By Dan Williams
Immigration is one of the most important debates we should have. The issue gets at fundamental fears and hopes about what America is, could be, and is becoming. It would be a mistake to not think long and hard about something as rooted in the American experience as immigration. But it would also be a mistake to simplify the issue to the premise that “We are all immigrants.”
This is an argument that I have run across in my debates with people on the subject. The argument is that, because Americans immigrated from Europe, displacing native cultures, it would be hypocritical, or at least un-American, to refuse any immigrant who shows up at our borders. Furthermore, we should not trouble ourselves too much with the moans of those anxious about changing demographics and cultures today, because “we” have been doing the same thing for hundreds of years.
While I understand the emotional appeal of this argument, I think it is time that we ask for deeper, more considered arguments on the topic of immigration.
First, if we took this argument to its logical conclusion, we would have to adopt an open-door immigration policy. No immigrant is an illegal. If you want to come to America, we’ve got an open door for you.
What would happen? A 2009 Gallup poll found that 165 million people would immigrate to the United States if they could. Even if only a fraction of those people left their countries for ours, it would be a massive shock to both our economy and our culture. The labor market would be flooded, causing wages to fall. Poverty would then increase, causing the number on welfare to skyrocket. Ultimately, welfare programs would have to be massively reduced if not shut down entirely.
At that point, there really would be riots. And these rioters would not be the privileged “anti-fascists” who have wreaked havoc on campuses across the nation, they would be the poor and out of work. In other words, the actual victims of well-intentioned but stupid immigration policies, completely in the grip of nativism and anti-immigrant sentiment, willing and waiting for a real fascist to take charge.
This is precisely what is occurring in Europe now, with Maajid Nawas, a liberal British activist, and Douglas Murray, a conservative British journalist, both attributing the blame to Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for Syrian refugees. The reality is that a community can only accommodate so many foreigners at a time before it refuses and looks for a reactionary politician who will promise to put an end to it. No viable immigration policy follows from the “We are all immigrants” argument.
Furthermore, it tends to obscure the differences between immigration now and immigration, say, 100 years ago. It is far easier now to immigrate than it was 100 years ago; technology has removed some of the natural barriers to immigration. The number of immigrants living in the United States has increased from 10 million to 43 million since 1970, according to the Migration Policy Institute.
This is to say nothing of the global refugee crisis, which is the largest in history. The U.N. estimates that 21.3 million people are refugees worldwide, with half of those coming from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Developed countries can be, and must be, accommodating to refugees, but accommodation can only be achieved if communities are willing, economically and psychologically, to do so. That very well may mean tighter border security and less immigration.