While recovering from a wild New Year’s Eve watching the first season of Babylon 5 on DVD, I was digesting yesterday’s piece on the homepage by Lee Habeeb and Mike Leven. The middle of the piece had some good sense about education reform, but it was strangely unrelated to the main thrust, which is that “the GOP must do its best to promote more immigration, not less.” The authors seem to back only one side of “comprehensive immigration reform” — legal status for illegal aliens and increases in future immigration, both skilled and unskilled. In their derision of Romney’s support for attrition through enforcement (which he labeled “self-deportation”) the authors appear to rule out any form of enforcement.
I don’t want to fisk the article, but we need to recognize two themes that are common to expansionist rhetoric, whether from the left or right.
First, the mawkish sentimentalism: the Statue of Liberty, Emma Lazarus, Frank Capra — give me a break. Look, I love the Statue of Liberty. Unlike some of my fellow immigration skeptics, I don’t even mind its transformation into a symbol of immigration, which had nothing to do with it originally. (At CIS, we have a vast collection of SoL stuff, including Garfield the Cat as Lady Liberty, the movie poster for Escape from New York, with the statue’s head lying sideways on Broadway, and a New Yorker cover with the statue holding up a twisty fluorescent — come by and see!) And Capra’s Jimmy Stewart movies are among my favorites.
But what’s that got to do with policy or politics today? Capra sailed by the statue as a six-year-old in 1903. What other policies from 1903 do the authors suggest we adopt? The treatment of blacks? Food safety? Child labor? Does the development of a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, the welfare state, and race preferences have no bearing on the shape of immigration policy?
That brings me to the second point — the factual inaccuracies. The authors claim that the welfare issue is irrelevant because illegal aliens come “for the same reason immigrants have been coming here legally for centuries: economic opportunity.” A simple look at 2011 statistics would show that half or more of families headed by immigrants from Mexico, Guatemala, the Dominican Republic, Honduras, Haiti, and El Salvador use at least one means-tested welfare program. They may or may not come with the intention of living off the taxpayer, but the mismatch between their skills and the needs of a modern economy make widespread reliance on welfare inevitable, no matter how hard immigrants work.
The next Frank Capra might just be on a boat or a plane heading from Ecuador or El Salvador or Nigeria, seeking that same freedom Capra’s family sought. That yearning to be free is what these immigrants want, not more government controls. Indeed, it is government controls they are fleeing.
Immigrants don’t want more government? Where’d they get that from? Pew finds that Hispanic Republicans (immigrant and native) are more statist than white Democrats (here, see Chart 18). And as Cuban immigrant author Jose Azel has written, “The sociopolitical heritage from Spain and the post colonial experience of Latin America has engendered in the Hispanic-American population an understanding of the role of government significantly different from the principles of limited government and imprescriptible rights embraced by the Founding Fathers.”
This is not to say the Republicans don’t have their work cut out for them in winning the votes of immigrants from Latin America and Asia, and their children. But, as John O’Sullivan said recently on Uncommon Knowledge:
“The way that we’ll get the Hispanics and the other groups, the Asians, as part of the Republican coalition is to get them first part of the great American coalition. . . . persuade them to think of themselves primarily as Americans. Restore the overaching, all-encompassing concept of an American identity.”
The Left’s politicization of ethnicity, as a means of deconstructing America, has caused us to lose this ideal and, as John continues:
“One of the reasons we haven’t regained it, and are doing very badly at the moment, is because the Republicans have neither had the imagination nor the courage to think how they could appeal to these other ethnic groups as Americans.”
But the first step in such a strengthening of a common national identity in an environment hostile to assimilation must be to slow the flow. So I would turn Habeeb and Level’s prescription on its head: The GOP must do its best to promote less immigration, not more.