Grover Norquist and Reporters Without Questions

By Jerry Kammer, January 4, 2013

I've decided to bring an occasional feature to this blog: a look at the job my former colleagues in the press do covering immigration. I'm sure there will be plenty of opportunities in the coming months. But my first look will be back in time—to a story that ABC posted on its website last October. I came across it recently.

The story was about Grover Norquist, an immigration expansionist more widely known as the tax scourge who wants to drown government in a bathtub. It was written by Ted Hesson, the immigration editor at Univision, which is partnering with ABC to build an English-language network aimed at Hispanics. Hesson quoted a speech in which Norquist said immigration:

is the most important thing to focus on if you're concerned about the future of the country both as an economic power and as a serious leader of the world, or simply as a successful society. It's not only good policy to have more immigrants in the United States -- dramatically more immigrants than we do today, to having a path forward for those people who are here. It's not only a good idea, but it's good politics.

Norquist also said this: "Some issues move votes, some issues move tongues." By that he meant that while many Americans may say they want less immigration, it's not an issue that affects many votes.

Nearly a decade earlier, when I was a reporter, I heard Norquist put it this way: "Intensity trumps preference." In other words: Congress pays more attention to the well-organized, left-right coalition of immigrants rights groups, libertarian Republicans, church groups and business organizations than it does to public opinion polls.

Here's a fundamental question that many reporters don't ask immigration expansionists: What criteria should we use to select future immigrants from the tens of millions of people from around the world who would love to obtain a green card? To be more specific, should we follow the route of Canada and Australia and give preference to those who are well educated or skilled? Or should we take the route preferred by many U.S. employers and look for more newcomers who are not well educated but are willing to work for $8 an hour.

Too many reporters, well intentioned but poorly informed, don't get to that question because they fixate on the issue of more or less. And too often, they fall for the romantic notion that immigration, like peace and kindness, is such an unmitigated good that more is inevitably better. They don't get to second- or third-level questions because they don't know enough or think it is unpleasant to ask.