Ramesh Ponnuru, a respected editor for National Review, argues in a recent essay that immigration restriction “is rapidly becoming a defining issue for American conservatism. . . . It pains me to think he may be right. I have been a committed conservative since I was in my teens. My politics have been shaped around fundamental conservative values – individual liberty, limited government, free markets, opposition to tyranny, respect for religion, and the indispensability of civil institutions.
[One of my conservative ideals] has always been encouragement of immigration as an engine of American progress and prosperity. . . . [I describe] immigrants as the great “growth hormone” of American history. – Jeff Jacoby, On Immigration, I’ve Become a Dissident on the Right, Townhall.com, 1/13/16.
Fact Check: It’s hardly surprising that genuine conservatives are opposing the radical consequences of our current immigration policy, one of basic non-enforcement of immigration laws and the highest sustained level of legal immigration in our history. Essentially it is flooding us with people from Third World countries where such matters as individual liberty, limited government, free markets, and the indispensability of civil institutions are not particularly esteemed.
With the massive numbers of immigrants (42 million and growing), assimilation isn’t working. A case in point is Hispanic immigrants and their first and second generations. They are much more likely than the general U.S. population to uphold big government and oppose limited government. They are also much more likely than the most Americans to oppose capitalism.
Thus it is no wonder that that immigrants are much more likely to vote for the Democratic Party and shun the conservatism of Republicans. So what is conservative about giving the left-wing Democrats a permanent lock on American politics?
Some still maintain that our economy cannot function well without large-scale immigration. They have “studies” to “prove” this claim, but the realities of past and present clearly show otherwise. If immigration really is a “growth hormone” why did we achieve our greatest economic development and technological achievement between 1920 and 1970, a period when immigration was significantly restricted?
In 1970, America was solidly middle-class, and decently-paying jobs were abundant. But at that point mass immigration was beginning to take off. Today our middle-class has substantially contracted. Wages have stagnated for decades, and huge numbers of working-age Americans are either unemployed, underemployed, or out of the workforce.
If immigration is indeed the magic economic elixir that its proponents claim it is, surely the economy would be in better shape than it is now. In fact, immigration is a significant cause of our economic problems. Immigrants take jobs from Americans and depress wage levels. This is particularly the case for Americans with limited skills and education. And contrary to the often-made claim, immigrants on average are not more likely than Americans to own their own businesses.
Mass immigration isn’t conserving traditional America, so why do some self-described conservatives so ardently support it? The answer is that they equate conservatism with a kind of free enterprise which trumps all other concerns, including basic ethics and patriotism. It hails profits made from immigrants’ cheap labor has the highest good. Ironically, this enterprise is not free to U.S. taxpayers who have to subsidize the immigrant workforce with more welfare and public benefits per household than natives use.
Free enterprise is an excellent system when it operates under ethical constraints. Without those constraints it can become a cheap justification for conserving the cash and clout of unscrupulous commercial interests.