On Bad-Faith Open Borders

by Fred Bauer

Over at First Things, Pete Spiliakos, who also blogs at NRO’s very own Postmodern Conservative, turns to the topic of bad-faith open borders. Spiliakos suggests that a workable course of immigration reform would include the following: “making sure that internal immigration enforcement (especially universal job verification and a visa tracking system) is put in place first and that, after such a system is institutionalized, long-standing unauthorized immigrants get both legalized status and a relatively quick path to U.S. citizenship.” The notion of enforcement before legalization and citizenship for current illegal immigrants has considerable appeal to many opponents of the White House immigration agenda. Even Mark Krikorian, one of the fiercest opponents of both the Bush and Obama efforts at “comprehensive immigration reform,” has written favorably of that policy strategy.

One of Spiliakos’s key points is that immigration policy needs to be seen in light of a broader pro-worker and pro-middle-class policy agenda:

Republicans can’t be pro-working-class on immigration and then, like Mitt Romney, mock low-wage workers as entitled dependents who refuse to take responsibility for their own lives. Being pro-working-class also means making the tax code more favorable to working parents and reforming health insurance so that free-market reform also means affordable access to quality medicine.

Though many in the media and the progressive elite talk about economic inequality and immigration as two separate issues, they are in actuality not entirely distinct. There’s a reason why many reform conservatives have been fairly hostile to the immigration bill that passed the Senate: They see it as undermining the middle class and the average American worker and thereby setting back the hope for an opportunity- and market-driven governing vision. Many of the leading critics of the White House immigration agenda, such as Alabama’s Jeff Sessions, have focused on the pitfalls of a mass legalization that provides even more incentive for illegal immigration and of the expansion of market-distorting guest-worker programs.

The current crisis at the southern border reveals in stark terms the humanitarian costs of bad-faith open borders, but we should also keep in mind the broader civic and economic costs of having a shadow economy fed by illegal labor. Reformers on the right (including aspiring presidential candidates) who hope to promote upward mobility and a broad-based prosperity would do well to put forward a vision for immigration reform that prioritizes the interests of current American workers and that emphasizes inclusiveness and opportunity. Massive guest-worker programs and immediate legalization without enforcement — that is, a compounding of the current policy of bad-faith open borders — seem likely to undermine both aims.