The Corner

Re: Amnesty Is Not the ‘Core Dilemma’ in Immigration Policy

In response to My Tax Dollars Ar Work — Really!

Mark Krikorian argues that the core issue in immigration policy, superseding that of “amnesty” for the 12 million or so illegal immigrants living here today, is how to fix the system to prevent the next wave of illegal immigrants. That’s an important point, although given the decline in immigration from Mexico in particular over the last several years, it’s more a long-term than a short-term issue. But one thing we have seen from the sentiments animating Trump support is that we are still pretty far from having a broader consensus on an even more fundamental question: how many immigrants should we have, legal or not? After all, if your concern is less about respect for the law than about competition from immigrants reducing wages and increasing unemployment for native-born workers – a major theme from Trump and his supporters, far moreso than what we have seen in past immigration critiques from the Right – then the problem is bigger than just illegal immigrants. While illegal immigrants may especially undercut domestic workers by working at sub-minimum wages or off-the-books jobs without tax withholding or benefits, the anger that’s out there is directed more broadly – consider this, from Jeff Sessions in June opening a hearing on H2-B visas:

As many will remember, we held a hearing earlier this year that highlighted the damage done to the wages and job opportunities of Americans in the highly-skilled segment of our economy. We also held a hearing earlier this year that established that our current high levels of immigration – both legal and illegal – are having a negative effect on the wages and job opportunities of American workers as a whole. In fact, I think very few dispute that the current large flow of labor into the country is suppressing American wages.

This approach to immigration makes the issue politically much harder to resolve. Stopping illegal immigration is partly a matter of incentives, but it’s also in large part a practical issue, and not all Democrats are necessarily 100% committed to keeping an open door forever to new illegal entrants; where common ground can be found on reducing illegal immigration, there ought to be room for intra- and inter-partisan compromise.

But if you think every new immigrant costs wages and jobs that would otherwise go to Americans, that’s a zero-sum issue: there must be a winning and a losing side. And zero-sum issues are really hard to resolve in Congress, which is how you end up with government by executive fiat and judicial lawmaking.

 

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