A Liberal Reason To Oppose Immigration Reform
The country I want for myself and future Americans is one that’s prosperous, cohesive, harmonious, wealthy in land and resources per capita, nurturing of its skilled citizens, and, most important, protective of its unskilled citizens, who deserve as much any other Americans to live in dignity. This bill threatens to put all of that out of reach, because it fails to control illegal immigration. The problem is not that it provides 11 million people eventual amnesty (I don’t object to that, in theory); the problem is that it sets in motion the next waves of millions.
That is not a fashionable concern, of course. Worrying about illegal immigration today is a lot like worrying about communists in government in 1950. It’s not that the problem isn’t legitimate or serious (there actually were, we now know, a lot of Moscow loyalists working for the U.S. government). It’s that expressing your concurrence links you to a lot of demagogues and bad actors.
Most of America’s college-educated elites are little affected by illegal immigration. In fact, it’s often a benefit to us in terms of childcare, household help, dinners out, and other staples of upper-middle-class life. Many therefore view the problem as akin, in severity, to marijuana use—common but benign, helpful to the immigrants and minimal in its effects on Americans or anyone else. I know, because it used to be my own view.
There’s no short way to argue why I was misguided or explain how my views evolved. Oddly enough, an early important realization came to me in Hong Kong during the SARS crisis of 2003. I thought about how Hong Kong had created a flawed but remarkable city in which even low-skilled laborers such as these men and women, who were wearing masks and wiping down railings, lived far better than similar laborers on the other side of the border. I also realized that only a wall (and I didn’t much like walls) prevented millions of people on the People’s Republic of China side of the border from coming over to take these lowly jobs for a fraction of the current wage. (Hong Kong had no minimum wage at the time.) I knew I wouldn’t want these unskilled street cleaners to lose their adequate standard of living to such unbridled competition.
But if that was how I felt about protecting Hong Kong’s working class, why shouldn’t I feel that way about America’s?
Read the whole thing. This reminds me of the arguments we used to have in Dallas about immigration reform. I would make the point that none of us middle-class people had to use public hospitals, or had our kids in public schools that were overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and the problems that come with them (e.g., children who can’t speak English). Nor were our neighborhoods being colonized by illegal immigrants from a Third World country, men living 15 or more to a house, with very different standards of how to live in a community than many Americans do. It’s easy to be in favor of immigration reform when people like you only get benefits from it, and people not like you pay the cost — and to assume that the only real reason anybody could oppose it is because they’re racist. Interestingly, T.A. Frank starts his piece by conceding that nobody on his side wants to listen to any of this. He later writes:
If I have a plea to my fellow liberals more broadly, it’s that they focus more of their empathy on fellow Americans being left behind. Because we increasingly live in bubbles, many of us are at best only abstractly aware of how cruelly circumstances of unskilled Americans have deteriorated over the past few decades. Even as these Americans have lost their well-paid manufacturing jobs, Washington has looked the other way while millions of low-skilled unauthorized immigrants have competed with them for low-skilled service jobs. The insouciance of privileged Americans toward the effects of this on life among less-privileged Americans is, in my view, a betrayal of citizenship.
Why don’t most liberals want to hear this kind of argument? Because the culture war, though dominant in right-wing politics, is everything in American left-wing politics. Economics don’t seem to matter; only proving that you’re a proper non-racist, multiculturalist does.
Hat tip to Steve Sailer, who adds:
It’s probably not a coincidence that this rare voice of liberal dissent comes from Los Angeles (as does Mickey Kaus’s). We Angelenos live in America’s future (except that when the future finally arrives in your part of America, you’re not going to get Southern California-style weather to bask in or Hollywood-style starlets to ogle, so, lots of luck!).