“Economists generally believe that immigration increases the size of the economy, improves productivity, and is an economic boon for almost all parties. Moreover, historically, immigration has been a net positive for the federal budget, improving the long-run fiscal condition of the United States.”1
So begins an analysis of the economic impact of immigration published last week by Alex Nowrasteh and Sophie Cole of the Cato Institute.
Yet when many think of a conservative response to immigration, the image that comes to mind centers on angry white voices demanding higher and longer fences and a heavily militarized southern border. It’s an image absent of the compassion and optimism that many conservatives rightly bring to this issue.
Fences might be a part of the solution, but they certainly are not the entire solution. I frequently speak on immigration policy, and I start most presentations with two questions. First, how long should it take to come legally? According to estimates provided by the Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (overseen by the Department of Homeland Security), the current wait for a 30-year-old Mexican male with a high school degree is 131 years. Only slightly less brutal, the wait for a 35-year-old computer programmer from India who would like to seek employment in the United States is estimated to be 35 years.
Second, I ask how many green cards we should provide for lower-skilled laborers from our neighbor to the South. This would include all the roofers, crop pickers, meat processors, hotel workers, food service workers, landscapers, dairy producers, nanny’s, nurses aides–the list goes on; individuals who come here to work hard and support their families doing jobs that most Americans would rather not do. Current immigration policy allows for approximately 5,000 Green Cards annually for such individuals. I’ve estimated over 2,000 such workers currently living in my rural county alone.
These two conditions–an absurdly long wait and a dearth of available green cards–incentivize the current phenomenon of illegal entry. As Richard Land, former President of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, observed,
“There are two signs posted at our Southern border. ‘Do not Enter’ and ‘Help Wanted.’”
Thoughtful conservatives may disagree on some of the minor policy details of immigration reform, but I hope we can agree on the following principles or policy suggestions.
First, even before securing the border, we need to eliminate the bureaucracy of coming legally. Back when Ellis Island was the primary point of entry, the entire process of entering legally could be completed in a single day–a far cry from 131 years. We have the technology to dramatically simplify the application process and to compare names to a database of people who are known threats. (By the way, not a single known terrorist snuck across the southern border. All obtained visas and came legally under our current broken system).
Second, we need to apply our pro-life values to the humanitarian issues surrounding immigration. Conservatives should be the first to condemn legislators like Vigil Peck of the Kansas State Legislature, who compared undocumented immigrants to feral hogs and laughingly suggested that we shoot them from helicopters. His website identified him as “pro-life.” Compassionate conservatives can’t stand by while thousands die in the Sonoran desert each year, many of them mothers and children. The lack of modernized comprehensive immigration policy (last comprehensively revised in 1965) also contributes to the growing trade of sex trafficking. We must begin by humanizing the people affected by poorly designed policy. As an evangelical Christian, I am particularly moved by the stories of my brothers and sisters in Christ who live in fear of exploitation or deportation.
Third, conservatives should prioritize family unity. Family, not government, is the bedrock of society. Under our current policy, young people who have grown up in the United States–people with no memory of their country or origin and no role in their family’s decision to come here–can be detained and deported after a minor fender bender. If they have children, situations similar to this scenario often result in the removal of the family’s primary wage earner, as well as the children either suffering or going on public assistance (or both). There are an estimated 5 million children living in the U.S. today who have at least one undocumented parent.2 While conservatives support the detention and deportation of violent criminals, we should devise ways to keep the families of nonviolent immigrants intact as long as possible while the process of righting wrongs and achieving legal status plays out.
Fourth, we should argue for the general application of free-market principles to the issue of future flow, the process of determining how many immigrants can come legally in the future. Rather than determining this number based on racial quotas or arbitrary numbers, we should allow free-market capitalism to determine how many come of leave in any given year. The numbers typically surge when the economy is firing on all cylinders, needing as many workers as possible. It slows or reverses when we go into economic recession. Regulation is seldom the friend of productivity, and we should be wary of excessive regulation in the area of immigration, especially in the area of future flow. The numbers need to be set high enough to meet the economic needs of the market.
Fifth, conservatives like Reagan understood that America is an exceptional place with exceptional promise. It is a beacon of hope to hardworking, ambitious people from around the world–those who want a job, not a handout. People are more productive here because we have a system of laws and rights that promote free enterprise and productivity. Those are things, along with free speech and freedom to worship as we choose, that draw families to America.
We are blessed to live in a country that not only has the rule of law, but also where there is an orderly system for changing broken or inhumane laws. Nearly fifty years ago Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Today, few Americans fail to recognize the value and dignity of that act. What many have forgotten is that the act passed due to the leadership of Republicans who approved it by a margin of 80% compared to 60% support from Democrats. It’s time to reclaim the promise of compassionate conservatism. Conservative support for common sense, comprehensive immigration reform is a first step.
Dr. Carl Ruby has served in higher education for nearly thirty years and is currently serving on the Evangelical Immigration Table (EIT) and directing Bibles, Badges, and Business (BBB) for Immigration Reform in Ohio and Kentucky. Ruby also blogs at carlruby.com. He and his family reside in South Charleston, Ohio. Links to EIT and BBB can be found at http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/ and http://www.bbbimmigration.org/.
Dr. Ruby is hosting a Round Table Discussion on Immigration Reform at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Dayton on Monday, August 12, at 2 p.m. OCR is one of five participants. The event is open to the public.
All opinions expressed belong solely to their authors and may not be construed as the opinions of other writers or of OCR staff.