Immigration Sí, Schumer No!
By F.H. Buckley
So let’s hear it for immigration. No, not Chuck Schumer’s 1,200-page monstrosity winding its way through Congress. No one can be for that unless one has read it, and I don’t think many people have done so.
Moreover, before it becomes law, both chambers of Congress would have to go to conference to work out inconsistencies between the House and Senate bills. When and if that happens, the Democrats will send in their A-team to hammer out a deal, while the Republicans will deploy John Boehner et al. You can see why the Democrats are hugging themselves with delight. Privately, they know that the bill will give 10 million new Democrats the vote. It will turn red states to purple and purple states to blue, and ensure that no Republican will win the presidency in this century.
There’s a further reason why the bill amounts to a Republican death notice. Those who wrote its fine print adhere to the charmingly antiquarian idea that Congress is a co-equal branch of government, that it passes laws and then the president faithfully executes them. They haven’t been paying much attention of late. Obama legislates by administrative diktat and waives compliance for laws with which he disagrees. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the land. Kind of cool,” said Paul Begala when Clinton did it. And Obama expanded this power like no president before.
This could put a crimp in the Gang of Eight’s carefully laid plans. For instance, the Schumer bill contains border security “triggers”: no path to citizenship until the borders are secure, ostensibly preventing future waves of undocumented immigrants. But the bill itself contemplates that the trigger can be waived. Then there’s the 10-year waiting period before the immigrant can apply for citizenship. Suppose, however, that an out-of-control executive instructs the Citizenship and Immigration Service to waive that requirement. Four years back I would have said that sounded crazy. Now I am less than sure. But I do know that what’s in Chuck Schumer’s bill matters less than the identity of the president who is charged with enforcing it.
And yet the right kind of immigration policy matters, and matters greatly. There are even things in the Schumer bill that conservatives should applaud, particularly the attempt to mimic the pro-growth immigration policies of Canada and Australia. Currently, about 50 to 70 percent of people entering the U.S. as permanent residents are admitted under family preference categories that give priority to the relatives of recent arrivals. A much smaller number, capped at 140,000, are allowed under economic criteria, because the immigrant can make a contribution to the American economy. Schumer’s bill adds a new category of “merit” immigrants, based on the Canadian points system. Provided unemployment for native Americans is less than 8.5 percent, 120,000 immigrants can be admitted in this way, with points awarded for things like university degrees and proficiency in English. All this sounds good, but Canada, with one-tenth the population, admits 150,000 economic immigrants a year under its points system.
This suggests the outline for a pro-growth immigration policy to which conservatives might sign on. First, increase the number of economic immigrants. While economics is not the only measure of worth, it’s a pretty good proxy for the private virtues we’d admire in future citizens. The fellow who has a chemistry Ph.D. is probably not a meth dealer (that popular TV series, Breaking Bad, notwithstanding).
Second, reduce the size of the family-based immigration intake, which the bill would preserve at about 500,000 a year. These immigrants come disproportionately from the third world. They’re less likely to contribute to the economy and more likely to adhere to basketcase ideas about government—and to vote for an Imperial Presidency. For the most part, they don’t come here because they admire the Founders or have a copy of The Federalist on their nightstands. A good ratio would match that of Canada: two-thirds economic immigrants to one-third family.
Third, kill the pathway to citizenship. Under Schumer’s bill, undocumented aliens would get a provisional immigration status that would permit them to apply for citizenship after 10 years. This is simply not necessary. The undocumented prove that by coming here without any such guarantee.
Fourth, get into the habit of adding anti-waiver riders to legislation, something along the lines of: “The Constitution enjoins the president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed; waivers of statutory provisions are inconsistent with this mandate and may constitute grounds for impeachment and removal from office.” Toss that into the editorial offices of the Washington Post and watch the fur fly!
Finally, a word on how immigration reform should be evaluated. The test should be whether immigrants to the U.S. outperform—in earnings, education, or whatever—immigrants to other countries. We should be getting the cream of the crop, but we’re not. Rather, we’re screening for Democrats.
By Matthew Walther
One almost feels cruel making the case against the 162,548-word monster of an immigration bill passed by the Senate in June. My heart goes out to Lindsey Graham and John McCain. Flag burning remains unsafe and legal, war with Syria looks unlikely, and as Joe Scarborough recently learned, salmon pants are on the “Definitely Don’t List” this fall. Take S.744 away from these two, and they’ll have nothing to live for.
Still, I shouldn’t let my empathy get the best of me. America’s already ailing blue-collar workers do not need the 12 years of declining wages projected by the Congressional Budget Office in the event of the bill’s passage. (Do keep in mind that if the CBO says 12 years, it’s probably more like three decades.) Nor should they have to compete with the 30 million or so additional immigrants who will join their 11 million family members as a result of chain migration if a version of the Senate bill passes the House. Our healthcare system is about to collapse as is: Imagine where an influx of tens of millions of people might land us. I have yet to seen a convincing refutation of the Heritage Foundation’s claim that, if enacted, the bill would cost $6 trillion, roughly the combined price tag of our recent adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The bill’s fate will be the one that wily old fox Jeff Sessions seems to have intended for it, which is to say, Death By Amendment. But what next? First, we must stop tilting away at the windmill of so-called “comprehensive” immigration reform. We should ignore the congressional glee club execrating a piecemeal approach and answer separately such questions as how best to secure our southern border, what to do about the illegal immigrants already here, and what, if any, changes should be made to our immigration system.
About the first of these questions I think there is widespread agreement. Most of us, with the exception of a few doctrinaire libertarians (about whom more later), agree that 11-plus million is far too great a number of persons to be residing in a country illegally. We should do everything we can to keep the situation from getting worse and ensure that we never find ourselves in such a predicament ever again. Fortunately, as Spectator senior editor W. James Antle III has observed, the very real gains we have made in the area of border security—we now control something like 57 percent of our southern border—came only after the Bush-era quest for comprehensive reform was abandoned. As another 1,000-page bill bites the dust, we should do our best to repeat the (admittedly limited) successes of the last decade.
Our experiment with blanket amnesty in 1986 was a failure, and it should not be repeated. Amnesty—even in the guise of a lengthy “pathway to citizenship” that requires payment of back taxes—will only encourage lawbreaking and exacerbate our border problems. What I suggest is a combination of doing nothing—effectively leaving those who came here in defiance of the law outside its purview—and a reconsideration of two things that we have unfortunately been squeamish about. The first is of course deportation. As has been pointed out glibly and ad taedium, we simply cannot round up and deport millions of persons. But illegal immigrants convicted of crimes can and should be deported.
The second is voluntary repatriation of illegals. This has been going on in the Arizona Sonoran Desert for nearly a decade. The unfortunately little-known Mexican Interior Repatriation Program (MIRP), a joint project of the Department of Homeland Security and the Mexican government, has helped over 100,000 Mexican citizens apprehended by the Border Patrol return safely to their country. Volunteers for this scheme are treated humanely: They are flown from Tucson to Mexico City, and from there given bus tickets to their hometowns. The chance to leave the United States consequence-free and return to Mexico, whose unemployment rate is currently lower than ours, should be extended to all Mexican nationals now residing illegally in this country, whether they find themselves in federal custody or not. Back-of-the-bar-napkin math suggests that even if we offered volunteers the additional incentive of a lump of cash—say $3,000—and spent, on plane and bus tickets and administration, $7,000 per person, voluntary repatriation would still be much cheaper than deportation.
The final question facing us is what our legal immigration system should be like. Of the three, I think that this is probably the least important at present. But with unemployment as high as it is, especially among 18 to 24-year-olds, it might not be such a bad idea to think about scaling back the number of legal immigrants we accept. Silicon Valley is becoming indistinguishable from Napa: Willing to work more for less, Asian computer programmers, like Mexican grape pickers of old, are beating out Americans who expect more. Cue the loud Reason raspberry! Here libertarians and traditional-minded conservatives find themselves at a kind of perspectival impasse.
But unless a nation is nothing more than the sum of all the economic activity that takes place within its territory (some libertarians seem to think this the case), the well-being of the United States is not synonymous with its gross domestic product. America is not what it was in 1965, or even 1986. We are a people busy forgetting ourselves. The great virtues of the Anglosphere—habeas corpus, trial by jury, skepticism, tolerance, decency, common sense, independence of mind, and our dear old English language, the glue that binds all the above together—did not originate on this continent, nor is America the only country to which they have been exported successfully. But they are just about the only things America has ever had in the way of a truly common culture, and all of them—even the first two—are fast becoming relics.
A few years ago I was in Japan for two months, and I never went so far as the convenience store down the road from my hotel without my passport. It stands to reason: I am clearly not Japanese. Only once, walking alone at night in a small city, was I asked by one of the local flatfoots to produce this document. It did not occur to me that there was anything strange about such a demand.
Progressives who whinge about police officers in Arizona suspecting that someone who cannot speak English and does not possess some form of government-issued identification just might be in the country illegally would never decry the enormity of an experience like mine with that good-natured cop in Shiga Prefecture. Nor do the English speakers whose gorges rise when less enlightened Americans like myself complain about seeing signs in other languages—or rather in one other language—think it a hideous abuse of anyone’s human rights that potential immigrants to Iceland must demonstrate fluency in its language.
When we allow millions of people to come to this country illegally and then hand them citizenship or even permanent resident status, we are, one supposes, making them Americans in the legal sense. But we are not making them Americans in the—forgive me—spiritual sense.