August 19, 2008


Open the Gate: a review of Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders by Jason Riley (James Kirchick, Policy Review)

On one side of the immigration debate are what might fairly be called “pro-business” conservatives and libertarians, who argue that an ever-larger pool of skilled and unskilled workers enables employers to hire at lower salaries and in turn give consumers cheaper products, benefiting the overall American economy. This is a rather straightforward argument, and it has been made, vociferously, for decades on Capitol Hill by various business lobbies. Bill Gates, for instance, recently proposed that the government eliminate entirely the cap on hb-1 visas, the coveted spaces allotted to high-skilled workers in technology fields. Many Christian evangelicals, a critical gop constituency, also take a liberal stand on immigration, forming their opinion based upon biblical dictates about caring for the poor and dispossessed.

On the other side are immigration restrictionists, centered at a small set of issue-specific Washington think tanks and advocacy groups, who have widespread support in talk radio land. Many restrictionists oppose not only illegal immigration but also any “natural increase” in legal immigration. Some, like the paleoconservative eminence Pat Buchanan and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, favor closing our borders to immigrants altogether. From these two irreconcilable schools is the war over immigration being waged.

Into this contentious debate enters Jason Riley, a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board and the author, presumably, of that newspaper’s fiercely pro-immigration masthead editorials. Here, in Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, he puts forth the most persuasive, sustained case for a liberal immigration policy yet published.

Riley begins by showing that however hyperbolic their reaction to resurgent anti-immigration sentiment may be, it is not for nothing that present and former Bush administration officials have characterized opposition to the immigration bill as an expression of “racist” or “nativist” sentiment. This is because the immigration restrictionist movement is demonstrably tied to white supremacists and eugenicists. For instance, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (fair), the leading anti-immigration group in Washington, has received $1.5 million from the Pioneer Fund, a eugenicist philanthropic organization. John Tanton, the preeminent funder of anti-immigration efforts, has openly speculated, “As Whites see their power and control over the their daily lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night?” Riley documents how much of modern day anti-immigration sentiment is predicated on centuries-old Malthusian fears of overpopulation proffered by long-since discredited population theorists like Paul Ehrlich. Careful students of American history will notice that the language of restrictionists — characterizing immigrants as shiftless, lazy, and crime-prone — borrows motifs from the openly racist arguments leveled against southern and eastern European immigrants in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Immigration critics frequently protest that people like John McCain and his colleague Lindsay Graham unfairly characterize them as racists and nativists. The problem is that so many of them are. [...]

Riley admires the work ethic of Hispanic immigrants. Hispanic males have the highest labor-participation rate in the country, he reports, a figure that must astound the likes of Patrick Buchanan and Lou Dobbs. Riley, who is black, contrasts this positive feature with the high unemployment and welfare roll rates for native-born African Americans. All this matters because an unlikely ally of the anti-immigration crowd has been poor blacks, attracted by the argument that newly arrived Mexicans willing to work for very little are taking their jobs. Riley argues, however, that 1960s Great Society programs have ingrained a welfare culture among many black males, and while the economy grew dramatically in the 1980s and 1990s, work force participation among less-educated black men actually fell. African-Americans have to look deeper, Riley argues, to find the causes of persistent black unemployment rather than blame hardworking fellow ethnic minorities, as some African-American political leaders have done. [...]

Ultimately, illegal immigration appears to be a concern more for media elites than it does average voters. A Pew poll conducted last year found that only 6 percent of voters place illegal immigration as their top issue of concern, far behind the Iraq War, terrorism, and the economy. And beneath the din of talk radio demagoguery and sparring matches between intellectual conservative publications, there actually appears to be something of a right-of-center consensus on the issue. A New York Times poll taken during last year’s immigration debate found that 66 percent of Republicans supported the McCain-Kennedy bill’s legalization provisions. Another poll, commissioned by the Wall Street Journal and nbc News, reported that 75 percent of Republicans believed it was “not realistic” to make undocumented immigrants go back to their home countries in order to seek legal status here in the United States (a key concession sought by conservative opponents of the bill), and 81 percent found it impractical to demand their outright deportation. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll last year found that 60 percent of Americans supported “allowing illegal immigrants who have not committed crimes to become citizens if they pay fines, learn English and meet other requirements ” — essentially the provisions of the McCain/Kennedy “amnesty bill.” The American people, and even supposedly nativist conservatives, it seems, are naturally pro-immigration, which is hardly surprising given the unique history of our country.

At the point where white Catholic immigrants want to bar brown we don't need much debate over what their objection is.

Henry Cejudo captures gold and a piece of the American dream: The son of undocumented Mexican immigrants wins Olympic freestyle wrestling title at 121 pounds. (Kevin Baxter, 8/19/08, Los Angeles Times)

Henry Cejudo called it the American dream.

The son of undocumented Mexican immigrants who had to work two jobs to keep food on the table, Cejudo gave the U.S. its first Olympic gold medal in freestyle wrestling in Beijing with a stunning win Tuesday over Japan's Tomohiro Matsunaga in the 55-kilogram (121 pounds) final.

"I'm living the American dream right now, man," Cejudo, wrapped in an American flag, said moments after his win. "The United States is the land of opportunity. It's the best country in the world and I'm just glad to represent it."

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 19, 2008 11:26 AM
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