On the Wall Street Journal’s Immigration Position

On July 10, 2006, in General, by Neil Stevens

Today’s Opinion Journal (the online mouthpiece of the Wall Street Journal) included a piece called Conservatives and Immigration that amounts, in the eyes of some anyway, to be a good defense of the paper’s position on immigration.

Ordinarily I would not bother to read it, because I’d just get annoyed at the misrepresentations common in that paper’s immigration discussions. Today, though, I will instead read it and react as I go.

Claiming Ronald Reagan

For starters, in paragraph two they claim Ronald Reagan to have been on their side. An in-depth defense of this position does include a key objection I would have to that claim, though I still find it wanting:

It’s true that in November 1986 Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which included more money for border police and employer sanctions. The Gipper was a practical politician who bowed that year to one of the periodic anti-immigration uprisings from the GOP’s nativist wing. But even as he signed that bill, he also insisted on a provision for legalizing immigrants already in the U.S.–that is, he supported “amnesty.”

So here we have a President making it for the first time illegal to hire an illegal alien, placing the harshest ever restraint on the free flow of labor across the US/Mexico border, but we’re supposed to believe that it’s nothing but a show for us “nativists” who believe in petty things like the integrity of our national borders? That is too convenient for me to believe.

And besides that, it’s completely unfair to claim a dead man on one’s side, when one of the key facts in our current debate is the 20-year track record of the IRCA. President Reagan in 1986 did not have the benefit of that track record to look at when he signed his amnesty. He also did not have the opportunity, having signed the bill midway through his second term and just before Republicans lost the Senate, to make good on that entire bill. We’ll never know whether President Reagan would have enforced vigorously the labor provisions of that act, nor will we know whether he would support another legalization today.

Can anyone point to a time when President Reagan fought for increased legal immigration from Mexico in order to prevent another legalization from becoming necessary?

Misunderstanding a market

Then in the very next paragraph, the WSJ comes out swinging:

The most frequent criticism we hear is that a newspaper called “The Wall Street Journal” simply wants “cheap labor” for business. This is an odd charge coming from conservatives who profess to believe in the free market, since it echoes the AFL-CIO and liberals who’d just as soon have government dictate wages.

If I’m echoing the AFL-CIO in my position, then the WSJ is echoing the Democratic Party, the National Council of La Raza, and MS-13 in its support for mass legalization of illegal aliens.

Seriously though, this shows a gross misunderstanding of how markets work. We all understand how markets work when in equilibrium; that state has been well-studied and the mathematics have been written about at length. However if we were to open our border to unlimited cross migration, or even just suddenly legalize millions of poor illegals, then we would no longer be at equilibrium, and the consequences to our economy in the short run are difficult to foresee and unlikely to be pleasant.

We already have a mass displacement of youth in our society, left with intolerable unemployment levels thanks to the mass migration of cheap third world labor. How many more gang bangers and drug dealers would we like to produce, by preventing our urban youth from having that first crack at a productive job?

Note that this is not a generic claim that “Illegals take our jobs.” But rather, in the special case of youth labor, adult illegal aliens provide insurmountable competition. Being willing to work for the same amount of money or less, while looking for full-time work rather than the flexible part-time positions needed by students, illegal aliens make American employers an offer they can’t refuse.

Giving perverse incentives

A bit later, we delve into the blame game, one that can be seen as the answer to my gang bangers crack above:

We realize that critics are not inventing the manifold problems that can arise from illegal immigration: Trespassing, violent crime, overcrowded hospital emergency rooms, document counterfeiting, human smuggling, corpses in the Arizona desert, and a sense that the government has lost control of the border. But all of these result, ultimately, from too many immigrants chasing too few U.S. visas.

Yes, one is the answer to the other, but I fail to see how rewarding the above behaviors with legalization or even amnesty will prevent these behaviors. Would we not expect the opposite, that legalizing illegal aliens would only lead to more illegal immigration, and thus more trespassing, migration of unscreened criminals, illegals using our public health programs, counterfeiting, illegal immigration service providers, and would-be illegal aliens dying in the Operation Gatekeeper detour?

I am open to arguments in favor of increased legal immigration. But giving a blanket clemency to millions of lawbreakers does not accomplish that goal, and so the WSJ would be served to remember that.

Misunderstanding the lessons of history

And finally, I also take issue with the way the WSJ casually abuses the lessons of history for its side:

House Republican leaders, who passed an immigration bill last year focusing only on enforcement, want to frame this debate as a choice between more border security or “amnesty” for the 11 or 12 million illegals already here. But that’s a false choice. A guest-worker program that lets market forces rather than prevailing political winds determine how many economic migrants can enter the country actually enhances security. How? By reducing pressure on the border, just as the Bracero guest-worker program in the 1950s and early 1960s did.

Again, if we were only talking about increased legal immigration, rather than a blanket clemency for illegal aliens, that would be one thing. Such a policy position would be well supported by the Bracero program, which imported Mexicans, let them stay a fixed time, and then sent them back home.

The bills which the WSJ would support do no such thing. President Bush in particular, whom the paper claims on its side, is openly calling for a “path to citizenship” for illegal aliens, something the Bracero program would not do. In fact, the program was supported by increased enforcement of laws against harboring or transporting illegal aliens, highlighted by an effort called Operation Wetback. Yet I do not expect the paper truly wishes to combine its guest worker program with actual, honest-to-goodness roundups of illegal aliens (which inevitably also picked up legal residents, citizens, and even Bracero program members).

Nor do I expect the WSJ even to take advantage of the ICRA’s innovation in banning the hiring of illegal aliens, by supporting a humane successor to the previous operation. We could have a new Operation that would aggressively enforce the ICRA, but no. Judging the paper by its White House ally, scarcely any enforcement at all is to be expected from these quraters.

So in fact, a guest worker program as proposed by the President, and supported by the WSJ, would not increase security the way the Bracero/Wetback combination could, because enforcement is against their ideology:

Our own view is that a philosophy of “free markets and free people” includes flexible labor markets. At a fundamental level, this is a matter of freedom and human dignity. These migrants are freely contracting for their labor, which is a basic human right.

To the WSJ, foreigners have the right to cross our border at will. Such a position is inherently incompatible with the security of the United States of America, especially in an age when countless conspiracies of terrorists wish gruesome harm to come to as many Americans as possible.

Also posted at Red State


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