Politics & Policy

Mac the Immigration Debate

Heather Mac Donald offers solutions.

It’s been a long year of immigration-reform debate and little real action (the latter, in some ways, is a good thing). The Manhattan Institute’s Heather Mac Donald has been among the clearest thinkers and reporters during the debate is now co-author of a new book called The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan than Today’s. She recently took questions from NRO editor Kathryn Lopez about Hillary Clinton, the GOP, and other people with immigration issues.

KATHRYN Lopez: So what is “The Immigration Solution”?

Heather Mac Donald: Our immigration solution, in a nutshell: Enforce the laws on the books, and favor immigrants whose education and skills will add more to the national prosperity than they cost taxpayers in health care, education, welfare, and — in too many cases — policing and incarceration.

Though the Bush administration had to be dragged kicking and screaming into its recent modest enforcement efforts, these are already having a powerful effect. Apprehensions along a key sector of the Texas border dropped 46 percent after the Border Patrol started prosecuting trespassers, rather than merely releasing them back to Mexico, reports the Houston Chronicle. If the very minor step-up in worksite enforcement continues, enough employers will start observing the law to lead many illegal aliens to remigrate to their countries of origin.

As my co-author Steve Malanga explains, Canada and Australia, among other industrialized nations, now give priority to immigrants with technical knowledge and English language ability. Our immigration policy should continue to be welcoming and liberal, but it should seek to import expertise, rather than poverty.

Lopez: How did you think Hillary handled that immigration question at last week’s Democratic debate?

Mac Donald: Hillary Clinton cracked apart on the impossible politics of amnesty. Contrary to her wobbling response, it does not make “a lot of sense” to give drivers licenses to illegal aliens. Doing so only further rewards law-breaking and encourages more people to enter the country illegally or overstay their visas. But Clinton was torn between the belief that she needed to pander to the elite media and to illegal alien advocates, and her gut awareness that they don’t elect the President, the American people do. So she couldn’t get out any position — for or against the licensing give-away — without immediately contradicting it.

Clinton’s attempt to blame the Bush administration for Spitzer’s reckless plan was laughable. She said that the New York governor is trying to “fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration to bring about comprehensive immigration reform.” Translation: “Bush has failed to provide amnesty for all of the country’s 12 million illegals; Spitzer at least is doing so for New York’s own half a million to a million illegals.” Nothing, besides amnesty, links “comprehensive immigration reform” to a license give-away.

Note the irony: If state or local officials try ever so tentatively to “fill the vacuum left by the failure of this administration” to enforce immigration rules, the advocates will cry: “Immigration is a federal responsibility! Local politicians and police must sit on their hands when faced with immigrant law-breakers!” But when state or city officials enact legalization policies, that is applauded as taking responsibility for a “serious problem,” in Clinton’s words, that the federal government has ignored.

Lopez: Does Spitzer have any defense for giving licenses to illegal immigrants? Does DHS?

Mac Donald: There is no defense for licensing illegals. I am mystified by the Spitzer administration’s claim that doing so will improve road safety. Someone who is already driving on the road illegally is not going to stop doing so if he cannot pass a driver’s exam. Nor will he automatically buy insurance when given the option to do so. Moreover, licensing illegals will greatly enlarge the risk of voter fraud, as John Fund demonstrated in the Wall Street Journal on Friday.

Senator Clinton is right about one thing, however: The “possibility of [illegals] having an accident that harms themselves or others” is a “probability.” In 2001, Hispanics in Durham, North Carolina, got in drunk-driving accidents at a rate five times that of the population at large. The state Highway Patrol discovered that fact while investigating a racial profiling charge brought against a North Carolina trooper. After the Highway Patrol revealed the five-to-one accident disparity, a local immigrant advocacy group acknowledged that its clients had a predilection for heavy beer consumption after work. There is, as Clinton would say, a “probability” of accuracy in the perception that illegals are disproportionately involved in DUI offenses, not just in North Carolina, but elsewhere. Giving them licenses will not solve that problem.

Lopez: What’s the ideal Republican response (to Hillary on Spitzer)?

Mac Donald: “Hillary won’t enforce the law. I will.”

Lopez: What’s the likely Republican response?

Mac Donald: “This is a complicated issue.”

Lopez: What’s the healthy long-term message for republicans on immigration? how can they comfortably pursue this issue with no fear of alienating Hispanics or George W. Bush?

Mac Donald: The United States continues to benefit from its immigrants, who bring an admirable work ethic and an entrepreneurial drive. Hard-working immigrants have revived flagging communities across the country. But the reason so many of the world’s peoples want to come to the United States is its respect for the rule of law. America’s economic dynamism and freedom rest on our culture of legality. Immigration does not stand outside of the law. There is nothing unfair about our neutral, color-blind immigration policy or about efforts to enforce it. What is unfair is when people who happen to live on the other side of a two thousand-mile border jump the queue ahead of the hundreds of thousands of law-abiding foreigners patiently waiting to enter the country legally. The United States has the most generous immigration policy on earth and will continue to do so, but it is a policy that can work fairly for all only when it is respected and enforced.

Lopez: What’s the most distressing thing about this issue for you?

Mac Donald: If not distressing, at least puzzling: I cannot figure out why it is acceptable, at least in conservative circles, to point out that certain dysfunctional behaviors on the part of Appalachian whites or inner-city blacks, say, such as out-of-wedlock childbearing, dropping out of school, or crime, impede those Americans’ social progress, but documenting those same behaviors among second and third generation Hispanics is, in some of those same conservative circles, considered racist.

Lopez: What’s the most encouraging?

Mac Donald: We are living in a watershed moment: the first time in two decades that the popular will, rather than elite preferences, is determining immigration policy. “Comprehensive immigration reform”–and subsequent mini-amnesties such as the DREAM Act–failed because the public refused to be thwarted any longer in its desire for immigration based on respect for the law, not on evasion and subterfuge.


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