By FAIROOZ ADAMS
Would conditions be better for American racial minorities if immigration were to be restricted?
In Grand New Party, Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam argue that there were several reasons why there was a high degree of social cohesion and interpersonal trust in the United States in the 1950s. One was the country’s recent wartime experience with total societal mobilization for the Second World War. Another was peak levels of religiosity, which was a binding social force. For better or worse, those experiences cannot be replicated.
Another factor the authors consider is the effect of immigration restrictions that would be considered draconian by contemporary standards. As the argument goes, severely restricting immigration fostered the assimilation of the “white ethnic” Irish, Jews, Italians, Poles, Germans, and others who had been immigrating to the United States in large numbers by the onset of the twentieth century. As the high immigrant percentage of the population — comparable to such figures today — was integrated into the native population, social capital, interpersonal trust, social harmony increased, and political consensus was easier to achieve.
Immigration questions these days often seem to come down to economics. But we must ask the question: what is it that we are really after?
America does benefit from the hard work and talent of immigrants, but we must balance overall GDP growth targets with rising median wages and, importantly, civic wellbeing. GDP growth targets are of modest importance if the basic fabric of a good civil society begins to fray and the national community fragments.
The fact of the matter is that conflict has often accompanied diversity in the human experience, not least between culturally and ethnically distinct populations inhabiting modernizing states in the last two centuries. To the degree that cross-cultural harmony has existed between the descendants of America’s original Anglo colonists and the diverse other groups that have interacted with them in the United States, there have been equal amounts of division, prejudice, violence, and hatred. (There were even such divisions between the original Anglo colonists!)
This is not to say America has not also proved itself to be exceptional for its ability to assimilate immigrants. But still, it is possible to take too much of a good thing. Immigration, done right, should happen at a modest, responsible rate, and must occasionally alternate between high rates and low rates to adjust to the nation’s ever-changing needs. High levels of immigration may have been necessary in the latter portion of the last century, but at present time high levels of immigration are partly to blame for our nation’s inner malaise, and especially for the fraying of the national community. The populist backlash against immigration does not have to be radical and destructive, if mainstream leaders are able learn from it, coopt some of the populists’ concerns, and address them responsibly, instead of ignoring real pains and allowing demagogues to hijack voter anger for deleterious ends.
Some readers of this piece will be puzzled. They will see the author is a racial minority, an Asian American, and wonder why he would make an argument lending such credibility to semi-Bannonist immigration restrictions.
Americans of color ought to support restrictive immigration policies precisely because doing so is good not only for white Americans, but for Americans of all colors and backgrounds. The focus of immigration policy today should be on restoring national cohesion, social capital, and interpersonal trust through assimilation and integration, instead of the blind pursuit of GDP growth targets.
Where does this leave Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals? Morally, keeping those child arrivals in the United States continues to make sense. They were brought, for the most part, by their parents, were raised in the United States and Americanized, and remain few enough in number that they can easily be absorbed. Additionally, we’ve spent a lot of money educating the DREAMers already- the average cost of annual schooling for a student in the United States is over $10,000, and these kids have been in American schools for years. Expulsion of DREAMers would be a wasted investment.
But as for immigration policy as a whole, there should be more stringent restrictions on those who are permitted into the United States. And some steps should be taken to deal with illegal aliens currently living here, and to deter future illegal immigration. A national identification card system to separate illegal aliens from legal immigrants and the citizen population could be utilized, and extra resources could be marshalled to enforce existing laws. Existing illegal aliens who arrived as adults ought to be offered permanent residence status, but should never be eligible for citizenship. There should be some consequences for flouting national law, but for the most part illegal aliens should be kept in-country, because the economic disruption of expelling eleven million workers and their families is unnecessary. A national ID system and other resources ought to be used to prevent future illegal aliens from overstaying or taking residence.
In a sense, these policies are immoderate. But a truly rational center must be able to weigh facts dispassionately, and that means occasionally adopting policies which, in the contemporary world, appear extreme.
Fairooz Adams is the Outreach Director at The American Moderate