An Evasive Columnist
Ross Douthat’s recent column on immigration is somewhat, uh, elusive, although to the ideal Ross Douthat reader (who probably resembles, uh, Ross Douthat), it’s perfectly clear. So maybe I can translate it or at least ask it questions so that it’s less elusive for those of us who may otherwise be denied entrance to a Ross Douthat column because we lack Ross Douthat proficiency.
The last time Gallup asked Americans if they thought immigration to the United States should increase or decrease, 35 percent chose a decrease, 24 percent an increase, and 38 percent preferred the present rate. Support for increasing immigration has been rising for a decade, but it remains relatively low. To the extent that there is a middle-ground position, it is for something like the status quo.
From polling like this you would imagine that recent immigration reform efforts would have worked in that middle space, trying to tweak the mix of new arrivals without increasing the immigration rate.
Logical enough on its own terms, although if a plurality prefers the present rate of immigration, and a successful reform effort would tweak the mix of immigrants, whom exactly should one want to tweak?
But instead, most recent attempts at a “comprehensive” bill have sought not only amnesty for illegal immigrants, but an increase in low-skilled immigration, above the already brisk post-1960s pace.
Are both the amnesty, which 88 percent of Americans don’t reject outright, and the increase supposed to be bad things, or just the increase? The math is becoming fuzzy here—62 percent of Americans think immigration should either stay the same or increase, and yet 88 percent of Americans are open to the idea of amnesty for undocumented immigrants who are already here. It’s almost as if Americans become more accepting of immigrants once they actually know them on a personal level.
Bipartisan bills dramatically at odds with the shape of public opinion are generally bad for both parties. And sure enough, the attempts at immigration reform under George W. Bush and Barack Obama helped give us both a much-reduced Democratic Party and a G.O.P. helmed by Donald Trump.
Yes, surely Obama’s 2012 support for DACA is why the Democratic candidate received 65,915,795 popular votes in 2012 but only 65,844,610 popular votes in 2016 running against a rabidly anti-immigration candidate who won 2,864,974 fewer votes (all vote totals excluding undocumented immigrants themselves, who can’t).
They also helped give us the new reform proposal authored by Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia and endorsed by the president. The Cotton-Perdue bill is written for the 35 percent of Americans who want less immigration, which it achieves by creating a points-based system for applications (with points for English proficiency, education, a good job offer, and so on), limiting family-based migration, and cutting the number of legal immigrants we take by roughly half.
I don’t know that the bill was actually written for the 35 percent of Americans who want immigration to decrease (although crowdsourcing legislation would be interesting); however, they may support this bill limiting family-based migration coauthored by the same pro-life, pro-family senator who previously voted to deny $300 million in federal funding to a children’s hospital in his own state. (To be fair, he also voted against Hurricane Sandy relief.)
The case for such cuts runs as follows. We are nearing our historical peak for the foreign-born share of the population, assimilation looks slower than for prior cohorts and may be stalling, growing diversity may be increasing social distrust, and our partisan landscape is increasingly shaped by ethnic patronage and white-identity politics.
Assimilation looks slower when you look at economic assimilation, which the NAS report did. Relative wage growth is down from the 1960s, the peak of the Golden Era of High Taxation (© Thomas Piketty), as is English acquisition. But this is true for all low wage earners, as real wages have been flat since 1973; the poorer immigrants are, the more likely they will be residentially segregated, decreasing their opportunities to integrate economically, linguistically, and in general.
And maybe it’s me, but wouldn’t white-identity politics (previously known as white supremacy, and the oldest historical form of ethnic patronage) create the need for non-white, non-Anglo ethnic patronage?
An immigration slowdown would make assimilation somewhat easier and give American politics time to adjust to the country’s transformation.
Yes, the strategy of allowing white Southerners time to adjust to the concept that black Southerners wanted freedom to vote, attend schools that had books and electricity, and work for a living wage in the 1950s was vastly preferable to federal government intervention. The moral of the civil rights movement, after all, is that white supremacy has a time limit, and once that time is up, whites will suddenly embrace change with open arms and open borders. That’s how it always works.
It would also modestly curb the growth of inequality, reduce some strain on social programs, and offer a slight wage boost to less-educated natives, who are presently in dire socioeconomic straits.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could less modestly curb the growth of inequality, fund social programs, and directly boost the wages of less-educated Americans who are already here? Something like, I don’t know, adding more tax brackets and increasing the top marginal tax rate even to the Reagan era rate of 50%? But wait, deficit-financed tax cuts for the next ten years would be a much better answer. We should Just. Cut. Taxes. I think even Senator Purdue can support this modest proposal.
But of course there are counterarguments. Immigration may hurt the wages of high school dropouts,
See above with regard to “things that could help the wages of high school dropouts.” (Hint: you could start by just paying them more, or raising the minimum wage, which one of the authors of this bill kinda sorta supports while the other opposes it.)
but it offers modest economic benefits to most natives, and obvious benefits to the immigrants themselves. And some of the trends that worry immigration skeptics have improved over the last decade. Illegal immigration from Mexico and points south has slowed substantially since the mid-2000s. The future of immigration looks more Asian than Latin American.
I’m beginning to figure out what “tweaking the mix” means.
Conservative fears of a disappearing southern border or an ever-expanding Spanish-speaking underclass should be tempered somewhat by these shifts.
Amazing that more immigration from countries that don’t speak Spanish contributes somewhat to white, I mean, conservative fears of being overwhelmed by The Horde.
Moreover, as writers like Robert VerBruggen of National Review and Lyman Stone at The Federalist have pointed out, you can address many of the costs of mass immigration by embracing the new bill’s points system without also making its steep cuts.
That’s because a system that focused more on skills and education and job prospects would automatically put less pressure on wages at the bottom. It would increase immigration’s economic benefits, and reduce its fiscal costs. And it would presumably bring in a more diverse pool of migrants, making balkanization and self-segregation less likely.
Wealthy immigrants from wealthy countries: tweaking the mix to the max!
So that’s probably the immigration compromise we’re waiting for: a version of the Cotton-Perdue points system, the shift to high-skilled recruitment, that keeps the overall immigration rate close to where it is today.
But without increasing it, because only 24 percent of Americans etc. etc., so we would need to tweak down. No tweaking up!
But there are two obvious impediments.
The fact that a candidate who strongly supported DACA, wanted to expand the ACA to cover all families regardless of immigration status, and provide federal support for naturalization and integration won 2.9 million more votes than the candidate who didn’t, and….I’m stuck on the second impediment.
The first problem is that the Cotton-Perdue proposal is associated with a president whose ascent was darkened by race-baiting, and whose ability to broker any deal is seriously in doubt.
Right, that would be a problem. Also, it’s a shame that we can’t have an honest and open discussion about eugenics because it is associated with the Holocaust.
By making immigration central to his campaign, Trump helped make this bill possible. But his campaign rhetoric also makes it more polarizing than its substance deserves, and his incompetence makes its legislative prospects dim.
Translation: By making race-baiting and Latino- and Muslim-bashing central to his campaign, Trump helped make yesterday’s anti-immigration right-wingers look moderate. But by not being subtle about it, his candor makes it more difficult for their proposals to be taken at face value.
The second problem is that mainstream liberalism has gone a little bit insane on immigration, digging into a position that any restrictions are ipso facto racist, and any policy that doesn’t take us closer to open borders is illegitimate and un-American.
True, being opposed to open borders is clearly American—after all, a previous century’s totally non-racist immigration restrictions even have their own federal government website (which is no longer being maintained—fake news!).
That’s how we got the strange spectacle of CNN’s Jim Acosta, ostensibly a nonpartisan reporter, hectoring the White House’s Stephen Miller last week with the claim that Emma Lazarus’s poem about the “huddled masses” means that the U.S. cannot be self-interested in screening new arrivals.
It was a telling moment, as was Acosta’s self-righteousness afterward. Liberalism used to recognize the complexities of immigration; now it sees only a borderless utopia waiting, and miscreants and racists standing in the way.
It’s outrageous to imply that Stephen Miller is a racist miscreant.
As long as these problems persist — a right marred by bigotry, a liberalism maddened by utopianism — it is hard to imagine a reasonable deal.
Utopianism is the new antiracism. I mean, antibigotry. It’s even comparable to bigotry, to the extent that they are both obsessed with bigotry (although one supports it and the other maddeningly opposes it).
But as long as a deal eludes us, the chaotic system we have is well designed to make both derangements that much more powerful, both problems that much worse.
Between bigotry and utopian antiracist antibigotry, the odds of reaching any compromise and moving forward are low. Clearly, we need someone for whom deals are an art form.