Free Markets, Free People


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.
  • 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.
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42 Responses to Why Conservatives Should Embrace Free Immigration

  • I think there is also a way to embrace immigration and be against illegal immigration.
    1) Double quotas from all nations on approved lists. This also is fairer than just letting people from a neighboring country have an advantage.
    2) Simplify and rationalize the system. I had to make several embassy visits to get my wife a visa even though she is married to an American and her daughter is American. We ended up having to hire a consultant. He was astounded they were giving us trouble – he said there is no way in hell they can deny you a visa, they are just being jerks.
    3) Set up a program to assist those in the USA who are here illegally but could easily be legal. Many “illegal” aliens pretty much could become legal if it was easy. I know the wife of a US citizen, who’s kids are US citizens and she is illegal. She is afraid to try to fix the problem, but the reality is that she would obviously be granted a visa under the law, so why not figure out a way to do that. Fast track the process, and have her return to Mexico to pick up the visa and then come back. (This is only fair to those who patiently waited overseas for a legal visa and they could have symbolic “citizenship flights” with some razz ma tazz when they come back…rite of passage.
    4) Let the kids stay who have been here a long time. If their parents wish to stay as well, they can go through process 3. I once read a story about a little Chinese girl who’s parents were in the US and gave her up for adoption. She was raised to 9 or 10 in a white household. Then through some crazy law, the birth mother came and took the child back to China. The child had grown up only speaking English and eating Western food. She had to go to a Chinese school.. You felt just awful for the child. Let’s not do that to illegal kids.
    5) Super fast track for those serving in the military. I doubt you could be in the US military for 4 years and not absorb some American culture.
    6) After running the above program for 6-12 months announce that illegals will be deported. Illegals can ask for amnesty for their crime and return home, and apply for a more laborious process to returning. There should be some punishment. Note most would probably already be covered by the above. Fine employers unless they were defrauded, i.e. fake SSN. I know it sucks for them to be the enforcers so to speak, but that looks “fair” to most people.
    7) Set up a worker visa program for agriculture and seasonal laborers.

    Also, be aware that even doing all this, we could simply be importing a ton of left-leaning people. It may win few votes. The entitlement attitude exists in many countries as does the concept of political corruption, etc.

    Maybe the GOP could set up a Big Brother/Big Sister concept that would have volunteers assist immigrants to the USA…good first impression.

    • One reason why I emphasize allowing more immigration from ex-Mexico is because it will dilute some of the cultural issues. My city has large Mexican, Vietnamese, and Russian populations. They have to interact with each other in English. You also don’t feel like you are living in Mexico, but are living in city with a wide mix. Nothing wrong with enclaves, but its sort of “American” to have all the new immigrants interacting.

    • I don’t object to any piecemeal improvements if they actually happen, but the GOP never coalesces around the small ball stuff and has a real problem on the macro scale.  The only thing that’s going to spur change for the party is if the GOP starts seeing mass immigration as brimming with opportunity, which I’m arguing it is.  If any Republican has caveats, they should be constructive rather than implying suspicion.

      The country survived mass immigration for a long time before the eugenic craze of the early 20th century brought us these strict, centrally planned quotas.  I do not trust the government to plan what would be the best mix of immigrants for this country, and I can’t imagine why any small-government person would.  We shouldn’t be surprised that limited government and conservatism seemed to do better before those restrictions.  I’d offer some reasons to believe that’s no accident, like the kind of people a country attracts when it’s an entrepreneurial act rather than a byzantine process to immigrate, and the effects of constantly supplying cheap labor and risk-taking individuals to a liberal and innovative society.

      • The country survived mass immigration for a long time before the eugenic craze of the early 20th century brought us these strict, centrally planned quotas.

        That is a truth you use as a lie.  We allowed LEGAL immigration.  We were NOT a welfare state.  Quite the opposite.
        And it was plain old racism…LONG before the 20th century…that led to limitations on certain races.
        Your piece is loopy, and you show how intellectually vacant it is by resorting to crap like this.

        • So you’re saying “we” allowed mass LEGAL immigration.  That’s what I’m arguing we should allow again, in part because a flood of immigrants makes the blue-welfare state model harder to run.

          I stand by my statement.  There were anti-immigrant reactions before the early 20th century for every single wave of immigrants, notably the Chinese Exclusion Act, but the Immigration Acts of the early 20th century brought us quotas as if the state could plan what mix was best for the country (by which they initially meant keeping those dirty Eastern and Southern Europeans out).

          • And what you’re saying is we should do what we DID when America was entirely different, and hope it works…somehow.
            This is Cloward-Piven by some loopy guy who calls himself a “conservative”.
            The “blue model” is already IMPOSSIBLE to maintain.

          • America has indeed changed, but not enough to keep mass immigration from having many salutary effects like it did the first time around.  I see several reasons to believe it would redound to conservatives’ benefit to have an influx of people matching Hispanic demographics.  You haven’t bothered to explain why I’d be wrong about that; you’re just saying that things are different.

            And by the way, the fact that you think I call myself a conservative is evidence that you talk before you know what you’re talking about.

          • OK.  You say it would be wonderful.  YOU can imagine…stress IMAGINE…all kinds of wonderfulness.  I point out that is bong dust.
            IF you are not a Conservative, STFU.  I AM a Conservative, and I need your bullshit like I need to read Andy Sullivan.

      • I would not do those piecemeal at all. That needs to be a big bang or it loses all political effect.

  • “suggest vouchers and education savings accounts for private-school English language instruction.”
    The left will demand you run this through the educational establishment. My school district closed its free ESL classes due to budget cuts. My wife also returned from that school with many, many questions about food stamps, section 8, etc. “Why don’t we get food stamps? My classmate told me how to apply.”
    Keep in mind for a large portion of the planet, living off our welfare system would be a huge step up in living standards. Just a warning on unintended consequences.
    Though, IIRC, immigrants are supposed not get welfare and their sponsor is on the hook if they do take it. Probably not enforced.

    • So let’s think of solutions, with a focus on keeping it simple and constructive.  I’ll start:

      • On ESL, Republicans should offer up just the private options and let the Democrats try to shoot them down, so that Hispanics see Democrats refusing educational assistance for foreign-language speakers and know where the Democratic Party’s priorities really are.
      • On welfare, Republicans introduce a bill dramatically expanding immigration with the non-negotiable insistence on a fully independent and empowered inspector general to ensure that welfare benefits do not go to new immigrants.
      See how these put Republicans in the driver’s seat instead of saying we should throw up extra barriers to ensure that it’s safe to proceed?  This way, Republicans are in the position of having proactively offered a solution relevant to people’s lives that matches both the Right’s better political angels and our principles of governance, which is a whole lot better than being defined by the grumbling of conservatives about having to dial 1 for English.

      • “l to ensure that welfare benefits do not go to new immigrants.”

        It is my understanding that new immigrants have been ineligible for welfare benefits for many years. . We already have a number of layers of bureaucracy which are supposed to do precisely that. Adding another layer of bureaucracy to enforce the enforcers to enforce the enforcers to…… enforce existing law is ridiculous.

        • I’m open to any suggestions on how to ensure the law is enforced; the basic idea is that any conservative fears can be addressed creatively if they’re the ones making the proposals.

        • So why was my wife being taught how to keep her assets down in order to get food stamps, section 8 housing by some Russian guy at the ESL school?
          I suspect they do not enforce this at all. Or he has been in the US for long enough.

  • Now you’re talking reality.  There’s only one thing you’re missing:  Can Republican be trusted to be honest—or just opportunistic flip-floppers like their last choice, Romney.  I think we should have decade of Democratic presidents, to see how Republican behave, before believing them again.

    • You won’t have time, moron.  America doesn’t have ten years on this trajectory.

    • tadcf: Another Milton Friedman quote comes to mind that should inform how you read my post:

      “I do not believe that the solution to our problem is simply to elect the right people. The important thing is to establish a political climate of opinion which will make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. Unless it is politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either, or if they try, they will shortly be out of office.”

    • Obama is perhaps the biggest lier to ever be president. And his policies will banckrupt this country in short order.

  • As Milton Friedman said, immigration should be much more free but cannot be while there is a welfare state.
    Pick is nuts.
    No Western (and pretty much no Eastern) nation on earth…except us…fails to secure its borders.

    • Why would we want mass immigration of people who believe in big government and nanny state over and above what we can assimilate?  Seriously, that’s the reason Democrats support high immigration. 

      Its a cart before the horse myth to think the Democrats are getting supporters because of gratitude for supporting immigration.  The Democrats support immigration because they know the political spectrum in the rest of the world and they know people don’t change their politics because the move.  The democrats are dumping voters that agree with them.  Its not the other way around. 

      They are not up for grabs.  That ridiculous notion that is most arrogant and racist of all to believe people come here with blank minds.  They come here as a reflection of the places they came from.  Most of the rest of the world supports democrats & what they represent and the only way Republicans can appeal to them is if Republicans shamelessly got on board with Big Government and the Nanny State as official platforms. 

      • History shows that this country has a tremendous capacity for assimilating huge numbers of people.  I also think that if you see opportunity in immigration, you’ll think of constructive, proactive ways of promoting it that will minimize harms. Furthermore, you may not have considered some of the most important variables in immigrants’ effect on political culture; I’d suggest you at least give this an honest read: http://openborders.info/political-externalities/

        And yes, a party’s stance on immigration does affect whether immigrants and their children identify with that political tribe.  If you don’t think these voters are up for grabs, why did Romney do 17 points worse among Hispanics than Bush did only eight years ago?

        • But there was no official socially sanctioned government policy to hand out cash to the immigrants who didn’t make it, or didn’t try to make it.

          • To the extent that such a policy exists now, I’m sure you can think of constructive ways to propose getting rid of that policy while inviting more immigrants who will try to make it on their own steam.

          • Hey I love immigrants, I ain’t that far removed from being one.   I honestly like to think most of them come here expecting to work and to make it on their own.  What you have to root out is the ‘constructive’ help of those here in front of them teaching them to scam the system, and the Democratic party trying to enlist them on to the Democratic slave plantation.

            Your point of immigration being embraced by the conservatives is well taken.  If they don’t think they’re WANTED by the conservatives it’s obvious where they’ll turn.

        • “History shows that this country has a tremendous capacity for assimilating huge numbers of people.”

          History also shows that assimilation does not work unless it is required. We are now in a period where dis-assimilation is encouraged and assimilation discouraged.

        • Our capacity to assimilate is based upon free market capitalism. The welfare state destroys assimilation. Further, the huge immigration of the late 1800s/early 1900s ended in the 1920s, allowing decades of assimilation.

  • Good arguments — the security one is especially compelling and I’ve made it myself in the past — but you left one big argument for open immigration out: The Constitution not only does not enumerate a federal power to regulate immigration, but explicitly prohibits Congress from doing so.

    • Article I, Section 9 might be persuasive to some conservatives, but I was mostly looking for ways of showing the strategic opportunity, not the many principled reasons conservatives should favor it.

    • Congress was prohibited unil 1808. That was to prevent the feds from banning the import of slaves until then. I’m pretty sure you know that.

  • More to the point, if the GOP is going to have Rubio as the 2016 standard bearer – and they need him badly (sorry fatty McJersey) then the fact is they’re gonna HAVE to cave on this.

  • I just don’t have the time or stamina to point out  all the logical and factual errors here. I will just repeat that correlation is not causation, no matter how big the number. Complete bilge.

    • The statement “correlation is not causation” is an utter commonplace, and is not evidence against a causal link.  The link I provided, and my next post, both suggest why marriage, children, and mortgages are conservatism-promoting commitments.

      • Mortgages? That might fly if not for Clinton’s housing bubble and the resulting economic crash.

        • Look at the polling data.  Bush had his “Ownership Society” too.

          • I’m not aware of Bush policies that pushed housing the way Clinton did.

            However, the ’08 crash was a big loser for conservatives, and all the resulting upside downers receiving or awaiting aid from the government are not likely to become a force for conservatives even if it is the left that caused their misery.

  • Also, if we are going to run out of money anyways, why worry about immigrants just wanting free stuff. They will be in the same boat as everyone else.

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