Winking at the GOP on Immigration

by Charles C. W. Cooke

There will be much talk about immigration in the next few years, in part because the Republicans are perceived by some to have lost the Hispanic vote so comprehensively as a result of their alleged hostility to immigrants (something, amusingly, of which I am sometimes accused apropos of nothing, solely because I am a conservative), and partly because it is a pressing issue that both parties agree is in need of reform. Indeed, writing on the Atlantic, Derek Thompson argues that this is one area in which the GOP should modernize:

The growing Asian/Hispanic population is gnawing at the GOP’s percentages in key states like North Carolina, Florida, and Colorado. Emphasizing expanded legal immigration over punishment for illegal immigrants is one way to embrace an Hispanic population that’s quintupled in the last 50 years. Multiplying the number of student visas for engineers and foreign-born college students? That’s not just an easy play for innovation and growth. It’s also a clever wink to an eastern and southern Asian constituent that makes up a disproportionate share of those visas.

In fact, the Republican House proposed such a “clever wink” in September, and the Democrats killed it. The bill would have abolished the Green Card Lottery and allocated its 55,000 visas to “graduates with master’s or doctoral degrees from American universities.” Zoe Lofgren, a Democratic Congresswoman from California explained that she opposed the measure because it had a “sinister purpose, to reduce legal immigrant levels.” This suggestion is flat-out bizarre. Firstly, the bill wouldn’t have “reduced” anything at all. Instead, it would have taken 55,000 randomly allotted immigrant visas and reserved them for high-skilled workers. (Only Congressional mathematics could see this as a “reduction.”) Secondly, there is nothing intrinisically good or bad — or “sinister” — about the current immigration level, nor any good reason that it should be preserved in aspic regardless of the economic condition. To pretend otherwise is to fetishize immigration for its own sake.

In my experience, Americans are pretty friendly to immigration per se. But they especially like the idea that it is based on some form of merit or standard, and they are generally unaware that up to 90 percent of immigrants arrive here out of either pot luck, refugee status, or family connections. As Steve Case, the co-founder of AOL has argued, “since the early 1980s, entrepreneurs founding new startups created around 40 million American jobs, accounting for all of the country’s net job growth during that period,” and immigrants – high-skilled immigrants, that is — form a disproportionate number of of these entrepreneurs. Fair enough. In our current economy, then, it would seem a no-brainer to substitute one set of recipients for another? Thompson describes this as an “easy play for innovation and growth.” 

But apparently it’s not that easy a play. “Republicans are only willing to increase legal immigration for immigrants they want by eliminating legal immigration for immigrants they don’t want,” said Representative Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. Yes? Is not every country allowed — nay, duty bound — to do precisely this? Especially if “innovation and growth” are at stake? Is this not why nations have borders? What Luis Gutierrez means is that the Democratic party has a vested electoral interest in keeping a flow of low-skilled immigrants into the country — unemployment numbers be damned — and that it is not going to give that up lightly. Instead, it’s much easier just to pretend that Republicans are “obstructionist” or — easier — “racist.” It should be a Republican priority of the next four years to push back on this pernicious but effective myth.

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