From Mitt Romney to Michele Bachmann, the GOP Has An Immigrant (Policy) Problem

The Republican primary candidates proudly and uniformly support a “secure” border, employing the fear-mongering post-9/11 vocabulary that politicians have learned to love so well. In reality, the candidates mean to secure only one of the borders (hint: not the one with Canada), undermining any security objective that could be had in a national project of moat-building. None of these presidential hopefuls, nor the president, are able to reconcile the cherished idea of an “immigrant nation” with their desire to keep impoverished (mostly Latino) foreigners from seeking a brighter future in the United States.

Mitt Romney would open the borders for the “best and the brightest,” meaning the wealthy and educated. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) would construct a fence on “every inch of the [Mexican] border,” then hunt down and deport every single undocumented immigrant in the country. “Libertarian” Congressman Ron Paul (R-Texas) would end birthright citizenship, convinced as he is that people are incentivized to immigrate and plant “anchor babies” as a ploy to remain in the country and receive welfare benefits. Both Paul and Newt Gingrich, to their credit, would reform and streamline visa requirements to lower wait times. However, Gingrich also wants to establish citizen review boards that would decide whether “established” immigrants could stay in the country, a problematic idea that would expose undocumented residents to corruption and favoritism.

Were it not for these candidates’ desperation to distinguish themselves from the president, one would expect them to applaud the Obama administration’s escalation of force on the Mexican border. Predator drones are being deployed on the border to assist the National Guard troops already stationed there, and ICE this year reported record numbers of deportations. The “border security” rationalization of xenophobic policies reflects a long-standing bipartisan consensus that the federal government should use immigration law as a gatekeeper to fend off undesirables.

“Immigration,” of course, is just a fancy word that obscures a simpler reality: people moving from one place to another. Complications arise when people want to treat the United States of America as an exclusive private club whose benefits would depreciate from increased membership. Only then does it make sense to restrict membership to the privileged, as Romney would, or to have existing members vouch for the virtues of the uninitiated, as Gingrich would.

This attitude is made all the more stubborn by persistent myths and misunderstandings about the economic effects of immigration, coupled with the conviction that the government has a duty to create economic growth. In reality, immigrants do not “steal jobs” but rather create new ones. They do not commit crimes at higher rates than citizens, nor do they not rely on social welfare at higher rates. A family moving to Arizona from Mexico is barely different from a family moving to Arizona from New Mexico. They move in, they work, they raise children. Yet only one of these families has to live in fear of being exposed and exiled.

This country does not exist to give perks to those fortunate enough to be citizens. The United States was founded as an oasis of liberty in a desert of tyranny where injustice reigned supreme. The status quo on immigration denies a drink of water to the unwashed masses hobbling across the scorching sands. A more compassionate immigration regime would permit the free movement of people and welcome anyone who comes in peace.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Jason Orr

Jason is a student at Harvard Law School and writes on legal and policy issues. A 2009 graduate of the College of William and Mary, he worked at the Institute for Justice in Arlington, Virginia, before reentering academia. Jason's views have been published in a number of print and online news outlets, including the Washington Post and the Daily Caller.

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