Politics & Policy

Rick Perry’s Border Problem

If he won’t use E-Verify, he can’t complain about lax immigration enforcement.


Rick Perry stumbled through much of the last Republican debate, but not when speaking about immigration. He issued a clarion condemnation of critics of his state’s policy of giving the children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition to college. Such naysayers, Perry declared, lack “a heart.”

The Texas governor prides himself on his distinctness from George W. Bush, yet on this issue he sounds just like him: scolding his party for its lack of compassion for immigrants coming here to make a go of it. If Perry had wanted to avoid raising the hackles of Republicans with the imputation of heartlessness, he could have borrowed the staple Bush line: “Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.”

#ad#Neither, more relevantly, does the desire to find a job. What Perry portrays as the great American job machine in his state has mostly benefited people who aren’t Americans, according to a new study by the Center for Immigration Studies. This significant caveat to the Texas Miracle raises the larger question of why the country has continued to welcome millions of new immigrants during the past few years while shedding millions of jobs.

In Texas, the study finds, 81 percent of the jobs created since 2007 have gone to immigrants who arrived in the United States since 2007. Ninety-three percent of these immigrants aren’t citizens. An estimated 50 percent are illegal immigrants. All of this may be further testament to the status of Texas as a jobs magnet, but Perry won’t be bragging about this indication of its drawing power.

In this same period, the native-born accounted for almost 70 percent of the population growth in Texas. They didn’t experience the same gains in employment, though. “The share of working-age natives holding a job in Texas declined significantly,” the study finds, “from 71 percent in 2007 to 67 percent in 2011.” In the second quarter of this year, the unemployment rate for natives in Texas, 8.1 percent, ranked 22nd in the country, and the share of natives holding a job, 66.6 percent, ranked 29th.

If providing ready employment opportunities for non-Americans seems awfully cosmopolitan for the man who is supposed to be a famous rube from Paint Creek, it’s the Texas way. The unpleasantness of the Alamo aside, the Lone Star State has always had a close relationship with its neighbor to the south. And a wide-open attitude is good politics. In welcoming all comers, Perry can do the bidding of a business community that wants the immigrant labor and simultaneously appeal to the Hispanic vote. If anyone should think to complain that he’s soft on illegal immigration, well, now, that’s why God created the pointless gesture, isn’t it?

Perry can ostentatiously send Texas Rangers to the border and lambaste the federal government’s failures, but none of it matters if it’s relatively easy for illegals to find a job. Another border state, Arizona, implemented the E-Verify system requiring employers to check the immigration status of prospective employees. It led to a dramatic reduction in the population of illegals, many of whom have, no doubt, decamped to Texas. So long as he doesn’t implement E-Verify, Perry is shooting holes in the hull of the U.S.S. Enforcement and demanding that the feds bail faster.

It would be much too simplistic to say that every new immigrant employed in Texas took his job from a native. On the other hand, it would be much too Pollyannish to deny that there must be crowding out, especially of natives who don’t have a college degree. At least Texas has been creating jobs. The country has lost about 7 million jobs since the onset of the recession in 2007 and continued to import another 1 million new immigrant workers a year, and 200,000–300,000 illegal immigrants on top of them. In August, monthly job growth ground to halt, yet we’re welcoming some 100,000 new immigrants a month.

Is it heartless to wonder why this makes any sense?

— Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via e-mail: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. © 2011 by King Features Syndicate

Rich Lowry — Rich Lowry is the editor of National Review. He can be reached via email: comments.lowry@nationalreview.com. 

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