On Immigration, a Dissent

I just listened to the flagship podcast (Rob shamed me into becoming a member, after I freeloaded during the days before it went behind the paywall) and I wanted to register a dissent from something Peter said about immigration. He said something to the effect that large-scale immigration was “over” or “finished” – implying that addressing the status of illegal aliens living here would now be easier.

The report he was relying on, from Pew, said that net migration from Mexico was zero in the 2005-2010 period – i.e., there was still a significant amount of immigration from Mexico (almost all of it illegal), but roughly the same number of Mexicans already living here left, resulting in no net change. This is a real finding, and it owes to both the state of the economy and to better law enforcement – my research director reached a similar conclusion. But there are lots of problems with drawing policy conclusions from that:

1. Pew counted the US-born, US-citizen children in Mexican immigrant families as part of the “Mexican” outflow – but, of course, they’re not immigrants, so net immigration was still positive.

2. Our goal should be more illegal immigrants leaving than coming in, so a net level of zero is a move in the right direction, but is hardly reaching the goal. (“Mexican immigrant” and “illegal immigrant” are obviously not the same thing, but they’re closely related – 60 percent of illegal aliens are from Mexico and virtually all Mexican immigrants either are, or were at one point, illegal.)

3. Most immigration is legal – 1.1 million a year, and it never goes down – and the problems created by mass illegal immigration aren’t really that different from the ones created by mass legal immigration.

4. The real slowdown in illegal immigration has almost certainly already ended, with numbers already climbing again.

5. There are 5 billion people in the world poorer than the average Mexican, so immigration is not something we’re ever going to “solve” – thus we can never escape having to make decisions about how much we want, how we pick people, and how we will enforce the law to prevent the admission (or effect the removal) of the millions who want to come but don’t meet our criteria.

I addressed this “immigration as yesterday’s news” meme in a piece earlier this year for The National Interest. My lead was from a January New York Times op-ed that began: “The immigration crisis that has roiled American politics for decades has faded into history.”

Would that it were true.

  1. Not JMR

    Remind me, what are the criteria again?

  2. I. raptus

    Indeed, I was skeptical of Peter’s conclusion as well.  Illegal immigration may have slowed down or even stopped, but surely the primary reason is because of the recession, not Mexico settling down or suddenly better USA border enforcement (though both of those may be contributors).

    When (if?) the USA economy recovers, illegal immigration will surely recur — they’re going where the money is.

  3. BlueAnt
    Mark Krikorian: there is no such thing as “hispanic”… GOP shouldn’t buy into the left’s balkanization, but instead promote (to everyone, including immigrants) a shared *American* identity, ssomething too many republican pols shy away from for fear of being called racist.

    I wrote that exact speech in my head the other day.  It sounded pretty good.  Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), I am not a politician in a position to deliver it publicly.

    All the post-election talk about “demographic problems”, and needing to go after “growing minority blocs”, is utter rubbish.  

    Assume you accept the bureaucrat-inspired label of “Hispanic”, and that the percentage of Hispanics in the voting public will grow by a few percent.  Why should this matter to a party delivering a conservative message focused on freedom and opportunity?  

    Is there something inherent in a Hispanic (or an Asian, or a black voter) that makes them unreceptive to the classic American values of liberty and economic freedom?  If not, then let’s be done with the segmentation of the electorate along meaningless lines, and do away with the transparent pandering of identity politics.

  4. Chris Campion

    It would be interesting to track historical GDP growth rates with illegal immigration numbers.  I’m guessing there’s a strong correlation there.  Illegals come to the States for lots of reasons, but employment is one of them.  A slower economy means less hiring and less pay – so less of a rush to cross the border.

    This touches on it a bit.  I’m sure illegal immigration increases and decreases for a number of reasons, but it must largely be correlated with available work.

    http://economy.blog.ocregister.com/tag/illegal-immigrants/

  5. raycon and lindacon

    GOP television spot:

    Video of the Statue of Liberty followed by shots of obvious immigrants from many countries.  Perhaps in celebration of American traditions like the 4th of July and Thanksgiving.

    Announcers voice over:  “Welcome to America.  You came here seeking the American dream of freedom for your family to live safely and live in prosperity.  You came to enjoy our economic opportunities and even to achieve your dream of great success.  You will even have the opportunity to fail, and learn that we Americans can recover from our failures and become successful in the future.  When you become citizens you will earn the privilege of voting for our leaders.  Some of you will even become our leaders over time.  But you will start your journey with a decision.  Now that you are here you are hearing voices describing different visions for America.  You will be deciding the future of America now by joining your hopes to one of those visions.

    “The members of the Republican Party want you to know that you are welcome in our country.  We want you to be one of us by enjoying the promise of liberty, safety, prosperity and hard work.  Welcome to America.”

  6. BlueAnt

    Hey, if illegal immigration is history, there’s no problem with putting up a 2000 miles long wall on the southern border.  No one left to get hurt.  And since it’s a huge government construction spending program, it’s even a form of Keynesian stimulus!

    Win/win, right?  Democrats on board yet?  Anyone?

    Seriously though, here is the real test on this matter:  once every politico stops talking about “the Hispanic vote”, or “Hispanic issues”, I will believe that the “problem” has gone away.  In the very same podcast, Mike Murphy and the gang discussed the need to go after Hispanic voters.  This tells me they don’t believe illegal immigration has ceased to be an issue, even as they explicitly say it has stopped.

  7. Peter Robinson
    C

    Thanks for this, Mark.  I’m always happy to be emended by a man of goodwill, who’s an old, old friend–and happens to know exactly what he’s talking about.

  8. Chris Deleon

    Illegal immigration needs to stop.  I blame lack of enforcement more than I blame the immigrants themselves.

    Legal immigration needs to be lower, to give time for those already here to assimilate.  We had a historically high period of immigration about 100 years ago, but we had a historically low period following that for about a generation.  This is why we were able to assimilate that large wave fairly well.

    Republicans need to reach out to immigrant communities precisely in order to help them with the assimilation process and introduce them to American ways, and help them to see beyond the identity politics.

    When we cede immigrant communities to the Democrats, we let them convince the immigrants that it’s OK to segregate, not assimilate; it’s OK to engage in identity politics, and those Republicans are evil people who hate you because of the color of your skin.

  9. Chris Deleon

    While we’re on the topic of immigration, it always struck me as ironic that we have American churches go on short-term “mission trips” to Mexico to build houses for Mexican families in need, while the Mexicans come across the border to build our houses here.

    Nothing wrong with either one (the latter if they come legally, of course).

    However, it does seem ironic and it says a lot about the two societies, both good and not.  For one, we seem to be losing the ability or willingness to do manual labor such as to build houses for ourselves.  That is not good.  On the other hand, our society really has organized itself in such a way that our relative prosperity creates this situation.

    Sorry for the side track conversation.

  10. Mark Krikorian
    C

    Blueant and chris deleon raise an important point — there is no such thing as “hispanic”. There’s Mexican americans, cuban americans and so on — GOP shouldn’t buy into the left’s balkanization, but instead promote (to everyone, including immigrants) a shared *American* identity, ssomething too many republican pols shy away from for fear of being called racist. (I’d write more but my computer stopped computing and I’m using my awkward phone.)

  11. Mark Krikorian
    C

    Peter: I’m glad you took my dissent in the spirit it was intended. I actually love Ricochet and am glad to have posted my first contribution.

  12. Scott R

    There’s an article in TWS that addresses the slow-down in immigration (the article on ”singletons”). It suggests that long-term demography trends in Mexico have as much to do with the decreased pace as the economy; that is, the birthrate in Mexico is slowing so dramatically that its labor surplus is dissipating.

    It also noted the plummet in the birthrate of Hispanics already here, suggesting that previous projections of the number of  Hispanics in America by 2050 (or whatever) were almost certainly oversold.

    At any rate, it’s pretty clear we need a pause in the wave. A period of assimilation, of stabilization, of “cooling off” is overdue. That’s the cautious, Burkeian thing to do, it seems to me.

    And one can hold that position without having an anti-immigrant bone in his body. 

  13. Z in MT

    In my mind, and I think most Americans minds, there is a difference between legal and illegal immigration.  Many Americans don’t like the idea that the law isn’t being followed both by the person who comes here illegally and by the person or corporation that employs them.  I think there can be some real flexibility in our legal immigration system, but we have to stop the rampant disregard for the law by employers who hire illegals. 

    A good step would be to raid a Swift meat packing plant or a KB Homes project, then arrest and imprison the CEO of Swift or KB for violation of federal employment laws.  If CEO’s and businessmen thought they could actually be imprisoned for employing illegals it would pretty much end the practice.

  14. Douglas
    Mark Krikorian: Peter: I’m glad you took my dissent in the spirit it was intended. I actually love Ricochet and am glad to have posted my first contribution. · December 14, 2012 at 9:25pm

    Don’t be a stranger, Mark. You need to post here more often. I know you’re busy otherwise, but a reasoned, principled position on limiting immigration as a whole is going to blow a lot of headgaskets among the more Libertarian of the members here. Frankly, I look forward to that.