The Corner

Games People Play on Immigration

My fellow Bloomberg View contributor Noah Smith thinks Scott Walker “may have accidentally given away the game.” Many people say they are just against illegal immigration, which they oppose because of their concerns about the rule of law.

Immigration boosters, including me, have always suspected that this professed concern for the law masks a deeper opposition to allimmigration.

Now Wisconsin Governor and potential presidential candidate Scott Walker has given ammo to the skeptics.

Here’s an alternative hypothesis. Some people oppose illegal immigration because of their concerns about the rule of law but favor higher legal immigration. Some other people oppose illegal immigration and also favor reductions in legal immigration, and they take these views for a mix of reasons. Walker may be in group two. When people in group two state their position, they are not revealing anything about group one. And when people in group one state their position, they are not hiding anything.

The arguments Smith makes about the effects of immigration on wages have some force. But he ignores the impact on the wages of immigrants who are already here; he seems to regard capital and labor mobility as perfect substitutes for each other, which does not seem obviously correct; and he takes an all-or-nothing view about immigration policy that seems to me mistaken. Smith suggests that limiting legal immigration more than we currently do would amount to America’s “throwing away one of its biggest advantages.” But I suppose if you think that wanting less immigration means harboring “opposition to all immigration,” that’s a natural step to take.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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