The Corner

Will We Get Another 11 Million Illegals after an Amnesty?

Over the weekend, Michael Barone posited that, contra claims by Steve Sailer and Mickey Kaus, he doesn’t think massive Mexican immigration will resume once the economy rebounds and if we pass an amnesty. James Pethokoukis from AEI made the same point, without really any elucidation, during the podcast we did (with Kaus and Treviño) at Ricochet a while back.

Barone points to a recent Gallup survey that finds 5 million Mexicans saying they want to move here, compared to 22 million telling Pew in 2005 they’d come here as guest workers if they could. He further points to Puerto Rico, where he claims emigration to the U.S. abruptly ended decades ago.

Sailer responds that robust immigration from Puerto Rico is actually ongoing. And I addressed the “Mexican immigration is over” narrative in some detail over at The National Interest last year. But I think the most important point is this, from Sailer’s response:

Why don’t we wait five years and see what happens with immigration before passing some massive immigration “reform” law based on suppositions about how Fortunately, It Can’t Happen Again?

Simple prudence suggests that we simply can’t know whether Mexico has permanently left its mass emigration phase until we see what happens during an economic expansion in the U.S. Deferring any consideration of a huge amnesty is also necessary to see if the administration’s claims that the border is secure are true., since there are lots of other places illegals come from, too; compared to Honduras, for instance, Mexico looks like Beverly Hills.

This is sort of what Rand Paul was getting at in saying that Congress would have to “certify” that the borders are secure annually for five years. But if  I understood that part of his proposal correctly, the illegal aliens would get legal status after the first such vote, rendering subsequent votes irrelevant, since there’s no chance whatsoever that the work cards, Social Security accounts, driver’s licenses, etc., given to “provisionally” amnestied illegals would ever be taken away.

Soothing predictions about the moderate and limited effect of proposed immigration changes have a poor track record, to say the least, as do predictions about large government-policy changes generally. Maybe the most spectacular misjudgment was Ted Kennedy’s assurances about the effects of the 1965 immigration law:

First, our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually. Under the proposed bill, the present level of immigration remains substantially the same . . . Secondly, the ethnic mix of this country will not be upset . . . Contrary to the charges in some quarters, [the bill] will not inundate America with immigrants from any one country or area, or the most populated and deprived nations of Africa and Asia . . . In the final analysis, the ethnic pattern of immigration under the proposed measure is not expected to change as sharply as the critics seem to think. . . .

The bill will not flood our cities with immigrants. It will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs.

Can’t get much wronger than that. Unless you look at predictions about the cost of another disastrous 1965 consequence of Goldwater’s defeat, the establishment of Medicare. As Cato reports:

When Medicare was launched in 1965, Part A was projected to cost $9 billion by 1990, but ended up costing $67 billion. When Medicaid’s special hospitals subsidy was added in 1987, it was supposed to cost $100 million annually, but it already cost $11 billion by 1992. When Medicare’s home care benefit was added in 1988, it was projected to cost $4 billion in 1993, but ended up costing $10 billion. Or consider that when Massachusetts Commonwealth Care was put into place in 2006, it was expected to cost about $725 million annually, but the expected cost for 2009 is now almost $1 billion.

And don’t forget Dick Cheney’s infamous Iraq prediction:

MR. RUSSERT: If your analysis is not correct, and we’re not treated as liberators, but as conquerors, and the Iraqis begin to resist, particularly in Baghdad, do you think the American people are prepared for a long, costly, and bloody battle with significant American casualties?

VICE PRES. CHENEY: Well, I don’t think it’s likely to unfold that way, Tim, because I really do believe that we will be greeted as liberators.

I’m not trying to say that my predictions are always right and everyone else’s are wrong. It could be that Barone is right that mass immigration from Mexico is over. But he himself acknowledges “the nontrivial possibility that I could be wrong.” Given that very real possibility, it would be irresponsible to go along with the president’s demand that Congress pass an immigration bill “as soon as possible.”

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