In President Trump's America, anti-immigration animus is fast becoming the main organizing principle of the Grand Old Party. Not fiscal responsibility. Not the free market. Anti-immigrant fever.
For proof, look no further than the recent antics of two prominent Republicans: Rep. Mark Meadows (R–N.C.) and Sen. Tom Cotton (R–Ark.), both of whom have worked with the White House and floated plans to sacrifice traditional conservative economic principles to promote a harsh immigration agenda.
Meadows told Breitbart News, the organ of immigration hawks, recently that he was prepared to shut down the government again in September if Congress' spending bill failed to fund the Great Wall of Trump. "There is nothing more critical that has to be funded than the funding for the border wall," he declared.
It's stunning for Meadows to lobby for this money. He's an anti-spending warrior who helped found the House Freedom Caucus in 2015 for the express purpose of fighting rising government spending. He led the coup to depose House Speaker John Boehner two years ago after Boehner failed to cut half a billion dollars for Planned Parenthood from a bill to fund the government.
Yet here is Meadows now insisting that the border wall—that will cost upwards of $20 billion—needs to be funded fully. Why? He cites two reasons: President Trump made a promise to his base, and it is essential for national security. But a limited government conservative of all people should understand that if a lawmaker's campaign promises were a sufficient justification to fund government programs, America would have gone Greece's way many times over by now (not just when the bill for America's massive unfunded entitlement state comes due!). As for the security rationale, it's not just bogus — but backwards.
The Bipartisan Policy Institute's Theresa Cardinal Brown points out that a physical barrier, no matter how tall or strong or beautiful, will not deter drug cartels given that America boasts a $100 billion drug market—and that's just the annual number for the top four drugs. Cartels will find ways to go "over, under, around, or through any border infrastructure," she insists, by using drones, ultra-light planes, catapults, tunnels, submarines—and, most importantly, human mules.
Mules are typically desperate foreign workers who, finding it difficult to get into the U.S., sign up with cartels to carry drugs in their body cavities in exchange for free passage to America. The more difficult America makes it for these workers to cross the border on their own, the more they will choose the cartel option. This will cause the drug and human trafficking business to become even more tightly entwined, breeding more criminality and lawlessness at the border. And all for the low, low price of $20 billion.
So why build the wall? The real purpose, clearly, is the symbolism it offers the GOP's restrictionist base. However, if the austerity hawks of the party of limited government become champions of expensive and empty exercises in government spending, what leg will their party have to stand on when liberals start building bullet trains to nowhere to earn brownie points with their supporters? Clearly, Meadows doesn't care.
But fiscal responsibility is not the only GOP principle that the anti-immigration fever is burning. Sen. Cotton, a rising star of the party, unveiled the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment (RAISE) Act last week. This legislation also disses the party's commitment to markets and competition—everything that Republicans have long credited for making America great.
The Cotton bill would slash legal immigration in half by 2027 because he feels it's the government's duty to protect American workers from too much labor competition. So much for limiting the size and scope of government!
And the claim that a smaller workforce means more plentiful and higher-paying jobs for native workers is laughable on its face. Women's participation in the labor market doubled in the latter half of the 20th century, massively expanding the American workforce. By Cotton's logic, that should have produced rampant unemployment among American men and cratered male wages. But America's long bouts of full employment, including the one it is experiencing right now when we are in an alleged age of "mass immigration," offer ample proof against that thesis. That's because women didn't steal men's jobs, they created their own opportunities as America's dynamic market economy deployed their talents and skills to deliver new goods and services to consumers.
The same is true for foreign workers. Studies have repeatedly shown that even a sudden and large influx of poor foreign laborers has no big long-term negative impact on native wages. Even the short-term affect is often mild to negligible. Indeed, after the Mariel boatlift crisis in 1980, when Fidel Castro allowed 125,000 Cubans to flee to Florida, the wages of low-skilled Florida workers, with the possible exception of high-school dropouts, actually went up.
If expanding the workforce doesn't diminish American wages or job prospects, shrinking it, as the RAISE Act would, won't boost them either. The Center for Global Development's Michael Clemens has found that the termination of the Barcero guest worker program with Mexico in 1964 shrank the seasonal agricultural labor force by up to 20 percent. However, the wages of American workers in affected states went up not one bit.
What is Sen. Cotton's response to all this evidence? "Only an intellectual could believe something so stupid."
He's not just throwing pointy-headed intellectuals under the bus. Or even immigrants. He, along with other anti-immigration zealots in his party, is throwing away the bedrock fiscal and economic principles that have guided his party for at least the last three decades.
This column originally appeared in The Week