The Liberal Case Against Immigration Reform

T.A. Frank recently made it:

Oddly enough, an early important realization came to me in Hong Kong during the SARS crisis of 2003. I thought about how Hong Kong had created a flawed but remarkable city in which even low-skilled laborers such as these men and women, who were wearing masks and wiping down railings, lived far better than similar laborers on the other side of the border. I also realized that only a wall (and I didn’t much like walls) prevented millions of people on the People’s Republic of China side of the border from coming over to take these lowly jobs for a fraction of the current wage. (Hong Kong had no minimum wage at the time.) I knew I wouldn’t want these unskilled street cleaners to lose their adequate standard of living to such unbridled competition.

But if that was how I felt about protecting Hong Kong’s working class, why shouldn’t I feel that way about America’s?

Dreher replies:

This reminds me of the arguments we used to have in Dallas about immigration reform.

I would make the point that none of us middle-class people had to use public hospitals, or had our kids in public schools that were overwhelmed by illegal immigrants and the problems that come with them (e.g., children who can’t speak English). Nor were our neighborhoods being colonized by illegal immigrants from a Third World country, men living 15 or more to a house, with very different standards of how to live in a community than many Americans do. It’s easy to be in favor of immigration reform when people like you only get benefits from it, and people not like you pay the cost — and to assume that the only real reason anybody could oppose it is because they’re racist.

Charles Kenny, on the other hand, argues that “the evidence keeps mounting that more immigration is somewhere between a benefit for the considerable majority of native-born people to a benefit for the vast, vast majority”:

Perhaps U.S. citizens will start realizing that more people aspiring to become Americans is no threat to the institutions of America, just as they have come to accept that more people wanting to get married—some to people of the same sex—is no threat to the institution of marriage.

Ultimately, immigration reform’s greatest positive impact is on migrants themselves and the developing countries they come from. The CBO estimates that undocumented workers who obtained legal residency would see a 12 percent wage hike. Harvard economist Lant Pritchett has estimated that if all rich countries increased their labor force through migration on a slightly smaller scale than that suggested by the Senate bill, it would add $300 billion to the welfare of citizens of poor countries—give or take, that’s a little more than twice the value of annual global aid flows. So if cultural attitudes change from viewing immigrants as aliens to be fenced out to seeing them as fellow human beings to be welcomed, the impact on both American and global quality of life will be immense.

The latest Dish on the immigration bill here, here, and here.