The American Left generally welcomes immigration, but opposes foreign trade. There are exceptions of course, but generally the further left one moves this combination of policy preferences is even starker. Bernie Sanders seems wholly opposed to free trade and yet favors immigration. Indeed, he wants to make citizens of immigrants, even if they have come here illegally.
What explains this divergence? It cannot plausibly be concern for low-wage workers in the United States. It is true that trade, while being generally beneficial, can depress the income of low-wage workers (at least in the short term), because they must compete more with low-skilled workers elsewhere. But the effect of low-skilled immigrants is the same. It puts pressure on the wages of low-skilled Americans.
It can’t be concern for the poor abroad.
Last week President Obama gave a speech to newly naturalized citizens at the National Archives. His remarks show why immigration, long rightly praised as an essential part of our heritage, has become a source of ever greater controversy. The President failed to acknowledge that it is the principles of limited government and individual rights that make United States a welcoming place for immigrants because they assure that newcomers cannot tip the political balance to make life worse for those already here.
Instead, the President celebrated the raw power of democracy to make “progress,” change that can come at the expense of long time residents.The President did suggest that one of the “binding forces” for America is “loyalty” to “the documents” that surrounded the new citizens at the Archives. But he never identified these documents by name, quoted any language from them, or explained why they have an enduring claim on our loyalty. In particular, President Obama cited almost none of the liberties protected by the Constitution and nothing of the structure of federalism and separation of powers that protects those liberties.
It is hard to believe this was mere oversight. His administration has notably failed to defend both the structure and rights that are actually in the Constitution.
Donald Trump and the new campus political correctness movement have a lot in common. Both want to create safe spaces where people fear no challenge from the exercise of others’ liberties. In the case of the campus PC movement, their disdain for freedom is obvious. They want to stop others from saying things that may offend them or undermine their world view. But the modern university grows out the enlightenment, which of course gave much offense to aristocrats, priests, and various other purveyors of received wisdom. Illiberal political correctness is thus at war with the classical liberal ideas on which our universities are founded.
Donald Trump also wants to create safe spaces for people who do not want to be challenged by the liberty of others. This self-proclaimed master of the art of the deal is no friend of making markets more open. He opposes free trade agreements that would let our citizens and those of other nations make more mutually beneficial deals. He also promises literally to build a fence around America. To be sure, there is a national security threat to the United States from radical Islamic terrorism. But Trump’s proposals to ban Muslim immigration is at once excessive and ineffective. Why couldn’t jihadis simply pretend to be Middle Eastern Christians? Trump’s proposal is better understood as an attempt to insulate America from religious ideas that many disdain. His illiberal program is at war with America’s freedom.
The safe spaces offered by Trump and the PC movement lure people inside for similar reasons.
With immigration – both legal and illegal – being the subject of debate these days, I thought I would blog a few posts on the issue generally and on the Fourteenth Amendment’s Citizenship Clause in particular. To sum up my positions, I strongly favor legal immigration, I believe the original meaning of the Constitution requires birthright citizenship for the children of illegal aliens born in the United States, but I believe that a reasonably strong nonoriginalist argument can be made against such birthright citizenship for illegal immigrant children.
To begin, I favor legal immigration. The United States is a country of immigrants and it has been greatly enriched by such immigrants. The nation should allow large number of immigrants to enter its borders. Sadly, the welfare state probably makes it necessary to allow fewer immigrants in, but still large numbers should be admitted.
Not only do I favor immigrants based on public policy reasons, I also sympathize with them. I think of myself as coming from a family of immigrants, with three quarters of my grandparents being immigrants. And my wife, and her family, are also immigrants.
A naturalization address given last week by Professor Kevin Hardwick in Beaverdam, Virginia at Scotchtown, the governor’s residence of Patrick Henry during the War for Independence.
In the late 1790s, during the presidency of John Adams, Americans conducted a bitter public debate over the meaning of patriotism. The dominant political party at the time, the Federalists, confronted an emerging opposition, headed by Thomas Jefferson. The opposition, the Democratic-Republican party, sharply criticized the Federalists, and condemned both their policies and their motives.
The Obama administration has made the right decision to raise the cap on the number of refugees so as to take in more Syrians seeking to escape the genocidal conflict in their country. It is not only an appropriate humanitarian action, but it will be good for the United States in the long run, just as our reception of Cuban refugees brought us an enormously successful, entrepreneurial group of Americans.
Immigration policy is a tricky matter to get right for classical liberals, particularly today. While some libertarians support open borders, that policy would be unwise. If tens of millions of people arrived who were unschooled in our democratic traditions and relatively uneducated, they might undermine the very conditions for liberty that make our nation so attractive to immigrants. They would surely cause a huge backlash. And unfortunately today, our welfare state can encourage immigration by those would not be productive citizens. A classical liberal constitution would permit us to entertain a more open immigration policy.
But these concerns do not at all undermine the case for taking in more Syrians. Even if we took in a few hundred thousand Syrians, they will not change our political culture. Indeed, given the relatively small numbers, they are likely to change the culture less than did immigration from Latin America or previous waves of immigration. Moreover, these immigrants have reasons to come that are not economic: there is no reason to think they are here to seek welfare benefits. And like Cuban refugees, the Syrian refuges are by no means largely without human capital. Middle-class people with substantial skills have had every reason to flee.
While the Obama administration can lift the cap, Congress will need to provide more money to get these refugees settled.
There is no greater sign of what a good and generous people Americans are than our troubles over immigration.
Were Americans a downright mean people, we would have no compunction about shipping illegal immigrants back to their countries of origin en masse. Yet that is politically unacceptable. Why? Because most of us would find it morally unacceptable, particularly for people who have been here for long time and have begun to put down roots.
Kicking out someone who has just crossed the border without our permission is another matter altogether. But plenty of Americans object even to that. If these are poor people, arriving in our prosperous country to improve their lot in life, as most of our ancestors did, who are we to object?
Immigration of the right kind is a great benefit to a nation run under principles of liberty. If the immigrants obey our laws and work productively, they will add to the nation’s wealth. If they assimilate to the nation’s creed of liberty under law, they strengthen its power throughout the world, because their former compatriots take heed of their success and that example may encourage more liberty in their home nations. And not only do the citizens of the welcoming nation benefit, so also do immigrants. The value of their human capital rises as soon as they set foot in a nation of free markets and the rule of law.
The way to encourage citizens to embrace immigration from abroad is to have a constitution that limits welfare programs and precludes ethnic discrimination. Without such commitments, citizens may rationally worry that poor and even work-shy immigrants may come and eventually vote themselves higher levels of benefits, even at the expense of long-time citizens and their descendants. Without guarantees against discrimination, citizens may also worry that ethnic groups who still feel solidarity based on previous ties, will try to organize government benefits on the basis of ethnicity, impeding assimilation.
And now I can reveal that once there was a nation that had a constitution with the pre-commitments needed to facilitate a sound immigration policy. It was the United States after it had ratified the 14th Amendment.