Horowitz: The coming GOP fight over legal immigration levels

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“I’m against illegal immigration, but am all for legal immigration.” It’s the vacuous attempt at achieving Goldilocks political imaging akin to the GOP trope about being for all vaccines – including bad ones – but against mandates. However, specific facts matter in policy, and just like not all vaccines are good, not all levels of immigration at all times make sense. Watch for Republicans to use their pseudo johnny-come-lately tough act on illegal immigration 25 years too late to continue to push an increase in already record-high levels of legal immigration.

After years of record-high immigration, not only do Republicans have no plans to push reductions, but most of them want an increase in everything from family-based migration and low-skilled workers to high-skilled workers, the latter of which they define not as rocket science but as any computer, accounting, or nursing job they believe Americans are incapable of doing. The question that must finally be asked is: How much is too much?

They talk about “streamlining” legal immigration as a euphemism for expanding it, as a supposed means of solving the problem of illegal immigration. The implication is that we have illegal immigration because we don’t have enough legal immigration. But the problem with that assertion is that the period of the greatest illegal immigration has coincided with the period of the most legal immigration, and the countries of origin from which the illegal aliens migrate are the countries from which we take the most legal immigrants. The reality is just the opposite – the more legal and illegal immigration we have, the more an endless number of immigrants’ friends and relatives will want to come. And who can blame them?

According to a 2018 Gallup poll, more than 750 million people would migrate if they could. It’s almost a limitless number. If we are to solve the migration problems from Central America with even more legal immigration, we must remember that the immigrants are primarily economic migrants. There are over 70 countries with a lower GDP per capita than Guatemala, accounting for at least a billion people. At some point we need a cool-off period.

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Since the passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, we have experienced five full decades of uninterrupted mass migration, predominantly from the third world, and the wave has not even crested yet. At present, according to the Center for Immigration Studies, there are 47.9 million foreign-born individuals in the country, an increase of nearly 3 million since Biden took office. They compose 14.6% of the population, up from just 4.7% in 1970 and 7.9% in 1990. Together with the 17.2 million U.S.-born children with an immigrant parent, immigrants and their children now account for one in five U.S. residents.

With current immigration policies in place – before any proposed increase – that number is projected to rise as high as 69.3 million by 2060, at which point foreign nationals will account for as many as one in six individuals overall and much higher in many states.

Every year, we issue another 1.1 million green cards, over 900,000 F visas to foreign students, and over 700,000 long-term worker visas. And this reoccurs years after year. The notion that there is not enough legal immigration is beyond absurd. Republicans have misread the electoral tea leaves on this issue for years, assuming that going the McCain route on immigration would get them electoral success when we are seeing the opposite. According to Gallup, as of July 2022, a plurality of voters wanted to see a decrease of legal immigration, and only 27% support an increase.

But even those numbers are predicated on the fact that most people don’t realize just how many immigrants we admit every year. Several years ago, a poll was commissioned asking people the following question:

Current federal policy adds about one million new immigrants with lifetime work permits each year. Which is closest to the number of new immigrants the government should be adding each year — less than 250,000, 500,000, 750,000, one million, one and a half million, or more than two million?

Overall, the combined average for the 25 states polled — a mixture of red, blue, and purple states — was 62% in favor of cutting immigration by at least 25%. Only 25% of respondents were in favor of the same level or more immigration. Some red states like West Virginia (72%-16%) and Louisiana (70%-20%) had lopsided margins. But even in blue states with large numbers of immigrants, such as California (56%-32%), New York (57%-33%), Illinois (51%-36%), and Nevada (63%-24%), a clear majority supported cuts to current levels.

Broadly speaking, most people, of course, are “pro-immigrant.” Isolating a largely abstract and mythical population of immigrants and encapsulating it into a poll doesn’t reflect where people’s hearts and priorities are on this issue. But the answers to very straightforward polling questions of whether we have too much or too little immigration, whether immigrants should assimilate, whether immigrants should get welfare, whether immigrants should learn English, and whether immigration should be merit-based as opposed to family-based are indeed very reflective of where the national mood is on immigration. And deep down, both Republicans and Democrats know this.

That’s why the time has finally come for Republicans to reorient their thinking more in line with the average voter. Rather than focusing on more immigration, they should pass legislation fostering more Americanization of the existing record numbers of immigrants with legislation making welfare use tougher and making English the official language.

Republicans like Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) are continuing to push for more foreign workers. GOP senators continue to push for more low-skilled agriculture workers. A bunch of House Republicans, including those from Texas, voted for a provision that would expand chain migration.

In other words, despite the possible wave election, the sentiments of most GOP elites have not changed. It will be a fight to get them off their old habits. The time has come to bring the sentiment of the wave to the actual red officials to put Americans first once again. When the House GOP leaders allow a vote on immigration reductions, we will know they have changed business as usual.

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