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On The Consequences of Immigration

Eugene Volokh:

I sometimes pose for my liberal friends a stylized thought experiment. Say that they live in a country of 3 million people (the size of New Zealand) where 55% of the citizens are pro-choice and 45% are pro-life (1.65 million vs. 1.35 million). Now the country is facing an influx of 1 million devoutly Catholic immigrants, who are 90% pro-life. If these immigrants are let in and become citizens, the balance will flip to 2.25 million pro-life to 1.75 million pro-choice (56% to 44% pro-choice); and what my friends might see as their fundamental human right to abortion may well vanish, perfectly peacefully and democratically.

It’s unlikely that any constitutional protection will stand in the way: Even constitutions can be amended, and new judges can be appointed. Nor can one rely on “education” or “assimilation” — what if the immigrants simply conclude that their views on abortion are just better than the domestic majority’s? I think many of the current residents may rightly say “We have nothing against Catholics; but we don’t want our rights changed by the arrival of people who have a different perspective on the world than we do.”

Letting in immigrants means letting in your future rulers. It may be selfish to worry about that, but it’s foolish not to. For America today, that’s actually not that much of a concern, because we’re a huge nation whose culture is already so mixed (for which I’m grateful) that even millions of immigrants won’t affect it all that greatly, at least for quite a while. But for many smaller and more homogeneous countries, extra immigration means a fundamental change in what the country is all about, and perhaps what the citizens’ lives and liberties will be like. And even for America, the influx of millions of new citizens — both the potentially legalized current illegal immigrants and the many others who are likely to come in the wake of the legalization — can affect the society and the political system in considerable ways. It seems to me eminently sensible to be concerned about the illegal immigrants who may well change (in some measure) your country even if your ancestors were themselves illegal immigrants who changed the country as it once was.

Of course, for many on the pro-immigration left, the prospect of such political change (and the reason that they are prepared to overlook the damaging impact of mass immigration on employment and wages) is a feature, not a bug.

As for those chamber of commerce types who argue for mass immigration on what is euphemistically known as competitive grounds (in other words, keeping wages down), they have long since lost sight of the fact that a nation is a nation and not just a unit of production. They also don’t have much interest in the longer term. A quick buck now, that’s what counts.  

  1. Whiskey Sam

    Excellent point, Andrew.  Too much of the pro-immigration argument tends to focus on lowering unit labor costs and ignores that there are cultural consequences in allowing in waves of people who fundamentally disagree with our nation on what government is for.  

  2. Douglas

    Why would they fear any immigration? They’ve seen that our popular culture and entitlement mentality can subvert any group of people. The “highly religious” Hispanics flooding in are also highly unmarried and yet highly childbearing, highly “socially conservative”, and yet highly addicted to drugs, highly prone to robbery and theft and rape, and highly likely to steal your social security number. 

    Liberals know that Hollywood and a government check will be highly effective in making new liberals.

  3. SpinozaCarWash

    Every nation has a stake in preserving its constitutive identity.  It could be argued that generally shared idea of what it means to be a citizen of X is  the fundamental criterion of a nation state.

    When I was in grade school, a mere 20 years ago, we were taught to cherish the melting pot.  Is that metaphor still alive in public schools?

  4. Indaba

    It is shocking to visit America and walk around New York, take the subway and visit Times Square and see the people. They do not look anything like the people I see on TV, CNN, or in Hollywood movies. Why is that?

    Seriously though, does anyone in the immigration department take the subway? They might get a wake up.

  5. Freesmith

    “We should be in the business of protecting cherished institutions and our cultural heritage. Otherwise what, I ask, is a Conservative Party for?”

    (Edward Leigh, MP Lincolnshire quoted on DerbRadio 3 times in the February 9 broadcast.)

  6. Astonishing

    The combination of appeals to job protectionism (which ultimately is as self-destructive as goods protectionism) and xenophobia has, in the past, succeeded only to make more thoughtful conservatives almost irrelevant to the resolution of immigration issues. If you succeed in undermining Rubio, will you like Obama’s version of immigration reform better?

  7. Freesmith
    Astonishing: The combination of appeals to job protectionism (which ultimately is as self-destructive as goods protectionism) and xenophobia has, in the past, succeeded only to make more thoughtful conservatives almost irrelevant to the resolution of immigration issues. If you succeed in undermining Rubio, will you like Obama’s version of immigration reform better? · 0 minutes ago

    As if those are the only possible choices.

  8. Blame The Innocent
    Astonishing: The combination of appeals to job protectionism (which ultimately is as self-destructive as goods protectionism) and xenophobia has, in the past, succeeded only to make more thoughtful conservatives almost irrelevant to the resolution of immigration issues. If you succeed in undermining Rubio, will you like Obama’s version of immigration reform better? · 4 hours ago

    None of the above.  How about a Congress that can actually pass coherent laws of naturalization or a society confident enough to demand that new arrivals adapt to the conditions of the new country rather than expecting that the country accommodate the demands of the new arrivals?

  9. Howellis

    This thought experiment serves to focus the mind on the heart of the immigration issue, but sadly it won’t serve to change many minds.  As Mr. Stuttaford says, to liberals the effects of mass immigration are completely positive.

  10. RushBabe49

    I’m thinking that the situation today in Sweden is a good example.  They have let in Muslims, whose culture is rapidly displacing whatever culture the Swedes had.  Entire cities are majority-Muslim, and the Swedish populations are beginning to see that this might not be so good for their country.

  11. Astonishing
    Freesmith

    Astonishing: The combination of appeals to job protectionism (which ultimately is as self-destructive as goods protectionism) and xenophobia has, in the past, succeeded only to make more thoughtful conservatives almost irrelevant to the resolution of immigration issues. If you succeed in undermining Rubio, will you like Obama’s version of immigration reform better?

    As if those are the only possible choices. ·

    Those are, broadly, the realistic choices, those choices or a continuation of the current chaos.

    Not so long ago there were better possibilities, but the anti-immigrationists destroyed those possibilities, and therewith the GOP’s chances against Obama and for a couple of more decades as well.

    The final irony might be that, after a few more years of the Obama economy, it might be us who will be breaking into their country,  where (unlike here) most of the populace has some skill useful or necessary for basic survival (e.g., carpentry, gardening).

  12. Astonishing
    Blame The Innocent

    Astonishing: The combination of appeals to job protectionism (which ultimately is as self-destructive as goods protectionism) and xenophobia has, in the past, succeeded only to make more thoughtful conservatives almost irrelevant to the resolution of immigration issues. If you succeed in undermining Rubio, will you like Obama’s version of immigration reform better?

     . . .  How about a Congress that can actually pass coherent laws of naturalization  . . .

    Politics is the art of the possible, not the art of the wishable.

    (If laws were too coherent, we wouldn’t need lawyers.)

  13. Freesmith

    Our friend Astonishing has clearly accepted the premises of the Democrat Party in his analysis of the issue of America’s borders. His rhetoric mirrors theirs, even down to the pejoratives that he hurls.

    Look! A Ricochetti who calls Republican nationalists xenophobes and who forgets the adjective “illegal” when he decries “anti-immigrationists.” Dick Durbin would be so proud.

    I expect we’ll soon hear paeans to Emma Lazarus and accusations that conservatives only want to pull the ladder up behind them.

    Here’s a word I wager you won’t hear Astonishing say, other than to gainsay it – Assimilation.

    He might want to consider a period in American history that exhibited great social peace, in spite of world-wide unrest – the period from 1924 to 1965. That was the period following the end of the era of immigration (1924) up to Ted Kennedy’s Immigration Reform Bill of 1965.

    Maybe it wasn’t a coincidence.