"How much immigration should we allow into the United States? And who should be allowed in?"
Those are the questions NPR/WAMU's "1A" poised in it's April 11 episode featuring David Frum (The Atlantic) and Jose Antonio Vargas (Define American). Along with "how should they be enforced?" they are also the fundamental questions of immigration policy.
Early in the episode, Frum - who was invited to discuss his recent article “How Much Immigration Is Too Much?” (The Atlantic, April 2019) - cautioned that these questions must be answered by Americans "while keeping sight of the humanity of people."
"They are doing what you would do in their shoes," said Frum.
Frum was very clear about his recommendations: go back to levels of the 80s (550,000 per year), prioritize skills & nuclear family, and make the workplace the central arena for enforcement (basically, the Jordan Commission's recommendations) plus an amnesty for "the long-settled illegal immigrants."
When guest host Todd Zwillich suggested that the Gang of Eight bill was a missed opportunity to resolve these questions, Frum politely demurred.
"You have to read the fine print," Frum said as he explained that all "comprehensive" bills are agreements between interest groups who agree on increasing immigration, which is why they ultimately fail.
Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-prize-winning journalist who is in the country illegally, wanted nothing to do with the question of limits. He complimented Frum as "a serious thinker" but spent most of his time on the show suggesting Frum's ideas were beyond the pale. Vargas tried to draw a line between Frum's column and white nationalism, he questioned the source of Frum's statistics, and - despite Frum's words to the contrary - said he felt Frum was attacking him personally and immigrants in general.
Frum addressed all of Vargas' questions and charges during the show, but the real conflict was between one man's desire to engage on the question of limits and another man's desire to avoid it.
"I am here without authorization from the government," Vargas said. "
"I can get detained and deported at any point. But I as a person, am not illegal. Because people can't be illegal."
In his closing thoughts, Vargas spoke with emotion about how Frum's article made him feel:
"And I got to tell you, David, when I was reading that article - and I applaud you for saying you wrote it without having wanted to blame anybody - I feel like you're blaming me. I feel like you blamed all of these other immigrants...you're putting all the onus on these immigrants who not only don't have the power to define - right - but to actually go up against all these facts."
Zwillich invited Frum to respond.
FRUM: If you're going to take part in an enormously important public conversation, you have to be able to read things that you don't agree with without being bruised -
VARGAS (overlapping): Oh, I absolutely agree.
FRUM: - And that's part of being an adult. And if you can't do that, you can't participate in an adult conversation at all. You know, we have a lot at stake here. Not just the present but the future. One of the things people say in adventure movies is "failure is not an option." But in Democracy failure is always an option. There is no guarantee that the American experiment is going to succeed. To make a success of it, we need to have a strong economy, we need to have a strong fiscal system, we need a strong sense of cohesion. And this is one of the points I make in the article, I really want -- even people who are inclined to disagree with me to think about this -- without enforcement, there are no borders. Without borders, there are no nations. When someone said "borders are just lines on a map" -- of course that's true but inside those borders are electorates. Because without borders there are no electorates. And without electorates there's no democracy. Democracy has grown up with the idea of strong states with strong borders. In the days when there were no borders we didn't have democratic systems. We just had principalities everywhere. If you're going to have democracy, you need borders. And what we are putting at risk with a system that says "people can come and go" is: when do people become voters? Who is not a voter? To whom does the state have obligations?
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Mon, Apr 29th 2019 @ 9:35am EDT