Mercer cheers Frum on immigration—but is there any there there?

Ilana Mercer, in an entry entitled “Bravo David Frum,” correctly, but with admirable understatement, characterizes my characterization of David Frum’s recent CNN column on immigration as “less charitable” than her own. In the case of Frum, however, I would reply that a lack of charity is simple justice.

Let’s start with some of Frum’s immigration-critical statements which Ilana quotes:

What is immigration for? What are we trying to accomplish?

A century ago, the answer seemed obvious. Factories and mines clamored for workers as an underpopulated continent beckoned settlers.

America in the 21st century, however, does not suffer from a generalized labor shortage.

These observations are unobjectionable. The problem with Frum’s analysis is that it only addresses the inadequacy of the self-interested reasons America may have for importing over a million non-European immigrants a year. It misses the primary reason for our immigration policy, which is not self-interest, but our need to practice liberal goodness: we are demonstrating our openness to the peoples of the world, and in particular we are demonstrating that we do not discriminate against anyone but admit immigrants regardless of how different they are from us. Such openness and such non-discrimination are seen today, by both liberals and “conservatives,” as the very essence of America, transcending all practical calculations of self-interest.

A further compelling reason that Americans support immigration, or utterly decline to oppose it, is that we are validating and empowering people’s desires: people from all over the world want to come to America, and so we let them. Not to do so would be selfish, exclusionary, racist, and un-American. For example, when Sarah Palin was asked by the Hispanic TV station Univision during the 2008 campaign if she supported “a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants,” she replied:

I do because I understand why people would want to be in America. To seek the safety and prosperity, the opportunities, the health that is here.

Her argument came down to saying that since people want to be in America, we must help them fulfil that desire, no matter how they come here, legally or not.

Since the belief in non-discrimination, openness, and helping people fulfil their desires is what actually drives our immigration policy, any effort to reduce legal immigration would have to confront the inevitable charge that immigration reduction is exclusionary, racist, and un-American. Is David Frum prepared to confront that charge? Hardly. He himself has made a career of calling immigration restrictionists racists and seeking to banish them from mainstream debate. In a letter to me in the mid 1990s, he argued that America is morally obligated to have wide open immigration for all the peoples of the world because of our historic discrimination against blacks. Does Frum now say that we are not so obligated? Is Frum—who on the cover of Newsweek in 2009 demonized the mainstream, race-blind, pro-immigration conservative Rush Limbaugh as a dangerous bigot who should “shut up”—equipped to stand against the onslaught of politically correct outrage that would be instantly triggered by any serious attempt to reduce legal immigration?

There is absolutely no sign that this is the case. Frum is playing on the barest surface of the issue. His “questions” about immigration are not to be taken seriously, because, in his handling of them, they can go nowhere. A man who jacks up anti-conservative Political Correctness to a new level, as Frum did in his Limbaugh article, is the last person in the world who is equipped to take a stand for the supremely un-PC issue of immigration reduction and stick with it.

See more on Frum here.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 06, 2011 10:27 AM | Send

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