Conservatism is the philosophy of a predictable, healthy society. No issue brings our various beliefs together like immigration, particularly the proposition of open borders and an immigration policy grounded outside of the national interest. Conservatives have rightly objected to an ill-conceived agenda of mass migration into the United States with no additional effort to assimilate or filter immigrants. While the media will attempt to characterize and demonize conservative opposition to limitless immigration as racist or counterproductive, it’s our duty as a movement to remember where we’re coming from, what we’re conserving, and why the Left is wrong.
Economic and Political Attitudes
The promise of America is simple: no matter who you are, where you start doesn’t determine where you’ll end up. You can start without two dimes to rub together and, in the end, look back on a life of comfort, financial security, and personal fulfillment. For generations, we’ve maintained this promise with a distinctive American culture. The norm, in segments of American society free from the extenuating circumstances of massive legal discrimination, was a simple recipe for mobility, comfort, and childrearing. Get the education you need for the job you want, work hard or dream big, get married, buy a home, have children, work your way up in your field, retire with a comfortable, fulfilling life. We renewed the promise through work, family, and education.
These are the cultural expectations we have for America. This is the predictable, healthy society that conservatives are fighting to conserve and renew. The culture is preserved by strong social institutions, such as family and church, respect for the rule of law, and free enterprise. Our politics reflected these core values for generations, with this being critical to cultural preservation.
The kind of immigration we’ve experienced in the 21st century is contra to the moral objective of preserving America’s promise. Modern immigrants, on the whole, are much less supportive of free enterprise and the looser control government exerts over the economy. While some have made the case that the rate of business formation among immigrants makes them “natural conservatives,” their self-professed political leanings suggest a disconnect.
Weak Economy; Mass Immigration
Beyond their own political values, post-recession immigration has occurred on the backdrop of sluggish, and oh do I mean sluggish, economic growth in the United States. In 2016, we set the new record, ten years, for less than 3% annual GDP growth. The effect of this recent development has seen wage stagnation intensify, job insecurity increase, and general economic anxiety rise.
The rationale for massive immigration is more explanable when you’re a country with vibrant economic growth. The pie is growing nicely, making it easier to add some new slices. This, however, is no longer the case in the United States.
Many of my friends on the political right in this country make the case that a re-tuned immigration policy, accompanied with a large-scale legalization of illegal immigrants living in the United States, is necessary to return our country to an era of strong economic growth. Smart immigration policy, the logic goes, will drive stronger economic growth to everyone’s benefit.
While surface layer data tends to support this idea, the deeper you dig the more fallacious it seems. In a Center for Immigration Studies report, George Borjas, considered by the Wall Street Journal to be one of the best immigration economists in the country, found that over 97% of the GDP growth spurred by immigrant workers goes to those same workers in the forms of wages and benefits. The 3% surplus doesn’t cover the cost of public services and assistance consumed by other immigrants.
The economic growth case for mass migration is shaky at best. Conditions are only worse when you take into account near-historic lows in workforce participation numbers. More and more Americans are giving up on the economy, resigned to a permanent state of unemployment. Rather than address the issues of connecting these Americans to jobs available or reforming public policy to make work pay, the politicians have instead turned their attention to filling the jobs with foreign labor.
Implications and Solutions
What does this mean for conservatism? Financial insecurity works against our efforts to make society stable and predictable. The availability of good paying jobs is fundamental to the American promise we are trying to conserve. It’s important for conservatives to maintain their opposition to limitless immigration being pushed by corporate lobbyists seeking to address their immediate need for labor rather than the interests of unemployed Americans.
With our politics so dominated by special interest politics, it’s no wonder meaningful, reasonable ideas to limit the negative impacts of immigration have not an ounce of the spotlight.
Mitt Romney, during his 2012 presidential campaign, advocated expansive citizenship checks to get a job. Many conservatives have proposed limits or bans on public assistance going to immigrants, legal or illegal. Limiting the availability of work and social services to immigrants puts a lot of pressure on economic migrants to return to their countries of origin. By reducing net immigration, we can effectively reduce the burden placed on our underperforming economy and the welfare state that goes with it.
A major source of illegal immigration has nothing to do with the border. Millions of people have come to the United States legally on varying types of visas. While plenty has been done to bring visa-holders into the country, very little has been to enforce the guidelines associated with their visas. For years, conservative policy analysts have pushed for a responsible entry-exit system to maintain the rule of law among visa immigrants. Donald Trump has been the latest politician to shine light on this productive immigration solution.
Many immigration programs, such as the visa lottery and distant-family chain migration, have no relationship to the interests of the United States. These questionable policies have provided methods of entering the country for hundreds of thousands of immigrants without regard to skills, ideology, education, or ability to assimilate. While it may strike the vast majority of readers as common sense to support repeal or replacement of these policies, the political logjam in Washington, strengthened by powerful special interests, prevents any such progress from taking place.
While I’ve dedicated a lot of ink here to attacking the notion that immigration is economically harmless, there is a core issue that the mass migration lobby has identified. A lot of the low skilled jobs worked by immigrants are jobs many unemployed Americans wouldn’t do. This, however, strikes me as a larger failure on our part. Countless economists and policy makers have advocated for using the Earned Income Tax Credit to make entry-level and low-skill jobs pay for those currently not in the labor force. In a country with such a generous social safety net, it’s a moral imperative to make work pay. Beyond efforts to bring American citizens back into the workforce, special attention must be paid to making our public schools and universities respond to workforce needs of the companies providing high-skill, high wage jobs.
Conservatism is the only movement fighting to maintain America’s promise. Existing immigration policy, and many proposed “solutions,” are in opposition to this goal. A more reserved, restrained immigration policy is important to supporting the interests of American citizens. When coupled with a renewed focus on making work pay and fixing our failing education system, a responsible immigration policy can satisfy the needs of American business and make life better for all of us.