The Corner

Re: Immigration Debate on the Right

I second Andy McCarthy’s point about the complexity of the immigration debate and lack of good choices. I, too, am conflicted on the issue and see elements of both sides’ arguments as persuasive. While at first I was fascinated and entertained by the sparring on the Right, its tone has grown annoying. The debaters need to consider the real very possibility that lots of their audience are like Andy and me — conflicted, interested in several different policy goals, and truly open to persuasion based on details and priorities. That’s the best read of the public-opinion data, in my opinion, and is also a fair way of characterizing lots of conservatives of my acquaintance. It doesn’t help matters when one side accuses the other of simply being nativist, and the other side responds in kind.

I am particularly put off by silly economic arguments. Pro-legislation folks sometimes overstate the economic gains from immigration. More egregiously, in my view, the anti-legislation folks make risible claims about how the federal government is “interfering with the free market” by allowing immigration, that “market forces” would fix things if the borders were closed. That’s absurd. Obviously, immigration restrictions limit the market for labor. They are a government intervention in the market process. However, they might well be justified on other grounds — national security, assimilation, welfare-state effects, etc.

All that being said, I guess I’m persuaded that no useful reform can proceed until there is more confidence in government’s willingness and ability to enforce whatever immigration laws we will have — and though libertarian on most matters, I think open borders are a preposterous policy to advocate in a world of terrorism, communicable disease, democratic politics, and welfare states.