The Corner

Ron Unz, Immigration Convert

Libertarian tech millionaire Ron Unz was very active in the immigration issue in the 1990s, and not on my side. As he put it in Commentary:

My political activities in California had extended back a few years, beginning with a decision to challenge Pete Wilson for renomination in the Republican gubernatorial primary of 1994; running on a pro-immigrant and anti-affirmative-action platform, I won 34 percent of the vote. In that same year, I played a prominent role in the (unsuccessful) campaign to defeat Proposition 187 and, after that, in the (more successful) effort to block anti-immigration legislation in Congress.

Then, in 1998, he championed Prop. 227 to dismantle bilingual education in California in order to better promote assimilation, but went out of his way to say he wasn’t an immigration restrictionist. After the victory of that initiative he offered a prescription for how the GOP could deal with hot-button ethnic/racial issues: “A strong and forthright stand in favor of assimilation should be combined with an equally strong and forthright stand in favor of beneficial immigration.”

In other words, Unz was a high-immigration assimilationist, one of those who believe that there’s nothing wrong with mass immigration that ending multiculturalism won’t fix.

Not anymore.

Unz is running in California’s 35-person jungle primary to succeed Barbara Boxer in the Senate. And he has changed his thinking on immigration. The relevant section on his site begins bluntly: “Immigrants are generally fine people, but immigration is too high, causing our society all sorts of problems. As a U.S. Senator, I would propose cutting legal immigration and drastically reducing illegal immigration.”

Making the crucial distinction between being “pro-immigrant” and “pro-immigration,” Unz writes that immigration levels “should be sharply reduced, probably by 50% or more.” Regarding illegal immigration, he proposes a large increase in the minimum wage to draw Americans into low-skilled jobs, based on the proposition that “Minimum wage laws are far easier to enforce than immigration laws.” I’m not sure that’s true, and I’d prefer allowing wages at the bottom to rise organically by keeping out foreign labor through enforcement of immigration laws.

He’s also proposed to leave the number of H-1b visas used by tech firms at the current level, but auctioning them off, with the goal of reserving them for the big firms seeking top talent rather than the low-rent outsourcing firms from India. (Tech immigration expert Norm Matloff doubts that would work.)

Even if Unz were to pull off a second-place finish in the June 7 primary, the transformation of the state by decades of mass immigration ensures Democrat Kamala Harris’s victory in November. But Unz has been quite a successful political entrepreneur so it’s notable that he’s joined the camp of the immigration skeptics. That’s why, quibbles aside, I sent my widow’s mite.

Mark Krikorian, a nationally recognized expert on immigration issues, has served as Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) since 1995.

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