Thomas L. Friedman: Foe of Open-Borders and 'Comprehensive Immigration Reform'?

By Stephen Steinlight on March 26, 2010

Though Thomas Friedman's New York Times column "America's Real Dream Team" squandered a teachable moment, copping out by failing to offer an explicitly political condemnation of America's current immigration policies and the unending campaign for "comprehensive immigration reform," he indirectly demolished both.

That he did so while declaring himself a "pro-immigration fanatic" isn't a contradiction, nor does his deep genuflection towards immigration appear to be a sop to his publishers. His enthusiasm is authentic, but the immigration he's endorsing is of a kind that never figures in any of the tediously repetitive Times editorials in favor of open borders. The immigration Friedman wants – "legal," "orderly," resulting in America's attracting and retaining "the world's first-round aspirational and intellectual draft choices" – can actually be seen as consonant with the Center for Immigration Studies' advocacy of a "pro-immigrant policy of lower immigration" predicated on the national interest. In "America's Real Dream Team," Friedman reveals himself to be a passionate advocate of that vision – even while his message is substantially neutered by the role he's created for himself as the nation's leading journalistic paradigm inventor who is simultaneously naïve about, dismissive of, or simply afraid to confront the political implications of his own "future talk."

The variety of immigration over which he rhapsodizes – which he claims is key to maintaining America's world leadership – bears no resemblance to that endorsed by the president or the weird conglomeration of usual suspects and special interests: a hefty cross-section of our fiscal and financial elite, mainstream media and "newspapers of record," foundation-bankrolled cadres of immigrant activists, the Hispanic and Black Congressional Caucuses, the most exploitative employers in the corporate service sector, ethnic identity extremists, Big Religion with its posturing morally purblind post-American clerics, among others.

In fact, it's axiomatic that immigration Friedman-style is wholly antithetical to current immigration policy and "comprehensive immigration reform" – which begins with amnesty, though that's an instrumentality, not remotely an end in itself. The core component of "comprehensive immigration reform" is an exponential increase in what will become legal immigration triggered by amnesty in conjunction with extended family reunification. If passed, it won't result in a "pathway to citizenship" for a mere 11 million illegal aliens, but in the immigration of tens of millions of uneducated less-skilled foreigners, connected to the 11 million often by fraudulently alleged family ties.

This cataclysmic immigration will come overwhelmingly from oligarchic Latin American cultures with chasm-like divides between the rich and the poor, with oppressive, rigid class systems that give their citizenry, particularly their own poor, little access to learning or the means or motivation to pursue the life of the mind. It will result in the importation of a vast less-skilled demographic that is the inverse of Friedman's "Real Dream Team." According to data from the Pew Hispanic Center, some 30 percent of immigrants from Mexico have not finished 9th grade; some 62 percent lack high school diplomas. Conscious decisions to promote and preserve ignorance have been taken by corrupt undemocratic oligarchies to preserve their stolen wealth and power. Similarly, their complicity in illegally exporting millions of their own less-educated citizens to the United States reduces pressure on the steam cooker of potential social unrest at home, while the billions sent back by the exported poor provides just enough in a society with relatively low economic expectations to avert a potentially revolutionary situation.

Friedman wrote his paean to the benefits of immigration by the "best and brightest" as a result of having attended an award ceremony for high school kids from across the U.S., the children of legal immigrants, mostly from Asia, who were finalists in the 2010 Intel Science Talent Search. Unlike the 40 finalists, a high proportion of the children of today's legal and illegal less-skilled immigrants from Mexico and Central America have parents with very low levels of education, and the parents' education attainment is one of the best predictors of a child's success. The result is that many children from Latin American immigrant families are dropping out of school and socializing downward. While Hispanics once had the highest rate of intact families of any group, the native-born children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants have rates of out-of-wedlock births second only to those in the African-American community, one of the principal causes and symptoms of the crises that beset the black community. Nearly half of Hispanic immigrant families use at least one federal welfare program, and the education system is not providing a basis for upward social mobility. In our knowledge-based, post industrial society it is unlikely that the immigrants who come here from Mexico and Central America will provide many of the finalists for the Intel Talent Search for generations; meanwhile we can predict inverse outcomes: high rates of academic failure, functional illiteracy in two languages, welfare dependency, out-of-wedlock births, and disproportionate rates of incarceration.

I can already hear the accusation that Friedman is guilty of pro-Asian racialism or celebrating "model minorities," but those charges would be nonsensical. The winners weren't chosen on affirmative action bases. The finalists competed in a national contest that identifies the top U.S. high school students in science and math, and the 40 winners were selected on the basis of the quality of thinking they employed in solving scientific problems. Friedman, who believes the future belongs to democratic, free-market societies that place a high premium on the life of the mind and intellectual aspiration, came away reassured: "Gotta say, it was the most inspiring evening I’ve had in D.C. in 20 years. It left me thinking, "If we can just get a few things right – immigration, education standards, bandwidth, fiscal policy – maybe we'll be O.K."

There's no argument these criteria are critical, even essential to maintaining American world leadership and Exceptionalism. But the Panglossian optimism, breezy confidence, and bizarre sense of relief that accompanied Friedman home from the event seem frighteningly misplaced. When he cites "getting immigration right," and "making it orderly" and adds, "This isn't complicated," one wonders whether he inhabits the same universe as 300 million other Americans.

It is astoundingly unrealistic, even oddly childish, to opine that getting immigration right is no big deal. An epic political struggle has thus far achieved nothing more than preventing America's political and fiscal elite – who have it totally wrong – from taking the nation over Niagara Falls. That we have thus far prevented America from succumbing to "comprehensive immigration reform" by defeating three legislative incarnations is our only consolation. Fighting and winning desperate rearguard actions is no minor achievement, but such actions stave off defeat rather than deliver victory. We remain on the defensive.

If Thomas L. Friedman chose to use his influential voice – one especially resonant among liberal Americans – to help them understand how radically different is the immigration he advocates from the sort being pushed by the cynical, greedy, or ethnically chauvinist "comprehensive reform" crowd, he might actually make a difference. But to do that he would have to descend from the mountaintop from which paradigm-creators prognosticate and enter the gritty political fray. In "Politics and the English Language" George Orwell reminds us "all issues are political issues." One would have thought Thomas Friedman would recognize that's true even of his dreams for America's future.