Monday, July 10, 2006

Why The Wall Street Journal favors open immigration.

As a companion to the open letter posted below, the Wall Street Journal today published the following editorial. I agree 100% with this statement and it merits your careful consideration too. Emphasis mine.


Conservatives and Immigration
The debate on the right about freedom, culture and the welfare state.

Monday, July 10, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

No issue more deeply divides American conservatives today than immigration. It's the subject on which we get the most critical mail by far, no doubt reflecting this split on the right. So with Congress holding hearings on the issue around the country, perhaps it's a good moment to step back and explain the roots of our own, longstanding position favoring open immigration.

A position, by the way, on which we hardly stand alone. There is also President Bush, and before him the Gipper. (See our editorial, "Reagan on Immigration.") In the context of the current debate, we also print an open letter supporting comprehensive immigration reform from 33 prominent conservatives, including former Secretary of State George Shultz and GOP Vice Presidential nominee Jack Kemp. (The letter is available here.)

The most frequent criticism we hear is that a newspaper called "The Wall Street Journal" simply wants "cheap labor" for business. This is an odd charge coming from conservatives who profess to believe in the free market, since it echoes the AFL-CIO and liberals who'd just as soon have government dictate wages.

Our own view is that a philosophy of "free markets and free people" includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right. Far from selling their labor "cheap," they are traveling to the U.S. to sell it more dearly and improve their lives. Like millions of Americans before them, they and certainly their children climb the economic ladder as their skills and education increase.

We realize that critics are not inventing the manifold problems that can arise from illegal immigration: Trespassing, violent crime, overcrowded hospital emergency rooms, document counterfeiting, human smuggling, corpses in the Arizona desert, and a sense that the government has lost control of the border. But all of these result, ultimately, from too many immigrants chasing too few U.S. visas.

Those migrating here to make a better life for themselves and their families would much prefer to come legally. Give them more legal ways to enter the country, and we are likely to reduce illegal immigration far more effectively than any physical barrier along the Rio Grande ever could. This is not about rewarding bad behavior. It's about bringing immigration policy in line with economic and human reality. And the reality is that the U.S. has a growing demand for workers, while Mexico has both a large supply of such workers and too few jobs at home.

Some conservatives concede this point in theory but then insist that liberal immigration is no longer possible in a modern welfare state, which breeds dependency in a way that the America of a century ago did not. But the immigrants who arrive here come to work, not sit on the dole. And thanks to welfare reform, the welfare rolls have declined despite a surge in illegal immigration in the past decade.

The real claims that illegals make on public services are education, which can't be withheld because of a 1982 Supreme Court ruling (Plyer v. Doe), and health care, especially emergency rooms. Since denying urgent medical treatment is immoral, the answer again is to legalize cross-border labor flows and remove government obstacles to affordable health insurance. As for education, even illegals pay for public schools through the indirect property taxes they pay in rent. Overall, immigrants contribute far more to our economy than they extract in public benefits.

By far the largest concern we hear on the right concerns culture, especially the worry that the current Hispanic influx is so large it can resist the American genius for assimilation. Hispanics now comprise nearly a third of the population in California and Texas, the country's two biggest states, and cultural assimilation does matter.

This is where the political left does the cause of immigration no good in pursuing a separatist agenda. When such groups as La Raza and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund push for multiculturalism, bilingual education, foreign language ballots, racial quotas and the like, they undermine support for immigration among even the most open-minded Americans. Most Americans don't want to replicate the Bosnia model; nor are they pining for a U.S. version of the Quebec sovereignty movement. President Bush has been right to assert that immigrants must adopt U.S. norms, and we only wish more figures on the political left would say the same.

But the good news is that these newcomers by and large aren't listening to the left-wingers pushing identity politics. Mexican immigrants, like their European predecessors, are assimilating. Their children learn English and by the end of high school prefer it to their parents' native tongue. They also marry people they meet here. Second-generation Latinos earn less than white Americans but more than blacks and 50% more than first-generation Latinos. According to Tamar Jacoby's "Reinventing the Melting Pot," the most common last names among new homeowners in California include Garcia, Lee, Martinez, Nguyen, Rodriguez and Wong.

Which brings us to the politics. Contrary to what you hear on talk radio and cable news, polls continue to show that the conservative silent majority is pro-immigration, and that it supports a guest-worker program as the only practical and humane way to moderate the foreign labor flow.

According to the most recent Tarrance Group survey, 75% of likely GOP voters support immigration reform that combines increased border and workplace enforcement with a guest-worker system for newcomers and a multiyear path to citizenship for illegal immigrants already here--provided that they meet certain requirements like living crime free, learning English and paying taxes. "Support for this plan," the poll found, "is strong even among base Republican voter demographics like strong Republicans (77%), very conservative Republicans (72%), white conservative Christians (76%), and those who listen to news talk radio on a daily basis (72%)."

House Republican leaders, who passed an immigration bill last year focusing only on enforcement, want to frame this debate as a choice between more border security or "amnesty" for the 11 or 12 million illegals already here. But that's a false choice. A guest-worker program that lets market forces rather than prevailing political winds determine how many economic migrants can enter the country actually enhances security. How? By reducing pressure on the border, just as the Bracero guest-worker program in the 1950s and early 1960s did.

When border patrol agents don't have to chase down people coming here to work, they can concentrate on genuine threats, like gang members and terrorists. The real choice is between throwing more resources at an enforcement-only policy that has failed, or a larger reform that's had some past success in reducing illegal border crossings and meeting the demands of our economy and of human dignity.

1 comment:

Tremenda Trigueña said...

Amen hermano! Hey I know it's been like a year since I stopped by, things have been hectic- just wanted to give you props for holding it down over here! Thank you so much for verbalizing what so many of us open-minded conservatives feel in our hearts. We are compassionate and rational, and we want what's best for mankind as well as our US borders.