The Third Side of the Immigration Debate

Viewed from afar, America’s immigration debate appears to center on two groups: liberals whose primary concern is the welfare of immigrants and conservatives whose primary concern is ending illegal immigration.

But there is a third element that has inserted itself into the conversation: those who oppose immigration — legal and illegal.

This group is led by three major anti-immigration organizations: Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), NumbersUSA and Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). Their work on immigration has led major news media to often label them “conservative.” Yet the reality is that these groups do not share conservatives’ interest in ending illegal immigration, if doing so might mean more legal immigration.

CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian openly admits that illegal entries are not the main issue for him. “For too long the Republican story line has been ‘Too Much Lawbreaking,’ when instead the real problem is ‘Too Much Immigration,'” Krikorian wrote in a 2009 National Review article that explained his strategy for GOP immigration reform.

The other organizations agree. According to its website, NumbersUSA President Roy Beck’s “greatest concern” is population growth — that his “grandchildren’s grandchildren” will “live packed in a highly-regimented country approaching a billion people.” In his book The Case Against Immigration, he wrote that America has become “a nation of too many immigrants.”

“Legal immigration could be stopped with a simple majority vote of Congress and a stroke of the president’s pen,” Beck argued. But that argument cuts both ways. Illegal immigration could end just as easily and these groups know it. As Krikorian put it in his 2009 article, “You just legalize the whole thing and the issue goes away — no illegals, no problem.”

But FAIR, CIS and NumbersUSA don’t want this because their interest is not fewer illegal crossings, but fewer people. Like NumbersUSA, FAIR argues, as they did in a 2009 report, that “the United States is already overpopulated.” In his book, The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal, Krikorian called immigration “a government-administered population policy,” that is “just like Communist China and the Soviet Union” (p. 188).

By contrast, the bipartisan Senate principles on reform, endorsed by Tea Party Senators Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), recognize that “to prevent future waves of illegal immigration, a humane and effective system needs to be created for these immigrant workers to enter.”

History proves that, indeed, if legal entry is not obstructed, illegal entry disappears. Before Congress enacted immigration quotas in the 1920s, illegal immigration was a non-issue. Likewise, during the 1960s, Mexican work visas were uncapped and illegal entries virtually ceased. If illegal immigration was to disappear, CIS would have to argue against immigration on its merits alone — without the word “illegal.”

These groups stand alone advocating for making legal avenues more difficult to access for future immigrant workers and families — no guest worker visas and half as many green cards. This proposal might keep a few more immigrants out, but it will radically increase illegal entries.

But again, the main issue for these groups is not ending illegal immigration — it is ending immigration of all types. Conservatives should reject input on how to fix illegal immigration from people who don’t care if their policies encourage it.

Conservatism is not an anti-immigration, anti-population growth ideology. “Immigration is not a problem to be solved,” as President George W. Bush said in 2001. “It is the sign of a successful nation.” But it is a problem for those who want to turn our back on our tradition of openness, slamming the nation’s doors on those willing to contribute to its success.