Jeb's Tyranny of Immigration Cliches

By Mark Krikorian on January 25, 2013

Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick's immigration op-ed in today's Wall Street Journal is the usual string of cliches, and thus hardly worth commenting on. But given the authors, the venue and, frankly, my job, I'll give it a go.

Immigration hubris. The piece is a list of subheaded assertions, so I'll follow its format. The authors' introductory point is that immigration changes must be wholesale — "comprehensive", in the current jargon:

The immigration system is like a jigsaw puzzle. If one or more pieces are out of whack, the puzzle makes no sense. To fix the system, Congress must make sure all of the pieces fit together, logically and snugly.

This is the same argument Jeb's leftist allies in his amnesty crusade made during their push for Obamacare. Rather than undertake modest, incremental reforms — allowing the purchase of health insurance across state lines, for instance — the Democrats wanted "comprehensive health-care reform", and we ended up with a 2,000-page doorstop law that we had to pass to learn what it contains. "Comprehensive immigration reform" might as well be called "Obamigration".

The law isn't broken. The authors claim the overarching immigration statute, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, "has been patched over so many times that it is hopelessly complex and incoherent." They express the central planner's desire to "start from scratch", saying it's the law that's the problem, not the lack of enforcement. But, while there are plenty of things in the law I think need to be changed and simplified, our deepest problem is, in fact, enforcement — or more accurately, the unwillingness of our post-American elites to consistently defend America's sovereignty, something they simply do not believe in.

The border hasn't evolved as much as you think. The authors claim that net immigration from Mexico is zero — this wasn't correct when Pew reported it (because the report counted hundreds of thousands of U.S.-born children as part of the "Mexican" outflow) and certainly isn't true now. It's true that national-security concerns are more salient than they used to be when thinking about border security, but any immigration system that can be infiltrated by a dishwasher or landscaper can also be infiltrated by a terrorist or cartel assassin.

Common ground! The one novel element of Jeb's piece is the acknowledgement that family chain migration, beyond spouses and minor children, must be ended. So, let's enact some incremental reform!

There isn't supposed to be a line. The op-ed complains that "no line exists" for illegal aliens who want to go home and then immigrate legally. Uh, yes, that's the point — we already admit more than 1 million legal immigrants a year. The number has been steadily rising — it was about 300,000 in 1965, when Ted Kennedy kick-started the current wave, 400,000 in 1975, 600,000 in 1985, 700,000 in 1995, and 1.1 million in 2005. Maybe Jeb would like to tell us what limit he would place on immigration (if any).

The U.S. doesn't need unskilled labor. The authors trot out "The nation needs energetic young workers to spur the economy and support an ever-increasing social-welfare burden." Uh, immigrants are around twice as likely as the native-born to be poor and use welfare. Among Hispanic immigrants, who represent the lion's share of the low-skilled workers the op-ed says we need "to support an ever-increasing social-welfare burden". the majority are on welfare. This isn't because they're lazy spongers — fully one-third of immigrant households with a worker present are on welfare. The problem is that a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy doesn't need additional low-skilled workers. As Milton Friedman famously said, "It's just obvious you can’t have free immigration and a welfare state."

It depends on the meaning of "high-skill". The authors make the usual "missile gap"-style argument that the CHINESE WILL OVERTAKE US if we don't admit more foreign tech workers, because our "K–12 education system is not producing nearly enough graduates with the skills needed for a vibrant 21st-century economy." While we certainly should (and do) have a means for genuine Einsteins to move here, most of the skilled workers we admit don't fall under that category. Such immigration merely provides cheap, docile labor for employers; as George Borjas put it with regard to a piece of this issue, "foreign students play the same role in staffing the research labs of American universities that Mexican illegal workers play in staffing the vast agricultural fields of California." What's more, a large flow of tech workers takes the pressure off our own schools to improve, decoupling the interests of American business from the results of our educational system.

Amnesty does indeed promote more illegal immigration. The authors acknowledge that amnesty is a magnet for more lawbreaking, but seem to suggest that their approach (whatever its specifics) to letting all the illegal aliens stay here isn't really amnesty. Yawn.

Immigrants are superior to Americans. Bush and Bolick end with a fireworks finale of cliches. Immigrants "cherish the values of hard work, faith, family, enterprise and patriotism that have made this country great" and "replenish the American spirit." While Americans, of course, "have grown complacent or even disdainful of these values." Immigrants are people like any other, and experience the same temptations and dysfunctions of modernity — illegitimacy, family breakdown, decline of religion, and the rest. Jeb's objectification of immigrants and antipathy toward the actually-existing American people is repellent but deplorably commonplace among immigration enthusiasts.

Bush and Bolick have an immigration book coming out soon, and if this is any indication of its contents, it's unlikely to make any meaningful contribution to the debate.