No One’s Actually Talking About Immigration

After the parties’ national conventions, one theme that shines out of both is the complete incoherence of our “national conversation about immigration.” Because it’s not really a conversation.

Both conventions leaned heavily on immigration issues. The Republicans portrayed immigration as a bad thing, by highlighting the parents of individuals killed by illegal immigrants. The Democrats were equally avid to show the upsides of immigration, including with a beaming 11-year-old child who is here illegally.

OK, well, that seems normal enough: As with so many issues, one party is for, and one party against. But wait. For what? Against what?

I doubt that many Republicans would say that they are actually against immigration; they don’t want to close the borders and ensure that not a single foreigner is ever allowed to come live here. Nor do I think that most Democrats would say they are “for immigration”; they don’t want to open the borders and let anyone move here. The national conversation is not really “for” vs. “against.” Both sides want some immigration. We’re arguing about the level. Except … no one is actually trying to establish that level.

Last week, on social media, I posed a question to my friends and followers: What do you think is the maximum percentage of foreign-born residents that U.S. immigration policy should target? In other words, how much would be too much?

A few people gamely answered the question, but the most interesting responses were not from those who gave percentages. Far more people rejected the idea of having a maximum at all. They were simply deeply uncomfortable with the idea of setting any limits. (A few others answered with “100 percent,” which raises troubling questions about what would be done with those of us who are currently living in the U.S. and are not foreign born.)

By Megan McArdle for Bloomberg
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