Kudos to Jason DeParle for His New Book on Immigration

An immigration expansionist who merits attention beyond his tribe

By Jerry Kammer on January 30, 2020

I would like to see an immigration debate between Andrew Sullivan, the British immigrant who writes eloquently in defense of immigration limits, and Jason DeeParle, the New York Times reporter who is equally eloquent in his defense of unrestricted immigration.

But until some perceptive organizer of public dialogues brings Sullivan and DeParle together, those of us who are willing to acknowledge the human complexity, moral ambiguity, and political complexity of immigration policy can find a lot to ponder in the work of both men.

As we have noted here, Sullivan makes a powerful case that participants in the angry populist backlash against mass immigration, especially of the illegal kind, deserve to be understood as ordinary people who "don't want their entire society to be radically changed overnight or over a couple decades." He goes on to note that the campaigns of "the social justice crowd to implicate anybody with this discomfort as utter racists and bigots and fascist has only entrenched their sense of cultural isolation and siege and made the resilience of the support for Trump even greater."

In his new book, A Good Provider Is One Who Leaves, DeParle provides an view of immigration that is powerful both for its international scope and its intimate view of three generations of a Filipino family whose members have migrated either to the Middle East or to the United States. I'll limit this post to his treatment of immigration to the United States, which is centered on the life that the family builds in Galveston, Texas, where one of its members came, visa in hand, to work as a nurse.

DeParle is an engaging storyteller. He is too well informed and too civil to line up with the troublemakers on the left, even though he seems to support their push for functionally open borders. Unlike several of his colleagues at the Times, he doesn't find it pertinent to report that the Southern Poverty Law Center — in a viciously cynical smear campaign that we have described in detail, especially here and here — has labeled the Center for Immigration Studies and the Federation for American Immigration Reform, among others, as "hate groups".

The Times newsroom is an ideological bubble inhabited by reporters and editors steeped in a sensibility that draws a straight line between today's immigration restrictionists and the Holocaust. They are world-class journalists, but they find no value in restrictionist thought. We are to them what Nixon voters were to the late Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic. In a famous acknowledgement of Manhattan's political insularity, she famously said, "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them."

DeParle lives in Washington, D.C., a world that can be as insular as Manhattan. But he has made a conscientious effort to get to understand restrictionist concerns. He makes the pithy observation that the restrictionist "movement runs the gamut from toxic provocateurs like Ann Coulter, who rues that immigrants are 'overwhelmingly poor brown people', to folksy Roy Beck, the founder of NumbersUSA, whose slogan is 'no to immigrant bashing' but yes to 'economic fairness' for American workers."

DeParle is especially effective in his criticism of those restrictionists whose hard-line leaves no merciful room for mixed-status families, where parents face deportation and their U.S.-born children face the trauma of separation through deportation. "If they assimilate downward to an underclass, don't blame dreams of the reconquista or multicultural elites," DeParle writes. "Blame a campaign of cruelty that made a cracked melting pot a self-fulfilling prophecy."

But DeParle is not convincing when he says American drywallers who are displaced by eager newcomers could become supervisors. I could introduce him to Gerardo Jimenez, a Mexican who received amnesty from the 1986 immigration reform and who was upset 15 years ago about the flood of illegal workers who were willing to work for whatever they could get. I was equally unimpressed by DeParle's brusque dismissal of the complaint by Mark Krikorian of CIS that schools "are failing utterly to pass on the history and legends of the past." Responds DeParle: "That's news in Galveston," where students "studied George Washington's rules of civility." It would not be news in many other American cities.

DeParle also misses an important element of Krikorian's approach to enforcement of immigration laws. While he accurately cites Krikorian's hard-line in favor of "attrition by enforcement", he gives short shrift to the fact that Krikorian has endorsed proposals for a "grand bargain: amnesty for remaining long-established, non-violent illegals in exchange for an end to mass legal immigration".

DeParle is more impressive when he takes on those restrictionists who dismiss efforts by immigrant-rights advocates to invoke the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of welcome to the world's oppressed. "Symbols gain meaning from lived experience, and generations of Americans have experienced the statue as a tribute to the country's immigrant roots," he writes.

He is especially impressive in the chapter titled "Moral Hazards". In a bow to restrictionist sentiment, he concedes that a program of legalization could prompt more illegal immigration from those expecting yet another amnesty. But he adds this salient observation: "The lack of a legalization is a hazard too; it leaves millions of immigrants and their American-born children facing a modern Jim Crow."

In the polarized, tribal world of today's immigration debate, the restrictionist and expansionist sides tend to wall themselves off, gathering rhetorical weapons to launch at the other side. DeParle is an expansionist who merits attention beyond his tribe's campfires. If he and Sullivan could go on the road together, they could do a lot to encourage the nuanced, fair-minded, and civil discussion that we badly need. Meanwhile DeParle's new book deserves a prominent place on our list of books that every restrictionist should read.