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The WSJ Tirade Against Retreat on Immigration 'Reform'

The Paul Ryans and Marco Rubios chant the mantra that the “enforcement system is broken.” Yes … but it is broken because administrations of both parties have been reluctant to enforce the law – indeed, downright hostile to its enforcement. Washington does not need new laws to enforce (or, more likely, not enforce); it needs to enforce the laws currently on the books.

Reform advocates demagogue that suggestion as a call to “round up” millions of people. But that is absurd. A “round up” is neither possible nor desirable. Illegal immigration should be managed like other crime problems: sensibly target resources at the worst offenders and thus discourage the rest. Still, whatever you may think the right enforcement model is, if enforcement is to be a component of any proposed reform, it would be ridiculous to negotiate a deal until we had both a president and a government that had built up a reservoir of credibility. That would take considerable time and effort.

Putting the question of law enforcement aside, the Journal continues to belittle legitimate apprehensions about granting legal status to double-digit millions of illegals when we have such a tough labor market, low wages, and no growth. On Wednesday, the editors groused that “the populist wing of the [Republican] party has talked itself into believing the zero-sum economics that immigrants steal jobs from U.S. citizens and reduce American living standards.” To read the paper’s frequent immigration editorials, moreover, one would think immigrants are a homogenous class, each prepared to be a net-positive contributor and fill the gaps that citizens are leaving in our economy.

It is simply a fact, however, that while many immigrants do possess needed skills, millions of them do not. As the Manhattan Institute’s Myron Magnet notes, of Mexican migrants in particular, unskilled “workers are already in such oversupply in America that they have a higher rate of unemployment than other workers and are pushing down one another’s wages.”

Myron, an incomparable historian and journalist, penned that observation in his introduction to The Immigration Solution: A Better Plan Than Today’s, a compilation from three of our nation’s brightest and best informed scholars on immigration (and much else): Heather Mac Donald, Victor Davis Hanson and Steven Malanga. (And if you haven’t done so already, read Victor’s hair-raising post, “An Immigration Morality Tale,” here at PJM.) The Journal writes as if it is nutter stuff to conclude that unskilled immigrants exacerbate the employment crisis befalling citizen laborers, depress wages, and severely tax state and federal social services (especially education, food stamps, housing, healthcare, and the criminal justice system) – costing American citizens thousands of dollars per year in additional taxes. Yet, just this conclusion has been drawn by several of the best writers regularly featured on the Journal’s own op-ed pages.

I am not doctrinaire on the question of amnesty for immigration law-breakers. Indeed, I’ve contended that we were better off when immigration enforcement was not primarily a federal responsibility. I’d be inclined to give the states much more leeway in deciding who is welcome in their territories – provided that they paid for their own hospitality without passing costs and other problems along to other states.

For the foreseeable future, nevertheless, I assume we are committed to the primacy of federal immigration enforcement. That being the case, I’d target the finite federal enforcement resources at immigrants who commit state and federal crimes once they’ve gotten here and at employers who hire illegal aliens. I would not pursue illegal aliens who are otherwise law-abiding – though I would make clear that this is an exercise of discretion, not a grant of immunity.