Liberals Need to Be More Conservative About Immigration

The U.S. owes allegiance to its citizens, warts and all.

Part of the long aftershock of President Donald Trump’s election is a new debate over immigration. Two provocative entries in that debate have appeared in recent days. Both featured columnists playing against type.

Conservative Bret Stephens wrote tongue-in-cheek in the New York Times that to make America great again, we should be deporting complacent native-born Americans rather than industrious immigrants. At the Atlantic, liberal Peter Beinart wrote that Democrats have become too insouciant about illegal immigration and need to remember the virtue of assimilation.

Of the two, Beinart makes the stronger case. He notes that Democratic views on immigration have shifted over the last decade. Some prominent liberals used to talk about the potential negative effect of immigration on low-wage workers, and the damage to the rule of law from illegal immigration. Beinart correctly identifies a major reason for this shift: Democrats came to think that immigration and their support for it were going to help lead them to big political victories. (Beinart ignores another explanation, which I went into in a recent article on the Democrats’ leftward march: The conservative Democrats who once represented skeptical views of immigration mostly became Republicans.)

Beinart suggests that Hillary Clinton might have won the election if she had talked more about helping immigrants learn English rather than advertising her comfort with Spanish. But Beinart is, to my mind, too skittish in challenging his party’s orthodoxies. He says that reorienting our immigration system so that we do more to bring in high-skilled immigrants and less to reunite extended families would be cruel and betray our country’s “best traditions.” Our traditions have not, however, included an unlimited policy of extended-family reunification. Would a shift in emphasis really be so terrible? And Beinart does not pause to consider whether a reduction in immigration levels might aid the assimilation he rightly seeks.

By Ramesh Ponnuru for Bloomberg View
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