David Brooks: The conservative case for immigration reform

07/14/2013 12:00 AM

07/12/2013 7:09 PM

It’s beginning to look as though we’re not going to get an immigration reform law this year. House Republicans are moving in a direction that will probably be unacceptable to the Senate majority and the White House. Some conservative commentators are arguing that the status quo is better than the comprehensive approach passed by the Senate. The whole effort is in peril.

This could be a tragedy for the country and political suicide for Republicans, especially because the conservative arguments against the comprehensive approach are not compelling.

After all, the Senate bill fulfills the four biggest conservative objectives. Conservatives say they want economic growth. The Senate immigration bill is the biggest pro-growth item on the agenda today. Based on estimates from the Congressional Budget Office, the Senate bill would increase the gross domestic product by 3.3 percent by 2023 and by 5.4 percent by 2033. A separate study by the American Action Forum found that it would increase per capita income by $1,700 after 10 years.

Conservatives say they want to bring down debt. According to government estimates, the Senate bill would reduce federal deficits by up to $850 billion over the next 20 years. The Senate bill reduces the 75-year Social Security fund shortfall by half a trillion dollars.

Conservatives say they want to reduce illegal immigration. The Senate bill spends huge amounts of money to secure the border. According to the CBO, the bill would reduce illegal immigration by 33 to 50 percent.

Conservatives say they want to avoid a European-style demographic collapse. But without more immigrants, and the higher fertility rates they bring, that is exactly what the U.S. faces. Plus, this bill radically increases the number of high-skilled immigrants. It takes millions of long-term resident families out of the shadows so they can lead more mainstream lives.

These are all gigantic benefits. They are like Himalayan peaks compared with the foothill-size complaints conservatives are lodging.

The first conservative complaint is that the enforcement provisions are riddled with exceptions and loopholes. If the president can waive the parts of Obamacare he finds inconvenient, why won’t he end up waiving a requirement for the use of E-Verify?

There’s some truth to this critique, and maybe the House should pass a version of the Senate bill that has fewer waivers and loopholes. But, at some point, this argument just becomes an excuse to oppose every piece of legislation, ever.

The second conservative complaint is that the bill would flood the country with more low-skilled workers, driving down wages. This is an argument borrowed from the reactionary left, and it shows. Low-skilled immigrants don’t directly compete with the native-born. They do entry-level work, create wealth and push natives into better jobs.

The final conservative point of opposition is a political one: that Republicans should not try to win back lower-middle-class voters with immigration reform but rather with a working-class agenda.

This argument would be slightly plausible if Republicans had even a hint of such an agenda, but they don’t. Even then it would fail. Before Asians, Hispanics and all the other groups can be won with economic plans, they need to feel respected and understood by the GOP.

Whether or not this bill passes, this country is heading toward a multiethnic future. Republicans can either shape that future in a conservative direction or, as I’ve tried to argue, they can become the receding roar of a white America that is never coming back.

That’s what’s at stake.

Editor's Choice Videos

Join the Discussion

The Wichita Eagle is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Terms of Service