Whereas many conservative Republicans have taken on an anti-immigrant political tone, Jason Riley, one of the editors of the Wall Street Journal, has written a book which makes a conservative, free market argument in favor of immigration. Writes Robert Z. Nemeth, who has reviewed the book, Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders, "Two general themes run through the book: One is that today's Latino immigrants aren't different from earlier immigrants, only newer; and the other is that an open immigration policy is not only compatible with free-market conservatism and homeland security, but it is also good for the economy."
Observes Nemeth of Riley: "He blames the 'ratings-driven rhetoric' of radio talk show hosts, misguided neo-Malthusians (overpopulation alarmists) and assorted political opportunists for stoking the fire of anti-immigrant fervor that, he points out, goes all the way back to Benjamin Franklin. 'Scapegoating foreigners for domestic problems, real or imagined, is something of an American tradition,' he says."
The Case for Open BordersWorcester Telegram & Gazette
Robert Z. Nemeth
April 6, 2008
Jason L. Riley, a member of The Wall Street Journal's editorial board, is a rare specimen. He is a conservative African-American who rejects affirmative action and champions a cause that is an anathema to most fellow conservatives: wide-open borders and virtually unrestricted immigration. I had an opportunity to read a proof of his upcoming book ("Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders") and to interview him before he spoke to the Worcester Economic Club last week.
"I wrote this book to put the debate in perspective and to offer a rebuttal to some of the more common anti-immigrant arguments I've come across while covering the issue as a Wall Street Journal editorialist," he explains. Two general themes run through the book: One is that today's Latino immigrants aren't different from earlier immigrants, only newer; and the other is that an open immigration policy is not only compatible with free-market conservatism and homeland security, but it is also good for the economy.
"Most of the anti-immigrant sentiment comes out of the political right," Mr. Riley says. "As a free-market conservative, I find that disturbing." He says the Republicans paid a stiff price for the party's shortsighted approach to immigration in the 2006 mid-term elections by alienating a large number of Latino voters. After the Senate offered a moderate immigration reform bill - charting a path for illegal immigrants to earn legal status and recommending a guest worker program - House Republicans sabotaged the plan and made immigrant-bashing a campaign strategy.
He blames the "ratings-driven rhetoric" of radio talk show hosts, misguided neo-Malthusians (overpopulation alarmists) and assorted political opportunists for stoking the fire of anti-immigrant fervor that, he points out, goes all the way back to Benjamin Franklin. "Scapegoating foreigners for domestic problems, real or imagined, is something of an American tradition," he says.
Using mountains of statistical evidence, he attacks the popular arguments put forward for ending or reducing immigration -- that immigrants steal jobs and hurt the economy; that they are filling jails and prisons; that they come here to take advantage of welfare, and that they are not assimilating. Time and again, he stresses that today's influx of Latino newcomers, legal and undocumented, is similar to the waves of Irish, Italian and Eastern European immigrants that hit our shores over the decades, making the country vibrant and strong. Mr. Riley rebuffs charges that immigrants take jobs from natives. The labor market is governed by supply and demand. Unskilled immigrants do low-level jobs Americans refuse to take, and highly skilled immigrants fill jobs for which there aren't enough native-born applicants. (More than 30 percent of Ph.Ds employed in the United States are foreign-born). Rather than restrict immigration, the author suggests policymakers should focus attention on the quality of American education. "It's a tragedy that America's public school system is geared more toward appeasing teachers unions than educating kids," Mr. Riley writes.
He offers ample data showing that immigrants, including undocumented ones, commit crimes at disproportionately lower rates than natives and that, over the past 15 years, violent crime has dropped in cities with the largest immigrant population. "There is no illegal immigrant crime wave," he says. "Nor is it true that immigrants come here to go on welfare. They come here to work. And, given a chance, they would much prefer to come through the front door than cross the border illegally."
Moreover, he says, the majority of illegal immigrants are paying their way. They are paying consumer taxes. They are paying Social Security and Medicare federal taxes, even though they are not eligible to receive benefits from either program. According to the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, contribution to Social Security from unauthorized workers between 1937 and 2003 totaled an estimated $520 billion.
Mr. Riley contends that today's immigrants do assimilate, despite the efforts of multiculturalists who advocate identity politics and "want to turn America into a loose federation of ethnic groups." He writes: "Conservatives are right to complain about bilingual education advocacy, anti-American Chicano-studies professors, Spanish language ballots and ethnically gerrymandered voting districts. But these problems weren't created by the woman changing the linen at your hotel, or the men building homes in your neighborhood. Keep the immigrants. Deport the Columbia faculty."He speaks of the futility of current border patrol policies that consist of chasing harmless economic immigrants rather than focusing on drug dealers, gang members and other criminal elements. As for homeland security, he says a terrorist threat is much more likely to come through Canada than from Mexico. "Remember the Berlin Wall?" he notes. "We can't wall us off. So why are we stretching our resources?" How about driver's licenses for illegal immigrants? It's the best way to register and keep track of them, he says.
Although his presentation to the Economic Club was low-key, Mr. Riley is passionate about his cause. "I believe in the integrity of borders and the rule of the law." he says. "But I want to reform a flawed system. There is much more to gain than to lose from open immigration. So let them in."
Immigration is an immensely controversial issue, and it is unlikely that a national consensus can be reached any time soon. Jason Riley's timely, well-written and thought-provoking book is a valuable contribution to one of the most important debates of our time.
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