If the Republican Party can’t win the support of the immigrant group with the strongest family values and the most success in achieving the American dream, what can it say to the Hispanics, the immigrant group with the least success in achieving the American dream?

I do not mean to be glib. The issue requires study. But I will venture a guess:  Asian-Americans, like any other immigrant group, come here with the hope of bringing family members with them. Tough enforcement of immigration laws makes life as hard for them as it does for any other immigrant group, and frustrates their hope of reuniting families in America. The result of our present immigration laws is that we fail to keep out the illegals we don’t want, and make it harder to absorb the skilled and energetic immigrants we do want. There will be endless discussion during the next few months of Romney’s mistake in moving to the right of Rick Perry on immigration during the Republican primaries, and I will leave the detailed parsing to the professionals. I hope the professionals talk to Asian-Americans first.

America is unlikely to tolerate ethnic quotas (Asians in, Hispanics out). There are plenty of bright Hispanics as well (with 25% unemployment in Spain, German firms are recruiting Spanish engineers to fill the 30,000 job openings for engineers in Germany). But there is a sensible way to encourage the kind of immigration that boosts economic growth and discourage the kind of immigration that impedes economic growth.

The distinguished Canadian economist Prof. Reuven Brenner of McGill University wrote two years ago in First Things magazine:

Without innovation, America faces prolonged stagnation. The outlook seems bleak. Between 1988 and 1998, manufacturing productive growth rose from less than 2 percent to more than 5 percent per annum. By 2008, it had fallen back to the 2 percent range as the great wave of innovation abated. This outcome is not inevitable, however. America has been obtaining a disproportionate flow of skilled innovators by attracting these “vital few” to its shores. Without their contribution, America may neither sustain the economic growth required to absorb the penurious many nor raise their standards of living. The impact of the vital few does trickle down…

The problem lies in policy. American sentiment toward immigrants has swung from boomtown hospitality to churlish xenophobia in the course of the present recession…

It is hard to blame opponents of immigration. Earlier this year, the Pew Hispanic Center reported that California’s estimated 2.7 million illegal residents—7 percent of the state’s population—add $4 billion to $6 billion in costs. Cutting off state payments for the American-born children of immigrants supposedly would save about $640 million a year. By similar estimates, Arizona’s illegal immigrant population is costing the state’s taxpayers about $1.3 billion per year. Whether these estimates are exact or only in the ballpark, it is clear that poor migrants drain state finances under the present institutional and regulatory landscape, and the drain is substantial.

…The least the United States can do is try, explicitly, to attract the vital few to its shores and, at the same time, speed up the domestic production of talent.

…Congress should first increase visas for skilled immigrants—those who would invest in their own entrepreneurial ventures in the United States in particular. Congress also should facilitate a temporary worker program, but without instantaneously bestowing on those workers the many monetary government benefits for which America’s already taxpaying citizens are eligible. For immigrants in the United States who do not have proper documentation but who have built up equity in this country, opportunities should be provided to obtain legalization if they can demonstrate good moral character. Such an “earned” legalization should be achievable and verifiable in an accountable manner.

As Prof. Brenner observes, immigrants have made a disproportionate contribution to American economic growth in recent years. “At the height of the last tech boom in 1999, Chinese and Indian engineers were at the helm of 24 percent of the technology companies started in Silicon Valley,” he writes, adding:

In 25.3 percent of [high-tech and engineering] companies, at least one key founder was foreign-born.

• Of all immigrant-founded companies, 26 percent had Indian founders; 7 percent had founders of British and Chinese origin; 6 percent had founders from Taiwan; Japanese and German founders each led 5 percent; 4 percent had founders from Israel; 3 percent had founders from Canada; and 2.5 percent had founders from Iran.

• In Massachusetts the single largest founding group was Israelis, at 17 percent.

• Indian entrepreneurs dominated in New Jersey, leading 47 percent of all immigrant-founded start-ups.

• Immigrants also represented 24.2 percent of international patent applications filed from the United States in 2006. Chinese filed the largest number of patents, followed by Indians, Canadians, and British.

If we Republicans can’t persuade our most successful, entrepreneurial, family-oriented citizens to support us, we won’t be in business much longer.

Also read: It’s Not the Economy, Stupid

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