A Close Reading and Response to Senator Tom Cotton's Speech/Article About Immigration
A partial analysis of an article, mainly in regard to its logic, from Imprimis, (https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/) a monthly publication of Hillsdale College whose “content is drawn from speeches delivered to Hillsdale College-hosted events.” From what I have seen of this publication, it tends to present arguments for conservative positions in a civilized and systematic manner, arguments which respectfully deserve to be addressed and evaluated in the same way. My comments will be in red font; the article's words are in black. I have used the article in its entirety, "[r]eprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College," in order not to misrepresent it or leave out important components. The article reports it is "is adapted from a speech delivered on September 18, 2017, in Washington, D.C., at Hillsdale College’s Eighth Annual Constitution Day Celebration." I don't know how closely it follows the speech, but I am addressing it as though it represents Senator Cotton's ideas and words either as the text of the speech or as an article he endorsed based on the speech. If any of these are not his words or ideas, then my response is simply to them as they appear in the article that bears his name.
“Immigration in the National Interest” (https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/immigration-national-interest/)
U.S. Senator from Arkansas
Last year, for the first time in our nation’s history, the American people elected as president someone with no high government experience—not a senator, not a congressman, not a governor, not a cabinet secretary, not a general. They did this, I believe, because they’ve lost faith in both the competence and the intentions of our governing class—of both parties! The results of elections depend on numerous and sometimes complex factors, such as the mechanics of a two-party system, district voting, the nature of primary contests, election turnout, the Electoral College, personality, news coverage, campaign marketing, fame, policy issues, etc. To reduce all these factors (particularly in an election where the popular vote was not only fairly divided, but in favor of the losing candidate, and where many people did not vote in an election expected to be a sure victory for the eventually losing candidate, and where those who did vote re-elected a vast majority of the same members to Congress) to loss of faith in the intentions and competence of "the governing class" is overly simplified at best, and probably mostly false at worst. Moreover, the competence, character, and intentions of politicians and elected officials have long been the object of satire and ridicule, not always unreasonably, and yet they are elected and re-elected anyway, so it is not clear there ever was that much faith in the intentions and competence of government officials in general or by virtue of their position. There are many reasons for an electorate to be discontent and seek change when they do. Government (collectively at all levels, not just the federal government by itself) now takes nearly half of every dollar we earn and bosses us around in every aspect of life – ‘bosses us around’ is simply a pejorative term for governing, particularly with policies or laws one does not like. But governing is the point of a government; and governing “every aspect” of life, even if it were true, does not mean governing every behavior. For example, health inspections govern restaurants but not their menus, their recipes, etc. Moreover, some elected officials tend to be disposed to govern social aspects of life more than they do business, and others tend to be disposed to regulate business more than social behaviors, so it is misleading that all government officials want to regulate or control all aspects of life, let alone all behaviors. And finally, government is often necessary to adjudicate (or take sides in) disputes and protect conflicting rights, so no matter what is decided, yes, government will then be controlling those aspects of life, but not necessarily out of choice, yet can’t deliver basic services well. And that often is a problem, at all levels of government. But it is also a problem for the private sector. Large scale delivery of any important service is not easy and certainly not foolproof. Our working class—the “forgotten man,” to use the phrase favored by Ronald Reagan and FDR—has seen its wages stagnate which is only a problem when costs of living increase, particularly without yielding an equivalent increase in quality fo life, while the four richest counties in America are inside the Washington Beltway, which may or may not have anything to do with stagnant wages or with the federal government; many large corporations have their headquarters in the Beltway area. Plus, the cost of living in the Beltway is also much, much greater than many other places in the country, so you can’t just compare incomes to determine relative financial wealth, though it is a factor. The kids of the working class are those who chiefly fight our seemingly endless wars and police our streets, only to come in for criticism too often from the very elite who sleep under the blanket of security they provide. By the Constitution, by other laws, and by tradition also, the military and police departments fall under civilian control, so it is the role of civilian government leaders and the public that elects them to criticize any wrongdoing and to try to remedy and prevent it. But also, this is a false characterization of criticism of police or the military. Police are accused of excessive use of deadly force in some cases, particularly when it seems to be fostered by overt or even latent racism or stereotype thinking (that black people are substantially more of a violent or deadly threat than white in situations like traffic stops or other potentially confrontational circumstances); they are not criticized for being working class or for doing police or military work in general. The military is often accused of overspending or having the wrong spending priorities, and military leaders are sometimes criticized for seeing military force as a first or best option when it may not be, but soldiers are not criticized for being children of the working class. However, many people do criticize the educational system and lack of economic opportunities for forcing many working-class children into choosing military service as the only viable job opportunity for them.
Donald Trump understood these things, though I should add he didn’t cause them. His victory was more effect than cause of our present discontents. Others running for office also recognized the problems. The question, apart from the factors mentioned above about what affects election outcomes, is the acceptability by the electorate of the candidates’ proposed solutions. It could be reasonably argued that Donald Trump’s proposed solutions were sufficiently vague, unspecific, and merely promising enough to seem better than proposed solutions that were more concrete and specific. It may be that the general public is little interested in nuanced or complex analysis of many social issues and even less interested in experimental proposals to solve them. A candidate who offers implistic answers, particularly those that harken to past social policies, ignoring the problems with them, may be more electable. The multiplying failures and arrogance of our governing class are what created the conditions for his victory. The failures, probably yes, and perhaps even the proposals of those in or running for office, but that does not make them arrogant nor a “class” or “governing class.” If there is a governing class, then Senator Cotton by virtue of being a United States Senator is himself a member of that class. But having proposed solutions for problems does not make one thereby ‘arrogant’. Nor does having a good education and having proposed solutions for problems make one an elitist. Since Mr. Cotton is a United States Senator with ideas about what the laws should be and has degrees from both Harvard University and Harvard Law School, isn’t he therefore one of the elitists he is discussing and disparaging by use of that term?
And if arrogance or disparaging of the military is a disqualifying characteristic to voters, how does that explain their electing Donald Trump as President, since he dismissed John McCain’s valor as a pilot during the Vietnam war and his reputation as a hero for his conduct while a POW, disrespected a Gold Star family because they were Muslim, and since he said he knows as much as the generals in the armed forces, and since humility is not an attribute generally accorded to Donald Trump?
Immigration is probably the best example of this. President Trump deviated from Republican orthodoxy on several issues, but immigration was the defining issue in which he broke from the bipartisan conventional wisdom. For years, all Democrats and many Republicans have agreed on the outline of what’s commonly called “comprehensive immigration reform,” which is Washington code for amnesty, mass immigration, and open borders in perpetuity. This is a false characterization of the argument for immigration reform. This characterization would essentially do away with all immigration laws, and I would be surprised if that is what is being proposed by those who want humane immigration policies.
This approach was embodied most recently in the so-called Gang of Eight bill in 2013. It passed the Senate, but thankfully we killed it in the House, which I consider among my chief accomplishments in Congress so far. Two members of the Gang of Eight ran for my party’s nomination for president last year. Neither won a single statewide primary. Donald Trump denounced the bill, and he won the nomination. The proposal Senator Cotton refers to here contains many of the same elements of his own proposed RAISE Act legislation. So if he disagrees with what else was in it, it is not because it was trying to allow mass immigration and open borders. The amnesty issue is a separate point from mass immigration and open borders, and has more to do with a right and reasonable way to treat immigrants who are and have been clearly otherwise good and contributing residents who came here illegally, and with their children who they brought with them and who are and have been good residents and who have only known and appreciated America as their country. Amnesty has more to do with forgiveness, particularly what might be called deserved or deserving forgiveness, than about rules of immigration. And in legal terms it might be considered something akin to a statute of limitations on illegal immigration.
Likewise, Hillary Clinton campaigned not just for mass immigration, but also on a policy of no deportations of anyone, ever, who is illegally present in our country. I would be very surprised if her policy was one of no deportations ever for anyone who simply managed to arrive here uncaught, no matter what they did once here. She also accused her opponent of racism and xenophobia. Yet Donald Trump beat her by winning states that no Republican had won since the 1980s. That would be true if many of his voters were racists and xenophobes, so it is not clear why that should be considered to be a counter-argument. Donald Trump’s arguments against Muslims and Mexicans have been stereotypical and either racist or xenophobic. As Senator Cotton implies later in this speech, there are potentially good reasons for limiting immigration, and holding them does not make one a xenophobe or a racist. But those were not the arguments Donald Trump gave, and they were not the arguments used by many of his supporters. His supporters tended to rely on the arguments he gave. It is not by coincidence that the Klan and other white supremacist organizations either endorsed his candidacy or have become publicly prominent since he took office.
Clearly, immigration was an issue of signal importance in the election. That’s because immigration is more than just another issue. It touches upon fundamental questions of citizenship, community, and identity. Only in certain ways if it is to be distinguished from xenophobia and racism. For too long, a bipartisan, cosmopolitan elite has dismissed the people’s legitimate concerns about these things and put its own interests above the national interest. I don’t understand how open borders, even if that were the pursuit, would be in the self-perceived interests of a ‘bipartisan, cosmopolitan elite’. Perhaps he means that employers would benefit from cheap labor based on an oversupply of labor and that business owners are the cosmopolitan elite.
No one captured this sensibility better than President Obama, when he famously called himself “a citizen of the world.” With that phrase, he revealed a deep misunderstanding of citizenship. After all, “citizen” and “city” share the same Greek root word: citizenship by definition means that you belong to a particular political community. That is not what being a “citizen of the world” denies. It means sharing common human values of all people and it means seeing both the good and the bad of principles of all cultures and nations. It is not that much different from when President Kennedy used the phrase “Ich bin ein Berliner” to demonstrate solidarity with the people of Berlin struggling to unite their city and country and to survive and escape the Soviet domination of half its citizens in both. Yet many of our elites share Mr. Obama’s sensibility. They believe that American citizenship—real, actual citizenship—is meaningless no, they don’t believe that, certainly not as a group or as a general principle, ought not be foreclosed to anyone -- that is an ambiguous claim and depends on circumstances. Even in the simplest case of quotas from some country, no one would be denied immigration because s/he is from that country unless that country was already at its quota. It is like saying “anyone can win the powerball lottery”, which is true meaning any individual has a chance to win, but not that everyone altogether can win, and ought not be the basis for distinctions between citizens and foreigners. Again,that is not the point or the claim. You might say they think American exceptionalism lies in not making exceptions when it comes to citizenship. Not the claim, unless one means country of origin and race alone should not be the criteria for denying citizenship. Again, one can allow some immigrants from some places and with certain ethnicities or racial or cultural backgrounds without having to allow all similar people to mass migrate at the same time. For example, there can be rules that allow immigrants from anywhere as long as they are able to be absorbed and assimilated economically and culturally, but that the cutoff for immigration ends with that in any given time period.
This globalist mindset is not only foreign to most Americans. It’s also foreign to the American political tradition. Again ambiguous. Immigrants have always been welcome individually from anywhere (except by racists and xenophobes) as long as they could be absorbed and assimilated, and were willing to be. They have only been excluded if it was thought they would culturally overwhelm the resources to be able to be absorbed and assimilated. A position part way between those is the welcoming of any immigrants able to be absorbed and assimilated into the culture as long as they did not move too close --a kind of NIMBY(not in my backyard) attitude, which may or may not have been based on racism or xenophobia, but on cultural differences that were considered undesirable to be around, but not wrong in themselves.
Take the Declaration of Independence. Our cosmopolitan elites love to cite its stirring passages about the rights of mankind when they talk about immigration or refugees. They’re not wrong to do so. Unlike any other country, America is an idea—but it is not only an idea. America is a real, particular place with real borders and real, flesh-and-blood people. And the Declaration tells us it was so from the very beginning. Again, the use of the term “cosmopolitan elites” is pejorative and unnecessary. All that needed to be said would be that “those who want to have more liberal immigration policies” cite the Declaration of Independence ideals…. If that is the argument he wants to focus on.
Prior to those stirring passages about “unalienable Rights” and “Nature’s God,” in the Declaration’s very first sentence in fact, the Founders say it has become “necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands” that tie them to another—one people, not all people, not citizens of the world, but actual people who make up actual colonies. The Founders frequently use the words we and us throughout the Declaration to describe that people.
Furthermore, on several occasions, the Declaration speaks of “these Colonies” or “these States.” The Founders were concerned about their own circumstances; they owed a duty to their own people who had sent them as representatives to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia. They weren’t trying to free South America from Spanish or Portuguese dominion, much as they might have opposed that dominion.
Perhaps most notably, the Founders explain towards the end of the Declaration that they had appealed not only to King George for redress, but also to their fellow British citizens, yet those fellow citizens had been “deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.” Consanguinity!—blood ties! That’s pretty much the opposite of being a citizen of the world. Again, with regard to these three paragraphs, one can accept closed borders and Senator Cotton’s concept of citizenship and its importance and still desire a more liberal or different specific immigration policy. It is a straw argument to hold that all those who want either amnesty for some who meet a certain criteria and/or who want specific, perhaps more liberal or more humane, immigration policies are arguing for totally open borders.
So while the Declaration is of course a universal document, it’s also a particular document about one nation and one people. Its signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to each other, in English, right here in America—not in Esperanto to mankind in the abstract.
The Constitution affirms this concept of American citizenship. It includes only one reference to immigration, where it empowers Congress to establish a “uniform Rule of Naturalization.” It’s worth pondering a couple points here.
First, what’s that word uniform doing? The Constitution uses the word only three times, when requiring uniform rules for naturalization, bankruptcies, and taxation. These are things that could either knit our Union together or blow it apart—taxation by the central government, the system of credit upon which the free enterprise system depends, and the meaning of citizenship. On these, the Framers insisted upon a uniform, nationwide standard. Diverse habits and laws are suitable for many things in our continental republic, but not for all things. In particular, we can only have “one people” united by a common understanding of citizenship. The concept of ‘citizenship’ and having uniform rules for acquiring it are not really in dispute; what the rules ought to be is what is at issue.
Second, the word naturalization implies a process by which foreigners can renounce their former allegiances and become citizens of the United States. Since dual citizenship is allowed, one can become a citizen without denouncing other allegiances. They can cast off what accident and force have thrust upon them—race, class, ethnicity— pretty difficult to cast off race or ethnicity, though I presume he means one can cast off legal discriminations about those things in some other countries and take on, by reflection and choice, a new title: American. That is a wonderful and beautiful thing, and one of which we are all justly proud. Few Americans love our land so much as the immigrants who’ve escaped the yoke of tyranny.
But our cosmopolitan elites take this to an extreme. Again, the pejorative and straw argument. They think because anyone can become an American, we’re morally obligated to treat everyone like an American. If you disagree, you’re considered hard-hearted, bigoted, intolerant, xenophobic. No; being considered hard-hearted, bigoted, intolerant, and xenophobic is only based on stereotypical comments one makes which are hard-hearted, bigoted, intolerant, and xenophobic, like considering most Mexicans to be criminals and rapists or most Muslims to be terrorist risks, more so than the average American. So the only policies that aren’t inherently un-American are those that effectively erase our borders and erase the distinction between citizen and foreigner -- that is not the argument; the argument is for fair and reasonable immigration laws: don’t erect barriers on the border; give sanctuary cities a pass against wrongful or inhumane immigration laws (the dictates of conscience versus the dictates of bad laws in a nation of laws is always a moral and social problem, not just with immigration); spare illegal immigrants from deportation (under extenuating and justifiable circumstances); allow American businesses to import as much cheap labor as they want (that doesn’t require citizenship and also brings up a host of other moral problems about fair pay, fair opportunity, etc.). Anything less, the elites say, is a betrayal of our ideals. Constant pejorative use of “elites” is itself arrogant and snobbish and is a form of reverse elitism. Plus, if those he is railing against were to employ the same kinds of fallacious ad hominem rhetoric, there is all kind of unfair name-calling that could be applied to his ideas. I presume as a student at Harvard from a family farm in Arkansas, Senator Cotton might be familiar with some of those.
But that’s wrong. Just because you can become an American doesn’t mean you are an American. And it certainly doesn’t mean we must treat you as an American, especially if you don’t play by our rules. After all, in our unique brand of nationalism, which connects our people through our ideas, repudiating our law is kind of like renouncing your blood ties in the monarchical lands of old. And what law is more fundamental to a political community than who gets to become a citizen, under what conditions, and when? That is an oversimplification. A hard-working otherwise law abiding and generous illegal immigrant is much preferable to a legal citizen who is a scoundrel in any of various ways. Just picking one law, even one that is currently a hot topic, as the central one and claiming the violation of it is a repudiation of our law, our ideals, or of the concept of law in general is false and unreasonable.
While we wish our fellow man well, it’s only our fellow citizens to whom we have a duty that is false; you have moral duties to all people, even to non-citizens, such as guests or visitors or to those being unjustly or unfairly persecuted and whose rights our government was created to protect. Not all moral duties are legal duties. We have many moral duties above those required by law. And among the highest obligations we owe to each other is to ensure that every working American can lead a dignified life. If you look across our history, I’d argue that’s always been the purpose of our immigration system: to create conditions in which normal, hard-working Americans can thrive.
Look no further than what James Madison said on the floor of the House of Representatives in 1790, when the very first Congress was debating our very first naturalization law. He said, “It is no doubt very desirable that we should hold out as many inducements as possible for the worthy part of mankind to come and settle amongst us, and throw their fortunes into a common lot with ours.” “The worthy part,” not the entire world. Madison continued, “But why is this desirable? Not merely to swell the catalogue of people. No, sir, it is to increase the wealth and strength of the community.”
“To increase the wealth and strength of the community.” That’s quite a contrast to today’s elite consensus. Our immigration system shouldn’t exist to serve the interests of foreigners or wealthy Americans. No, it ought to benefit working Americans and serve the national interest—that’s the purpose of immigration and the theme of the story of American immigration. But that’s being true doesn’t say what the specific immigration laws and policies should be, and it seems particularly to imply that those people who have already actually proved themselves to be good workers here and good residents should be allowed to become citizens. Senator Cotton is here addressing the issue of citizenship, not just entry into the country; and if he is arguing that those who (will most likely) contribute to the wealth and strength of the economy are those who should be granted citizenship, then those who have already proved themselves to do that should be given citizenship for sure, regardless of how they gained entry into the country.
When open-borders enthusiasts tell that story, it sounds more like a fairy tale. The way they tell it, America at first was a land that accepted all comers without conditions. But then, periodically, the forces of nativism and bigotry reared their ugly head and placed restrictions on who could immigrate. The forces of darkness triumphed, by this telling, with the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924. But they were defeated with the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which again opened our shores and is still the law governing our immigration system today. Since 1965, everyone has lived happily ever after.
If I were to grade these storytellers, I would give them an F for history and an A for creative writing. The history of immigration in America is not one of ever-growing tides of huddled masses from the Pilgrims to today. On the contrary, throughout our history, American immigration has followed a surge-and-pause pattern. The first big wave was the Irish and German immigrants in the 1840s and 1850s. Then immigration tapered off during the Civil War. The second big wave was the central and southern European immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. That wave ended with the 1924 Act and the years of lower immigration that followed. And now we’re in the longest wave yet, the surge of immigration from Latin America and East and South Asia, which has followed from the 1965 Act.
In this actual history—not the fairy tale
history—the 1924 Act is not an aberration, but an ebb in the regular ebb and
flow of immigration to America. After decades of unskilled mass immigration,
that law responded by controlling future immigration flows. One result of lower
levels of immigration was that it allowed those earlier immigrants to
assimilate, learn new skills, and move up the economic ladder, creating the
conditions for mass affluence in the post-war era. The
ability to absorb and assimilate immigrants economically and culturally
is important, but that is not the way the matter is normally
discussed. Whether we have the capacity to do that, and if so,
what 'settlement distribution' assistance or welcoming methods need to
be employed to prevent disruptions in local communities or even states,
is what needs to be discussed and determined in reasonable ways.
Now, there’s no denying that the story of
American immigration has its uglier chapters: the Chinese Exclusion Act, the
national-origins quota system imposed by the 1924 Act, the indifference to Jews
in the 1930s. We ought to remember and learn from this history. One important
lesson, though, is this: if the political class had heeded the concerns of working
Americans during the second big wave, the 1924 Act would likely have passed
earlier and been less restrictionist. The danger lies not in addressing the
people’s legitimate, reasonable concerns about immigration, but in ignoring
those concerns and slandering the people as bigots. But
much of the immigration rhetoric has been, and is, bigoted. And
much of it has involved fear-mongering of a xenophobic type, as it has
in the past, where potential immigrants from certain countries or of
certain ethnicities are more likely unproductive or harmful and
dangerous than those people already here. And that political
posturing has also ignored the life and death plight of refugees trying
to escape war ravaged areas, dire economic conditions, or natural
disasters. The humanitarian element is being ignored, and the
of the 1930's to mass death and to loss of human potential is being
repeated. The focus is on the potential harm a bad refugee might
do instead of all the potential good they might do and that we should be
doing for them. When Donald Trump, Jr. said that if some Skittles
in a large bowl were poisoned, we would not eat any from that bowl,
that is true, but there is no real benefit from risking death by eating
Skittles. In situations where there is an important benefit, like
surgery or taking medicines, we do reasonably risk a percentage of harm
or even death. In any 'cost-benefit' analysis, one has to look at
the benefits (and their probabilities) and the harms (and their
probabilities) of all the options. It is unreasonable to consider
just the costs or just the benefits. And it is unreasonable not to
consider all the options and the possible opportunity costs.
Plus, there is the hypocrisy at worst, and contradictory reasoning at
best, of any conservative position that focuses on the small probability
of mass potential harm of refugees but dismisses that same (or even
greater) probability of mass potential harm from guns and assault style
weapons. There is more to both issues than cost-benefit analysis,
but if one is going to focus only on costs and benefits to our own
society, one cannot reasonably use the Skittles argument for refugees
and not for guns or any other potential harm, such as driving cars or
taking medicines. There are more than 30,000 deaths a year
in the U.S. from traffic accidents and somewhere between 100,000 and
200,000 deaths per year in the United States from medical and
pharmaceutical errors, but we try to minimize them, not eliminate them
by banning all driving or the practice of medicine.
But then, we shouldn’t be surprised when politicians fail to understand fully the implications of their actions. Take the 1965 Act. That law ended the national-origins quota system, and at the time its importance was minimized. When President Johnson signed it into law, he said, “This bill . . . is not a revolutionary bill. It does not affect the lives of millions. It will not reshape the structure of our daily lives, or really add importantly to either our wealth or our power.”
How wrong he was.
The economy we’re living in today is in no small part a result of the 1965 Act, which opened the door to mass immigration of unskilled and low-skilled workers, primarily through unlimited family chain migration. And that’s not an economy anyone should be satisfied with.
Today, we have about a million immigrants per year. That’s like adding the population of Montana every year—or the population of Arkansas every three years. But only one in 15—one in 15 of those millions of immigrants—comes here for employment-based reasons. The vast majority come here simply because they happen to be related to someone already here. That’s why, for example, we have more Somalia-born residents than Australia-born residents, even though Australia is nearly twice the size of Somalia and Australians are better prepared, as a general matter, to integrate and assimilate into the American way of life.
In sum, over 36 million immigrants, or 94 percent of the total, have come to America over the last 50 years for reasons having nothing to do with employment. And that’s to say nothing of the over 24 million illegal immigrants who have come here. Put them together and you have 60 million immigrants, legal and illegal, who did not come to this country because of a job offer or because of their skills. That’s like adding almost the entire population of the United Kingdom. And this is still leaving aside the millions of temporary guest workers who we import every year into our country. But it is a more legitimate remedy to help them be productive than to prevent them from being here. Insofar as the population of Great Britain, if imported wholesale into the U.S. would add to its economy the profits they create now for themselves, we would probably be happy to welcome them. The issue is not just about population numbers alone but about (potential) productivity. When Germany was reunited, the West Germans were able to absorb the East Germans into their economy with job training programs and other means. It required some short term costs to create much longer term and greater benefits. It was cost effective and also humane. And arguably the humanity part was more important, and would have been even if it turned out not to be cost effective. Immigration and absorption policies can be productive and humane; and they should be both whenever possible. And they should be at least humane if the cost is reasonable and bearable, even if not equaled or exceeded by the benefits. Much of what we do in life is not to secure so-called win/win situations but to secure at least win/not-lose-too-much situations, where we are glad to help out others as long as the cost to ourselves does not involve terrible loss. We need to realize and extend that principle to more areas of life. Good people already do that. They help each other out even if it takes some time or effort for which they will not be paid, as long as they can afford the time and effort without undue harm to themselves or their loved ones.
I do agree with Senator Cotton that the deciding factor for amount of allowable immigration should be based on ability and desire to contribute and ability for the economy and the culture to absorb and assimilate people. But that does not mean deporting good people and it does not mean restricting immigration by religion or by geography or country of origin. Hillary Clinton justifiably took flack for characterizing Trump supporters as the basket of deplorables, even though some clearly are; but there should be just as much flack for casting immigrants by religion or from some countries as deplorables and undesirables, even though some are. But you should not condemn all on the basis of the bad characteristics of a few -- particularly when most people in the group can and will make great contributions and should have the opportunity to, and particularly when there are also bad apples in prejudicially favored groups. The recent mass killings of Americans by white Protestant Americans does not bring condemnation of whites, males, or Protestants, and it shouldn't. But the same thing should be true for people of color and for Muslims. People should be judged, as Martin Luther King, Jr. pointed out, by the content of their character not the color of the skin, and that should be extended to include not by their religious affiliation either. From the founding of this country the establishment of religious favoritism by the government has been prohibited in various ways. Immigration should not be an exception to that prohibition. I believe there can be legitimate concern about too sudden cultural, economic, and philosophical change due to mass migrations to a particular country, region, or city, particularly in a democracy governed by majority rule, but there can be ways to deal with that in cities and states, and I don't believe that is likely a problem at the national level. I believe for the most part we still have the capacity, with reasonable policies, to allow, absorb, and assimilate many more decent, hardworking immigrants into our culture without their making it into their culture being a threat to our way of life and governance any more than waves of immigrations have done that in the past, with the exception, of course, of how mass immigration from Western Europe affected Native Americans.
Unlike many open-border zealots, I don’t believe the law of supply and demand is magically repealed for the labor markets. That means that our immigration system has been depressing wages for people who work with their hands and on their feet. Wages for Americans with high school diplomas are down two percent since the late 1970s. For Americans who didn’t finish high school, they’re down by a staggering 17 percent. Although immigration has a minimal effect overall on the wages of Americans, it has a severe negative effect on low-skilled workers, minorities, and even recent immigrants.
Is automation to blame in part? Sure. Globalized trade? Yes, of course. But there’s no denying that a steady supply of cheap, unskilled labor has hurt working-class wages as well. Among those three factors, immigration policy is the one that we can control most easily for the benefit of American workers. Yet we’ve done the opposite.
I know the response of open-border enthusiasts: they plead that we need a steady supply of cheap unskilled labor because there are “jobs that no American will do.” But that just isn’t so. There is no job Americans won’t do. In fact, there’s no industry in America in which the majority of workers are not natural-born Americans—not landscapers, not construction workers, not ski instructors, not lifeguards, not resort workers, not childcare workers—not a single job that over-educated elites associate with immigrants. The simple fact is, if the wage is decent and the employer obeys the law, Americans will do any job. And for tough, dangerous, and physically demanding jobs, maybe working folks do deserve a bit of a raise. Maybe even more than “a bit”. But all this gets into broader issues of fair economic policies and fair business practice, what constitutes a fair wage, what constitutes consent for working a job that pays slave wages when one is in dire economic straits through no fault of one’s own, and it takes us somewhat afield of the immigration issue.
“No American will do that job.” Let me just
pause for a moment and confess how much I detest that sentiment. In addition to
being ignorant of the economic facts, it’s insulting, condescending, and
demeaning to our countrymen. Millions of Americans make our hotel beds and
build our houses and clean our offices; imagine how they feel when they hear
some pampered elite say no American will do their job. And finally, I must say,
that sentiment also carries more than a whiff of the very prejudice of which
they accuse those concerned about the effects of mass immigration.
But the harmful impact on blue-collar workers isn’t the only problem with the current system. Because we give two-thirds of our green cards to relatives of people here, there are huge backlogs in the system. This forces highly talented immigrants to wait in line for years behind applicants whose only claim to naturalization is a random family connection to someone who happened to get here years ago. We therefore lose out on the very best talent coming into our country—the ultra-high-skilled immigrants who can come to America, stand on their own two feet, pay taxes, and through their entrepreneurial spirit and innovation create more and higher-paying jobs for our citizens. Yes, there are problems and potential problems with the current system, problems of fairness, problems of verification of intent, problems of ability to assimilate large numbers possible newcomers, particularly in concentrated small areas in a short time span, etc. And immigration law and what might be called 'settlement distribution policies' needs to try to remedy and prevent those problems.
To put it simply, we have an immigration system that is badly failing Madison’s test of increasing the wealth and strength of the community. It might work to the advantage of a favored few, but not for the common good, and especially not the good of working-class Americans.
This is why I’ve introduced legislation to fix our naturalization system. It’s called the RAISE Act: Reforming American Immigration for a Strong Economy.
The RAISE Act will correct the flaws in the 1965 Act by reorienting our immigration system towards foreigners who have the most to contribute to our country. It would create a skills-based points system similar to Canada’s and Australia’s. Here’s how it would work. When people apply to immigrate, they’d be given an easy-to-calculate score, on a scale of 0 to 100, based on their education, age, job salary, investment ability, English-language skills, and any extraordinary achievements. Then, twice a year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services would invite the top scorers to complete their applications, and it would invite enough high-scoring applicants to fill the current 140,000 annual employment-based green-card slots. The basic idea is perhaps acceptable, but the specific criteria for the points system don’t seem to conform to the idea very well. If one applies the criteria to various historical people, it apparently would admit some terrible people and bar the admission to some people who have made the greatest contributions to America and the world. What we want is a productive and fair immigration policy, not merely open borders, but also not short-sighted rules about who the productive people are likely to be. When I was in 7th grade, the government was trying to coax as many people as possible into aeronautical engineering because space flight was considered to be extremely important. That didn’t pan out too well for aeronautical engineers who couldn’t get or couldn’t keep jobs when NASA was seriously downsized. Micromanagement in government and in the private sector can be flawed even when intentions and general goals are honorable and reasonable.
We’d still admit spouses and unmarried minor children of citizens and legal permanent residents. But we’d end the preferences for most extended and adult family members—no more unlimited chain migration. We’d also eliminate the so-called diversity visa lottery, which hands out green cards randomly without regard to skills or family connections, and which is plagued by fraud. We’d remove per-country caps on immigration, too, so that high-skilled applicants aren’t shut out of the process simply because of their country of origin. And finally, we’d cap the number of refugees offered permanent residency to 50,000 per year, in line with the recent average for the Bush era and most of the Obama era—and still quite generous. Putting a specific number now does not allow sufficient flexibility if conditions change about what is needed and what is absorbable and assimilable.
Add it all up and our annual immigrant pool would be younger, higher-skilled, and ready to contribute to our economy without using welfare, as more than half of immigrant households do today. Mitt Romney’s parents apparently needed welfare a while before his father became extremely successful. It should be about potential, not just about immediate needs. No longer would we distribute green cards essentially based on random chance. Nor would we import millions of unskilled workers to take jobs from blue-collar Americans and undercut their wages. And over a ten-year period, our annual immigration levels would decrease by half, gradually returning to historical norms. None of this seems to take into account demographics by generation. Because baby boomers are retiring and didn’t have sufficient children to replace or take care of them, it has been said that immigrants are needed in order to make up for the lack of babies born. I don’t know whether that is all true or not, but that sort of thing does need to be taken into account in case it does apply.
Given current events, this legislation is timelier than ever. Earlier this month, President Trump announced that he would wind down, over six months, the unconstitutional Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA. President Obama abused his authority with DACA—which purported to give legal status to illegal immigrants who arrived here as children and who are now in their twenties and thirties—because, as we’ve seen, the Constitution reserves to Congress the power to make uniform laws of naturalization.
Because of President Obama’s unlawful action, about 700,000 people are now in a kind of legal limbo but they were already in a moral limbo before that, which was the reason for doing it as policy. President Trump did the right thing as a matter of law by ending DACA, though as a matter of policy he’d prefer its beneficiaries don’t face deportation. Democrats agree, as do a lot of Republicans. So the question isn’t so much about deportation, but rather if and what kind of compromise remedy doesn’t have to mean compromise; just say ‘remedy’ instead of ‘compromise’ Congress can strike or devise.
Here’s where the RAISE Act comes in. We can, if we choose, grant citizenship to those illegal immigrants who came here through no fault of their own as kids and who’ve otherwise been law-abiding, productive citizens. But if we do, it will have the effect of legalizing through chain migration their parents—the very people who created the problem by bringing the kids here illegally. Some like to say that children shouldn’t pay for the crimes of the parents, but surely parents can pay for the crimes of the parents. And that’s to say nothing of their siblings and spouses, and then all the second- and third-order chain migration those people create. So simply codifying DACA without ending chain migration would rapidly accelerate the wave of unskilled immigrant labor that’s been depressing the wages of working Americans. Yes, this needs to be solved in some reasonable way.
An obvious compromise, then, is to pair any attempt to codify DACA with reform of the green card system to protect American workers. A stand-alone amnesty will not do. Nor will an amnesty with vague promises of “border security,” which never seem to materialize or get funded once the pressure is off Congress. But if we codify DACA along with the reforms in the RAISE Act, we will protect working Americans from the worst consequences of President Obama’s irresponsible decision. Pejorative again. Even if DACA is wrong or not optimal, that doesn’t make it necessarily irresponsible. Not every mistake is due to negligence or irresponsibility. And if it was the best option President Obama had to try to keep the ‘dreamers’ from being deported to countries where they were born, but have no knowledge of, by a callous, incompetent, or feckless Congress without the capacity to problem solve, it could hardly be considered irresponsible.
President Trump has said that chain migration must be ended in any legislative compromise, and he’s highlighted the RAISE Act as a good starting point for those negotiations. I support that approach, and I’m committed to working with my colleagues, Democrats and Republicans alike, on a deal that protects American workers and strengthens our community.
Immigration has emerged in recent years as a kind of acid test for our leaders—a test they’ve mostly failed. Our cosmopolitan elite—in both parties—has pursued a radical immigration policy that’s inconsistent with our history and our political tradition. They’ve celebrated the American idea, yet undermined the actual American people of the here and now. They’ve forgotten that the Declaration speaks of “one people” and the Constitution of “We the People.” At the same time, they’ve enriched themselves and improved their quality of life, while creating a new class of forgotten men. Already all addressed above.
There’s probably no issue that calls more for an “America first” approach than immigration. After all, the guidepost of our immigration policy should be putting Americans first—not foreigners and not a tiny elite. Enough with the ‘elite’. Doesn’t seem to be a problem for conservatives when talking about the financially elite or the ‘one percenters’; they seem to like them, especially if they are Republicans. There are real problems that need to be recognized and resolved. Name-calling and ad hominem arguments are not a help. Straw arguments and false accusations are not a help. And it seems to me that should be known by someone with degrees from Harvard and from Harvard Law School, particularly someone interested in serving the country as a government leader, not just attaining a position of power and prestige. Our immigration policy should serve the “wealth and strength” of our people, as Madison said in that first Congress, and so should political debate and the power of governance . It should not divide our nation, impoverish our workers, or promote hyphenated Americanism. And neither should political debate and governance.
Citizenship is the most cherished thing our
nation can bestow if we want to ignore liberty,
justice, prosperity (including 'life'), peace, harmony, etc.
Citizenship bestows certain important rights and obligations, but not
all. And it is often more a means to an end than an end in itself. Our governing class ought to treat it as something special.
We ought to put the interests of our citizens first and welcome those
foreigners best prepared to handle the duties of citizenship and contribute
positively to our country. When we do, our fellow Americans will begin to trust
us once again. That may very well be one
right thing government needs to do to deserve greater trust by the
citizenry, but it is not the only or perhaps even most important thing.