeached by the people’s representatives. If we hold fast to those principles, we live in a constitutional republic. If we let go of them, we live in a realm of chaos and uncertainty, in which unscrupulous people seize privileges for themselves by fraudulent appeals to low emotion – a rule not of laws, but of men. Is that how we want to live?

The hidden issue
     Furthermore, the endless talk about illegal immigration, concerning which there is really nothing to talk about, prevents us from coming to grips with legal immigration, where there is actual policy to be made.

Not that you’d think there was any policy to be made. Official dogma of both the Left and the Right is that the 1965 Immigration Act and its subsequent slight adjustments were the absolute last word on this topic, creating a legal-immigration regime of seamless splendor and unimprovable perfection that should stand unquestioned and untouched for ever, in saecula saeculorum, world without end, amen.

How this dogma got established in immigration is a bafflement to me. In any other policy area it would be thought preposterous. How it ever got established among conservatives, given that the prime mover of the 1965 Act was über-liberal Edward M. Kennedy, is a double bafflement.

In fact our legal-immigration regime is badly flawed in all three of its principal components.

•  Family unification. There is no reason in logic or humanity why settlement should be granted to parents, adult siblings, or adult children of citizens. Spouses and dependent children only, please.

•  Skills. A skill should be deemed to be in short supply when the wages on offer for that skill are rising steeply. Even that should be only a necessary condition for importing skilled foreigners, not a sufficient one. If the wages on offer for, say, web designers are rising fast, young Americans will flock to web-design courses to get some of those high wages.

This is called a “market solution.” I’m not convinced of the need to permit any settlement by foreigners on a “needed skills” basis, though perhaps some exceptions might be made for skills like foreign-language translation. There is a widespread suspicion among ordinary Americans that the lobbying for “skills” visas by outfits like Microsoft is based not on any genuine skill shortages but on a desire for cheap labor. That suspicion seems to me entirely justified.

If there’s a shortage of something, the price will rise. Let’s at least see clear signs that the price is rising before we agree there’s a shortage. Then let’s discuss whether immigration is the best answer to the shortage.

•  Humanitarian. I’m not quite as stone-hearted as the Comprehensive Immigration Reduction guy, who suggests zero as an appropriate figure for settlement on humanitarian grounds (see under “Refugees”), but I’m close. There are cases — I’d guess a few dozen per annum — where I think settlement might reasonably be allowed for humanitarian reasons. I’d put Elián González in that category, for example, contra Mark Steyn, Pat Buchanan, Peter Brimelow, and several others whose opinions I respect and usually agree with.

By and large, though, humanitarian immigration is just what the CIR guy says it is: “a giant scam.” The world is full of sob stories, as any bartender will tell you. We don’t have to make them all America’s business. We don’t have to make any of them our business. This is our country. We can allow or forbid settlement rights in any way we collectively please.

Agree with me or disagree, it would be nice if we could raise these topics in public. We live, however, in a nation which has only recently, after a titanic decade-long struggle, been able to bring itself to discuss illegal immigration in anything like a calm tone of voice. One of the reasons for all that agonizing has been our national passion for moralizing about everything.

It seems to me that our policy debates would be more fruitful, and the resultant policies more sensible, if we did less moralizing and more cold calculating. The proper sphere of morality is private action. Public policy needs data, calm sense, and a green eyeshade.

The great British Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan was once asked what his government would do to help the British people find a sense of purpose in their lives. Replied Macmillan (who was a pious Anglican): “If people want a sense of purpose they should get it from their archbishop. They should certainly not get it from their politicians.”

Now there was a man who had things in their proper places.

Dame Joan Sutherland, R.I.P.
     A fellow opera fan demands to know why I didn’t record the October 10 passing of Dame Joan Sutherland in last month’s diary. Uh . . . because I forgot.

I was a huge fan of the lady — so much so, I put her in a novel. I came to opera quite late in life, and Sutherland’s was one of the first voices I heard. I was thereupon, as the psychologists say, “imprinted.”

If you want to know what the fuss was about, here she is singing Ah, fors’ è lui from La Traviata just as well as it can be sung.

An exceptionalism too far
     Here it is, that annual letter from my health-insurance middleman. Next year I’ll be paying $923.96 a month to cover myself, the Mrs., and two teenage kids. Note that I, though not the other three Derbs, am covered by Medicare at an additional $110 a month. Note also that my coverage goes through a big-company retiree health package, with the company paying 40 percent of the cost.


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