Monday, June 4, 2007


(a long one)

Conservatives are mishandling the illegal immigration issue.

The primary argument made against illegal immigration is not against immigration but against illegality. This argument, however, is somewhat disingenuous. In terms of illegality, drugs are at least as much of a problem. But drugs is not a front-page issue. The reason is, in part, that conservatives are not sure drugs should be illegal in the first place. (I share this ambivalence.) We will not push for a crackdown on a law we don't support.

But what about other laws? Surely all true conservatives are against human trafficking and prostitution -- but these are not front-page issues either. And what about speeding? Speeding is surely the purest example of illegality. The law is clearly posted. There is no reason not to follow it, no reason not to enforce it, and no reason not to change it if we don't like it. And yet the law is wholly ignored. Why isn't this an issue? Perhaps because it's much easier to crack down on laws that only other people are breaking. In any case, until conservatives crack down on speeding, it is pure hypocrisy for them to claim that their opposition to illegal immigration is simply an opposition to illegality.

Indeed, "conservative" talk about illegal immigration -- and there's an awful lot of it -- often goes beyond illegality, to the reasons for the law in the first place. There's an awful lot of talk about "jobs Americans won't do." This phrase is a red herring. What it obscures is that there is a real demand for cheap labor: immigrants come only because they know employers want their work. The anti-immigration crowd fights this with a typically liberal argument: if immigrants take our jobs, then Americans will lose them.

But the economy is not zero-sum. More cheap labor means more opportunities for people who use cheap labor. It means more people can get housekeepers, or gardeners. It means more factories can open, and people can ship their goods more cheaply. It means, too, more entrepreneurs, more people who might be the next great businessman, or inventor, or scientist. These claims are debatable, of course -- but conservatives, at least, should be taking the side of competition and free movement of labor and goods, instead of government quotas based on what someone in Washington thinks will best serve the economy.

The anti-immigration crowd shifts its argument to something that sounds more conservative: culture. We will be overrun, they say. Government must limit the inflow of immigrants or America will cease to exist! Look at Europe! But, of course, the problem in Europe is not the immigrants, but the collapse of Europe itself. If Europe had a vibrant, living culture, the Muslim immigrants would not be such a problem. And America's immigrants are not members of a militant religion from a totally non-Western culture. They are Christians from a country whose history is remarkably like our own: Western colonization giving way to Western democracy. Less healthy, to be sure, but much like our own.

America has assimilated such people before. In the nineteenth century, people were afraid that the Irish, Italians, and Polish would overwhelm our country. But up until the 1920s, the only limit on immigration (apart from particular instances of criminality or illness) was against the Chinese. Was that limit wise? The Chinese, despite being from a radically different culture, have assimilated remarkably well. All of these groups, in fact, have assimilated. The reason would seem not to be the groups, but the host culture.

America is good at assimilation. To assimilate the current wave of immigration, we need to stand strong in our own culture. We need to demand a common language, and serious requirements for citizenship. We need to fight for real culture: first, freedom of religion and strong families. Then, the economic basis of assimilation: the free market, which judges people by the work they do, not the color of their skin. In my own experience, there is nothing like working beside someone to tear down the walls of discrimination. And in world history, only capitalist countries have successfully assimilated various groups: most notably, England and the US. We can assimilate immigrants now, just as we did in the past.

Finally, the anti-immigration crowd shifts to national security. There might be a hint of politics in this, but there is also a real concern. There are people trying to kill us en masse, and they are trying to get into our country undetected. But surely there couldn't be a more obvious distraction from our successful prosecution of these terrorists than chasing nannies through the desert. If we let in ordinary Mexicans who are just looking for work, we would know that anyone sneaking through the desert had something to hide: drug dealers and terrorists, not people looking for work.

So here's my conservative proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. Start by eliminating all racial and national quotas on immigration. Tell anyone who wants to come that their contribution is welcome. They simply need to register, pass a quick security check to make sure they're not on our most-wanted list, and they're in. If we really believe it's necessary for security, we can set up a tracking system. But a simple check would do as much good as any border fence.

Then give the military free range to shoot anyone who comes over the border illegally. Honest people are welcome. If you come through the desert, expect no mercy.

To encourage assimilation, conservatives must continue to fight the battle for English and against official racial preferences in employment. Make sure no one gets citizenship without learning the basics of being an American: at least our language, a little history, and a little political philosophy. Fight for better education. And most of all, shift our resources from fighting immigration to fighting for our own culture. If we are vibrant, we will have nothing to fear. Perhaps we can win political chits from admitting the Mexicans; perhaps liberals will allow English if we allow the poor to enter our country. If not, let them try to explain themselves in the next election.

Finally, to support our economy, continue to fight against the minimum wage and for entrepreneurship, so that all these people can get real jobs.

Illegality is a problem. But we should fight illegality only where the law makes sense in the first place. Conservatives should take advantage of the current political situation to eliminate unconservative immigration quotas and to rearticulate the great conservative principles of minimal government and strong culture. Fighting immigration is a waste of valuable resources.