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The Conservative Case for Immigration Reform

July 31, 2014 in Economics

By Alex Nowrasteh

Alex Nowrasteh

The debate over immigration reform, intensified by the surge of unaccompanied child migrants at the U.S.–Mexico border, has many conservatives worried. Republican strategist Lanhee Chen explained that conservative opposition to immigration reform in the United States “is a very visceral reaction to what America should be about.” According to conservative opponents of immigration reform, immigrants will change America.

Reforming our immigration system to allow more immigration would indeed mark a significant change. But far from representing a liberal diversion from American principles, such reform would marginally change America back to the way it used to be.

It’s important to understand how America’s immigration laws have changed over time. The first naturalization law, passed in 1790, did not put any restrictions on immigration. It wasn’t until 1882 that Congress, in its first major legislative restriction, passed a blanket ban on Chinese immigrants. Over the next 40 years, Congress passed laws banning immigration of the Japanese and illiterates, and it imposed low quotas on immigration from European countries whose members were supposedly “unassimilable” — all at the insistence of nationalists, labor unions, progressives, and eugenicists.

The U.S. should deregulate worker migration and allow more legal immigration.”

Few people would argue for a return to the completely free immigration system set up by the Founders, or for the kind of restrictions that existed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Sensible approaches to immigration, however, are to be found in our not-so-distant past.

During the 1950s, the Bracero guest-worker visa program channeled migrants into a legal and regulated market, shrinking the illegal-immigrant population by 90 percent. The Border Patrol handed visas to migrant workers when they entered and sometimes even gave illegal immigrants work visas after they were discovered working on American farms. Instead of building fences or putting troops on the border, the Bracero program welcomed migrants willing to work in the legal migration system of the time. Such a system does not exist today.

Some small reforms and a few tweaks to our current system — such as allowing migrant workers to easily switch jobs, removing quotas, removing or streamlining minimum-wage regulations that apply to migrants, and allowing more sectors of the economy to hire migrant workers — could recreate a workable migration system like the one we had in the heyday of the Eisenhower administration.

Conservatism is not an ideology that opposes all change. It is a reformist ideology that supports measured …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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