Immigration Reform and Conservativism

Today’s NYT reports that the senate is about to pass a bill requiring any and all employers to get Federal approval before hiring someone–under the guise of immigration “reform.” My own Ohio Senator Rob Portman is trying to make the requirement even stronger. While Portman claims to be a “conservative,” his behavior illustrates the Orwellian sense that ‘conservative’ has come to have. Not only does he push violating two of America’s oldest values (isn’t protecting those values what conservativism is about?), freedom from government interference and openness to all people (not to mention privacy), his own “conservativism” about gay rights changed quickly when he found out about a member of his own family.

Maybe we need to redefine ‘conservative.’

“Conservativism: the philosophy that we will build a police state if necessary to protect powerful vested interests.”

My “political philosophy” is that the government should intervene in people’s lives–including economic regulation–when it’s necessary either to protect a human right or (harder to determine) to promote the general welfare (e.g., by making markets work better or replacing markets where appropriate).

I can’t think of a human rights argument that would support the existing or proposed U.S. immigration policies.

As an economist, but one who hasn’t directly studied immigration or labor econ, my sense is that immigration is a net boon to the economy. Particularly with an aging population, it would seem that an influx of younger workers would be a good thing. Furthermore, it would seem that a rule like this would impose very significant costs on American business and thus have an overall dampening effect on productivity and international competitiveness. It would also seem to disproportionately affect small business, which, conservatives keep telling us, is a major sector of new job creation.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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