The Campaign Spot

The Wrong Spokesmen for Conservatives in the Immigration Debate? I Don’t Think So

A reader writes in:

You say:  “I think a lot of conservatives might have been amenable to something like this deal’s path to citizenship (minus the z-visas) IF they saw consistent, significant improvement in border security, deportations, cracking down on employers hiring illegals, etc. …”
I’m going to disagree, and I think this is precisely why we’re not going to get any serious border enforcement from the comprehensive reform crowd.  Take a look at your own magazine. Most NR writers aren’t even using the national security argument.  Instead, it’s because low-wage, low-skilled Hispanics will vote for Democrats, or because they’ll work for such low wages, or because Hispanic or Muslim immigrants will “tear the social fabric of America asunder,” or something like that.  Let’s pretend we had border enforcement.  There will still be low-wage, low-skilled legal immigrants from poorer countries tied in with unions that will vote Democratic (at least to start with).  Many of these NR writers don’t just want an end to illegal immigration, they want to severely restrict all immigration.  Mark Krikorian freely admitted that in his articles yesterday and today.  Today he rightly points out that most legal immigrants are still poor, low-skilled workers from places like Mexico and the Middle East.  Were your great-grandparents, or whichever generation immigrated, rich, brilliant aristocrats?  Instead, I bet the Geraghty clan was much like my family: poor, low-skilled workers who left for America to escape a complete lack of opportunity and political oppression.  Sure they may have been tied in with unions and voted Democrat, but they also worked hard to send their children to college, and those children became part of the professional class, became more willing to vote Republican and are part of the reason why unions have nowhere near the strength today that they once had.  Neither you nor I would be Americans today if Mark lived in the 19th century and was deciding immigration policy.
So instead of talking about how reasonable conservatives would be, I think we need to look at the leading voices on this issue from the conservative movement (many of whom write at NR/NRO) and realize we’re not being all that reasonable at all.  Most conservatives out there probably do really care about border security and national security, and don’t hold Mark’s positions (or Heather Mac Donald’s or Derb’s, etc) on near-total restriction of immigration.  But if that’s the case, we need to separate ourselves from these arguments, b/c right now they’re the ones representing us as conservatives.

I mostly disagree, or at least feel this reader’s argument illustrates the value of putting enforcement into effect first and seeing the results. If, after the security issues were resolved, major conservative voices continued to make the arguments on restricting immigration based on the likely political affiliation of the immigrants, it would reveal a great deal about their thinking. If they put forth the “keep potential Democratic voters out” argument, it would be safe to argue that the current popular arguments – security fears, respect for the law, the inverse morality of rewarding those who break the law and punishing those who follow it, etc. – were a fig leaf.
But I don’t think that’s the case. I think all the writers mentioned do worry about the security issues, and the economic issues, and the national identity issues, and the long-term political impact issues, and probably some other arguments I haven’t even thought of…
And I don’t think that an argument calling for more stringent restrictions on legal immigration is ipso facto xenophobia. You can love immigration but (as I sometimes do) fear that we’re running behind on assimilation, and want to slow down the intake to help those already here integrate more fully into American culture.
But again, all of this is moot, because much of Washington has refused to consider enforcement first, path to citizenship later. Peggy Noonan wrote this week, “If [the administration had] really wanted to help, as opposed to braying about their own wonderfulness, they would have created not one big bill but a series of smaller bills, each of which would do one big clear thing, the first being to close the border. Once that was done–actually and believably done–the country could relax in the knowledge that the situation was finally not day by day getting worse. They could feel some confidence. And in that confidence real progress could begin.”

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