What Is Our Actual Position on Illegal Immigration?


Not talking about Muslim bans and immigration orders here. Talking about illegal immigration as a general matter.

I don’t know how many people read Josh Barro at Business Insider. But if you don’t read him, please start doing so, because he always has useful things to say.

Yesterday’s column was Democrats are lost on immigration — and they’d better rethink their ideas to beat Trump. Not exactly an enticing headline for progressives, but Barro raises some important points.

Sometimes, you need to hear some things that you would rather not hear.

Quickly moving past the chaos surrounding the executive order on immigration, Barro argues,

Eventually, Trump will get to more comfortable political ground: the question of whether immigration to the US is in the interest of American citizens. He has a theory of why restrictive policies are good for Americans, one that was the centerpiece of his successful presidential campaign.

Democrats are much less clear about what they see as the purpose of immigration and how they believe their policies would serve the interests of existing American citizens. Often, their arguments for immigration focus on the opportunities it affords to potential immigrants — that is, people who cannot vote.

Is our position that borders should be open to any and all immigrants? If so, that’s not a politically winning position, nor is it a practical position.

But if we agree that there are to be some limitations, there must be some rules. And there must be some consequences for those who don’t obey the rules.

But what policies—and whose interests—should immigration law promote? “Trump has been clear: His view is that immigration policy, like all policy, should be made foremost on the basis of the interests of American citizens,” Barro writes. Democrats have good arguments about the inaccuracy of Trump’s claims about immigrants. But what is their own policy, and whose interests does that policy promote, Barro wants to know.

There are broad appeals to the economic and cultural benefits of immigration.

But the economic case is undermined by the arbitrary nature of the way the consensus reform position would admit immigrants: guest-worker programs at both the high and the low ends of the skill spectrum, as well as millions of admissions allocated to existing unauthorized immigrants primarily on the basis of when they arrived in the US rather than their ability to contribute economically.

As for the cultural case, the desirability of “taco trucks on every corner” is a matter of opinion.

Immigration policy really is a matter of globalism versus nationalism.

I think the true reason that immigration advocates fail to make strong national-interest arguments for immigration is that the pro-immigration impulse is not really about the national interest.

Potential immigrants are human beings with moral worth. Especially in the case of refugees, they have been disadvantaged by the place of their birth. The human condition is improved by their admission to the US. This — a global, humanistic concern — is a driving factor behind support for immigration.

Plus, elites in government, media, and business tend to be in positions where they stand to derive disproportionate benefits from immigration to the US and bear relatively few costs related to it. Thus immigration is a relatively easy area to favor policy altruism.

But what if about half the electorate disagrees? What’s in it for them?

Progressives need to rethink their arguments—and, somehow, to synthesize nationalism and globalism. And, they must seriously address the enforcement of immigration laws.

For the last 20 years or more, the federal government has pursued a policy of benign neglect. Trump presents this as a problem of “weak borders,” but the main issue is a failure of interior enforcement — particularly a failure to aggressively enforce laws against working in the US without authorization.

Members of Congress in both parties have bent to the will of employers who do not want to have to prove their employees are authorized to work. …

A lender should not foreclose on every homeowner in default, but you cannot have mortgage lending without the option of foreclosure. Similarly, you do not have an immigration policy if you cannot deport non-citizens for violating immigration law.

This neglect is a major reason for the failure of comprehensive immigration reform.

Immigration reform is supposed to be a trade: amnesty for unauthorized immigrants and high future levels of legal immigration, in exchange for stringent enforcement of immigration laws in the future.

But why would anyone believe that Democrats or pre-Trump Republicans would follow through on a promise to enforce immigration law effectively? Even Trump has not (yet) made workplace enforcement a priority.