The real immigration problem facing the United States is this: What if nobody wants to come here anymore?
That’s how attorney and author Clint Bolick re-framed the immigration debate at a luncheon sponsored by the Federalist Society on Friday. Bolick, co-author of the brand-new book Immigration Wars (with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush) argued that the immigration problem is actually proof that the United States is still a beacon for people around the world.
But concern over immigration is as old as America itself, Bolick said: Even the cosmopolitan founder Ben Franklin once denounced the “scourge of German immigration” that he worried would Germanize America rather than vice versa.
Bolick and Bush argue in their book that illegal immigration flourishes because the legal immigration system is broken, with just 13 percent of visas related to bringing workers into the country. (The lion’s share goes to extended families and another small percentage is awarded by lottery.)
Instead, Bush and Bolick argue for a multi-pronged approach to immigration reform. The highlights:
- Grant more work-based visas to high-skill workers, and especially to foreign students who come to the United States for an education but must leave when they finish their studies unless they can a job offer from a company here.
- Narrow the definition of “family” for family-based visas to an immigrant’s spouse and minor children. (Currently, it also includes parents and siblings.)
- Increase the number of low-skill immigrant workers by offering them a pathway to citizenship.
- Allow children who were brought here illegally by their parents to seek citizenship.
- Allow illegal immigrants currently in the country to apply for permanent residency, but not citizenship.
That last point has become controversial in recent days, as it represents a shift in positions for Bush. But Bolick says immigration laws must be enforced to have meaning, and it would be unfair to allow people who broke the law to come here to stay while turning others seeking legal citizenship away. ”It’s an appropriate balance between fairness and the rule of law,” he said.
In addition, he said standing firm on refusing a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country might give the Bush-Bolick more appeal to hard-line Republicans in the House of Representatives who may be inclined to reject a more liberal approach, including one being devised in Congress by a “Gang of Eight” Republican and Democratic senators.
Bolick says the U.S. birth rate has fallen to the point that the country needs to import more foreign workers. But because of the recession and painfully slow recovery, net immigration from Mexico has reached zero. (That nation has a lower unemployment rate than the U.S. and more improved schools, he said.)
It takes too long for skilled workers to immigrate to the U.S., Bolick says, which feeds into illegal immigration. Worse, some skilled workers head elsewhere, including Chile, where a concentration of tech workers has become known as “Chilicon Valley,” he said.
“There is no Ellis Island anymore,” Bolick said. “If there are no jobs, people don’t come.”
And that worries him more than anything else. “We should tremble at the prospect that we will someday not have an immigration problem because people will no longer want to come here,” he said.