Since my contrarian position on immigration has raised so many hackles I thought I’d add a little fuel to the fire. Below is an editorial that ran in the WSJ during the summer of 2006.
Reagan on Immigration
GOP nativists lose one for the Gipper.
Sunday, May 21, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
One myth currently popular on the political right is that the immigration debate pits populist conservatives in the Ronald Reagan mold against Big Business “elites” who’ve hijacked the Republican Party. It’s closer to the truth to say that what’s really being hijacked here is the Gipper’s reputation.
One of the Reagan Presidency’s symbolic highlights was the July 3, 1986, celebration of a refurbished Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, the gateway for immigrants a century ago. (Readers can find Reagan’s entire speech that evening here.) To Reagan, the conservative optimist, immigration was a vital part of his vision of this country as “a shining city upon a Hill,” in the John Winthrop phrase he quoted so often. It was proof that America remained a land of opportunity, a nation built on the idea of liberty rather than on the “blood and soil” conservatism of Old Europe.
This view was apparent in Reagan’s public statements well before he became President. In one of his radio addresses, in November 1977, he wondered about what he called “the illegal alien fuss. Are great numbers of our unemployed really victims of the illegal alien invasion, or are those illegal tourists actually doing work our own people won’t do? One thing is certain in this hungry world: No regulation or law should be allowed if it results in crops rotting in the fields for lack of harvesters.” As a Californian, Reagan understood the role of immigrant labor in agriculture.
In 1980, according to the book “Reagan: His Life in Letters” (page 511), the then-Presidential candidate wrote to one supporter that “I believe we must resolve the problem at our southern border with full regard to the problems and needs of Mexico. I have suggested legalizing the entry of Mexican labor into this country on much the same basis you proposed, although I have not put it into the sense of restoring the bracero program.” The bracero program was a guest-worker program similar to the one now being proposed by President Bush. It was killed in the mid-1960s, largely due to opposition from unions.
During the same campaign, circa December 1979, the Gipper responded to criticism from conservative columnist Holmes Alexander with the following: “Please believe me when I tell you the idea of a North American accord has been mine for many, many years. I have seen presidents, both Democrat and Republican, approach our neighbors with pre-concocted plans in which their only input is to vote ‘yes.’
“Some months before I declared, I asked for a meeting and crossed the border to meet with the president of Mexico. I did not go with a plan. I went, as I said in my announcement address, to ask him his ideas–how we could make the border something other than a locale for a nine-foot fence.” So much for those conservatives who think the Gipper would have endorsed a 2,000-mile Tom Tancredo-Pat Buchanan wall.
It’s true that in November 1986 Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which included more money for border police and employer sanctions. The Gipper was a practical politician who bowed that year to one of the periodic anti-immigration uprisings from the GOP’s nativist wing. But even as he signed that bill, he also insisted on a provision for legalizing immigrants already in the U.S.–that is, he supported “amnesty.”
In his signing statement, Reagan declared: “We have consistently supported a legalization program which is both generous to the alien and fair to the countless thousands of people throughout the world who seek legally to come to America. The legalization provisions in this act will go far to improve the lives of a class of individuals who now must hide in the shadows, without access to many of the benefits of a free and open society. Very soon many of these men and women will be able to step into the sunlight and, ultimately, if they choose, they may become Americans.”
Yes, times change, and it’s impossible to know what precisely the Gipper would do at the current moment. But judging from these quotes and so many others across his long career, we feel confident in asserting that Mr. Bush and those who support more open immigration are far closer to Reagan’s views than today’s restrictionists are.
The current immigration political panic is not unlike many in America’s past, including a couple while Reagan was in public life. He always avoided the temptation to join them, no doubt realizing that they were short-sighted politically, and, more important, inconsistent with his vision of America as the last best hope of mankind.
Here’s another piece that appeared in the WSJ. Take a look at the “flaming liberals” that signed it.
Enforcement Isn’t Enough
Thirty-three signatories embrace Reagan’s vision: Allow for sensible levels of open immigration.
Monday, July 10, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT
At this critical moment in the immigration debate, conservatives need to examine the role we are playing in this great national issue. In many respects, the way we position ourselves on immigration will determine whether we retain the mantle of majority leadership. What side of history do conservatives want to be on? Will we remain a movement that governs–that offers practical solutions to the problems facing the country?
Conservatives have always prided themselves on acknowledging, in the words of John Adams, that “Facts are stubborn things.” Well, immigration–both the robust annual flow required to keep our economy growing and the 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country–is a fact of life in the U.S. today. And the only practical way to deal with these stubborn realities is with a comprehensive solution, one that includes border security, interior enforcement, a guest worker program and status for the illegal immigrants already here.
Some counsel that Congress should start with tougher enforcement and border security, but wait to create a guest worker program or address the illegal population. Only that way, it is said, can we avoid the mistakes of the failed 1986 immigration reform.
But in fact, the lesson of 1986 is that only a comprehensive solution will fix our broken immigration system.
The 1986 legislation combined amnesty for three million illegal immigrants with a promise of tougher enforcement, particularly in the workplace. But the law did not recognize the need for future immigration to meet the demands of a growing economy, and the new enforcement never materialized. The result? Twenty years later, illegal immigration is unabated. Why? Because while immigrants continue to be drawn to the jobs created by our economy, they have no legal way to enter the country.
What this history teaches is that the only way to control immigration is with a combination package–securing the border, enforcing the law in the workplace and creating legal channels for workers to enter the country.
Our past experience with guest worker programs bears this out. Illegal immigration reached a peak in the mid-’50s, and more than a million people were apprehended trying to cross the border in 1954. Then Congress expanded the Bracero work-visa program, creating a way for 300,000 immigrants to enter the U.S. legally each year.
The result? This new legal flow replaced the old illegal influx, and by 1964, INS apprehensions had dropped to fewer than 100,000. As the Congressional Research Service noted in 1980, “Without question, the Bracero program was . . . instrumental in ending the illegal alien problem of the mid-1940s and 1950s.” The Bracero program and the 1986 failure point in the same direction: A comprehensive solution is the only real and lasting way to address immigration.
The American people intuitively understand this, which is why, in poll after poll, they choose a comprehensive approach over one that relies on enforcement alone. A recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found that Americans prefer a comprehensive plan to an enforcement-only proposal by 50% to 33%.
Of course, there are things in the Senate bill that need fixing–and conservatives must stand strong in favor of assimilation. New immigrants need to learn English, U.S. history and the values that have made this country great.
But let us remember the counsel of the great conservative standard-bearer, Ronald Reagan, who was in favor of strong borders–he once remarked that “a nation without borders is not really a nation”–but also constantly reminded us that America must remain a “beacon” and a “shining city on a hill” for immigrants who continually renew our great country with their energy and add to the nation’s economic growth and prosperity. Reagan was right. We need to do both things–secure the borders and allow for sensible levels of safe, open, lawful immigration.
Americans and immigrants share the same values of work and opportunity. There is no reason to fear the newcomers arriving on our shores today–if anything, they will energize what is best about our country.
The best way–the only way–to realize President Reagan’s vision is through comprehensive immigration reform legislation. We urge the House and Senate to work out their differences and meet the demand of the American people that we act on this critical issue in a comprehensive way.
Jack Kemp (former congressman from New York);
George P. Shultz (distinguished fellow, Hoover Institution);
Jeanne Kirkpatrick (former ambassador to the U.N.);
Tamar Jacoby (senior fellow, Manhattan Institute);
Cesar V. Conda (senior fellow, FreedomWorks);
Ken Weinstein (CEO, Hudson Institute);
Grover Norquist (president, Americans for Tax Reform);
Jeff Bell (board of directors, American Conservative Union);
Larry Cirignano (president, Catholic Alliance);
Bill Kristol (editor, The Weekly Standard);
Arthur B. Laffer (chairman, Laffer Investments);
Linda Chavez (chairman, Center for Equal Opportunity);
Elaine Dezenski (former acting assistant secretary for policy development, Department of Homeland Security);
Lawrence Kudlow (economics editor, National Review Online);
John Podhoretz (columnist, the New York Post);
John McWhorter (senior fellow, Manhattan Institute);
Joseph Bottum (editor, First Things);
Max Boot (senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations);
Vin Weber (former congressman from Minnesota);
Richard Gilder (partner, Gilder Gagnon Howe & Co., LLC);
Ed Goeas (Republican strategist);
Martin Anderson (senior fellow, Hoover Institution);
J.C. Watts (former congressman from Oklahoma);
Ed Gillespie (former chairman, Republican National Committee);
C. Stewart Verdery, Jr. (former assistant secretary for border and transportation security policy, Department of Homeland Security);
Diana Furchtgott-Roth (senior fellow, Hudson Institute);
Robert de Posada (president, the Latino Coalition);
Clint Bolick (president, Alliance for School Choice, and winner of 2006 Bradley Prize);
Steven Wagner (former director, human trafficking program, Department of Health and Human Services);
Steve Forbes (CEO, Forbes Inc.);
Gary Rosen (managing editor, Commentary);
Michael Petrucelli (former acting director, U.S. citizenship and immigration services, Department of Homeland Security);
And John C. Weicher (senior fellow, Hudson Institute).