When Jeb Bush—and America—was GREAT on Immigration


The ability of people to move freely not just within our country but across the world should be one of the very highest values libertarians hold dear. Indeed, the freedom to exit any given system implies the right to show up somewhere else.

Nobody—and no country—owes you a job or welfare or whatever. But countries—free ones, anyway—should practice the sort of immigration policy the United States had for many years: If you make it to our borders, aren't a criminal or spreading infectious disease, and agree to live here peacefully and lawfully, you're welcome. That open borders policy helped make America good and great even as the nation acted abominably toward African Americans and native Americans. But open borders slowly and disturbingly gave way to explicitly racist exclusions, first of Chinese and Japanese, then of Jews, Italians, and other Europeans of undesireable descent. Now the ire of anti-immigrationists is directed first and foremost at Mexicans and Latin Americans. 

Among Republican hopefuls bidding for the 2016 presidential nomination, one candidate used to be pretty damn great on immigration. That's Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, brother of George W., and son of George H.W. Jeb Bush is awful on many things, but his views on immigration should become the standard not just for the GOP but for all elected officials.

Bush is about to give a major policy speech in Detroit today. CNN reports that just a few years ago, Bush said a variety of statements that were openly pro-immigration and generally open-border. Such as:

"It's not possible in a free country to completely control the border without us losing our freedoms and liberties."…

"It just seems to me that maybe if you open up our doors in a fair way and unleashed the spirit of peoples' hard work, Detroit could become in really short order, one of the great American cities again," Bush said then. "Now it would look different, it wouldn't be Polish…But it would be just as powerful, just as exciting, just as dynamic. And that's what immigration does and to be fearful of this, it just seems bizarre to me."…

He said, during a discussion with Univision, that it was "ridiculous" to think that DREAMers, children brought to the U.S. by their parents illegally, shouldn't have an "accelerated path" to citizenship….

The tenor of CNN's piece isn't how great Bush is on immigration. It's how tough it's going to be for him to live down his record of having anything good to say about immigrants and immigration. 

"I'm just reading this stuff — wow," [conservative strategist Daniel Horowitz] said. "This is insane. Honestly, I don't take him seriously, because of [comments like] these and because of the Bush name it's very hard to see him getting anywhere in a primary."…

And it was the response to the comments from Brent Bozell, chairman of the conservative group ForAmerica.

"That thinking is utterly contrary to what grassroots Republicans believe. He is reflecting the viewpoint of the chamber of commerce and the businesses," he said.

Read the full article here.

I don't doubt that Brent Bozell—the longtime conservative figure who spends most of his time lambasting sitcoms and TV dramas for foul language and sexual innuendo—is absolutely right when he says that most Republicans think Bush is totally wrong on immigration. And I don't doubt that he's going to have a tough time winning the GOP nod.

But I also think Bush's past comments on immigration are right, both as a matter of morality and policy. Especially so with regards to places such as Detroit and other depressed parts of the country. These places don't suffer from too many migrants but from too few. When you look at the Rust Belt and other down-on-their-heels sections of the United States, they inevitably can't get anybody, whether U.S. citizens or from abroad, to move there. On a larger scale, the minute the United States stops being a destination for immigrants (and there are signs this is already happening) is the minute we've crested as not just a country but as an experiment in human flourishing. 

Liberals and Democrats tend to dislike immigration because they think cheap labor will undermine unions (which matter more than individuals) and wages. That's not true, but it's their argument. Conservatives and Republicans tend to stress the cultural disruptions created by non-English speakers and fret that newcomers will destroy democracy somehow because they eat with their hands or will vote Democratic. That's not true, either.

When libertarians go on the anti-immigrant warpath (and too many feel that way, even as they say they support an end to borders and limits on global trade in goods and services), they inevitably dust off the Milton Friedman quote about mass immigration being incompatible with the welfare state. Forget for the moment that immigrants consume public services at lower rates than native-born residents. If open borders—which operationalize the right of individuals to move freely around the planet—are incompatible with the welfare state, then get rid of the welfare state. Period. Full stop. In every other instance, libertarians will bemoan any increase in public expenditures but the nativists among us suddenly use it as an excuse to tell someone he can't freely cross an imaginary line in pursuit of happiness? Please.

And think about what Jeb Bush has said over the years about immigrants and immigration. Elsewhere, he has described immigration, including illegal immigration, as "an act of love," which it most certainly is. The greatest gift that all four of my grandparents gave my parents was to get the hell out of Ireland and Italy in the 1910s. Growing in Depression-era America was tough, fighting in World War II (as my father did) was tough, but being in America rather than old Europe made all the difference in the world.

Indeed, think about whatever generation of your ancestors was lucky enough to squeeze into the United States before we sadly, wrongly, and dumbly started to close our borders. For libertarians especially: Think about the insanity involved in thinking that a government which we all say can do nothing right is manipulating the total population and ethnic composition of a country that comprises hundred of millions of people and spans a continent. Countries that can't attract and keep migrants (ideological and geographical) are generally rotten places to live. So are political movements.