Why Is Immigration Popular with Senators?


In the discussion to Jacob Sullum's post below about illegal immigrants and wages, reader cynic points to a Christian Science Monitor op-ed by Michael S. Teitelbaum, a former member of the US Commission on Immigration Reform (1990-97).

Teitelbaum asks a pretty stunning question: Given the fact that increased immigration is wildly unpopular with the public in general (only 10 percent favor it), why does it command such a strong position in the US Senate, where most members would go along with legislation to boost it?

Members of the US Senate–an elite among elites–do seem to be quite insulated from the views that pollsters routinely find among broad public opinion. On this issue senators may be even further disconnected from those who elect them as they are also surrounded by flocks of immigration lobbyists representing small but well-organized and heavily financed interest groups.

These interest groups are regional, economic, ethnic, and ideological. Prominent among them: agribusiness companies in California and the Southwest; employers of mostly low-wage labor such as hotels and restaurants; a few unions with large percentages of immigrant members; some high-tech companies; some ethnic and religious lobby groups; some higher education groups; and ideological libertarians of both the right and the left.

Together they include only a small part of the US economy and workforce, but a large fraction of immigration lobbyists. In a Washington dominated by interest-group politics and their lobbyists, the fact that these otherwise antagonistic lobbies are in coalition to increase immigration may give some senators the (incorrect) impression that there is a broad base of support.

I'm not sure I buy that argument, but it's worth thinking about. (And given that, as an "ideological libertarian" and the grandson of semi-literate migrants, I support basically open immigration, I'm happy to have semi-retarded senators befuddled on this issue.) Teitelbaum also makes another point worth considering, this one about partisan politics:

Some political strategists for both the Democratic and Republican parties believe they can gain politically by expanding legal immigration. Each party supposedly will capture disproportionate support from the minority of voters who favor expanded immigration, from legal immigrants themselves once they naturalize, and from rich sources of campaign finance, while not losing support from the majority of voters who do not endorse such actions….

In reality, no one knows how these politics will play out. Yet one thing is more than clear: Both parties cannot achieve the partisan gains they are being promised.

Whole thing here.

Just the other day, Reason's Tim Cavanaugh asked the sort of simple question that screwed tenure for Socrates: "Forget guest workers–why should citizens of NAFTA countries need visas at all?"