by Warner Todd Huston | March 29, 2010 1:19 pm
Immigration is a difficult issue for conservatives these days. It is fraught with emotions and passionate feelings. Whenever someone tries to discuss the issue dispassionately, the old canard of “no true Scotsman” is employed against them. But conservatives need to continue to have this discussion and get their ducks in a row on the issue because the other side has a successful call to arms that we need to prove wrong. It is too easy for the left to claim that it has “compassion” for immigrants and we don’t. We need to pull the debate away from faux “compassion” and toward the facts.
On the right we have at least two main ideas about immigration. Some want open borders and easy employment for immigrants so that business has a quick and constant source of low-priced labor. These business-oriented conservatives (some might call them country club Republicans) are less interested in social issues and more interested in money and economic growth. Opposing the open borders folks are those that might be called nativists, those that feel America should not have a wide open border and that America is for Americans. The extremes of these positions are on one hand not following our immigration laws and on the other making race-based, cultural-warfare arguments. But there is a path to reconcile the two extremes.
There is no reason why conservatives cannot be both a nativist and an economic expansionist that wants to employ some foreign-born workers where they are needed. There is no reason why we can’t be both strong border advocates and interested in making new Americans from immigrants. Our two sides do not necessarily have to be as diametrically opposed as they seem to be, but we need to reach a practical, pragmatic political position of solving problems create by immigration.
Of course, the passion erupts when we try to reconcile these two positions. Some conservatives all too often employ a sort of “no true Scotsman” theory against anyone that wants to make some sense of this situation. If you seem to waver from their view you aren’t a “real” conservative to too many of them. But nativists aren’t the only ones to blame as the open borders crowd dismisses everyone on the other side as yahoos and hatemongers when the truth is that Nativists only want to follow the Constitution and protect American culture. We need to get past the name calling and remember that we need to be on the same page of this matter or the left will win making things unsuitable for all of us on the right.
Some of the open borders crowd have come to realize that open borders are no longer a good idea. Not long ago, for instance, I spoke to Richard Nadler, president of Americas Majority Foundation, and he realized that after 9/11 open borders was suicide. Nadler’s group is a conservative pro immigrant-labor organization that specializes in minority outreach. Nadler feels that to be seen as the anti-Hispanic party will destroy the GOPs electoral future. He makes a good argument in many ways. Americans of Hispanic origin are a wildly growing part of the electorate. If we are seen as their enemy we are doomed to minority status. We need a logical and legitimate way to win them over.
To my personal experience, I have seen many sons and daughters of immigrants — both legal and illegal — and these kids don’t want to be Mexicans, or Guatemalans, or what have you. They might not mind visiting the country of their parent’s birth but they generally would rather stay here and they think of themselves as natural born Americans. But I will have to agree with Nadler that if these young people grow up thinking that the GOP is filled with people that hate them, then these new voters will reflexively vote Democrat in huge numbers. Folks like Nadler are right that we could be committing electoral suicide if we allow this perception to grow.
But this need to seem more friendly to Americans of Hispanic origin does not mean we have to throw away American principles, our culture or our laws. Nor do we need to open the border wide and let just anyone come here. We have every right to try to put breakers on the flow of foreign immigrants and a responsibility to think of America first.
I mention a viable guest worker program below, but here I need to explain what I mean. Some have pointedly reminded me that we have hundreds of thousands of Americans out of work in this bad economy. Of course I realize that. But a guest worker program properly administered is actually a way to assure that we bring in foreign workers when we need them and not when we don’t need them.
Many thousands of illegal immigrants have already returned home over the last two years because the economy is such that the easy jobs these people filled have dried up. But at some point our economy will pick up again and the influx of illegals will resume to fill the jobs a stronger economy creates. We need to try and solve this problem now, before our economy picks up and the influx resumes. So, at some point the left is right that now is an ideal time for comprehensive immigration reform. But let it be on our terms, not the lefts.
Here are some of the points we must consider:
What ever we do, we as conservatives need to get together and agree amongst ourselves and present a united front to the left. Let’s get past the finger pointing and have this conversation and let’s do it quickly.
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