A change in the wind on immigration

In March 2006, as the debate on the comprehensive immigration bill of that year was heating up, VFR reader David G. wrote:

In his book The New Americans, a paean to the immigration of the early twentieth century, Michael Barone insists that we (the U.S.) have been here before: Everybody is just like somebody else, and we will all be just fine if we just understand that simple, cogent assessment of modern immigration….

In other words, mass Third World immigration to the United States is no more outside the pattern of American life than kids playing baseball on a Saturday afternoon in July. And anyone who has any problem with it is some kind of creep. That was the attitude Barone conveyed in 2006 and 2007—arrogant, mindless, kneejerk dismissal of any problems people had with the legalization of 12 million illegal aliens and a huge expansion of legal immigration.

But now, in his syndicated column, Barone is singing a different tune. First, he points out that notwithstanding Obama’s stated intention to revive the failed effort of ‘06 and ‘07, the political support that drove those measures is no longer there. Not only are Democrats leery, but “the Republicans who took the lead on the Senate bills in 2006 and 2007 aren’t interested in doing so again.” That would have to include John McCain, the leading Republican sponsor of the 2007 bill and the country’s most driven and committed open borders fanatic. Did McCain’s 31 percent showing among Hispanic voters, after he repeatedly threw his Republican base under the bus on their behalf, finally have an impact on the thought processes of the Arizona genius?

Barone then goes further and says, not just that comprehensive reform lacks support, but that in his view it would be “unwise” to revive the 2006-07 legislation. Why? Because illegal immigration has declined and the illegal alien population has also significantly declined, by 14 percent. This is great news, but how would that change the absolutely urgent, compelling argument for amnesty we heard in 2004, and 2006, and 2007? Surely the fact that there are, say, 10 million illegals in the U.S. now compared to 12 million two years ago would not change the moral and practical imperative need to bring those ten milliono people “out of the shadows,” and all the rest of it.

Barone finally comes to his reason for backing away from comprehensive reform:

As one who has tended to support comprehensive bills, I think we might, at a time when high unemployment means we have less need for unskilled workers, have to consider moving away from family reunification and toward high skill levels in our criteria for legal immigration, as Canada and Australia already do.

This would seem to be hard evidence that economic decline will change the thinking of even an unthinking open borders proponent.

However, there’s still a puzzle here. Barone is not just saying, “Let’s put amnesty and expansion of immigration on ice until the economy improves.” He’s saying, “Let’s adopt the more skill-based admission systems of Canada and Australia, and [he’s implicitly saying] drop amnesty permanently.” This indicates a deeper alteration in Barone’s attitudes than could be explained by a recession which will end at some point. What brought about the change he doesn’t say. Maybe, just as his support for comprehensive reform was essentially an unthinking response to the consensus of his social and professional environment, so is his newfound opposition to it.

Here is the column:

September 3
New Facts Undercut Old Positions on Immigration
By Michael Barone

Before leaving for his vacation on Martha’s Vineyard, Barack Obama said the next big item on his legislative agenda—well, after health care and cap-and-trade and maybe labor’s bill to effectively abolish secret ballots in union elections—was immigration reform. What he has in mind, apparently, is something like the comprehensive immigration bills that foundered in the House in 2006 and in the Senate in 2007. These featured guest-worker and enforcement provisions, as well as a path to legalization.

The prospects for such legislation still seem iffy. Immigration bills have typically needed bipartisan support to pass, and the Republicans who took the lead on the Senate bills in 2006 and 2007 aren’t interested in doing so again. And some Democratic congressional leaders are wary of a bill that many members’ constituents oppose.

But there’s another reason why Congress and the administration would be unwise to revive the 2006-07 legislation. The facts on the ground have changed. The surge of illegal immigrants into the United States, which seemed to be unrelenting for most of the last two decades, seems to be over, at least temporarily, and there’s a chance it may never resume.

The facts are in some dispute, as is inevitably the case, since available statistics are subject to error. The Pew Hispanic Center reported in July that the flow of immigrants from Mexico—by far the leading source of illegals—has declined sharply since mid-decade and that from spring 2008 to spring 2009 only 175,000 Mexicans entered the United States, only about one-quarter as many in 2004-05. The number of Mexican natives in the U.S. has declined slightly this year. But, Pew concludes, there is no evidence of an increase in the total returning to Mexico.

The Center for Immigration Studies had a different interpretation in its July report. It tried to distinguish legal and illegal immigrants, and found no decline in legal immigrants. But it estimated that the number of illegals in the U.S. dropped from 12.5 million in summer 2007 to 10.8 million in spring 2008—a decline of 14 percent. It found that the illegal population declined after July 2007, when the immigration bill died in the Senate, and then fell off more sharply with the financial crisis in fall 2008. It estimated that 1.2 million illegals returned to Mexico between

2006 and 2009, more than twice as many as in the 2002-05 period.

From this evidence, I draw two conclusions. First, stricter enforcement—the border fence, more Border Patrol agents, more stringent employer verification, and state and local laws—has reduced the number of illegal immigrants. Second, the recession has reduced the number of both legal and illegal immigrants.

CIS explicitly and Pew implicitly conclude that immigration will rise again once the economy revives. I’m not so sure. At least some of the stricter enforcement measures will continue. And the reservoir of potential immigrants may be drying up. Birth rates declined significantly in Mexico and Latin America circa 1990. And as immigration scholars Timothy Hatton and Jeffrey Williamson write, emigration rates from Mexico and Latin America—the percentage of the population leaving those countries—peaked way back in 1985-94.

Moreover, people immigrate not only to make money but to achieve dreams. And one of those dreams has been shattered for many Latino immigrants. Most housing foreclosures have occurred in four states—California, Nevada, Arizona and Florida—and about one-third of those who have lost their homes are Hispanic. Immigration is stimulated by the reports of success that immigrants send back home. It may be discouraged by reports of failure.

The apparent sharp decline in immigration and the possible or likely return of masses of illegals to their countries of origin won’t necessarily change the stands of supporters and opponents of comprehensive immigration reform. But they should prompt all of us to rethink our positions. As one who has tended to support comprehensive bills, I think we might, at a time when high unemployment means we have less need for unskilled workers, have to consider moving away from family reunification and toward high skill levels in our criteria for legal immigration, as Canada and Australia already do.

That’s not likely to be the approach taken by the Obama administration or congressional Democrats. Obama may be eager for action, but we all may be better off taking time to understand the emerging facts that may be redefining the problem before trying to come up with a solution.

[end of Barone column]

- end of initial entry -

LL writes:

Barone is a liar. I heard him on Larry Kudlow’s radio show last Saturday pretending to a caller that he knew nothing about the 1965 immigration disaster and Edward Kennedy’s pivotal role in getting it passed. He said, all innocence, that Kennedy was a junior senator at the time and almost certainly couldn’t have spearheaded any significant legislation (or something to that effect).

Rest assured, he will reverse himself as soon as it appears that the wind has started blowing back in a pro-immigration direction.

LA replies:

I’m not disagreeing with you that he may easily switch back again. But why would he claim no knowledge of the 1965 Act? He wrote a book on immigration. He would have to know something about the 1965 Act. Also, he would have to know that Kennedy chaired the Senate subcommittee on immigration hearings on the 1965 bill. That doesn’t necessarily mean Kennedy played the leading role in getting the bill passed, but certainly he was centrally involved. Also, the Kennedy brothers saw the immigration bill as part of the late President Kennedy’s legacy.

Mark P. writes:

I don’t know, but I think Barone’s point is a distinction without a difference. What difference does it make if we switch from mass illegal immigration to mass legal immigration, with a focus on “skills?” What is the value of the skilled immigrant labor that we bring in? That they are not nearly the blood-sucking parasites of their ignorant, illiterate cousins? That is supposed to be the standard?

This mystical belief in the magical “skilled” immigrant is as phony baloney as the “hard-working illegal.”

Consider, between 1924 and 1965, America put a cap on immigration across the board. In addition to the salutary effects of creating a broad middle class and a cohesive American culture, this period also marked incredible revolutions in science and technology that changed the world:

1) Commercialization of the automobile.
2) Commercialization of the aircraft.
3) Radar
4) Rockets
5) Radio
7) The Jet Engine
8) Computers
9) The Transistor
10) The Space Program
11) The Microwave Oven
12) DNA Discovery

This is just a list off the top of my head. I’m sure you could find more.

Now, consider the period between 1965 and 2009. What have been the current revolutionary technologies? What technologies have made revolutionary changes in our society?

1) Internet
2) Video games.

Seriously. This is just a short list off the top of my head and it’s debatable that these are even revolutionary.

Certainly, there have been advances in technology, evolutionary changes as a result of having 44 additional years to figure things out. But there has been little in the way of life-altering, revolutions of the kind that we saw in the pre-1965 period.

At the same time, we’ve seen a massive increase in the number of foreigners in science and engineering departments, as well as women and minorities. Science and technology has developed a reputation of being an exclusive Chinese/Indian domain. Yet, where are today’s great inventions? Nowhere. I would not be surprise if foreign science is just a grant writing scam designed to defraud the federal government.

In sum, when organized science was dominated by white men, we get the modern world. Now that it is dominated by foreigners, we get better graphics.

LA replies:

An interesting argument with obvious holes. For one thing, nonwhites did not suddenly become dominant in U.S. science in 1965; the dominance has developed over time. However, in the long run there is no question but that Mark is right: a nonwhite dominated society will be a lower level society in all kinds of ways, including scientific innovation.

As for Mark’s other argument, of course he is right that the differences between America’s suicidal immigration policy and Canada’s suicidal immigration policy are not that important. Still, the immediate issue facing the U.S. in recent years was not the continuation of mass Third World legal immigration versus the cessation of mass Third-World legal immigration, but comprehensive reform including amnesty for all illegals and a vast expansion of legal immigration, which in some formulations (e.g., President Bush’s “you can come if there’s a job for you”); was tantamount to literally open borders. And the fact that an open borders ideologue like Barone has backed away from the Bush madness is worth noting.

However another possibility that occurs to me is that Barone’s move is political. He supported comprehensive reform so long as it was President Bush’s baby. But now that a Democratic president is in office and pushing the same bill, it’s less attractive to Barone. Along the same lines, I note that Ralph Peters came out for a withdrawal from Afghanistan immediately after Obama took office. We had had our forces in Afghanistan for seven years prior to that, and Peter had never before said that we should withdraw from Afghanistan.

A. Zarkov writes:

The changed wind is still an ill wind. Barone wrote:

“I think we might, at a time when high unemployment means we have less need for unskilled workers, have to consider moving away from family reunification and toward high skill levels in our criteria for legal immigration, as Canada and Australia already do.”

With this statement Barone reveals either his ignorance or his perfidy. The U.S. has no shortage of high skilled workers, and mass immigration of so-called high skilled workers is even more damaging to the U.S. The H1B (strictly speaking not an immigration program) program has badly hurt the U.S. middle class by enabling age discrimination and lowering salaries. Together with outsourcing the job opportunities for American scientists, engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians have been greatly diminished. It’s obvious that Barone buys into the idea that since American schools are failing to produce enough highly educated people to support our high tech industries, we need to import hordes of skilled foreigners to fill the gap. This is the industry position, and putative conservatives such as Barone and Kudlow push this nonsense with zeal. They often quote average U.S. student scores on international math and science tests to prove their case. But what they don’t realize, or won’t realize, is that the U.S. has an underclass problem, not an education problem. Blacks and Hispanics, who are now 28 percent of the U.S. population and probably over 35 percent of the student population, drag down the average scores on this tests, but not the high scores. It’s the high scoring population of students that provide us with skilled labor. In other words, progress come from the upper tail of the IQ bell curve, not the middle. They seem entirely ignorant of the Pareto principle, or the law of the vital few, which governs most economic effects.

While low skill immigrants from the Third World constitute a dead-weight drag on the U.S. economy, they are not as existentially threatening as out sourcing and the H-B program. For one thing H1-B entrants are far from the “best and the brightest,” because all you need is a foreign bachelor’s degree to qualify. They function mainly to drag down salaries and put Americans out of work. But more seriously they have caused the best and the brightest American students to seek careers in law and finance. A few years ago about half of Harvard graduates went into finance because that’s the only place left with good salaries. But law and finance are unproductive activities, they don’t add to the future wealth of the nation, they merely redistribute it.

To be sure, Third World immigration will also eventually become an existential threat when the numbers get high enough to change the political system. I think Barone might have come around on this issue, but he and many other conservatives are missing the big picture. The U.S. simply has no need of further immigration, skilled or otherwise.

LA replies:

I agree that the changed wind is still an ill wind. But if the Republican-Democratic establishment is now giving up its commitment to comprehensive reform which has been its main object since at least January 2004 when Bush announced his whacko open-borders plans, that is a change in the wind and it is a big deal.

LL replies to LA:

You wrote:

“I’m not disagreeing with you that he may easily switch back again. But why would he claim no knowledge of the 1965 Act? He wrote a book on immigration. He would have to know something about the 1965 Act.”

My take? He was playing dumb because he was appearing on a show hosted by a rabid open-borders advocate and didn’t want to address the caller’s intimation that the 1965 Act was bad (and, hence, a blemish on Senator Kennedy’s legacy). Tellingly, they soon went to a commercial break with the promise that the discussion would continue when they returned…which, of course, it did not.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at September 04, 2009 09:36 AM | Send

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