If President Obama can get around to it, his second term is likely to focus on one more big legislative ambition: immigration reform. The outlines of such a reform effort are relatively unknown. Other than some kind of legal status for those here illegally, it’s not immediately clear what Obama would want to achieve, or what Republicans would propose in response.
Here’s hoping that Jewish conservatives contribute to that debate. After all, we are uniquely qualified to do so. Not because we’re Jews, but because we are immigrants from our own people.
Ideologically and politically, we departed our brethren who remained in the old world of conventional liberalism. That means we are sensitive to those who have broken away with the aim of making a new path for themselves.
We are risk takers, and we like risk takers. And there is probably no greater risk than picking up and leaving everything behind for the unknown.
Where to begin? The immigration debate is likely to coalesce around a few core issues besides amnesty. Setting aside that big one, Jewish conservatives can speak to a few others.
First, the legal maze facing immigrants. On this, there can be little denying that our current immigration policy has all the worst features of our bloated government bureaucracy. The process to get a visa, green card or any kind of appointment with relevant authorities makes a mockery of Emma Lazarus’s famous poem. It should’ve been written, “Give us your tired, your yearning, and your people willing to stand in line for hours and retain paper copies of all correspondence at all times.”
The end result is a system that gives an incentive to lawbreaking: One of the biggest groups of our illegal immigrant population consists of those who arrived here legally on visas and then stayed past their “go home” date.
Jewish conservatives, precisely because we are sensitive to the horror stories of any bureaucracy, must argue that reform, if nothing else, reduces the impact of the government on the lives of free people.
Second, we can remind our fellow conservatives that immigrants naturally renew American faith in opportunity. We have heard a great deal about how illegal immigrants — or their kids — demand tuition breaks and other benefits. But the real opportunity doesn’t come from such benefits doled out by the state; the real opportunity comes from a chance to learn, start a business, and live
A new goal is needed: immigration reform.
in a growing and prosperous nation. Liberals are very good at offering new and bigger benefits directly from the state; conservatives shouldn’t compete to offer bigger giveaways. We should compete to knock down the hurdles to economic opportunity and independence. The state and its various enablers frequently establish those hurdles. Conservatives know what to do with those.
Third, we must point out that the biggest abuse of immigrants is not at the hands of the police or polling worker, but in our labor laws, often written with good intentions but leading to terrible results. Various restrictions requiring minimum or living wages, union membership and health benefits have raised the cost of hiring untrained or unskilled workers significantly. It is easier and cheaper for many employers to hire immigrants (and others) off the books. And immigrants are willing to participate in the black market for labor, precisely because it is the only way to get a job in the first place. The solution to these problems isn’t more labor protections, but more labor freedoms: If someone wants to work, let him set the price for his own time.
Finally, we must remind all Americans that there is potential in every immigrant, not just the well-credentialed ones. Today’s immigration reformers include high-tech companies eager to hire more foreign engineers. Maybe we need more foreign engineers, but how can we know that some bedraggled and unschooled family off a plane from Lagos or Quito or Odessa isn’t going to include a great scientist or entertainer or businessman? We can’t know, and we should be careful not to skew immigration policy to favor only those who can help us today. We might need people who can help us tomorrow — we just don’t know who those people are yet. Do you trust the government to know whether the child of an immigrant would become a great American or not? I wouldn’t.
Jewish conservatives make the case that nothing is predetermined by birth. The unschooled can raise geniuses. The untalented can nurture artists. And Jewish liberals can see their children become conservatives. That’s our gift to America, and to our own people as well.
Noam Neusner is a principal with the communications firm 30 Point Strategies. He was a speechwriter for President George W. Bush.