Judging from my Twitter feed, I’m some sort of nativist hatemonger for believing that borders should be enforced and that national sovereignty matters. This is a wholly unfair characterization of my views, because on immigration I’m also somewhat of an elitist RINO.
Unsurprisingly, I believe that my three broad notions about immigration are quite reasonable.
1) Let’s better protect our borders. Do most Americans really believe that borders are immoral? Believe it or not, not very long ago, the consensus among most political factions was that partitions between nations were legitimate and useful. I tend to believe in national self-determination, so I’m a “yes” on that question. And if you think it’s a straw man, you haven’t been paying attention to the arguments of high-profile Democrats.
Even now, polls show that though most Americans don’t like the idea of a border wall — a notion that’s taken on partisan dimensions — they still believe there’s some level of crisis at the southern border. Politicians certainly shouldn’t demagogue the problem, but I imagine that most Americans would consider even just six terror suspects apprehended at the border (well, six names that appear on the terrorist database and happened to get caught) to be six too many.
Because whether the number of immigrants here illegally is 25 million or 10, whether crossings are rising or falling, people breaking laws and imposing themselves on another country without permission undermines the ability of citizens in that country to make their own decisions — and that includes crafting a coherent immigration policy.
Moreover, any liberal reform on immigration — including any form of amnesty — is going to be untenable if would-be immigrants are incentivized to not only break the law but also put themselves in danger by crossing areas of our porous border. (And yes, I realize that the habit of overstaying visas is also a big driver of illegal immigration.)
2) Strong border security doesn’t necessarily inhibit legal immigration; in fact, it might spur it. I happen to support increases in legal immigration, including work visas. I just want people to check in. I support citizenship — not just a form of “legalization” — for non-felon “Dreamers,” who, for the most part, were brought here and won’t be properly assimilated without citizenship. Seeing as the economy isn’t a zero-sum proposition as a number of people in both parties seem to believe these days, there’s a good case that immigrants help the economy grow and make us richer.
These are liberal positions. If voters disagree, Congresses and presidents can calibrate the levels of immigration to comport with whatever democratic will dictates. They can’t do that with any confidence when we have millions of undocumented people in the country.
Right now, millions of Americans are under the impression that immigrants here illegally are stealing their jobs — and in some sense, they are. My own economic view is that those workers generally help American consumers and the economy, but telling working-class people that they’re bigots for having apprehensions about people who both circumvent the law and undercut their salaries isn’t helping this cause.
It’s quite plausible, in fact, that a more effective border would mellow attitudes about newcomers in general. Polls show that Americans already support legal immigration in huge numbers. A less chaotic system would most likely enhance that viewpoint.
3) Let’s embrace diversity rather than allow people in the closest proximity to define policy. After all, if one of the goals of immigration is to enhance American diversity, we shouldn’t allow those closest to the border to dictate the parameters of American immigration. I understand that Honduras is an appalling place, rife with crime and poverty, but so is Chad. I realize that Guatemalans are oppressed, but so are Coptic Christians in Egypt.
That said, if we want a diverse set of immigrants, we should welcome those with useful skills and those with no skills at all. Millions of human beings in this world lack skills because they haven’t been allowed to develop their gifts in the theocratic, socialistic or corrupt societies they live in. As we’ve seen with the most successful immigrant populations that embrace American values — those from China, Nigeria and Eastern Europe — some people just need a chance.
Of course, in practice, converting these broad concepts into policy would be incredibly complex. Whatever immigration policy ultimately looks like, though, it shouldn’t be forced on us by the actions of others.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist and the author of the book “First Freedom: A Ride Through America’s Enduring History With the Gun.”
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