A New York Times Kind of Book: Part Two

By Jerry Kammer on October 15, 2019

[M]any members of the educated class don't even recognize that they are facing a rival philosophy. Many of them assume that anybody who disagrees with them on immigration and such must be driven by racism, insecurity or some primitive atavism. This smug attitude sends members of the communal, nationalistic side into fits of alienation and prickly defensiveness. It's what makes many of them, in turn, so unpleasant. 

— David Brooks, "The Next Culture War", The New York Times, June 12, 2007

The above quotation from a David Brooks column on the cultural divide between well-educated, cosmopolitan elites who favor expansive immigration policies and less-educated Americans who "worried that all this diversity would destroy the ancient ties of community and social solidarity" came to mind last week as a prickly reaction began to swell inside me to the disdainful assessment of the three most prominent restrictionist groups — the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies — in the new book Border Wars: Inside Trump's Assault on Immigration.

The authors, New York Times reporters Julie Hirschfeld Davis and Michael D. Shear, seek to summarize the restrictionist philosophy with reporting that is as shallow and tendentious as it is disdainful and dismissive. Their Exhibit A is a 1977 statement by FAIR Executive Director Dan Stein that they apparently regard as so damning in its nastiness as to curse not only his own organization but also any others who believe that in order for immigration to succeed it must be well regulated. Stein, warning of left-wing leanings in the ranks of new immigrants, said, "Many of them hate America; hate everything that the United States stands for."

Now, I have nothing nice to say about Stein's remark. It was mean-spirited, wildly exaggerated, and tactically inept. But for the Border Wars authors to roll it out as smoking-gun proof of restrictionist malice is maliciously false and prejudicial. It's as wrong-headed as I would be if I tried to explain the soul of the New York Times by quoting a notorious statement from the early 1990s by the Times' then-publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. Referring to an elderly man's complaint about provocative lifestyle reporting in the new, daring, and hyper-edgy Styles section, Sulzberger "told a crowd of people that alienating older white male readers means 'we're doing something right,'" according to a history of the Times that was co-authored by former Times reporter Alex S. Jones.

Hirschfeld Davis and Shear seek to clinch their indictment of restrictionist groups by noting that the Southern Poverty Law Center has "listed some of them as hate groups, on par with neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan."

If you have an ounce of concern for journalistic integrity or simple decency, the invocation of the SPLC, whose hate-shaming-cum-fundraising campaigns have been widely condemned as cynical and hysterical, is enough to qualify Hirschfeld David and Shear for a Cheap-Shot Reporting Award. For a look at the condemnation heaped on the SPLC by such publications as The Progressive magazine, The Nation, the National Catholic Reporter, Harpers, Politico, and Real Clear Politics, just have a look here and here. The continued shilling of Times reporters for the SPLC is inexcusable.

As I wrote yesterday, there is much to admire about the investigative reporting in Border Wars about the reckless, wildly erratic mismanagement of immigration policy in the Trump era. But it is inexcusable that the authors provide so little context for the collapse of immigration policy in the 33 years since Congress enacted the landmark Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. That failure, one of the most consequential in the history of American governance, permitted the massive expansion of illegal immigration that stoked the populist anger that gave rise to Trump.

As David Brooks noted, restrictionists sometimes respond with prickly resentment to hostile assessments of their beliefs and motivation. I'd like propose a more constructive strategy, one that accentuates the positive and seeks national reconciliation on this most divisive of issues. I think we should show a willingness to endorse a generous legalization, aka amnesty, in return for the serious worksite enforcement against illegal immigration that Congress promised with the 1986 Act.

While I acknowledge that my views are more liberal than those of many restrictionists, I think such a deal would be the best way out of our policy quagmire. It would also honor the legacy of Russell Kirk, the great conservative thinker, who wrote, "Conservatism never is more admirable than when it accepts changes that it disapproves, with good grace, for the sake of a general conciliation."