Immigration continues to be a hot topic of debate during the Trump Presidency. Just this week, President Trump and Democratic Congressional leadership discussed (read: argued about) border security and a potential government shutdown live on camera in the Oval Office.
Here to help us make sense of it all, Robert Wilkes and Taylor Rose discuss their opposing viewpoints on immigration. If you like what you read, check out more Political Pen Pals debates here.
I am a Conservative and a Trump supporter and I personally don’t know anyone who wants to close off immigration. I’ll bet you a beer you don’t know anyone either. The charge that Trump supporters are xenophobic, racists and anti-immigration is a fallacy despite what CNN and MSNBC say 24/7.
Immigrants provide the wit, grit and creative drive that powers our innovation-centric economy. In my state, the Seattle Times reports that more than half of software coders in Seattle at Microsoft, Amazon, Expedia, and hundreds of other high-tech companies are immigrants. Even the CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, is from India. Indeed the Wall Street Journal reports that out of 91 “unicorns” (startups worth $1 billion or more), 55% were founded by immigrants. The immigrant founders came from 25 different countries including 9 from Canada and Israel, 8 from India, 7 from the UK, 6 from China, 4 from Germany, and 3 from France, Ireland and Russia. These startups had a collective value of $248 billion and employed an average of more than 1,200 people each.
High-skilled immigration is critical to the American economy. Having been surpassed by China in manufacturing, innovation is the American competitive advantage. If some dark day we close the door to immigrants, we will decay down to an agricultural economy like New Zealand.
Immigration has its limits
High-skilled immigration is an indisputable success, but Americans will not tolerate unlimited immigration. Anyone possessing a sober mind realizes we would be overrun if we opened our borders. World Bank data from 2018 shows that half the population of the world still lives on less than $5.50 per day, or roughly $2,000 per year. Mean household income in the US is about $57,000 per year. When taken together with our other attributes, such as safety, opportunity and superior health care, the US is an enormously powerful magnet to people the world over.
We simply can’t accommodate everyone who wants to come here. Our social services and healthcare systems are stretched thin and are predicted to run out of funding soon (Medicare in 2026, Social Security in 2034). Some state budgets are in crisis and are hanging by a thread. America must have a process that determines who may immigrate and how many may enter.
Avoiding economic collapse may seem like simple logic, but many in America believe in open borders. In my view, and this will sound harsh, those who espouse open borders are virtue signaling to preen their social-justice egos. Prominent among them, I am dismayed to say, are in the clergy. Those calling for the abolition of ICE are the most ingenuous of all.
We live in politically hysterical times and our words have been corrupted for political power. The left’s devotion to open immigration has many parts but at the root it is this: Trump is hideous and must be opposed; Trump promised to end illegal immigration; ergo, open borders, sanctuary cities and catch-and-release policies are noble and just. Support for these practices is about hate for Trump more than it is about sensible immigration policies.
It gets worse. In America we view all things through identity politics. As relentless as water flowing downhill, those on the right who want to bring order to our immigration policies are labeled racist. How well it works! Slander someone as “racist” and all debate stops.
Recently left-leaning news media have interjected themselves by inventing a “new” crisis of children being separated from their mothers. It has always been thus, even under Obama, when women are taken into custody. Every woman with children who has been arrested and jailed or convicted of a crime and imprisoned in America has been separated from her children. All that is new is that the left has found another opportunity to depict conservatives as cruel.
Whatever effect support for open border immigration may have on our society, it has delivered increased political power to the left. Democrats expect immigrants to support them for their emphasis on expansive immigration, and they do. States bordering Mexico have been transformed from red to blue. Orange County, CA, once a bastion of conservatism and home of John Wayne Airport, no longer has a single Republican representative. Arizona and Nevada, once reliably red states, are not anymore. Likewise, Texas is moving leftward and may tip in the near future. Pro-open border demagoguery has rewarded Democrats with control of the House in 2018. Sheer power is the Holy Grail and immigrants are pawns in the power game.
The real debate
The real debate, in my view, is not a choice between immigration and cloistered xenophobia. It is about two questions: (1) Does rule of law apply to immigration? and (2) Who gets in and who doesn’t?
Defending the rule of law feels like defending breathing. Rule of law is fundamental to popular sovereignty, to public safety and to any notion of a civil society. Rule of law needs no defense, and I will not spend any more of my argument here. Sanctuary cities violate the rule of law and endanger innocent citizens. They are classic examples of virtue signaling and demagoguery.
Conservatives support rule of law in immigration matters in order to preserve our unique ideals and institutions…our nation. A nation is home to a people (often a group of tribes) who share a common narrative. It has defined borders and its people are willing to fight and die to defend it.
That is nationalism, and nationalism is a good thing. Unfortunately, universities have taught impressionable young people that nationalism is foul and dangerous. Their theme song is John Lennon singing, “Imagine there’s no countries.” This nonsense that passes for scholarship is post-modernist claptrap.
Throughout history political orders have varied from tribalism to nationalism to empire. Nationalism is by far the best political order. Yoran Hazony explains why in his book, The Virtue of Nationalism. Tribalism provides autonomy but not safety; historically tribes go to war against tribes. Imperialism offers safety without autonomy; people are governed by leaders who live far away who don’t understand or care about the people they govern. Nationalism offers the best combination of safety and autonomy.
The European Union is an imperial form of government. Member countries opened their borders to each other and created an economic union to avoid cross-border tariffs and taxes. But Frenchmen, Spaniards, Germans and other Europeans also abrogated their sovereignty to a small pan-national group of intellectuals in Brussels they did not elect. The Brits have had enough. Others will follow.
Erasing our national borders will not lead to one-world Utopia. Rather, it will encourage mass immigration from poor, corrupt, unsafe countries toward safe, orderly and successful countries. Why wouldn’t they come? The organizers of the Central American caravan proved how easy it is to entice them.
Selecting who will be allowed to immigrate
Finally, we must discuss the matter of who will be allowed in. I prefer the Australian model. Among other criteria, Australians require that applicants be under 45, speak English and have demonstrable skills that are needed in Australia. I would also allow certain refugees to immigrate and others in special circumstances in small numbers.
The experiences of Western Europe, most notably the UK, Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium and Italy, warn against wholesale immigration from the Middle East. I don’t want America to follow that path, but that is a long debate. I’ll stop here and pick up the thread after your reply.
I think you owe me a drink. I know several people who would like to close immigration off entirely if they could. I could go into it, but I’m here to explain why I think liberals are neither virtue signalers nor demagogues.
I agree with you that high skill immigration is critical. For decades, the US has not been training enough high skill workers across all kinds of important industries. Thousands of software developers, doctors, and college professors immigrate to the US each year and do important work in this country.
However, I think some of your fears regarding other types of immigration may be overstated. To begin with, immigrants are not draining American coffers. All immigrants contribute to the US tax base. Most immigrants pay income taxes (which do not require you to have a social security number) and even more immigrants pay sales tax (45 of 50 states have a sales tax). Yet only half of all immigrants utilize social services. Even fewer are expected to utilize “vital” social services, like CHIP for children’s health insurance and SNAP for food stamps, given new executive orders from the White House.
As you noted, a large number of American startups and tech companies are led, managed, and staffed by high-education immigrants. But low-education immigrants are also an integral part of the American economy. There are 8 million illegal immigrants working in the US, mostly in “dirty jobs” like housekeeping, farming, and construction. The US currently has some of the lowest unemployment we’ve ever seen—just 4%. If we were to expel the 8 million illegal immigrants working in these less desirable industries, who would take these jobs? As the New York Times notes, there simply aren’t enough unemployed Americans who would be interested to fill these roles that are integral to a functioning society.
In regards to the humanity of the current immigration policy, you are correct in saying that the US separates thousands of children from their mothers each year as a part of our criminal justice system. (I would note that the criminal justice system of the US results in the highest per capita jailings of any developed country in the world and has some of the worst rates of recidivism. I’d be happy to debate you another time about potential reform!) The separation of children from their parents at the border of the US is degrees crueler than the criminal justice system, which is really saying something! The men and women crossing the border with their children are typically innocent people, often refugees, looking for a country where they can keep their children safe. Instead, they arrive to the border of the US and have their children ripped away from them. In a statement in an ACLU lawsuit, one mother wrote that she had less than ten minutes to say goodbye to her children. She begged that they be kept together, but did not know if they had actually been sent to separate foster homes. In other cases, children could not be reunited with their parents nor were they given any ability to communicate. Those children may never be able to see their parents again. Tearing young children from their mothers, taking them to undisclosed locations, and then isolating them from their families is not a policy to keep Americans safe and it is not just something that Democrats are latching onto for PR purposes. It is cruel and barbaric.
Notably missing from your letter was an opinion on Trump’s wall. While immigrants are not sucking America’s wallet dry, a concrete wall along the border very well might. Experts estimate that it would cost between $20B and $70B (even Fox News cites a high sticker price of $25B plus annual upkeep and maintenance). But the wall won’t stop smuggling. Drugs would continue to flood into the US by train, plane, automobile and most notably, tunnels and legal ports of entry. Similarly, guns would continue to flow into (and out of) the country in similar manners. It isn’t clear how the wall would impact the flow of people.
Finally, I’d like to address your thoughts about who gets to come to America. I agree that we need to change some of our strategic priorities around immigration. Letting in more higher degree holders and younger people would likely be beneficial to the US. However, the current immigration policies often block these very people from working and living in the US.
In January of 2017, when President Trump issued his “travel ban” on people from Muslim-majority countries, a good friend of mine from Iran was turned around at the airport and banned from coming to the US. At the time, she was an undergraduate at MIT. Along with her were dozens of other students at top American universities, studying to be doctors, lawyers, and engineers. They were told they had to put their educations, and the gifts and talents they could offer to the US, on pause, simply because of the religion people in their country practiced. While working at McKinsey & Company, I have watched coworkers scramble to find a new job outside of the US because their H1-B visas had not been renewed. Most of these people had graduate degrees and were under 35 years of age.
You say that Democrats support liberal immigration policies because it benefits them politically. I disagree. I such policies are right both morally and economically.
I look forward to your response and that drink you owe me.
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