Immigration and Extortion

by Charles C. W. Cooke

If sovereignty is to mean anything, then a country is entitled to decide whom it wants to join its ranks and whom it wishes to exclude from them.

If, on balance, an exhaustive amnesty for those who have deliberately ignored the law is determined to be a fair prospect for America, then there is a case for doing it; if changing the law to allow certain people to become part of the American polity is regarded by Americans as being advantageous to them, then there is a case for doing it; if allowing nobody in or everybody in is good for America, then there is a case for doing it. A desire to win the political affections of a given ethnic group, on the other hand, is not grounds for such a move. We should stop talking as if it is. To change the immigration laws to please a small but influential portion of the population is to submit to extortion. America should not be deciding who it wants on the basis of crass electoral threats. 

A popular conceit, issued as a grave and gleeful warning to a Republican party that is considered by swathes of the commentariat to be doomed by “demographics,” appears to be that “Hispanics will only vote for you if you pardon other Hispanics who have broken the law.” I don’t know if that’s true or not. But if it is, it’s utterly abhorrent. Rushing to pardon those who have violated the rule of law because if you don’t their friends won’t vote for you is inseparable from bribery. (I might as well offer my vote to any party who will release my family members from prison.) If it’s not true, the suggestion that it is is not only wildly offensive to Hispanics — who are always, grossly, treated as a single bloc — but should serve to cool passions and slow the rush to action too.

It is notable that the Republican party is not even pretending to have changed its mind on the immigration question. Instead, it is acknowledging that it lost the last election and it is buying into a particular theory as to why. Sure, politics has always born the hallmarks of prostitution and it would be negligent of any party wholly to ignore demographics. But could we at least be a little more subtle when calling the escort agency?

On his blog, Ezra Klein argues:

Two numbers explain why a rational Republican Party needs to do something dramatic on immigration: 27 percent and 2 percent.

Twenty-seven percent is the percentage of the Latino vote Mitt Romney received in 2012, according to the Fox News exit poll. Two percent is the projected increase in the non-white electorate come 2016. So Republicans are losing badly among Hispanic voters and Hispanic voters are becoming an increasingly important part of the electorate.

Klein is right to lead with this, and then to turn to a secondary discussion of Republicans who genuinely want to make changes to the system. Naturally, not everyone involved is acting in bad faith: Some Republicans do earnestly desire reform and likely see Democratic willingness as providing an opportunity to get something “bipartisan” done. Millions of Americans, too, seem to be in favor of doing something about immigration — if you believe certain polls, a majority is even in favor of amnesty. But you certainly wouldn’t glean this from the media coverage nor from the way in which Republicans and conservatives have tended to discuss the issue. The focus is squarely on the politics of this and politics of that, almost every story noting in its first paragraph the “increased importance of nonwhites” or some variant thereof. In our discourse, the notion that anybody wants to do anything on immigration simply in order to do something on immigration has taken a back seat to endless analysis of “the Hispanic vote” and of electoral politics, all underpinned by the frankly disrespectful presumption that “Hispanics” are predictable and uniform automatons who will openly their allegedly closed minds the moment an immigration bill passes Congress.

“Immigration reform,” meanwhile, has been melted down and recast into a synonym for “doing something about the illegal immigration problem.” There’s little discussion of the other vital components of our thoroughly broken immigration system — a system that allows 1 million people in per year on purpose. How much attention is there on the abominable visa lottery? Or on the fact that most immigrants come because they have family here and not because they are skilled or necessary or likely to succeed? Or on STEM? “Comprehensive,” it seems, has come to mean less a total overhaul of the existing system and more a “border enforcement + amnesty” deal. And discussion of whether it is a good idea (social security etc.) or a bad idea (widespread unemployment) for America to continue to import so many people is peripheral — rife among opinion journalists and economists, rare in the media at large. In my experience, Americans are both wildly welcoming of immigrants and spectacularly under-informed as to how their immigration system actually works. This is a problem going forward. Existing citizens must get to decide who joins them. The current debate is not helping them to do so in any “comprehensive” way at all. Hopefully that will change.

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