CRB: Immigration reconsidered

We conclude our preview of the new issue of the Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here) with its symposium on immigration just as last rites are being said over the Senate Gang of Eight’s immigration bill in the House. Bad timing – or is the fight just getting started?

At a recent talk in New York, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush suggested that while reform efforts are done for this year, he was confident that the House will pass immigration reform bills in 2014. Speaker John Boehner, said Bush, is “totally committed” to the task. (If true, the Republican Party ought to rededicate itself to the College of Basket Weaving and Wall Staring if they follow Boehner.)

Doubtful of the possibility of passing a single comprehensive bill, Boehner’s strategy – timed for the early spring, far enough from the midterms for voters to forget their displeasure – will be for the House to pass a series of smaller, separate bills, containing altogether the essentials of the Gang of Eight bill. Boehner just needs more time to gin up support for the effort.

It is telling – and, for those who are skeptical about the effect of a massive influx of immigrants into the country, disheartening – that the main disagreement in the House, according to Bush, is over immigrants who have already arrived in the United States illegally. The penalties in the Senate bill are “a pretty big price to pay for coming into this country illegally,” thinks Bush. “I’m comfortable with that and I hope that the House gets comfortable with it as well.”

He will doubtless be joined by many in the Republican establishment in echoing Nancy Pelosi’s advice: pass immigration reform or forever give up hope of winning another election. (And surely the minority leader in House has the majority party’s best interest at heart?)

The basic question structuring the immigration debate, in other words, is not over the number of immigrants the country ought to let in, or the kinds of immigrants we ought to let in; these would require a discussion of the purpose of immigration. Bush waived these questions away with the assurance that new arrivals will help the economy, by golly!

The CRB symposium “Immigration and American exceptionalism” includes contributions by Bill Bennett, Linda Chavez, Angelo M. Codevilla, Edward J. Erler, Stanley Kurtz, and John O’Sullivan. There are, as you might expect, several fine contributions here, but this comment by the perspicacious Mr. O’Sullivan in particular caught my attention:

[T]he immigration bill not only legalizes millions of illegal immigrants already present in the U.S., it vastly increases the number of legal immigrants too. In addition, it proposes no serious program for reviving patriotic assimilation (i.e., Americanization); instead it earmarks billions of dollars for organizations that promote multiculturalism. It is quite simply an engine of self-destruction. No one who loves the America that was and is can possibly vote for it.

That, I declare, is by itself worth the price of admission. Thank you, Mr. O’Sullivan.