The GOP’s Immigration Problem

Nick Gillespie nicely sums up the defects in Republican “thinking” when it comes to immigration and immigration policy:

The simple fact, one that Republicans should embrace, is that governments don’t really control aggregate immigration flows any more than they control aggregate consumer demand. Immigration is the result of far larger forces than even totalitarian governments can control, including economic opportunity in the destination country and material conditions in the home country. The Great Depression, World War II, and the reconstruction of post-war Europe ended immigration flows from Western and Southern Europe far more effectively than racist national-origins laws passed by Congress in the 1920s. Similarly, immigration between Mexico and the United States waxes and wanes depending on large macro forces that neither country’s government  can really dictate.

Which isn’t to say that government policy has no affect on immigration. It’s just that it’s virtually impossible to predict or anticipate. Hence, immigration scholars say that the tightening of border security in the wake of the 1986 and 1996 immigration reforms didn’t stop Mexicans from entering the U.S. as much as it keeps them from returning. “The perverse effect has been to dramatically lower return migration out of the country,” Princeton’s Douglas S. Massey, co-director of the Mexican Migration Project, a longitudinal survey of more than 18,000 migrants, told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carolyn Lochhead in 2006. “We’ve transformed what was before 1986 a circular flow of workers into an increasingly settled population of families. We have actually accelerated the rate of undocumented population growth in the United States and shifted it from a less costly population of male workers into a much more costly population of families.”

But don’t worry, this time the feds will get everything right! Especially by creating an even-more militarized border and internal-checkpoint system to clampdown on workers who do jobs nobody else will take. And with an E-Verify program that is not only riddled with errors that will capture “real” Americans along with “fake” Americans (who nonetheless pay income, sales, and FICA taxes in large amounts) but will also transform employers into agents of a national security state. That’s a great limited-government outcome, isn’t it?

Rather than fixating on immigration as pressing national issue – Gallup finds that a whopping 3 percent of Americans identify “Immigration/Illegal Aliens” as “the most important problem facing this country today” – Republicans would do far better to tout the clear economic and civil-liberties benefits of expanded immigration and guest-worker policies. The Cato Institute, for instance, has found that immigration reform along the lines of recent Senate proposals would add $1.5 trillion to GDP over a decade.

As important, such reforms would allow immigration officers to cast a smaller net and spend their time weeding out criminals rather than trying to account for all workers at all times. And if the GOP is actually interested in wooing Hispanic voters and moderate independents, it would do well to emulate the attitudes and policies toward immigrants of Texas pols such as former President George W. Bush and Gov. Rick Perry, who managed to pull 40 percent or more of Latino voters in state and national elections.

I don’t know how many more elections have to be lost, and how much more the economy has to suffer in order for Republicans to conclude that perhaps–just perhaps–a change in thinking on immigration policy might be needed in order to restore their political fortunes, and in order to at least help restore American economic fortunes. But Republicans seem eager to find out; thus the unwillingness to steer away from a stance on immigration that is both politically flawed and economically disastrous.

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