Yesterday, President Obama delivered a speech calling for immigration reform. This is needed, of course — but as always — the devil is in the details.
Sadly, in recent years, it has become impossible to have an adult discussion on the topic. The debate is often muddied by peripheral concerns having little to do with policy. For example, some liberals favor increased immigration — not because they believe it will make America stronger — but because they assume this will benefit them politically. Conversely, some conservatives oppose immigration for the same reason.
Putting aside the immediate impact immigration might have on electoral politics, there are some solid reasons why conservatives ought to favor increased legal immigration. Here are five:
1. China: As I recently noted, one reason China will not overtake America is because their one-child-per-family law created a demographic time bomb. There simply won’t be enough young Chinese workers to support the increasing population of aging Chinese. Population, of course, is key for a thriving nation — both economically and militarily. Anyone who doubts this should consider how France’s low birth rate — coupled with their bloody losses in World War I — effectively sealed their decline as a world power. Thanks in large part to Latino immigration, America will likely remain a much younger nation than China. (The catch is that young Americans must be part of the tax-paying system in order for their to be a benefit.)
2. Defending Christendom: Based on media reports and observation, some conservatives seem worried about the possible rise of sharia law in America (I do not share this concern, but stick with me here). Others simply worry about preserving Western or Christian civilization. Before dismissing the influx of Hispanics into America, conservatives should consider the “Islamization” of France — Europe’s largest Muslim populated nation (over 5 million). Unlike France, America’s geographical proximity favors an influx of Hispanic immigrants, thus guaranteeing that a rising Muslim population will not soon pose a demographic threat to America. (To be sure, we have our own unique challenges: There are, of course, Latino gangs — and many Hispanics come from nations where the political culture is corrupt or where socialism and “social justice” are the dominate ideologies.) Americans who fear a Muslim takeover should take comfort in knowing America’s birthrate will be supplemented by the influx of “family-values” Christians from below the border.
3. Entrepreneurship: As American Enterprise Institute (AEI) president Arthur Brooks has argued, immigration is “actually is the most entrepreneurial act, where you put the most capital at risk.” Some social scientists even go so far as to argue that Americans are genetically more entrepreneurial than citizens of other nations because those predisposed to take risks came here, while their less adventurous brethren stayed home. An even more controversial argument says that a person willing to cross the Rio Grande to obtain a better way of life might ironically be more entrepreneurial than someone willing to stand in a line and fill out the requisite bureaucratic paperwork (one can assume a nation dependent on the rule of law does not benefit by having immigrants whose first act in the nation is to defy the law). Regardless, consider this: Who is more likely to engage the free market — someone who risked their life to come here — or someone who was blessed enough to be born here?
4. The Economy: The anti-immigration movement has largely been a populist phenomenon, while some free market fiscal conservatives argue the availability of immigrant workers is vital for a thriving economy. In some ways the populist resentment is both logical and emotional: Blue collar Americans struggling to make ends meet might simply resent having to compete for jobs with highly-motivated and entrepreneurial immigrants who may work longer hours for less money. Small business owners, on the other hand, might see things differently. The Chamber of Commerce, for example, has argued in favor of comprehensive immigration reform and a guest worker program. One can easily imagine that the influx of immigrants willing to do jobs most Americans don’t want to do — for less money — might have a salutary effect on the overall economy. What is more, one can imagine deporting high-achievers such as Ph.Ds might have a negative impact on our ability to compete globally.
5. Shady Beginnings: The modern anti-immigration movement was launched by an environmentalist named Dr. John Tanton who was concerned about how increased population might impact the environment. As The New York Times recently reported, Tanton initially, “urged liberal colleagues in groups like Planned Parenthood and the Sierra Club to seek immigration restraints, only to meet blank looks and awkward silences.” It was only after leftist groups declined to adopt his positions that the environmentalist began founding his own anti-immigration groups.
As you can see, there are compelling reasons why conservatives who put principle over politics might support increased immigration. At the very least, once political considerations are put aside, it becomes a debatable “adult” conversation to have. This, of course, does not mean conservatives shouldn’t insist on securing the border or should support “in-state tuition” rates for illegals — but it does mean the debate is much more nuanced than the media might have you believe.