Let’s look before we leap on immigration reform

The Congressional Budget Office’s two reports on the impact of the Gang of Eight’s immigration reform bill have produced dueling claims of vindication by both sides in the immigration debate. CBO reports have a way of accomplishing this.

In my view, the CBO reports do considerable damage to the claims of the Gang of Eight. John Hinderaker showed why in this post.

Yuval Levin also finds that “the [CBO] reports undermine the case for the [Gang of Eight] bill in some pretty fundamental ways.” Most importantly, the CBO reports refute the core claim of Schumer, Rubio, etc. that the legislation will make illegal immigration “a thing of the past”:

As I understand the CBO reports, they’re saying that, if the bill passes, then 10 years from now, after we have gone through all the effort and political combat involved in offering legal status to today’s 11 or 12 million illegal immigrants, there will be somewhere around 7 or 8 million illegal immigrants in America—3.5 million who did not get the new RPI status (presumably most but not all would stay here), and 4.8 million who entered illegally after the law was enacted.

And the number will still be growing pretty quickly. Indeed, they expect more people to enter the country illegally in the next decade than did so in the last decade. With the triggers and enforcement provisions of the bill as they are, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to claim that it will meaningfully address the problem of future illegal immigration. At the very least, you can’t say so without explaining why the CBO got things very wrong. (emphasis added)

Levin also notes the sheer volume of new immigration that underlies the CBO’s view of the fiscal impact of the Gang of Eight bill. The CBO’s estimates imply that the U.S. will have 20 million new immigrants in a decade. Half would have come here in the absence of the Gang’s legislation, but half would not have come without it. It is clear, moreover, that this unprecedented influx will be fairly heavily weighted toward low-skill immigrants.

In light of this reality, Levin asks the following questions:

Have we thought through the volume of immigration that would result from this legislation? Have we thought through its balance of skills? Should we not hear a case for doubling American immigration over the next decade before we go ahead and do it? Has anyone argued for that? To what problem would such a huge increase be a solution? Does anyone have the sense that this is what our immigration debate has been about, or even quite understand that this is what the bill would do?

These questions answer themselves. The drive for immigration reform isn’t based on an analysis of the public good; it’s based on political calculation, with a bit of superficial moralizing thrown in. The Democrats want more foot soldiers; the Republican establishment wants to increase the party’s appeal to Hispanic voters.

It’s just about as simple, and as unprincipled, as that.

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