A great debate is raging among conservatives these days. One camp argues the gang of eight immigration reform is amnesty, contrary to conservative principles, amnesty encourages more illegal immigration, and immigrants vote Democrat.
The other camp, led by Senator Marco Rubio and Grover Norquist, argues our legal immigration system has been broken for decades, and we effectively have de facto amnesty because it’s simply not practical, humane, nor economically wise to deport 11 million. They believe our present immigration system, with its arbitrary quotas and massive bureaucracy is inconsistent with conservative free market principles. They reject the notion that immigrants invariably vote Democrat, and see opportunity to win more New American votes, as proven by Abraham Lincoln, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and recently by Canada’s Conservative Party.
A May 2011 poll by Pew Research found “staunch conservatives” split 49%/49%. Three Republican groupings, “staunch conservatives”, “main street Republicans”, and “libertarians” split roughly 60/40% in favor of immigration reform including a path to citizenship.A recent poll found 60% of Republicans support immigration reform, and after details of the gang of eight immigration reform plan were explained, support rose to 75% with just 10% strongly opposed. The perception fostered in the mainstream news media for years is that Republicans are monolithic and opposed to immigration reform, but clearly Republicans have been and still are divided. Before November, Republicans who were shrill about immigration were often quoted in the media, while most Republican leaders tended to avoid the topic or only talk about immigration enforcement, which is less divisive. Since the November election debacle, pro-reform Republicans are more vocal, pushing back against the shrill minority who for years have berated immigrants.
Grover Norquist has been staunchly pro-immigration reform for many years. He participated in a series of immigration reform conferences during 2012. Only the last conference, just weeks after the election, garnered any media attention at all, while Mitt Romney’s self-deportation rhetoric garnered constant media coverage. Most media coverage of conservatives who support immigration reform is recent.
Immigration Before the Progressive Era
Prior to the progressive era, American had no immigration quotas and a few common-sense restrictions, such as barring criminals, prostitutes, paupers, etc.
America’s first unauthorized immigrants were African slaves, imported after Congress banned the importation of slaves in 1808. In the Southern states slavery was still legal, and more slaves needed, and so the importation continued despite the ban.
Later, many Irish immigrants bypassed legal ports of entry because they were simply too impoverished to pay the head tax. The federal government did not have immigration inspectors until 1890, though some states had immigration inspectors. Very few immigrants who arrived in America were turned away. Those who chide unauthorized immigrants with the claim their grandparents came legally would do well to compare today’s immigration laws with the past; the laws are vastly different now.
Immigration as a Tool of Progressive Social Engineering
Prior to the first quotas, Ellis Island admitted 98% of immigrants who arrived. There were no immigrant visas; those who wanted to immigrate simply arrived, and unless they were in an excluded class (i.e. criminal, prostitute, sick, etc.) they were admitted.
In 1921 and 1924 strict per-nation quotas were imposed, designed to bar non-Europeans altogether, and severely restrict immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe. Early modern progressives like Margaret Sanger, Madison Grant, and Harry Laughlin argued Southern and Eastern Europeans were genetically inferior and lowered the intelligence of America’s people”, would never assimilate, came seeking charity, increased crime rates, etc, many of the same arguments we hear today.
Harry Laughlin infamously testified in Congress that 82% of Jewish immigrants were feeble minded.” Madison Grant wrote the book “The Passing of the Great Race, or the Racial Basis of European History” (read here), which argued “Nordics” were superior, and greatly inflamed American public opinion against immigration. Hitler called Grant’s book his “Bible” and ordered it translated and published in Nazi Germany, and Nuremberg war crimes defendant Karl Brandt referred to Grant’s book. Not surprisingly Hitler praised the 1924 National Origins Act.
“…’human weeds,’ ‘reckless breeders,’ ‘spawning… human beings who never should have been born.”
Later, Laughlin founded the Pioneer Fund, which later financed today’s leading anti-any-immigrant organizations with millions, and still funds academic “research” about “differences” between the races. Numerous Pioneer funded studies were referenced in the book “The Bell Curve“, which insinuates blacks have lower intelligence levels than whites for genetic reasons. The book has been widely debunked by other researchers, but the ideology keeps cropping up, most recently among the anti-any-immigrant lobby headed by FAIR, NumbersUSA, and the Center for Immigration Studies. FAIR grew with the help of millions in funding from the Pioneer Fund.
John Tanton, founder of the modern day anti-any-immigrant movement is very much like Madison Grant, except Tanton’s bigotry is much more subdued, since most modern day Americans won’t listen to bigots. Like Madison Grant, John Tanton is a liberal, conservationist, eugenics activist, and has held leadership positions in Planned Parenthood, Zero Population Growth, etc. Most of the arguments Tanton and his disciples use to argue against immigration and for population reduction are identical to those of his ideological great-grandfathers Madison Grant, Harry Laughlin, Margaret Sanger, and Paul Ehrlich (author of The Population Bomb).
Is the Gang of Eight Immigration Reform Amnesty?
Those who constantly throw out the term “amnesty” in describing the gang of eight immigration reform would do well to consult Webster’s dictionary:
amnesty: the act of an authority (as a government) by which pardon is granted to a large group of individuals.
pardon: the excusing of an offense without exacting a penalty.
With $2,000 in fines and a ten year wait to even apply for permanent resident status, clearly a stiff penalty is exacted, in addition to a tough set of requirements such as proof of payment of taxes, background check, etc. The 1986 immigration reform clearly was amnesty, as no fine or wait time was required. Those who met the requirements were simply granted permanent resident status.
Is “Amnesty” a Magnet for More Illegal Behavior?
Opponents of the gang of eight immigration reform argue amnesty is a magnet for more illegal immigration, and point to the increase in illegal immigration after 1986 as evidence that amnesty is a magnet.
Historically, what has been America’s experience with mass amnesty? Did past amnesties lead to more illegal behavior?
America’s first mass amnesty was Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation granting amnesty to confederates who would swear a loyalty oath to the United States. Lincoln didn’t live to see the end of the civil war, but President Andrew Johnson honored Lincoln’s amnesty, though he added exclusions, for example refusing amnesty to top confederate leaders. How many civil wars have we experienced since 1865? Zero!
If the U.S. had made a serious effort to prosecute confederates for treason during time of war, we could probably have denuded a number of forests building gallows for hanging hundreds of thousands. However, the nation saw the need to move on after a bloody civil war, and virtually all confederates were granted amnesty in exchange for regaining their loyalty to the U.S.
America’s first immigration mass amnesty came in the late 1920s. Early modern progressives saw immigration laws as a tool for social engineering. Immigrants from various nations were barred, starting with the Chinese in 1882.
In the early 20th century, 200,000 Italians immigrated to the U.S. each year, but in 1924 Italy’s immigration quota was set at under 4,000, a 98% reduction! Similar reductions were imposed on Russia and other Eastern and Southern European nations. Not surprisingly, within a few years the U.S. had several million unauthorized immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe, who were “inspected” and allowed to stay. Then, as today, it was considered impractical to deport so many. Recently the New York Times opined that Hispanics are the New Italians, drawing parallels with 20th century immigration.
Did the late 1920s immigration amnesty lead to more illegal immigration? Clearly not, because the great depression soon followed and the economic forces that led so many to immigrate illegally vanished.
Critics of immigration reform argue the 1986 amnesty served as a magnet to more illegal immigration, but was this really the case? In statistics, there’s a term “correlation is not necessarily causation.” A doctor once pointed out in an op-ed the correlation between pantyhose usage and lung disease, but pantyhose clearly doesn’t cause lung disease!
There has indeed been more illegal immigration after 1986, but a review of the inflows of unauthorized immigrants reveals that inflows followed to the state of the economy, not policy. During the late 1990s illegal immigration inflows surged, while in recent years net illegal immigration from Mexico has dropped to zero, as the U.S. experienced a jobless recovery while Mexico’s economy has been strong, and Mexican birth rates have declined. AFTER a 1996 law that toughened immigration enforcement, there was a surge in illegal immigration. Clearly illegal immigration inflows have much more to do with economics than policy!
Is Today’s Immigration Policy “Conservative” or “Progressive”?
The quota concept originated with early modern progressives, who were huge believers in racial eugenics and social Darwinism. The infamous Dillingham Commission (1907-1910) authorized by Congress devoted entire volumes of their report to immigrants as charity seekers, criminals, and predicted immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe would never assimilate and become a vast underclass. Children of immigrants were often “retarded” according to the Dillingham Commission.
I have read through several volumes of the Dillingham Commission Report, and one thing stands out: Southern and Eastern Europeans were smeared in the same manner as Hispanic immigrants are today. A vast permanent underclass was predicted by early modern progressives, but for some reason I’m not able to find a vast underclass of Southern and Eastern European descendants in America today, nor am I able to locate a large population of feeble minded Jews as predicted by 1924 National Origins Act architect Harry Laughlin. In fact, Jews are among the most successful demographics.
The blatantly racist per nation immigration quotas and bars to non-European immigration were eliminated in 1965, but the quota concept remains with us to this day, for both immigrants and guest workers.
Do quotas make sense? I think not! Immigration is driven by economics, and inflows should be driven by labor markets, not arbitrary quotas influenced by special interest groups (i.e. big labor). Critics of immigration reform point to America’s immigrant quota as largest in the world. However, as a percentage of population U.S. immigration inflows are #22 of 34 OECD nations. Canada admits 2-1/2 times as many immigrants; Switzerland and Germany five times as many, and tiny Luxembourg ten times as many immigrants, as a percentage of population. For some strange reason our demise as a nation is predicted if we accept more immigrants, but 21 other nations already accept more immigrants and don’t experience the dire consequences predicted for America.
Similar arguments were made by slavery proponents, that freeing the slaves would bankrupt the U.S. We freed the slaves and paid for a long civil war, but didn’t go bankrupt in the process.
Conservative Principles in Immigration Reform
Conservatives believe in limited government in free markets and limited government, but are current immigration policies consistent with conservative principles? I say emphatically not! The main features of today’s immigration policy are arbitrary quotas with no basis in free market capitalism, with massive government bureaucracies telling employers how many immigrants they can hire, how to recruit them, and even how much to pay. Some employers, particularly farmers, must deal with several big bureaucracies, with no assurance their harvesters arrive in time for harvest, and big fines for honest paperwork mistakes. Not surprisingly, farmers bitterly complain how difficult the system is to use, and less than 10% of farm ‘guest workers’ have visas.
Conservatives also believe in the ‘rule of law’ and conservatives are against amnesty, as amnesty by itself is a temporary solution. As a conservative, I am opposed to amnesty in and of itself, as that doesn’t address the underlying problem. In 1986 Congress passed immigration amnesty with some enforcement provisions which proved largely ineffective. Congress failed to follow up for many years on border security, and never followed up on guest workers. In effect, in 1986 Congress ‘kicked the can down the road’, making three million immigrants legal, without addressing the root causes of the problem.
Current immigration and guest worker quotas have no rationale in economic need. Historically whenever economic demand for immigrants and guest worker labor exceeds quotas, the result has always been widespread illegal immigration. This happened in the 1929s, again in the 1950s when a resurgent post war economy required more guest workers than the quota. We’ve often experienced illegal immigration since the braceros program was eliminated during the 1960s at the behest of big labor unions. Big labor continues to be a major obstacle to guest worker programs. We presently have 9-9.5 ‘guest workers’ of which 1.8 million have a work authorized visa. The balance would no doubt be happy to obtain a visa if those were available to them, but they’re not.
Immigration Reform and the Rule of Law
As a conservative, I support the ‘rule of law’, but I also recognize that enforcement alone cannot turn bad policy into good policy. If we lowered superhighway speed limits to 20 MPH to conserve gasoline we’d surely have enforcement problems! Then would we pour massive enforcement resources to stop speeding, or step back and recognize that policy and enforcement are intertwined, and sensible policies result in manageable enforcement? Or would we take an ‘enforcement first’ stance and massively enforce a 20 MPH speed limit until everyone stops speeding, before setting rational speed limits?
When guest worker visas are limited by arbitrary quotas to less than 20% of demand, we should not be surprised that many come here illegally seeking work. Obviously we’d like for everyone to enter the U.S. through the front door, but when that door has been broken for decades we should not be surprised that our ‘hired help’ enters through the back door or windows. It’s obvious that the best way to divert migrant workers from illegal channels to legal channels is with sensible guest worker programs.
It’s Time to Pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform
I’m not happy with all aspects of the gang of eight immigration reform. I’d rather see us get rid of quotas, perhaps implementing a tariff on guest worker wages payable by employers, to tile the table in favor of hiring Americans workers first. It’s easy to predict future waves of illegal immigration, when demand exceeds quota and Congress again fails to act, under pressure from big labor. Big labor has already been hard at work undermining guest worker reforms, for example limiting the number of guest worker visas in the construction industry. However, once housing rebounds, and the need for guest workers exceed quotas, we can expect unauthorized immigrants to fill that gap.
I’m also not keen about e-verify. The federal government has been trying to make e-verify work since 1996. E-Verify is a deeply flawed system. Unauthorized immigrants can readily circumvent e-verify by using a real person’s name and social security, with fake ID. As long as the name and social security number match, most will pass e-verify. U.S. citizens who are unlucky enough to be the subject of errors in government databases, and their employers, can expect to spend weeks dealing with mammoth bureaucracies to get errors fixed!
The gang of eight immigration reform plan calls for increased use of e-verify, and buried within the bill are provisions to incorporate biometrics into e-verify. Biometrics will make it much more difficult to circumvent e-verify, but many Americans will balk at providing biometric information such as fingerprints, DNA, etc., viewing it as the invasion of privacy it is. Another major annoyance will be exit controls for everyone leaving the country. Without capturing information about those leaving the U.S., the entry/exit tracking for visa overstayers cannot work. However, this will impose delays on all travelers exiting the U.S.
However, all-in-all, the gang of eight immigration reform plan would be a big improvement over the present situation. Eliminating quotas is not likely as long as progressives and their big labor backers are wedded to the notion of quotas, especially for guest workers. Guest worker programs would be streamlined, and guest worker visas would become portable. It may also be easier for Congress to act in the future with the most contentious issue – legalization – behind us. We should all back the gang of eight immigration reform plan, while also writing our elected representatives with suggestions for improvement.
Bob Quasius is the founder and president of Cafe Con Leche Republicans.