(Photo credit: Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons)
by Diane Rufino, December 22, 2018
On October 16, 2018, Francisco Gonzalez wrote an article, or more aptly, a book review, entitled “ Why Open Borders Are Bad for America’s Immigrants”; it was published by The Federalist. In that article, Gonzalez reviewed and commented (apparently in support of) Reihan Salam’s book ‘Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders.”
In this article below, I am providing some thoughts and commentary, and some opinions and counter-arguments as well, on both Gonzalez’ article and the underlying work which is Salam’s book. I write this with no disrespect at all for either Mr. Gonzalez or Mr. Salam, and I hope that my commentary does not suggest so. I am grateful to both for their coverage and thoughts on this hot topic of open borders because it helps to further a robust debate on the issue. Immigration reform is certainly the defining issue of our time, with the current administration. I believe strongly in the First Amendment and the need for all viewpoints in order that Americans can have the most exhaustive discussions and debates on matters touching on their country, their government, and their communities. Exhaustive discussions and debates helps us to form our opinions, to keep us most acutely informed, and to decide on the best course of action. The First Amendment was adopted first and foremost for political speech and expression, with the intent that a “marketplace of ideas” would be robust and full of diverse opinions and viewpoints and thus, enable Americans to make the most informed choices at the ballot box and to keep tabs on government.
I should begin by saying that I agree with Salam’s ultimate conclusion, which is that an “open borders” immigration policy is bad for the United States. But I want to emphasize that I believe it is bad for the country in general, for the population as a whole, and for the fatal threats it poses to our safety and security, and not simply for the reason that Salam suggests – which is that it is bad for America’s more recent immigrants. I also believe it is a reckless and illegitimate attempt to advance a political party’s interests way and above any other interests (including moral) that key political leaders may offer.
Gonzalez’s article begins:
Immigration has long been one of the hottest topics in America with no agreed upon policy solutions. We are often presented with one of two polarized choices. The first favors an open borders policy, where the free flow of migrants across our borders is welcomed and amnesty is granted to those who previously crossed the border unlawfully. The second option would seal the border, perhaps with a “wall,” and find and hunt down all illegal immigrants and deport them.
The election of Donald Trump, who clearly leans towards that second choice, has forced a needed argument about immigration. We can disagree on the tactics and the rhetoric Trump uses about immigration, but he has certainly compelled the nation to have the discussion and has moved the nation – including Congress – as close as it’s been to taking some kind of action to remedy this long standoff.
This is as timely a moment as ever for the release Reihan Salam’s book, “Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders.” Salam, a son of Bangladeshi immigrants, the executive director of National Review, and a fellow with National Review Institute (where I also work), argues that the real choice we have in our immigration debate “is whether we see the immigrants we welcome to our shores as permanent strangers to whom we have no obligation other than to deliver them from the relative poverty of their homelands, or as free and equal citizens to whom we are pledging our loyalty in this generation and in those to come.”
Clearly, Gonzalez says, Reihan Salam’s book provides an important viewpoint to the on-going discussion about immigration policy, and in particular, an open-borders policy.
However, what Gonzalez fails to recognize, fails to criticize, and fails to comment on is that Salam is insincere and intellectually dishonest about the issues surrounding the immigration debate. If Gonzalez is indeed framing the debate correctly according to Salam’s point of view, it is clear that Salam neglects the real issue in the immigration debate – which is “legal immigration” versus “illegal immigration.” Are we a nation of laws? Do we believe in the Rule of Law and the Constitution as the foundation of that law? If so, then we must demand that immigrants come here legally and our policy must enforce that and discourage illegal entry. If we don’t believe in the Rule of Law, if we believe laws are only for tax-burdened citizens to adhere to, if we believe that enforcement of federal laws is arbitrary, and we’ve abandoned the notion that the federal government is absolutely responsible for the objects expressly delegated to it by the Constitution, then open borders makes sense.
Salam also neglects the true nature of the push for an open borders immigration policy. The truth is that a relaxed immigration policy (ie, open borders policy) is a political issue with no concern at all for national security (a very real reason for the power to regulate immigration) but rather for political ends. Today’s illegal immigrants are tomorrow’s Democratic voters.
In his book, Salam argues that if we are to live up to the standards of America’s principles, which he hopes we will do, we would certainly want to move in a direction more towards an open immigration policy and a welcoming of illegals “as free and equal citizens.”
Salam argues that US immigration policy needs to address the concerns of those immigrants newly added to our country. He notes that, unfortunately, most immigrants and children of immigrants are not moving up the economic ladder. That is simply the truth of the matter. They are also not taking advantage of college and secondary education opportunities (or have as successful graduation rates) compared with their counterparts.
When they don’t do that, as Salam shows, they become stuck in ethnic enclaves. When they remain poor and only around other poor immigrants from their own ethnic backgrounds, not only do they not assimilate into America’s melting pot, but they also start forming grievances against their new host country. That’s a dangerous proposition not only for the American economy, but also for the American identity.
One of the key factors that contributes to this situation is that most immigrants are low-skilled workers who have traditionally been welcomed into our economy by those seeking cheap labor. However, as Salam shows throughout this book, low-skilled workers are less and less needed, as our modern economy shifts to automation and off-shoring of labor becomes a more likely proposition.
Note that others, economic experts, assert that since the United States has moved from a production economy to a “service” economy, low-skilled workers (such as servers, maids, housecleaners, landscapers, etc), will continue to be needed. In other words, there will always be a need (a “magnet”) for immigration – legal and illegal…. After all, we can’t forget that “there are certain jobs that Americans just won’t do,” even those who need jobs to support themselves and their families.
Gonzalez continues in his review of Salam’s book:
Salam points out that traditional free-market libertarians tend to favor a more open border policy, coupled with free trade, that is open to a more globalized labor pool, where products and services are manufactured abroad and imported at lower rates for consumers in the United States. At the same time, those who favor more protectionism in trade tend to be more limiting on immigration. He observes both of these sides can’t have their cake and eat it, too. “The decline of protectionism has made restricting low-skill immigration a more viable option,” says Salam. If we are to pursue more egalitarianism, this is a good thing. Salam argues that we need to shift our immigration policies towards a more selective, skills-based approach.
A selective, skills-based approach is the same approach that President Trump favors. He believes in an immigration policy that is not only based on legal entry into this country but also that focuses on merit-based entry as well. In other words, he wants immigrants to join our country who can add to our country – wealth, advanced skills, intellect – rather than to drain from taxpayers and otherwise burden our towns, cities, and communities.
Salam believes that such an approach will favor immigrants who are likely to be more economically stable and upwardly mobile. It will also favor our un-skilled citizenry who need jobs yet often find them given to immigrants (legal and illegal).
As Gonzalez points out, Salam’s concern regarding U.S. immigration policy is not simply for immigrants already in the United States, but also for those who need to emigrate to the United States because they are impoverished in the countries they currently reside:
Salam does not ignore that there are hundreds of millions of people living in poverty around the world who are on the move. He goes one further and recognizes that “the international poverty line is fundamentally arbitrary. It grossly underestimates the number of people around the world who are desperate to better their lot.”
In fact, it often takes that first lift out of poverty to be able to afford to move at all. That’s part of the reason we are seeing many migrants move from impoverished places in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. To this end, Salam provides many ways we can help those people. He goes so far as to suggest that “it’s time for Americans to roll up their sleeves and help.”
Why is it always “America’s problem” ? Why does it always seem to become America’s obligation to “help impoverished people,” to “help people around the world to better their lot,” and to help them “move from impoverished places.” Why must it become America’s moral imperative “to roll up our sleeves and help”? Last I remember, we have a United Nations and a concept known as “shared responsibility.”
Just because America is deemed a “wealthy” country (indeed, where on Earth are those considered poor and living in poverty seen so obese and living so relatively comfortably?), where does it say that she is obligated to share that wealth with those who need it? Where does it say that the money earned by hard-working Americans must be re-distributed to those who have no legal entitlement to it? Why must America’s wealth be constantly re-distributed all over the globe? Again, when are we going to recognize the concept of “shared responsibility”? (And let’s be clear, it’s not an actual responsibility, like that of a parent to raise and take care of his children; it’s more of a moral responsibility, one that helps relieve our collective conscience)
I know what our country’s actual prime responsibility is… It is a responsibility to its citizens. It is a responsibility to enforce the laws tasked to it by our government’s creation to regulate immigration (to enforce a common-sense effective immigration policy) and to keep us safe from harm and any threat of it, and to keep us secure at home in our way of life.
Gonzalez article continues and concludes:
Salam doesn’t say we have to tackle any one or all of the ideas he proposes in one of the later chapters of the book; however, he does add some innovative concepts on how Americans could help those in poverty abroad. They include: international development; incentivizing older Americans to retire abroad (including investing their Medicare and Social Security benefits in developing countries, which alleviates the stress on America’s health-care sector); working with other countries to develop charter cities that would employ low-skill workers without them having to enter the United States; and creating financial incentives and trade concessions to spur industrial development in zones that consist of large multitudes of displaced refugees.
Some of these solutions may be a hard pill to swallow for those who believe in smaller government and even smaller U.S. foreign aid, but it seems Salam proposes these ideas mostly to counter advocates who claim the United States has a moral obligation to open its borders to those in impoverished nations who are migrating to improve their circumstances.
He smartly weighs the short-term and long-term costs to the U.S. government and economy for each of these proposals. However, one wonders what will happen once these ideas go from a scholarly book like Salam’s into the hands of policymakers in Congress. At that point, how much more will that budget increase and for how long will America’s ruling class want to keep these new programs in place?
Salam’s book should add weight to many of the policy proposals in the RAISE Act (the bill from U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue that has found some favor with President Trump). It creates a points system that rewards immigrants who have higher skills and won’t burden U.S. taxpayers.
Salam also suggests the United States should be working closer with Mexico rather than the keeping our currently strained relationship. He points out that as the Mexican economy has been improving, we have seen fewer Mexicans coming into the United States. The largest sector of immigrants crossing the U.S. border from Mexico – mostly illegally – has been from poorer Central American countries. A stronger U.S. partnership would encourage Mexico to stop the flow of migrants coming through Mexico from Central America into the United States.
Salam also argues that we should partner with Mexico in a combined effort to help the economies of Central American nations improve, so that citizens of those countries have less need to uproot themselves for a better opportunity in the United States.
Throughout his book Melting Pot or Civil War? Salam forces us to look at the effects more than 8 million unauthorized immigrants have on the U.S. economy and government spending, not to mention the ethnic tensions their economic stagnation could contribute towards fracturing America’s culture.
That is perhaps what Salam considers the most important element of his argument. If we do not create conditions that allow immigrants who come to the United States from all over the world to assimilate and build a melting pot culture, then we are doomed to move towards cultural fragmentation and the polarization of different peoples in our country. There will be an increasingly widening gap between the affluent and the poor. Working-class Americans, as well as immigrants, will continue to fight for a scarcity of low-skill jobs, struggle to achieve economic mobility, and fail to move towards the cultural mainstream of America.
Just as Trump’s election has forced an argument over immigration, Salam’s book has the opportunity to persuade us to look at innovative policy solutions to transform America’s mired immigration system into one that works for migrants seeking to better their lot. At the same time, these solutions will also help American citizens and the immigrants we welcome work towards building a melting pot, rather than continue to intensify ethnic conflict and economic strife.
Salam overemphasizes the obligation we owe to immigrants – both those who seek to come here and those who are here illegally, hoping for some kind of amnesty policy. He overemphasizes the obligation we owe to people from other parts of the world, especially unilaterally.
It is in this respect that Salam, like so very many others, commits another erroneous assumption. Salam and others like to say that “America is a land of immigrants,” not to underscore how the country was created and developed, but to suggest that our immigration system MUST ensure that the country continues to bring on more and more immigrants. America had no choice at one time but to grow as a land of “immigrants” because its only native population were the American Indians. Immigrants are, by definition, people who leave their country to move to another with the intent of making that new country their home. For over two hundred years, in three major waves, our country grew and benefitted from immigration: During the colonial era, during the first part of the 19th century, and finally, from the 1880s to 1920. (For now, let’s ignore the recent immigration crisis we are experiencing from Mexico and other Hispanic countries). The last two waves saw immigrants coming to America for greater economic opportunity, while the first wave, particularly with such groups as the Pilgrims and the Puritans, who arrived to here in 1620 and then 1630, respectively, saw immigrants seeking religious freedom. By 1912, the United States was just about completely formed (New Mexico and Arizona became states that year, becoming the 47th and 48th states to join the union; Hawaii and Alaska would complete the union in 1959). While America had become a land of immigrants, the country began to re-consider how exactly it wanted to grow even before the start of the 20th century, which is its sovereign right. The first significant pieces of federal legislation restricting immigration were passed in 1875 and then in 1882, when they specifically restricted Chinese immigrants. The Page Act of 1875 restricted the immigration of forced laborers coming from Asia, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 halted all legal immigration of Chinese laborers (our country’s first major exclusionary immigration restriction), and then the Immigration Act of 1882 which restricted other classes of persons from entering the country. Additional restrictions, including compete bans, followed in the early 1920’s.
Yesterday’s immigrants have become generational Americans. Many can trace their roots to colonial times and to the American Revolution. Many can point to relatives that were killed during the American Civil War. And still more can take immense pride in the fact that great-grandparents and grandparents fought for our country in World War I and in World War II, respectively. These one-time immigrants truly contributed and help build this country; they came here legally with nothing to support them but the money in their pockets and the desire to work or find a niche in the community to support themselves and their families. There were no welfare checks, no social programs, no Food Stamps, no tax credits, no free healthcare. There were ethnic communities but no ethnic protesting or ethnic rage; no flying of home country flags and burning of American flags.
During her years of robust immigration, America offered something special – opportunity and freedom, two things that other countries around the world could not offer or deliver. The inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty is a poignant reminder of how the United States embraced immigrants to its shored: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” Indeed, Lady Liberty represents an exciting new chapter in Lady Liberty’s story of freedom. ” The statue was given to America as a gift of friendship from the people of France and dedicated on October 28, 1886. France gave it the name “Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” to recognize its mission of freedom and democracy. The very design of the statue reflects that message of freedom and democracy: At the feet of Lady Liberty, partially hidden by her robe, are broken shackles (signify a breaking away from tyranny and oppression), in her outstretched hand, she carries a torch, lighting the way to freedom and showing the path to Liberty, in her other arm, she cradles a tablet (evoking law; the Rule of Law), and on her head rests a crown with seven rays (representing the seven continents).
The years after our Civil War and then Reconstruction were years of rapid industrialization, western expansion, and rapid growth. Yes, it was a time for immigration. It was a time when immigration was necessary and important for the growth that the country was experiencing and the production it was becoming world famous for. So yes, at one time (and for many years at that), “America was a land of immigrants.”
But it is false and misleading to think that our country needs to perpetuate the idea that our country still a land of ” – that notion that we need to continue being a “land of immigrants.” Our country is now fully developed and fully populated (lest we truly believe in a diminished quality of life) and our focus is to grow our country mostly from within. The country belongs to its citizens and its citizens have spoken clearly – they want a wall and they want legal immigration – with a sensible policy to guide immigration here.
Reference: Francisco Gonzalez, “Open Borders Are Bad for America’s Immigrants,” The Federalist, October 16, 2018. Referenced at: http://thefederalist.com/2018/10/16/open-borders-are-bad-for-americas-immigrants/
*** Francisco Gonzalez is the director of philanthropy at National Review Institute.