The Corner

More Cluelessness on Immigration

After Groundhog Day and 50 First Dates, I’m running out of apt movie references, so I’ll just get to the point. The L.A. Times reported yesterday on Republican-oriented groups backing amnesty:

Traditional pillars of the Republican base, such as police groups, evangelical pastors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have begun to push skeptical GOP lawmakers to change federal immigration laws to allow most of the nation’s 11 million illegal immigrants to apply for legal status.

The issue has long been fought mostly between Republicans and Democrats. But the fate of a potential immigration overhaul may be determined by battles erupting inside the GOP.

“Now it’s conservatives versus conservatives over how much immigration reform should happen,” said Alex Nowrasteh, an immigration expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington that has advanced a free-market argument for opening up the immigration system.

Okay, I’m pretty sure the reporter wasn’t covering immigration during the last round of the amnesty debate in 2006–07, and Cato’s Nowrasteh was an undergraduate at the time, but there is this thing called Nexis. While in the past the issue has had a Republican vs. Democrat element to it, the fiercest conflict has always been among Republicans. It was President Bush, after all, who was pushing amnesty during most of his administration (with a much greater emotional investment in the outcome than Obama, by the way) and he was backed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, Grover Norquist, Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention — just like today. They were opposed, and ultimately stopped, precisely by other conservatives. To tell the story differently — as though the current stance of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is anything but an attempt to avenge its defeat in 2007 (The Empire Strikes Back!) — is incomplete and inaccurate.

The same story has this tidbit:

“The whole economy is suffering because we can’t grow without immigration,” said Carlos Gutierrez, former secretary of Commerce under President George W. Bush. He has helped create a political action committee to fund Republican congressional campaigns and “give cover to people who come out and admit they are for immigration reform,” he said.

Look, if you want open immigration so you can procure cheap, docile landscapers for your McMansion, just say so. But to claim that the economy “can’t grow without immigration” is the kind of thing even PolitiFact would give three Pinocchios to (or however they do it). Real per capita GDP grew by 150 percent from 1925, when the immigration cutoff went into effect, to 1965, when Ted Kennedy gave us the basics of the system we have today — and that includes the Great Depression. In fact, immigration could conceivably retard per capita economic growth (the only kind that matters) by importing more and more people who will be net consumers of tax money through their low incomes and heavy use of social programs — unless these conservatives are arguing that government “investment” in welfare is necessary for economic growth.


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