An Immigration Compromise

by Peter Spiliakos

It is easy to see the immigration common ground between populist, conservative senator Tom Cotton and liberal journalist Noah Smith. Keep legal-immigration levels stable but strongly prioritize high-skill immigration and English-proficiency. I suspect that the biggest barrier to a Cotton–Smith alliance would be more social than ideological.

They don’t agree on everything, but Cotton and Smith both make the case for reserving most future immigration for high-skill workers. This puts them at odds with the 2013 Gang of Eight approach, which would have increased overall immigration levels and prioritized low-skill immigration. A politics of keeping legal-immigration levels the same and shifting to high-skill immigration would also be much closer to the public’s preferences.

The problem with Smith’s supporting Cotton in such a compromise would involve the fact that he would be opposing the mass of center-left academic, political, and journalistic elites for whom expanding future low-skill immigration (under economic or humanitarian pretexts) is a bottom-line moral issue. Worse, Smith would have to side against the center-left’s elites and side with Tom Cotton and the people who voted for Tom Cotton.

Cotton is willing to stand up to his party’s business and lobbying elites in order to support a skills-based immigration policy. Is Smith willing to stand up to the center-left by standing with Cotton?

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