Ben Carson’s Immigration Plan

by Ian Tuttle

Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson criticized Donald Trump’s proposal to deport America’s illegal immigrant population, then proposed an alternative of his own.

Of Trump’s plan, said Carson, “The logistics of it are difficult. As I’ve said, I’m all ears. If somebody can tell me exactly how you can do that, I would certainly be interested in hearing it. But the fact of the matter is, our problem is that our federal government is not supporting the local authorities at the border. . . . Until we seal our borders,” he added,  “everything else is irrelevant.”

Carson then said articulated his own plan:

But let’s say we get them sealed, because certainly in a Carson administration that would be done within the first year. You also turn off the spigot that dispenses the goodies, so that people don’t have any incentive to come here. Then those who are here, we have to recognize that we can’t just round them up, but we can give them an opportunity to register. I would give them a six-month period. If they register, and if they have a pristine record, they haven’t been causing problems, I would give them an opportunity to become guest workers — not citizens, not voting people, not people who get goodies. I think that would be a fair way to do it. In terms of them becoming citizens later on down the road if they’ve done things the right way, we the American people will decide what the criteria for that ought to be.

Two brief comments:

With respect to “cutting off the goodies,” there are a number of “goodies” that are all but impossible to cut off. As I’ve noted, many illegal immigrant households receive welfare benefits through American-born children. There is no realistic way to withhold those entitlements.

With respect to the illegal immigrant population residing in the U.S., Carson’s plan does seem far more practicable than Trump’s (which, it is worth noting, was not in the immigration plan released by his campaign). But it’s not clear whether Carson’s alternative will be amenable to conservative voters.

Writing at National Review in 2006, Center for Immigration Studies head Mark Krikorian noted:

There are plenty of problems with guest-worker programs, regardless of sending country — they’re morally dubious, they always result in permanent settlement, and they distort the industries where guest-workers are concentrated.

The wage-depressing effects of guest-worker programs is evident, for instance, with H-1B visas; tech companies regularly import foreign workers on temporary visas instead of hiring American workers. Consequently, as Hudson Institute scholar John Fonte has observed, perceived support for expansive guest-worker programs that undercut American workers can have a significant electoral cost. It was a large part of the reason for Eric Cantor’s primary upset in 2014.

Republican primary voters seem to want a hard line, at least rhetorically, on the illegal immigrant population residing in the country. Carson’s plan may be more realistic than Trump’s, but it’s far from clear if it can be sold at present — or if, given the costs, it should be.

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