Regaining Legitimacy through Immigration Cuts

By Mark Krikorian on August 11, 2017

National Review Online, August 11, 2017

Many have responded to the RAISE Act by praising its proposal to use a points system to select skilled immigrants but criticizing its overall reduction in annual immigration. Senator Marco Rubio said as much, as have the USA Today editorial board, Ross Douthat at the New York Times, and Robert VerBruggen and Robert Cherry at National Review. As USA Today put it, "Curtail family reunification, but leave legal immigration limits alone."

Presumably, this approach would abolish the visa lottery and the chain-migration categories, as the RAISE Act does, but simply transfer all those visas to the skills-based part of the program. In other words, the federal immigration program would continue granting more than one million green cards every year, rather than the 500–600,000 envisaged by the RAISE Act (the same level as during the Reagan administration).

The reasons offered vary. Our economy would be "devastated" by the reduction. Insisting on a cut in overall numbers would make the bill harder to pass. Or the cuts would "decimate" the share of the world's poor who can immigrate. (More poor people are born worldwide in a week than our entire current annual immigration flow.)

Supporters of the bill counter that the reductions are needed to "give working-class families the raise they deserve." I wrote a whole book arguing that mass immigration is incompatible with the goals and characteristics of a modern society.

But put aside the policy arguments for a moment. Reducing immigration is in the long-term political interest of our ruling classes. This may sound improbable, considering the stupendous assemblage of money and institutional power pushing for ever-higher levels of immigration, and the campaign contributions and social validation they can provide.

Yet the real threat to the position of our ruling class collectively is not a drop off in high-dollar donations or the disapproval of New York Times editorial writers. Rather, our institutions are facing a crisis of legitimacy, with an ever-larger share of the people rejecting the rightness of their leadership role. This crisis of legitimacy — which Europe is experiencing as well — is reflected in the declining public confidence in our institutions. It's a big part of the reason for Brexit and Trump.

It's no coincidence that these very institutions and their leaders have been united in pushing to effectively abolish the American people's control over its borders. From killing the immigration cuts called for by the Jordan Commission in the mid '90s, to relentless pressure for the 2007 and 2013 amnesty/immigration-surge bills, our leadership class has shown the depth of its disconnect from the people it leads. The Bush and Obama amnesty campaigns — assumed to be inevitable, since all the good people were for them — failed only because of ferocious pushback from the general public.

Fifteen years ago, the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (then the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations) found that immigration was the issue that showed the widest gap between "opinion leaders" and the public. This same elite–public gap on immigration exists when looking at groups more narrowly — religious institutions vs. members, corporate executives vs. small businessmen, labor bosses vs. rank and file, ethnic advocacy groups vs. those they claim to advocate for.

This disconnect continues today, as business, political, and other leaders criticize the RAISE Act while the public approves. As Sapna Rampersaud summarized in the Corner, a recent Politico poll shows strong public support for the RAISE Act's provisions. These results jibe with recent polls by Numbers USA, both nationally and in 10 battleground states. The NumbersUSA survey, unlike the Politico poll, actually told respondents how many green cards are given out today and offered them several options for what they would prefer for the future, revealing large majorities in favor of a reduction in annual numbers to a half-million or less. (About a quarter of respondents actually wanted zero immigration.)

Former congressman Tom Davis's comment in 2000 on a proposal to increase H-1B visas sums up this disconnect on the immigration issue overall: "This is not a popular bill with the public. It's popular with the CEOs. ... This is a very important issue for the high-tech executives who give the money."

There are no doubt many reasons for the fading legitimacy of Big Business and Big Labor, Big Tech and Big Ag, Big Religion and Big Government, Big Media, Big Academia, and Big Philanthropy. But both practically and symbolically, the elite push for de facto unlimited immigration is a key contributor, as Brexit and Trump and other anti-establishment movements demonstrate.

This is why passing the RAISE Act would be a key step toward healing the rift between top and bottom. Even if it doesn't deliver the full half-million cut from the current one million a year (even after a decade, it might only bring the total down to 600,000), passage would be a startling reversal of direction by the political class. It would be a strong signal of solidarity of the rulers with the ruled. It would demonstrate that the "executives who give the money" don't always get their way. The benefit to our political culture (never mind the benefits to the working poor or taxpayers or assimilation) would be enormous.