I grew up in the conservative movement at the end of the Cold War, but eventually realized I had been misled on the issue of immigration. When I finally took the trouble to research the issue after receiving a private offer to write a series of anti-immigration tracts (a contract from which I declined), I found that most proponents of smaller government throughout American history had opposed immigration controls. This included especially the great classical liberal congressman William “Bourke” Cockran, who was himself an immigrant who spoke out eloquently against the Emergency Quota Act of 1921.
Following is a sampling of the misleading points on immigration propagated by conservatives to support immigration controls, along with a clarification explaining the truth behind each deception.
We are being overwhelmed by more immigrants than ever.
America actually has slightly fewer immigrants as a proportion of its population today compared with historic numbers. The 40-million foreign-born Americans are just a hair less than 13 percent of the total U.S. population today. From 1860 until the 1920s (the time when Congress passed draconian Ku Klux Klan-inspired immigration laws), the proportion of foreign-born in America never fell below 13 percent of the total population, and always hovered in the 13-15 percent range of the population.
Immigration is an “invasion.”
What does a nation do to foreign invaders? Shoot them, right? Yet some people – who would never suggest shooting aliens without green cards – still insist that people who immigrate here without federal papers are invaders. Immigration is clearly not an invasion. An invasion is what the U.S. government did to Iraq.
In many instances, the “invasion” label is a desperate attempt to get a constitutional justification for a federal role in immigration policing. The U.S. Constitution gave the federal government no power to control immigration (it was handled exclusively handled by the states until the late 1800s), and powers not delegated to the federal government under the Constitution are reserved to the states under the terms of the 10th Amendment.
Immigrants take Americans’ jobs.
This argument mirrors the satirical South Park line, “They took er jerbs.” The job loss argument never held any sway with me, as I read George Gilder’s The Spirit of Enterprise in college. In that book, Gilder analyzed the Cuban immigrant population in the Miami area from the early 1960s through 1980, and found that by 1980, the Cubans had created more jobs as business owners than they took as employees. This matches my personal life experience in the more than 25 years since that time; most of the immigrants I’ve personally known have become job creators, starting businesses in industries as varied as medical practices and construction.
Immigrants also purchase lots of products, just like native Americans, and domestic businesses are frequently created to cater to immigrants who buy food, gasoline, housing and entertainment. A 2015 study by Gihoon Hong of Indiana University and John McLaren of the University of Virginia of the economic demand created by immigrants concluded that immigrants create 1.2 jobs for every job they “take.”
Too many immigrants go on welfare.
First, it’s important to note that this argument is flatly contrary to the previous claim that immigrants take American jobs. Some people actually hold both mutually exclusive propositions at the same time. But the reality is that generally immigrants are legally prohibited under federal law from collecting welfare payments. It is true that some immigrants – including undocumented aliens – do have children in the United States, and then collect welfare on behalf of their U.S. citizen children, just like American parents. But the welfare payments are for their U.S.-born, American citizen children, not for the immigrants. And if there is a problem with too many American children on welfare, that’s a welfare reform issue and not an immigration issue.
Immigrants don’t bring the legacy of freedom and European culture that past generations of immigrants did.
This is the old lark that the new, less-than-white immigrants don’t have the ideas of freedom that white Europeans had during the beginning of the 20th century. But immigrants from the late 19th and early 20th century came here from Czarist Russia, Bismarck’s Germany, and King Victor Emmanuel II’s Italy, which were hardly paragons of free elections and small-R republican virtues. By way of contrast, most governments of Central and South America have free governments with elections and at least a rudimentary system of checks and balances that far outpace the civil liberties and constitutional systems left behind by immigrants from Europe from 1860-1920.
Immigrants who vote for socialists in their home countries bring their voting habits here.
It’s hard to believe people would make this argument, but many people believe America receives only the very worst, the truly “wretched refuse” from other lands. Such a scenario is not plausible. One does not vote for a socialist and – after winning the electoral victory – move to America to repeat the same here. To the contrary, foreigners vote against a socialist, lose, and vote again with their feet. This explains why the United States was not overwhelmed with socialist and totalitarian votes in the late 19th century, when our nation played host to a larger proportion of immigrants from far more repressive regimes than the native regimes of today’s immigrants. In general, America has historically played host to the most anti-socialist, pro-free enterprise and independent-minded immigrants the world has to offer. And it continues to do that today.
Immigrants bring a crime wave.
The United States today draws both the very best from other nations as well as those on the run from their crimes. So there is a small germ of truth that in the claim that some criminals do come to the United States via immigration.
But there’s no evidence that immigrants bring a disproportionately higher level of crime to America. The actual data is mixed. One would expect a slightly higher crime rate among immigrants, since most immigrants are younger, and crimes tend to be disproportionately committed by younger persons. There are a disproportionately high level of immigrants in many state jails, and a disproportionately low level of immigrants convicted of non-immigration-related federal crimes. Interestingly, many of the large cities with the highest level of immigrants have exceptionally low crime rates, according to a study by Ron Unz published in the American Conservative magazine.
The bottom line is: If you are caught in a dark alley with a 21-year-old American – as opposed to a Brazilian, Egyptian or Iranian of the same age and gender – there is no evidence you are statistically safer encountering the American.
The very phrase “Cloward-Piven” is supposed to strike terror into the hearts of all lovers of limited government. The modernized iteration of the “Cloward-Piven” strategy, derived from college Professors Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, is that politicians are plotting to use massive immigration to collapse the welfare state. The original Cloward-Piven model, created in 1966, made no mention of immigration or votes of immigrants and limited its goal to a guaranteed national income. But modern conservatives – assuming immigrants would inevitably break strongly in favor of the Democratic Party – have turned the failed and largely forgotten Cloward-Piven pipe-dream into a starkly partisan and apocalyptic conspiracy.
But even on the superficially partisan level of the conspiracy scenario, there’s no reason immigrants would naturally break against the Republican Party in favor of the Democrats – unless the Republican Party continues to be the party positioned most strongly against loosening immigration laws. Most immigrants come from socially conservative cultures and would likely have affinity for Republican positions. Cubans have long identified as Republican, and before 9/11 most American Muslims identified as Republican.