The ongoing Central American child migrant crisis gained the national spotlight last week when the president asked Congress for emergency funds to stem the influx. Many of the children, like other immigrants, are looking for work and education, or are trying to reunite with family. But as Ross Douthat has pointed out, the numbers are spiking in large part because the children are following smuggler-spread rumors of amnesty, possibly inspired by the mixed signals of the DREAM Act. Since smugglers make more profit trafficking children than more logistically challenging adults, the administration’s recent efforts to counter the misinformation have not gone far.
The language surrounding the crisis on the U.S. side of the border can be almost as confused, however. As the crisis made headlines, one false dichotomy dominated the rest: “Please don’t call this an immigration reform issue. This is a humanitarian crisis,” Rep. Kay Granger of Texas recently said. Refugee advocate Jennifer Podkul was quick to echo the juxtaposition. “This is not a migration issue. This is a humanitarian crisis and a foreign policy issue.”
The rush to call this anything but an immigration story is usually intended to highlight the root causes of poverty and violence in Central America. Rhetorically, it creates urgency and helps encourage a distinction between short-term solutions for children suffering at the border and long-term solutions to reform the system.
In reality, though, those are not competing frameworks. The child migration situation is both a humanitarian crisis and a migration issue, and it cannot be resolved without taking both aspects into consideration. A prime example of the importance of both priorities can be found in the motivating factor in this child migration influx that most defies easy categorization: the proliferation of gang violence in Central America.
Central American child migrants widely cite gang violence as a motivation for leaving their countries, and the gangs they flee are fundamentally tied up in the migration issue. The most prominent Central American gangs, Mara Salvatrucha (“MS-13”) and 18th Street Gang (“Calle 18”), began among Latino youth in Los Angeles in the 1960s and the 1980s respectively, but both expanded from the United States to Central America after mass deportations following the 1996 Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. This migration policy decision fomented cross-border crime networks that now have an estimated 70,000-100,000 members in several countries.
The gang violence plaguing these children does not just illustrate the long-term consequences of immigration policy, but also the reason for considering this in international refugee terms. As many as 48 percent of Central American child migrants are fleeing violence in their communities, including the violence gangs perpetrate in their recruitment of adolescents. Central American minors specifically seeking international protection as refugees from persecution in the form of gang violence have won asylum in the U.S. in the past. The gangs’ sheer scope, as transnational criminal organizations and sometimes paramilitaries, has led some advocates to describe the child migrants as akin to defecting child soldiers. Read More…
Of course it isn’t yet clear what Eric Cantor’s stunning and decisive defeat at the hands of an unknown challenger with one twentieth the campaign funds means for the direction of the House GOP. On domestic issues, including immigration, Cantor has been a chameleon—an establishment figure, a reformer, a “young gun,” a Tea Party insurgent with legislative tactician skills, a supporter of immigration reform (aka amnesty), and then a professed opponent of the same immigration reform. (I should note there was a time, in the 1990s, when immigration “reform” meant tightening the borders and tinkering with the legal immigration system so it was more skills-based, less based on “your brother’s wife got in a few years ago, so you are now eligible for a visa.”) The only ads I’ve seen from David Brat, the surprising victor, attacked Cantor’s readiness to hang out with big-money immigration boosters (Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg) while ignoring the labor market and wage impact large-scale immigration has for voters in his district.
One issue wasn’t talked about, though I wonder if it subliminally registered with some anti-Cantor voters. Cantor in 2010 more or less presented himself as Bibi Netanyahu’s congressman. Newly elevated by the GOP House takeover as the incoming majority leader, he held a private meeting with the Likud leader at the New York Regency. No other Americans were present; Netanyahu was joined by Israel’s ambassador and national security advisor.
It was a tense time in American-Israeli relations: the Obama administration was pushing hard for progress on peace talks and trying to get Israel to stop expanding settlements on the West Bank during the negotiations, an idea vigorously resisted by Israel’s government. During the meeting, Cantor gave Netanyahu assurances that the House would have his back in any showdown with the Obama administration. The Republicans, he told Bibi, “understand the special relationship” and would obstruct American initiatives which made Israel uncomfortable. Ron Kampeas, a veteran and centrist observer of U.S.-Israeli relations, said he could not “remember an opposition leader telling a foreign leader, in a personal meeting, that he would side, as a policy, with that leader against the president.” So Cantor was, in his way, making history.
The ties to Israel made Cantor popular in the GOP caucus. Cantor could raise money more easily than other southern congressmen—from pro-Israel billionaires, for example—and spread it around. Sheldon Adelson poured millions into his PAC. Cantor knew his way around the Regency.
More recently, Cantor has spearheaded House opposition to Obama’s negotiations with Iran, speaking frequently of Iran in terms that echo Netanyahu. His Mideast positions track completely with Likud’s, whether it be aid to the Syrian rebels or aid to Egypt after the Sisi coup. He may be hard to pin down domestic issues, one day a moderate, another a hard rightist, but he is always a hawk—whether it be Ukraine or Syria or Iran, he will be a force pushing the most belligerent policies.
I wonder if this registered in the district in some ways. Pat Lang, of the interesting Sic Semper Tyrannis blog, meditated on Cantor (his congressmen) several years ago, wondering whether this sophisticated Richmond lawyer was a natural fit for a district that trends barbecue. Some have pointed to an ethnic angle, which could well be a factor. But it may be simply that conservative southern Republicans are beginning to get tired of neocons telling them they have to prepare to fight another war. Antiwar Republican Walter Jones won his North Carolina primary earlier this spring, standing strong against a major media assault by Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel. Now, in an election result that stunned political observers more than anything that happened in their lifetime, Cantor goes down before an underfunded Tea Party candidate.
We’ll see what happens with David Brat, but he’s already made history.
If you look at the arc of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s last three years of service in Congress, it begins, in 2011, with an ambitious insider’s game to undermine the Speaker of the House. Cantor was the tea party whisperer; he was their not-so-secret champion; he was the guy—“Yes, it’s probably an accurate conclusion”—who stood between John Boehner and a “grand bargain” on fiscal policy with the Great Satan.
Unrest within the House Republican conference boiled over in January 2013 with a hapless attempt to oust Boehner from the speakership (including three votes for Cantor). It was at this point, as symbolized by his loud and clearly irritated voice vote for Boehner to retain his position, that Cantor seemed to have recoiled from his game of sabotage. Sure, just days before, Cantor split with Boehner on the vote to avert the so-called fiscal cliff. Yet, from that point until now, Cantor played the role of dutiful deputy. Maybe it was simply another tack: play nice until the next GOP wave, wait for Boehner to step aside, and smoothly ascend to the speakership.
I’d like to think, however, that Cantor was growing tired of the decrepit state of the GOP governing agenda in the wake of a resounding repudiation of Mitt Romney. At a party retreat earlier this year, he recognized the need for the party to appeal beyond the ranks of small-business owners and entrepreneurs and substantively address middle-class anxieties.
What I set out to do, and what the agenda that I have said we’re about, is, we want to create a Virginia and an America that works for everybody. And we need to focus our efforts as conservatives, as Republicans, on putting forth our conservative solutions, so that they can help solve the problems for so many working middle-class families that may not have the opportunity that we have.
Add that to Cantor’s gestures toward some kind of constructive movement toward immigration reform, and we’ve got a sad and stunning moment in our politics: a conservative leader who ended, limply, where he should have begun. He rode the tea party tiger and discovered, too late, that he and his party might have profited from more bull sessions with Yuval Levin.
That’s a pity.
I know nothing of Prof. Dave Brat. But I know he is a political novice and, as he’s cheered tonight by the likes of Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham, I can’t help but suspect he will be yet another useless crank in a still-troubled caucus.
In The New Criterion, Stephen Miller offers a fascinating reconsideration of Henry James’ view of immigration. Challenging the traditional understanding of James as a typical WASP anti-Semite, Miller argues that James saw the new immigrants of the late 19th century, who included Italians and Slavs as well as Jews, as a generally positive influence on American society.
Miller acknowledges that James believed himself and his old-stock compatriots to be dispossessed by the “the wild motley throng” on the Lower East Side. But he points out that James also posed the question with which American nativists have always struggled: “Who and what is an alien, when it comes to that, in a country peopled from the first under the jealous eye of history?—peopled, that is, by migrations at once extremely recent, perfectly traceable and urgently required. . . . Which is the American, by these scant measures?—which is not the alien, over a large part of the country?”
Miller goes too far in moderating James’ views. Although he avoided the bigotry that afflicted Henry Adams and other members of his circle, James was not particularly optimistic about America’s polyglot future. James did think that the immigrants would be transformed by their new country, and in this sense become Americans without entirely shedding their old identities. At the same time, he understood that American culture would also be transformed by them. In the process, it would lose the essentially New England character James revered.
It is hard to say that James was mistaken. While Miller rejects James’ fear about the degradation of language, for example, James foresaw that the American idiom would drift away from the influence of its geographic source, and take its inspiration from the streets rather than the pulpit and the drawing room. Surely James exaggerates when he predicts that, “The accent of the very ultimate future, in the States, may be destined to become the most beautiful in the globe and the very music of humanity . . . but whatever we shall know it for, certainly, we shall not know it for English.” But I am not sure that he was wrong, either about the global appeal of the American language or its novelty.
On the other hand, Miller reminds us how seriously interested James was in the new immigrants. Many of James’ contemporaries relied on stereotypes of stupid Italians, greedy Jews, and so on. James actually took the trouble to meet and speak with them, sometimes in their own languages, before submitting his judgments to the press. This was not simply because he wanted to learn firsthand about his subject. It was also because he regarded the transformation of the immigrants into a new kind of Americans as an unprecedented feat of cultural alchemy that deserved to be understood even if it could not be approved.
For this reason, James’ writing on the “New York Ghetto” and related topics have a humane quality that escapes most immigration critics today. Although they are heavily freighted with abstractions, statistics, and anecdotes plucked from the headlines, few briefs against the Senate bill and associated measures give any sense of who today’s immigrants are, what they hope to accomplish, and how they have been affected by the experience. It’s too much to ask every pundit to be a Henry James, and even James was a literary observer rather than an investigative reporter. Nevertheless, we can learn from example of “the Master”.
As someone who is hopelessly noncommittal about comprehensive immigration reform (at bottom, I hate everybody: the cheap labor-hungry business class, La Raza, and the nativist right alike), I was shoved in the direction of the opposition by Jennifer Rubin’s platitudinous putdown of the “zero sum rightwing.”
Rubin begins with a half-cocked theory:
In some sense the argument goes back centuries to Adam Smith and the mercantilists. It is ironic that the voices on the right who claim to be pure conservatives evince views that the father of capitalism denounced.
Mercantilism is what we threw off by the American Revolution and what The Wealth of Nations replaced: Mercantilism is the ideology that nations must protect their wealth from infringement by other countries using techniques such as tariffs.
“Techniques such as tariffs”! “Techniques” that accounted for the vast majority of federal revenue well into the 19th century. “Techniques” that were championed by Abraham Lincoln and—let’s go ahead and call him the “father of American capitalism”—Alexander Hamilton.
After this auspicious warmup, Rubin then farms out her blog post to Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh, “who tells me the analogy is correct” (thank God for that!). Later she argues: “anti-immigration voices who decry Big Labor and minimum wage (not to mention ‘living wage’) proposals for setting labor rates too high (and thereby contributing to unemployment) don’t seem to understand that immigration restriction does the same thing.”
This is another illustration of ideological android reasoning: human beings are widgets, and all policy disputes are basically math problems. Reality, as David Frum explains here, isn’t so neat and clean:
Whatever else you say about the U.S. economy of the 21st century, it cannot be described as suffering from labor shortages.
Yet however little workers earn, there is always somebody who wishes they earned even less. And for those somebodies, the solution is: Import more cheap labor. But not just any cheap labor—cheap labor that cannot quit, that cannot accept a better offer, that cannot complain.
Dating to the Bush-era attempt at legally integrating the country’s 11 million undocumented workers, I’ve been tepidly in favor of codifying the inevitable: we’re not going to boot them out of here, so we might as well solve the problem. But the facile boosterism of the likes of Jennifer Rubin isn’t helping. At all.
A few years ago I wrote a favorable review of Christopher Caldwell’s book on Islamic immigration to Europe for Mondoweiss, the important post-Zionist website. Most of mondo’s readers are progressives, and most are pretty sanguine about multiculturalism, Muslim immigration into Europe, etc. A regular Mondoweiss commentator, Indrees Ahmad, counterattacked with vigor and probably a fair number of Mondoweiss readers wondered why a reactionary, skeptical about multiculturalism piece was doing on the website. (Idrees, whom I’ve gotten to know a bit since, is an extremely talented Anglo-Pakistani scholar, an author of a brilliant forthcoming book on the politics pushing America into war in Iraq.)
No subject splits me down the middle like this. I just returned from five days in in Paris, where I found that I oppose Muslim rioters, Muslim terrorists, and Muslim free-speech intimidators as fervently as any yob from the English Defense League. When I read of the British soldier who was hacked to death by some self-styled Nigerian jihadist (who speaks fluent English and was raised in Britain in a Christian home) I think, basically, Britain would be every bit within its rights to deport a million Muslims. As for Stockholm and its rioters, forget about it. The Swedish ministers who thought it a good idea to import rapidly a population of Somalis into a fairly healthy homogenous society should probably be tried for treason. And the Somali rioters, give them ten thousand dollars and an airline ticket be done with them.
And yet, and yet. It is hard to dismiss entirely the argument of the London jihadi—your soldiers can’t be safe when your drones, your soldiers, kill innocent Muslims every day. We in America are almost completely shielded from the violence we inflict; unlike the Vietnam war, this one isn’t televised. It is waged by professional soldiers who “protect our freedoms” as the beginning-to-sound-tiresome phrase goes, far from our sight. We honor them on Memorial Day by dressing major league baseball players in desert camouflage hats for an evening, a gesture born of guilty conscience. Few of us really believe anymore the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have much to do with our freedom, even if we pretend otherwise. Such falsehoods have become emotionally necessary, to absolve us of having this huge class of less fortunate young Americans face danger all the time so that most of us don’t have to. Indeed, we barely have to know about it. Read More…
Arrived in Paris Tuesday with few intentions beyond watching some tennis (French Open qualifying, the inexpensive and crowd-free formula for spectating a high level of the sport), eating well, and hanging out with my wife after her several hectic weeks of preparing our daughter’s wedding. But it was soon clear that the European civilizational crisis (cf. Death of the West) while often easy to ignore, is very much with us. In a suburb of Stockholm, some immigrant youths have fought the police four successive nights (“youths acting youthy,” summarized Steve Sailer, sardonically), while in London yesterday two African Islamists hacked a soldier to death with a machete. In Paris on Tuesday afternoon a 78-year-old far-right activist and historian, Dominique Venner, entered the sanctuary at Notre Dame, deposited a suicide note at the altar, and shot himself in the mouth.
Venner was a serious figure in France’s extrême-droite, a phrase with different and far richer connotations than “extreme-right” in America. A major current of French intellectuals opposed the Revolution, quite understandably, and kept at it, rhetorically, throughout the 19th century. A French Right standing for traditional authority, order, aristocracy, the nation (and skeptical about fraternity, equality, and the various French republics) has been a constant and serious force, able sometimes to speak for nearly half the country. The far right hasn’t been violent since the early sixties—when right-wing officers of the Organisation de l’Armée Secrète tried to spark a coup against De Gaulle for letting go of Algeria—but as a current in French political life, it is always there. Today its main concern is immigration, particularly Muslim immigration, and in its current political incarnation, the Front National, led by Marine Le Pen, has jettisoned the party’s submerged but never absent anti-Semitism for a militant pro-Zionist and anti-Muslim line. Le Pen garnered 18 percent of the vote in last year’s presidential election, and the FN is a fairly serious minor party, receiving 13 percent of the first-round votes in the legislative elections and holding quite a few local offices. Hostility to immigration is a “populist” cause, and many of the FN’s voters used to vote communist; nevertheless there is an aristocratic and intellectual aura to the far right dating to the Revolution, and not entirely absent from today’s FN. It is this of which Dominique Venner was a part.
The goals of the suicide are easy enough to imagine. Part is surely vanity—Venner’s blog, I’m sure, has received more attention in the past two days than its entire previous existence, and every intellectual wants to be read. He was old and recently diagnosed with a grave unspecified illness. His concrete goal was to pull together two disparate groups of disaffected conservatives, the opponents of gay marriage (as in the U.S. a sizeable, somewhat shell-shocked minority) and the opponents of immigration. In his suicide note he tries to connect the two causes: Read More…
Has the bell begun to toll for the GOP?
The question arises while reading an analysis of Census Bureau statistics on the 2012 election by Dan Balz and Ted Mellnik.
One sentence in their Washington Post story fairly leaps out:
“The total number of white voters actually decreased between 2008 and 2012, the first such drop by any group within the population since the bureau started to issue such statistics.”
America’s white majority, which accounts for nine in 10 of all Republican votes in presidential elections, is not only shrinking as a share of the electorate, but it is declining in numbers, as well.
The Balz-Mellnik piece was primarily about the black vote.
Sixty-six percent of the black electorate turned out, to 64 percent of the white electorate. Black turnout in 2012 was higher by 1.7 million than in 2008. Hispanic turnout rose by 1.4 million votes.
But from 2008 to 2012, the white vote fell by 2 million.
This is the crisis of the Grand Old Party: Read More…
The big immigration news yesterday was the Heritage Foundation’s much-anticipated report claiming amnesty for illegal immigrants will cost $6.3 trillion, which the author says is a “very, very low estimate.” It’s a strange piece of white-paper-as-agitprop that other conservative groups have already condemned, as well as politicians like Jeff Flake and Haley Barbour, significantly because it undermines the rest of the institution’s push for dynamic scoring—that is, accounting for economic growth—elsewhere in the federal budget. They don’t calculate the potential revenues of legalized immigrants once they’ve started to advance in society and make more money, and fail to take into account that illegal immigrants are already a strain on the social safety net. Jim Pethokoukis and Walt Hickey are both numbers guys, so I’ll leave the rest to them.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons to kill the Rubio package, but the study has more to do with giving Senators scary-sounding factoids to cite during this week’s Judiciary Committee hearing. Andrew Stiles pulls some out:
Because the average illegal immigrant is about 34 years old, restricting access to benefits during the interim phase would have only a “marginal impact” on the long-term aggregate cost. The study found that, under current law, illegal-immigrant households produce a combined fiscal deficit of about $54.5 billion per year. After legalization, that number would fall to $43.4 billion, but would climb to $106 billion once households become eligible for welfare benefits, and would increase still further to around $160 billion during the retirement phase.
In total, current illegal immigrants would receive around $9.4 trillion in government benefits and services over the course of their lifetimes, the study found, and would pay about $3.1 trillion in taxes, resulting in a net fiscal deficit of $6.3 trillion. “This should be considered a minimum estimate,” the authors write, because it likely undercounts the total number of illegal immigrants that would ultimately be legalized and as a result would become eligible for welfare and medical benefits. “Those who claim that amnesty will not create a large fiscal burden are simply in a state of denial concerning the underlying redistributional nature of government policy in the 21st century,” the authors conclude.
That’s a bit of a dodge, since even most pro-amnesty conservatives and libertarians do recognize the welfare-state problem. Milton Friedman lays it out simply in the above video, and pretty much all sides of the immigration debate, including an author of the Heritage study, have invoked his memory. An even more succinct version is this RedState headline: “Open Borders + Welfare State = Disaster.”
About a third of the way through The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life, Rod Dreher paints a moving portrait of a community tending to one of its own:
The news hit the West Feliciana community like a cyclone. As the day wore on a hundred or more friends mobbed the hospital. Some offered to move in with the Lemings to care for the children while Ruthie fought [her cancer]. John Bickham told Paw that he would sell everything he had to pay for Ruthie’s medical bills if it came to that. At the middle school the teachers did their best to get through the day, but kept breaking down. All over town people prepared food and took it by the Leming house, which, this being Starhill, sat unlocked.
“We were surrounded by so much love,” Mam recalls. “It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.”
The inspiring collective response of this small Louisiana town seems to me a paradigmatic real-life example of the kind of civil society that Yuval Levin (as well as TAC’s Samuel Goldman) champions here as a Burkean rebuke to harsh conservative rhetoric about the “culture of dependency”:
We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.
I don’t want to speak for Rod here. Nor do I want to superimpose on The Little Way, a deeply personal meditation on social and family bonds, a polemical or partisan quality that it in fact mercifully avoids. But I don’t think I’m misreading Rod at all in saying that technocracy is not what enabled his particular illusion of independence. That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.
Our culture stokes this desire, and in no small way our economy depends on it. When politicians tirelessly invoke the “American Dream,” when we celebrate social mobility and “churn,” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” as the poet Wendell Berry (via Wallace Stegner) describes those whose ambition compels them to leave home.
To make the point in the context of our ongoing clash over immigration, do we not at least unwittingly celebrate the dilution of communities when we hold up as heroes those who leave behind their friends and extended families to pursue employment in America? To borrow the simple phraseology of Rod’s mother, a young man who leaves a village in Latin America or South Asia is no longer there. Read More…