Why Conservatives Should Embrace Free Immigration
After the election, Righty circles are naturally engaging in some soul-searching, finger-pointing, and bickering. Some of this is unproductive venting, but it’s also the start of the process of working out how to move on and improve, and there’s no time to waste.
My conversations with fellow Righty operatives and bloggers have spurred me to suggest several ways Republicans could simultaneously make the party more attractive (or less repulsive) to voters and achieve more conservative results. This post is about immigration and reversing the trend of Hispanics rapidly abandoning the GOP; the next is about gay marriage; and the final post is about entitlement reform.
First, let’s dispense with the notion agreed upon by many on the Right: seal the border first, so that whatever follows is more controlled and orderly. This is an expensive fantasy. Conservatives need to apply their skepticism of huge, complex, market-distorting government plans to every issue surrounding immigration, starting with any plan to spend tens of billions of dollars on thousands of miles of fence, surveillance, unionized government employees, and a verification system forced on every employer in the country.
It’s a joke that the Republican Party, which is practically defined by marriage, babies, and mortgages, holds at arm’s length a whole demographic (Hispanics, especially foreign-born) that tends to be more religious, marry younger and longer, and have larger families than the average American voter.
Mass immigration could work for the GOP if the GOP went with the tide instead of trying to stop it.
- If Republicans want school choice, they should have natural allies among those who are religious, have large families, and see their children suffer under the worst public schools. When you hear complaints that Hispanic immigrants don’t speak English, suggest vouchers and education savings accounts for private-school English language instruction.
- If Republicans want to revive farms and stop the population drain from rural areas, make legitimate cheap labor more available: open up a bunch of farm worker visas.
- If Republicans want to cut the cost of new housing so that young people can form households and families, make legitimate cheap labor available for that too. Heck, why not try to break various trade unions by inviting enough skilled immigrants to swamp or bypass their system?
- So the entitlement system is a problem? Yeah, Milton Friedman famously said you can’t simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state. Shouldn’t the Republican response be “Bring on free immigration“? If math dooms Medicaid and the subsidized industrial-age hospital model, why not make the math even harder?
- Conservatives have longed to shift taxes away from production and toward consumption. Nobody wants to remove labor tax wedges (AHEM: the payroll tax) as much as someone in a labor-intensive business, the kind that tends to thrive when there’s a lot of cheap labor available. That goes for both employers and the employees whose compensation is tilted toward wages rather than benefits; we know it suppresses the Hispanic savings rate. And the payroll tax, of course, helps to maintain the accounting fiction that SocSec and Medicare are like savings.
Now, about the security problem: is it easier to pick out a genuine security threat in the crowd if everyone just has to pass a security check, or if hundreds of thousands of people are trying to cross the border undetected because the only legal route is a seven-year byzantine process?
Heather Mac Donald at NRO offers a potential counter-argument: Hispanics are more suspicious of Republicans for supporting class warfare than for opposing immigration according to a poll (from March 2011), and a majority favor gay marriage, so they’re not such a conservative bunch. But:
- Immigration may not be most Hispanics’ top concern, but it isn’t trivial either. And because politics is so tribal, there are many ways to alienate a group without actually disagreeing on policy – many of which Republicans blunder into when discussing immigration.
- Republicans shouldn’t cede the class warfare argument either: it wouldn’t hurt if the party focused more on the poor, as Mac Donald’s colleague Kevin D. Williamson exhorts the GOP to do. If you’re a small-government type who reads the previous sentence as a plea to compromise on principle, that reaction is part of the problem.
- Finally: social issues. Mac Donald points out that a majority of Hispanics favor gay marriage. I’ll argue in my next post that conservatives should proactively embrace gay marriage, which should resolve this issue nicely.