Politics & Policy

Poisoning the Immigration Debate

Senator Jeff Sessions comes under fire for his reasonable proposal.

It’s hard to take New York Times editorials seriously, given their parodic parochialism and cluelessness. Rebutting one feels almost like writing a non-ironic letter to the editor of The Onion.

Its commentary on immigration is probably worse than on other topics, and arguably more harmful. In an analysis of “How Arthur Sulzberger Radicalized the New York Times Editorial Page on Immigration,” my colleague (and Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter) Jerry Kammer wrote: “But the Times has carried its good intentions to a destructive extreme. Its editorials have poisoned the national discussion of a complex and emotional issue.”

And the venom continues to flow. It’s no surprise that the Timeslatest hiss on immigration attacks Senator Jeff Sessions. Specifically, Sessions penned a sober op-ed in the Washington Post the other day arguing that “America needs to curb immigration flows,” meaning not just better controls at the borders but also lower levels of future legal immigration:

What we need now is immigration moderation: slowing the pace of new arrivals so that wages can rise, welfare rolls can shrink and the forces of assimilation can knit us all more closely together.

I happen to agree, but one could certainly offer a thoughtful rebuttal.

Not the Times, though.

In Times World, Sessions “worries darkly” about the effects of immigration, choosing “to echo an uglier time in our history” by making “a case for yanking America’s welcome mat.” I assume an editor removed the references to Hitler.

The main point of the Times response is that Sessions has finally chosen to reveal his long-hidden agenda of reducing legal immigration and not just illegal. This is hilarious. Sessions has been making this point for years.

More broadly, the Times is claiming that the very idea of scaling back the federal immigration program is so outlandish as to be beyond the pale, outside the Overton window. For instance, the editorial tries to paint Sessions as out of step even with other immigration hawks:

Even hard-liners on the same side of the issue as Mr. Sessions — like Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Representative Lamar Smith of Texas and Representative Steve King of Iowa — take pains to cloak anti-immigration arguments with benign-sounding words of tolerant welcome. They say they support legal immigration. It’s illegal immigration they oppose.

To their credit, they’re sort of right about Cruz — while hawkish on illegal immigration, he’s called for a 500 percent increase in H-1B visas for indentured tech workers from abroad. But Lamar Smith actually wrote the 1996 legislation that would have reduced legal immigration by about 30 percent. And that bill was based on the recommendations of an immigration commission headed by civil-rights icon (and former Democratic congresswoman) Barbara Jordan. The proposed immigration curbs were endorsed by all the Democrats on the commission except for the representative of the immigration lawyers’ guild. Were they “dark” and “ugly” too?

Reducing legal immigration is actually the mainstream position among the electorate. Gallup reported last year that while only 7 percent of Americans support increases in immigration (such as the now-defunct Gang of Eight bill’s scheme to double immigration), fully 39 percent want immigration levels to be decreased.

Along similar lines, Kellyanne Conway asked last year: If businesses were having trouble finding workers, should they have to raise wages and improve working conditions to attract Americans, or should the government import more immigrants? The results were 75 to 8 against increasing immigration.

The United States admits about 1 million legal immigrants each year (plus hundreds of thousands of “temporary” workers), double the level when Reagan was elected. The share of immigrants in the population will surpass the previous record sometime in President Walker’s second term, with more than 1 in 7 people living in the U.S. having been born somewhere else. It is unworthy of a newspaper with pretensions of seriousness to denounce as blasphemy the very idea of scaling back this government program.

— Mark Krikorian is executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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