Immigration is a difficult issue for conservatives these days. It is fraught with emotions and passionate feelings. Worse, whenever someone tries to discuss the issue dispassionately, the old canard of "no true Scotsman" is employed against them. But conservatives need to continue to have this discussion and get their ducks in a row on the issue because the other side has a successful call to arms that we need to prove wrong. It is too easy for the left to claim that it has "compassion" for immigrants and we don't. We need to pull the debate away from faux "compassion" and toward the facts.
On the right we have at least two main ideas about immigration. Some want open borders and easy employment for illegals so that business has a quick and constant source of cheap labor. These business-oriented conservatives (some might call them country club Republicans) are less interested in social issues and more interested in money and economic growth. Opposing the open borders folks are those that might be called nativists, those that feel America should not have a wide open border and that America is for Americans.
The problem we have here is that there is no reason why conservatives cannot be both a nativist and an economic expansionist that wants to employ some foreign-born workers where they are needed. There is no reason why we can't be both strong border advocates and interested in making new Americans from immigrants. Our two sides do not necessarily have to be as diametrically opposed as they seem to be.
Of course, the passion erupts when we try to reconcile these two positions. The closed borders folks all too often employ a sort of "no true Scotsman" theory against anyone that wants to make some sense of this situation. If you seem to waver from their view you aren't a "real" conservative to too many of them. But nativists aren't the only ones to blame as the open borders crowd dismisses everyone on the other side as yahoos and hatemongers when the truth is that Nativists only want to follow the Constitution and protect American culture. We need to get past the name calling and remember that we need to be on the same page of this matter or the left will win making things unsuitable for all of us on the right.
Some of the open borders crowd have come to realize that open borders are no longer a good idea. Not long ago, for instance, I spoke to Richard Nadler, president of Americas Majority Foundation, and he realized that after 9/11 open borders was suicide. Nadler's group is a conservative pro immigrant-labor organization that specializes in minority outreach. Nadler feels that to be seen as the anti-Hispanic party will destroy the GOPs electoral future. He makes a good argument in many ways.
To my personal experience, I have seen many sons and daughters of immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- and these kids don't want to be Mexicans, or Guatemalans, or what have you. They might not mind visiting the country of their parent's birth but they generally would rather stay here and they think of themselves as Americans. But I will have to agree with Nadler that if these young people grow up thinking that the GOP is filled with people that hate them, then these new voters will reflexively vote Democrat in huge numbers. I believe Nadler is right that we could be committing electoral suicide if we allow this perception to grow.
But this need to seem more friendly to Americans of Hispanic origin does not mean we have to throw away American principles, our culture or our laws. Nor do we need to open the border wide and let just anyone come here. We have every right to try to put breakers on the flow of foreign immigrants and a responsibility to think of America first.
Now, many thousands of illegal immigrants have returned home over the last two years. This is because the economy is such that the easy jobs these people filled have dried up. But at some point our economy will pick up again and the influx of illegals will resume to fill the jobs a stronger economy creates. We need to try and solve this problem now, before our economy picks up and the influx resumes. So, at some point the left is right that now is an ideal time for comprehensive immigration reform. But let it be on our terms, not the lefts.
Here are some of the points we must consider:
- Tougher border security measures
- A logical path to citizenship for those here
- A robust guest worker program
- Broader enforcement of the laws already on the books
- Implementation of the e-verify system to determine whether a worker is a legal resident
- An end to welfare and free in-state tuition to illegals
- An end to automatic citizenship to babies of foreigners
Am I suggesting total amnesty? Certainly not. But this problem is bigger than just imagining it is possible to deport millions of people all at once. We are past the time when we can stick our fingers in our ears and yell “la,la,la” in hopes that the problem will go away. Our past politicians have failed us on this issue. It is up to us to fix it.
There is one final area that impinges on immigration that must be considered here: education.
Currently our educational system coddles illegals by teaching kids in Spanish only classes. Our schools also fail our society by downplaying American principles and eschewing American exceptionalism. We must return American principles to our schools. After all, if kids are taught that America is a bad place, why should they grow up to want to protect our American heritage? This is no less true for the child of a natural born citizens than that of a foreign born immigrant. Further, how do we expect the kids of immigrants to grow up to want to be acculturated to American ideals if we tell them that America is a bad place? An important place to make American citizens is in school. As conservatives we need to take back our schools from the extreme left that now runs them.