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JUNE 15, 2012 7:24PM

Why Obama's Immigration Back Door Opens Needed Front Door

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Immigration historically speaking is an issue that has more emotional content than average, anywhere in the world, because it calls on instincts of identity.

When the Irish moved here in large numbers, WASPs in Boston got pretty nasty, as did they with Germans in PA, Italians later in many places.

The really huge wave of immigration in American history, before the one we are now experiencing, ended in the 1924 Immigration Reform, very explictly aimed at maintaining the ethnic composition of the United States.

That system of national origin quotas ended in 1965's immigration law, the source of the current wave of immigration, which has had an even more different ethnic composition from the historically dominant WASPs than the wave of immigration from Eastern and Southeastern Europe that led to the 1924 system of "national origins quotas."

In a multiracial society in particular, immigration or changes in immigration has its risks as to calling on subrational tribalism, even as it has huge benefits well explained by Thomas Sowell in Ethnic America, the single most compact study of immigration in American life, by someone it's worth noting normally associated with Republicans.

Sowell wasn't anti-immigration when he became a major intellectual spokesperson for Republicans under Reagan, even if times change as to one of the key questions of immigration: "How much is enough?"

If large levels of immigration induce people to question the benefits of immigration, and over the last forty years, there has been as large a wave of immigration as was the case in the nineteenth century, that again triggered the backlash of the 1924 system of national origins, so too does a high rate of unemployment, like now.

Whatever the President's motive in throwing immigration out there right now as a political issue, it therefore was a bold, and very risky, move.

People who hang around only Democrats and Liberals won't see the risk in what the President did, if it also almost forces Republicans to respond, hence the title of the post as to back doors causing front doors.

The President of course is well-positioned politically by picking the lowest hanging political fruit, as to children of illegal immigrants, but even there, it wasn't risk free, as just saying the word illegal gets a lot of peoples back up, not to mention amnesty.

At the same time, by suddenly placing immigration on the poltical agenda, especially with pretty popular State immigration laws facing Supreme Court decisions, the Republicans have a lot of incentives to respond, precisely because it is an election year.

As to risks to Republcans, in the primaries, where only other Republicans matter, it seemed a political freebie to "be tough on immigration."

When you're facing the general electorate, that's a different sort of calculus, as if the Republicans totally lose the Latino vote, they lose period.

On the other hand, Latinos are hardly liberal democratic clones on the immigration issue of Democratic fantasy, partly because they well know that new arrivals are labor competition with them more than anyone else on average, something Sowell has always and correctly pointed out.

Having put immigration in play, the President, whatever political gain he may hope to receive, has also forced the Republicans to make moves in that field too, which could be good for everyone, immigrants and non-immigrants.

For a long time the immigration issue with Latinos especially has been controlled by a bizarre and pretty hypocritical alliance of Left wing people who think that nations don't have a right to control who enter the country, if some think the motive to gain permanent political control, and Right wing people who want to exploit poor people's labor.

In the middle has always been a coalition that supports the rule of law, as to there being some penalt for illegally coming into the country, like a fine for work permits, and to pay for processing costs that are real and are not trivial, and border enforcement that is real, including potentially more use of the National Guard, but a potential coalition that also sees more benefits than costs in immigration, up to some reasonable level that as a factual matter doesn't make people who are born here suddenly feel like they are living in an unfamilar country because not enough effort has been made to acculturate people to what that country has been like historically.

At the same time, there is no better book on why immigration is good for empires than Chinese-American "Tiger Mom" Amy Chua; Day of Empire.

Immigrants revivify societies when one looks at history, even as if there is a benefit of something there is a cost too, in the case of immigration the cost lying in what Chua correctly identifies as social glue, which in our day means ethnic conflict that is problematic at times.

But on balance, whatever the motive, by springing the issue out in the public domain by surprise, and therefore with maximum force, the President has essentially forced the possibility of a front door of an honest attempt at immigration reform through the back door, assuming Republicans are smart, and see that they can't win being irrationally anti-immigration, although they can certainly do well by just pointing to the truths of immigration that have it right, which is a weighing of costs and benefits.


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