The New Case Against Immigration: Both
Legal and Illegal
By Mark Krikorian
Sentinel, $25.95, 284 pp.
With The New Case Against
Immigration, National Review's Mark Krikorian has written one of the
year's bravest books. In a political atmosphere where proposing to crack down
on even illegal immigration can get one labeled a "nativist" or
"xenophobe" in polite circles – and a racist in others – Krikorian
dares to question the level of legal immigration, a topic most fear to explore.
For openers. it boggles the mind
that an axis of political, media and business elites favors illegal
immigration. Nonetheless, stopping illegal immigration is popular among voters.
It's so popular, in fact, that presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain
forsook his mainstream media constituency and its citizen-of-the-world
mentality to give lip service to what American citizens want — at least while
the Republican primaries lasted.
If Krikorian's name were Mark
Running Bear, he'd probably get less flack for questioning the practical
effects of legal immigration. I'd bet a dollar that the author hears retorts
that Krikorian sure sounds like an immigrant name, as he receives cheap shots
about the Armenian Mob.
Everyone should have learned in
grade school that one of the minimum standards for being considered a real life
nation-state is having a definable border and the means to control it (though,
no doubt, that's a controversial topic in many public schools today).
Krikorian's premise is that
America has a right to decide who comes here — legally or not —and set a limit
on newcomers. Period.
In fact, The New Case Against
Immigration spends surprisingly little time on illegal immigration;
instead, Krikorian focuses on the effects of mass immigration upon a
modern welfare state infected by political correctness.
Unlike many who dare to broach this
topic, Krikorian does not contend that today's immigrants refuse to assimilate
with American culture or have little interest in it. Rather, he turns the
argument on its head.
It's not that immigrants are much
different than they were a hundred years ago – it's that America is
different in several important ways:
The nation no longer is set up
for mass assimilation. In recent decades, we have set up a racial spoils system
that is supposed to make up for past American sins, but it applies to newcomers
as well. The public schools – the main engine of assimilation in past
generations — don't even try to make proud Americans out of Americans
Those who come to the United
States from many countries often encounter a seismic shift in technology,
traditions and mores. A century ago, the main differences an immigrant
faced when coming to America were life under liberty and
vastly improved opportunities.
America no longer is a frontier
country looking to populate vast empty territories with a growing need to
entice sturdy laborers to our shores.
Most importantly, the U.S. is now a
welfare state -- and minimum
income, health care and schooling are guaranteed for anyone who crosses our
border. This alone makes mass immigration impractical.
Perhaps the most compelling chapter
in The New Case Against Immigration is entitled "Mass
Immigration vs. American Sovereignty." One expects the basic argument
about borders, but Krikorian makes a compelling case that the U.S. legal system
now makes mass immigration problematic — another way in which we have changed
more than the immigrants have.
Krikorian documents how the Mexican
government, because of the huge numbers of its citizens who live in the U.S.,
has claimed the right to lobby for and against American legislation at the
federal, state and even local levels — and to involve itself in American
Krikorian makes the compelling case
that not only does the U.S. legal system currently grant the Mexican government
that right, but the egalitarian impulse of American jurisprudence also
apparently grants every other country with citizens here the very
On the other hand, his assertion
that mass immigration distorts labor markets is less compelling. Such arguments
always have a subjective base of where the "true" market should be
and rely on economic projections of conditions that have never existed in real
life – namely what wages would be in a restrictive immigration environment.
It does, however, give one pause
that in agricultural fields, where harvests depend on cheap and often illegal
labor, technical innovations have not progressed for decades.
effectively argues that the large numbers of immigrants makes security
impossible, and terrorist watch lists a bad joke. That might be true, but
defensive security should always be a last resort, a screen to catch those we
have not been able to kill before they get here. It's hard to see a time
when so few people would ever be coming into the U.S. that monitoring
people and activities would be our primary security activity.
While libertarian-types who look at
the world in purely economic terms tend to support open borders, even they
admit economist Milton Friedman was right when he stated, "It's just
obvious that you can't have free immigration and a welfare state."
Libertarians – never the most
practical of people politically – make this an argument to dismantle the
welfare state. While I tend to agree, Krikorian is right when he says it is far
more likely that U.S. politicians can be persuaded to control our borders than
to severely restrict the social safety net, which most Americans support to one
degree or another.
In this context, though, Krikorian
makes another startling argument: There is little difference, cost-wise, to the
American taxpayer between an unskilled legal immigrant and an illegal one. And
the statistics he presents are compelling.
Krikorian reveals the provisions of
the 1994 Republican congressional candidates' Contract with America that
restricted government payouts to immigrants have largely been
ineffective. Since children's welfare was involved in many cases (people
who immigrate naturally tend to be of child bearing age), cutting off benefits
became problematic on the ground.
There is, however, one
thing illegal immigration has definitely overwhelmed — and that's the
discussion. With an estimated 12 million illegal aliens in the United States,
most people think the discussion should start there — and, for spineless
politicians, it's a convenient place for the discussion to end.
Ultimately, Krikorian proposes what
he calls a "Pro-Immigrant Policy of Low Immigration," which would
include English instruction and other programs to support assimilation.
Some careful conservative reviewers
are tempering their reviews with a backhanded compliment of "Agree or
disagree, you have to give Krikorian credit for starting the debate."
Krikorian deserves much more credit than that.
The New Case Against Immigration is a carefully written and intellectually rigorous book
capable of redefining the debate. At the very least, Krikorian's arguments
deserve real answers from those on the other side.