Is Immigration Permanent?

John J. Miller offers a fine overview of recent policy making in "The Politics of Permanent Immigration" (October). But his conclusion that high levels of immigration are unassailable–and might soon be increased–is less reliable.

To begin with, the intellectual consensus regarding the benefits of immigration is changing. Converging research findings from the National Research Council, the RAND Corporation, the Urban Institute, the Center for Immigration Studies, and elsewhere reveal deep problems caused by current immigration policy, overturning the assumptions of immigration as an economic and fiscal free lunch. Just as in other areas–welfare reform, school choice, and airline deregulation come to mind–this new thinking on immigration will take time to percolate into politics, but percolate it will.

Furthermore, there are inherent political contradictions within the high-immigration united front Miller describes. Many of the libertarian and business-oriented members of this coalition combine pro-immigration views with an anti-immigrant animus, manifested most luridly in the dogged efforts of Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-Mich.) and others to deny welfare benefits to legal noncitizens. But this view of immigrants as disposable commodities is also clear in the push to increase the number of indentured computer programmers and in the refusal to aggressively pursue worksite enforcement, thus tempting foreigners to risk their lives illegally crossing the border.

And it is precisely this anti-immigrant sentiment, not differing views on the level of immigration, which has turned some immigrants off to the Republican Party. Sen. Abraham and his allies on the high-immigration right are thus part of the problem for the GOP, not the solution.

We could see the emergence of a pro-immigrant, low-immigration coalition that is not a shill for business but rather serves the interests of individual Americans and Americans-to-be. It may not happen, but Miller was wrong to ignore the possibility.

Mark Krikorian
Executive Director
Center for Immigration Studies
Washington, DC

John J. Miller replies: For a political movement to succeed, first it needs intellectual leadership, then a constituency. Mark Krikorian's Center for Immigration Studies is certainly laying the foundations for the former; supporters of high admission levels ignore its serious and substantive scholarship at their peril. On the other hand, Krikorian's imagined "pro-immigrant, low-immigration coalition" is far from a political reality. A severe economic downturn might change that, but even then its success wouldn't be assured.

Contradictions surely exist within the so-called right-left (i.e., business-ethnic) pro-immigration alliance, but they're a sign of majoritarian strength. If restrictionists ever rise to ascendancy, they'll have their own contradictions to fumble over, such as combining the interests of Democrats concerned about how immigration hurts the economic opportunities of low-income Americans and Republicans worried about cultural and political disruption. These fissures already exist in the environmental movement: Some greens believe immigration cuts are necessary to keep population growth in check, and others see these cuts as, at best, a subtle form of racism. In the meantime, the restrictionists are a minority voice among the political elite. That may be a good or bad thing, depending on your point of view. But it's a hard fact.

Markets and Media

I appreciated Rick Henderson's recent piece about the power of market forces to improve accuracy in reporting ("Discovery Channels," October). I was reminded of the infamous lack of veracity which characterized the state-owned media of the USSR. The "owner" and managers of those outlets valued their "journalists" chiefly for their fiction-writing talents.

So it would seem that eliminating all competition from the "media marketplace" results in eliminating all but accidental or trivial truths as well. To the extent that a few large conglomerates come to own America's media outlets (reducing competition among those outlets), accuracy in their reporting will undoubtedly suffer as well–wouldn't you suppose?

Mark Seecof

Rick Henderson replies: Mark Seecof is correct to note the inaccuracies that riddled journalism in the former Soviet Union, and that continue to plague state-run news media in other countries to this day. The American system of constitutional speech protections and our relatively free market should prevent the problems of concentration he is concerned about. If the Gannett chain decides it wants to buy an independent local newspaper, it doesn't execute the publisher and the editorial staff; it offers them money, which they can choose to accept or reject. As long as people are free to enter the marketplace, it doesn't matter how many media outlets Rupert Murdoch or Ted Turner own; the truth will get out.

Republicrats Shun Reform

In "Not-So-Radical-Republicans," (July), Stephen Moore unfortunately focuses on the Republicans' failure to engage in serious budget cutting. This criticism is valid. The budget reflects a principle of governance–from the conservative view, that of a lean, minimally intrusive government–not an end in itself.

The 1997 budget agreement showed clearly that the Republicans in Congress are in essence no different from the Democrats when it comes to the expansion of government and the redistribution of income. For all practical purposes, we have a one-party system in this country, one in which the personal power and job security of incumbents takes precedence over the best interests of those who elected them.

While Moore suggests that term limits and tax limitation measures would bring about necessary institutional change, he does not say how to achieve these reforms. Indeed, in talking about changing the rules of the game, rather than trying to outplay the other side, Moore seems oblivious to the fact that there is no other side. Not only are the Republicans in Congress no more interested than the Democrats in term limits and tax limitation measures–or in campaign finance reform, which Moore does not mention–but members of both parties are doing whatever they can to solidify their positions against challenge.

For example, it appears to be a bipartisan belief that it is not in the public interest to provide free broadcast time for candidates who are not from one of the "major" parties. I find it difficult to believe that true reform is possible without a thorough reform of both intra-party governance and ballot access at the state and local level. Unless there can be a grass-roots takeover of the party machinery on a broad scale (which the religious right has begun to do effectively), and a real threat from a third party that is able to attract viable candidates, we will find ourselves yielding more and more of our wealth and our autonomy to government authority.

Richard Lange
Rockhall, MD