There are two fundamental arguments put forward in support of mass immigration. Both treat immigrants not as actors with human agency or individual traits, but as abstract commodities to be used to achieve particular ideological or economic ends.
The first type fall under the category of what we can label Historical Determinism. These arguments are variants of the premise that “America is a nation of immigrants,” which has as its conclusion the assertion that America’s immigrant history precludes any restrictions on legal immigration in the present.
Clearly this argument is not rational, as it holds that immigration policy set in the past can never be altered or undone by a future Congress. Not only is this offensive to the democratic underpinnings of America’s constitutional system, it is beyond the ken of sane public policy. Unfortunately, sanity is often absent from the debate over U.S. immigration policy (QED Marco “No Limits” Rubio).
Some Americans have come to accept a mythological retelling of our nation’s immigration history which alters or omits actual events in order to conform to the narrative that there can never be too much immigration, and this results in an irrational approach to immigration politics. No other aspect of American history has been so distorted. Even reverence for the Founding Fathers and their work at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 has not prevented future generations from amending the Constitution 17 times since it was originally ratified.
If there had been only one set of laws governing immigration since the nation’s inception, today’s proponents of mass immigration could make the argument that precedent and custom weigh against any modification. But immigration has been governed by various sets of laws over time. The first law relating to immigration, The Naturalization Act of 1790, prevented anyone who was not “a free white person [barring indentured servants]” from becoming a citizen.
The law of the land during the Great Wave, which is most often referenced as the eternal immigration model, essentially barred all non-Europeans and was implemented in an era of Jim Crow segregation that excluded Black Americans from jobs in Northern factories. Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, and W.E.B. Du Bois (also A. Philip Randolph) all spoke out against excessive immigration from Europe, and, a century later, Barbara Jordan continued their legacy of seeking to remedy the disproportionate effect mass immigration has on minority Americans.
The foundation of the current immigration system was only put into place in 1965, and the current annual average of one million immigrants is due to the Immigration Act of 1990. Without facts on their side, historical determinists embrace a larger force they believe to be acting upon history, the Weltgeist, if you will, embodied in Emma Lazarus’ poem and its portent that the arc of justice bends toward open borders.
The import of this type of argument is that ever-increasing levels of immigration are inevitable due to immutable laws of the universe. Of course, this is true, unless the American people, who overwhelmingly want less immigration, convince their Congressional representatives to change the law.
The second type of immigration expansionist argument is Growthism, with all economic justifications eventually narrowing to “immigration grows the economy.” Unlike historical determinism, this is actually based on fact. Adding tens of millions of people to the United States population has, and will, grow the economy, as measured by the increase in the Gross Domestic Product. Those who employ this argument are relying on Americans to accept the premise that all “growth is good,” and that growth is synonymous with prosperity.
Other economic argument have been made to support mass immigration, such as immigrants never compete with Americans for jobs, and immigration actually raises wages and makes almost all Americans better off. Thirty years of job insecurity and increasing income inequality correlating with an increasing foreign-born population have discredited these talking points. The push by the Gang of Eight for massive increases in immigration on the heels of the Great Recession convinced Americans that the “elite” have no interest in supporting an immigration system that suits the needs of the general public, and that the current growth model is designed to benefit a very narrow set of special interests.
All that’s left now is to parrot the truism that more immigration makes the economy bigger than less immigration, and pairing it with the falsehood that this will result in fewer jobs and lower earnings for American workers.
Ramesh Ponnuru has an effective critique of this position:
Normally it would be a strong argument against a policy that it reduced the size of the economy and the number of jobs, and a strong argument for it if it had the opposite effects. But a policy that changes the national population has to be evaluated differently. If someone proposed annexing Canada, we would not think he had made a strong case just by pointing out that the two countries’ combined economic output would be higher than either one alone.…Of course the economy is going to be smaller with fewer immigrants. But that could be the case even if reducing immigration did not reduce the income of a single person in the U.S. Nearly as inevitably, fewer immigrants means a smaller number of workers here. But that doesn't mean that anyone in the country would lose a job (or fail to get one) because of the reduction in immigration.
There was a great deal of media attention paid to a report put out by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, which projected the RAISE Act would result in less GDP growth and a smaller labor market. No surprise there, and the hyperbolic press reports largely fell flat. However, what went unreported because the Wharton School press release didn’t mention it, nor was it included in the report released to the public, was that wages for Americans were projected to increase with the passage of the RAISE Act.
When asked by a Breitbart reporter why the wage information was excluded, Wharton economist Kent Smetters replied:
Despite our best efforts at complete transparency, I appreciate that our written analysis was short on details … I agree that we can improve our communications of describing the sophisticated nature of our model, that is, besides just showing the underlying math equations, which are available in white paper presentations on our website.
In our last immigration report last summer, conservatives — and recall that I was a political appointee during the first term of Bush — seemed to be content with us reporting per capita GDP ratios. However, we will update the current report with some wage information as well, since more information is, of course, the best.
In other words, an economist committed to immigration expansion will get to work to fix the glitch in his “sophisticated model” until it spits out the results he wants.
ERIC RUARK is the Director of Research for NumbersUSA
Updated: Fri, Sep 1st 2017 @ 11:40pm EDT