Shortly after Brat’s win Tuesday night, Jim Antle had it right:
Within 48 hours, the Cantor conventional wisdom will be: immigration had nothing to do with this.
— Jim Antle (@jimantle) June 11, 2014
On cue, the Wall Street Journal, Jen Rubin, the American Action Forum, and no doubt a hundred other tentacles of the unlimited-immigration corporate Right are telling us not to believe our lying eyes. Apparently, the Republican voters of Virginia’s seventh district love amnesty so much they voted overwhelmingly for a candidate who made opposition to amnesty one of the centerpieces of his campaign. Go figure.
As reminiscent of Baghdad Bob (“Amnesty Jen”?) as such ridiculous assertions are, they offer an opportunity to make a serious point. The case for tight borders has sometimes focused narrowly on legal status and border control: “What part of ‘illegal’ don’t you understand?” But if legality is all that matters, then why not just legalize everybody? Of, if rewarding past lawbreaking is ruled out, then at least allow unlimited immigration in the future, so there won’t be any new illegal immigrants? This approach to the issue has no answer to such questions. I mean no disrespect to the man, but you might call it the J. D. Hayworth School of Immigration Criticism.
What Dave Brat represents is the Jeff Sessions School of Immigration Criticism: placing feckless immigration enforcement and mass legal immigration and guest-worker admissions into a broader pro-worker, anti-oligarch reformist context. As Rich Lowry, Fred Bauer, and others have noted, Brat’s critique went beyond concern for sovereignty and the rule of law to address the impact of large-scale immigration on American workers. He identified immigration as a key part of the disconnect between ordinary Americans and their post-American elite. Uncontrolled and excessive immigration, in other words, is part of the crony-capitalist, corporate-welfare agenda, and Brat, who entered the race because of his concern over Wall Street bailouts, quickly saw that.
Ironically, this is where much of organized restrictionism has always been — focusing not just on order and legality (as important as they are) but also on the way that mass immigration of any kind benefits the rich at the expense of the middle class and the poor. This has often been a political problem, because blustering denunciations of weak border control by ostensibly restrictionist politicians were often merely cover for Chamber of Commerce–oriented goals of unlimited legal immigration and guest workers.
What Brat’s success shows us is that a more moderate level of legal immigration, and unapologetic enforcement of those limits, must be part of any list of conservative reforms for a limited government and a thriving middle class.