Belmont Club

The Immigration Debate

Despite the fact that immigration remains a hot button political item, is there really a national debate over the role immigration policy plays in the overall economic and demographic policy of the nation? Author Roy Beck charges that politicians have been crafting an immigration policy whose effects have never been communicated to the electorate.

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Perhaps one of the reasons that immigration policy is so difficult to deal with is because of its entanglements with a whole host of other public policy problems.  Family structure, abortion, social security, affirmative action and — above all — politics. One problem with Beck’s analysis is that it is a linear projection. It assumes there isn’t a feedback loop that will change immigration based on political feedback. The second problem is that Beck’s objective function is some kind of demographic stability.

In fact, immigration is tied up with whether social security is sustainable, the cultural cohesion of the country and probably with such issues as welfare and abortion.

But even if, as Roy Beck, argues, immigration has been cast in a fit of absentmindedness,  a whole host of special interests have grown up around the situation that accidentally emerged.  There is a momentum to the ‘way things are’ that is difficult to change. Immigration policy is probably going to one of several factors that are covariant with others.

The most valid argument that Beck makes is that immigration policy, like many other areas of public decision making, is being made by officials with scant regard to voter preferences, probably to maximize their own political gain. The more general issue is whether the political elite are creating levels of debt, a demographic structure and an economy based on popular assent, or whether they are just running the system on criteria which has weight only inside the Beltway. Beck suggests there is nothing rational or popularly mandated about current immigration. It is the way it is because the politicians want it that way, if they’ve thought about it at all.

The immigration question may simply be a subset of all the kinds of political decisions that have “just sort of happened” because a narrow circle decided things that way. The debates over immigration and the deficit may simply be part of the larger debate on the crisis of governance.

No Way In is now out at Amazon.com