Senator Sessions for Attorney General

It’s not often that I have much to say about these types of high-level government appointments. Typically, all I know is what I read in the papers. But this is one case where I do have some valuable private information.

I have met and “talked shop” with Senator Sessions a few times in the past. Those conversations always struck me as unusual. Unlike some other influential people in the immigration arena whom I have talked to, where I quickly began to suspect that their grasp of the nitty-gritty details was somewhat foggy, it was obvious that Senator Sessions was knowledgeable with and understood precisely what was going on in the immigration field.

Regardless of how one views his policy vision, there’s one thing we know for sure: The man at the helm of the Justice Department in the Trump administration, in charge of enforcing the immigration statutes, will be someone who has spent years studying the nooks and crannies of this obscure (and often incomprehensible) set of rules and regulations, who understands precisely how the immigration system is put together and is used (and misused) in the real world, and who strongly believes that the laws should be enforced. As I argued in an earlier blog post that provided some (unsolicited) advice to President-elect Trump, it seems to me that “enforcement first”–and specifically greatly slowing down the inflow of illegal immigrants–is a necessary first step if we are to have a sensible discussion about how to reform immigration policy. There isn’t a better qualified person in Washington to handle this job and to inform President-elect Trump about the various options.

On top of that, the senator is a very nice and approachable man, both in a professional and social setting. I always came away thinking that this must be what the “Southern gentleman” type is all about.

Some Advice for President-Elect Trump

More than a few people have asked me in the past few days what advice, if any, I would give to President-elect Trump about immigration. Here are some more-or-less random thoughts that touch on a few of the policy issues that have to be confronted:

Enforcement First. The first step must be immediate action to greatly reduce the inflow of illegal immigrants. Illegal immigration has had a deeply corrosive impact on the immigration debate; it has paralyzed any rational discussion of how we should proceed along all other aspects of immigration reform. The open borders approach that allowed the entry of millions of illegal immigrants makes legal immigration policy “a travesty of a mockery of a sham.” Why bother waiting years abroad for that green card in the mail—such as the 23-year wait that some Filipino visa applicants are now enduring—when one can accomplish much of the same goal by running across the border or overstaying a tourist visa? I am not sure that a wall—despite its signal that we are finally getting serious about illegal immigration—will do the job; many of the illegal immigrants do not enter through the southern border. But I am willing to bet that the mandated adoption of an electronic system (such as E-Verify) that would force all employers to certify the visa status of all hires, along with very large fines and criminal penalties for law-breaking employers, would go a long way towards stemming the flow.

Benign Neglect. What to do about the 11+ million undocumented immigrants already living in the country? I think the wisest answer is: For the most part, ignore them! I find it very heartening that we do not have the stomach for such large-scale deportations. Most of those immigrants have led peaceful and uneventful lives in our country and became part of our communities. Their sudden removal would certainly not represent the America that many of us envision. I am also old enough to remember Daniel Patrick Moynihan being vilified for using the phrase “benign neglect” to discuss policy options regarding black economic progress in the late 1960s. Maybe it’s time to resurrect those words in the context of illegal immigration. Sometimes inaction is the best action. Most of the illegal immigrants already here will eventually qualify (if they haven’t qualified already) for visas through the family preference system. If the “enforcement first” step of stemming the illegal flow is successful, there can perhaps be eventual agreement on legislation that would accelerate the process of granting family preference visas to the existing undocumented population.

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Charles Murray Changes His Mind on Low-Skill Immigration

This sounds like big news to me. I’ve always found libertarians to be the most unpersuadable people when it comes to immigration; their religious-like attachment to open borders seems totally impervious to facts. So it was a bit of a shock to come across this news article describing Charles Murray’s change of heart when it comes to low-skill immigration:

Charles Murray announced his support for a moratorium on low-skilled immigration…“I want to shut down low-skilled immigration for awhile,” Murray said, explaining it was the only way to find out if it would actually help native low-skilled workers…”I have had to undergo a great deal of re-thinking…The thing that has gotten to me over the course of this year… has been the idea, the very simple idea, that the citizens of a nation owe something to each other that is over and above our general obligations to our fellow human beings. That there is a sense that we should take care of our own, our own in this case being Americans.”

Doesn’t this sound an awful lot like the responsible nationalism now advocated by Larry Summers:

A new approach has to begin from the idea that the basic responsibility of government is to maximize the welfare of citizens, not to pursue some abstract concept of the global good. Closely related to this is the idea that people want to feel that they are shaping the societies in which they live.

Who would have thought it would take the rise of Donald Trump for these very wise men to see the obvious?

On Vetting Immigrants, Deluxe Edition

Politico gave me the opportunity to elaborate and extend some of the arguments made in my previous post that considered Donald Trump’s proposal for “extreme” vetting of immigrants. Here is the Politico deluxe edition of the essay.

On Vetting Immigrants

Donald Trump gave a foreign policy speech yesterday where he outlined some of his key proposals to expand the “ideological” vetting of immigrants. Here is the oh-so-serious mainstream summary of the proposals in the New York Times; and here is a better written and more insightful take by Milo Yiannopoulos.

Needless to say, the proposals immediately attracted over-the-top reactions. I knew it wouldn’t take long before somebody called them un-American, and MSNBC (of course) nicely obliged; a commentator quickly commented that “this is the single most un-American thing I have ever heard in my life.” And one of the opinionators at the Washington Post opined (and I’m only slightly paraphrasing) that Trump’s ideas were “crazier than crazy.”

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Brexit, Immigration, and the Experts

A lot of commentators seem to be singling out immigration as a root cause of the dissatisfaction that led the British people to vote to leave the European Union. Here’s Reihan Salam in Slate:

Ever since the 1960s, when large-scale Commonwealth immigration sparked intense controversy, the Conservatives have been seen as the more anti-immigration party. And during the Blair years, Conservatives struggled to shake their image as narrow-minded bigots…In more recent years, however, the challenges presented by mass European immigration complicated this neat picture of the prejudiced Conservative…Once the less-skilled immigrants at the heart of the immigration debate were Poles and Bulgarians rather than blacks and South Asians, one could more credibly argue that anti-immigration sentiment was driven by concerns about the fiscal and environmental impacts of immigration, not a blind hatred of outsiders.

Donald Trump has weighed in as well:

I think a lot of it has to do with immigration…[The British people] got tired of seeing stupid decisions, just like the American people are tired of seeing stupid decisions…the border where people just flow across the border like Swiss cheese…I really do see a parallel between what’s happening in the United States and what’s happening here. People want to see borders. They don’t necessarily want people pouring into their country that they don’t know who they are and where they come from.

And here’s David Frum in the Atlantic:

Is it possible that leaders and elites had it all wrong? If they’re to save the open global economy, maybe they need to protect their populations better against globalization’s most unwelcome consequences—of which mass migration is the very least welcome of them all?

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Republicans and Immigration

I’ve been watching the civil war over immigration in the Republican party with ever-increasing interest. And let’s be honest–this really is a war for the soul of the party as there is almost nothing in common between some of the approaches that the candidates advocate. I’m sure that I’ll have much more to say as the year wears on. (Full disclosure: I am not affiliated with any political party).

Let me start by noting that I really liked this very insightful piece by John O’Sullivan. The article touches on how Donald Trump changed the dynamics of the immigration debate by emphasizing some of the losses from mass immigration. Inevitably, the discussion is leading to increased questioning of the parameters that should reflect the Republican Party’s immigration policy. O’Sullivan notes:

Globalization has struck the bourgeoisie. Increasing legal immigration levels and extra H1-B visas for occupations for skilled occupations mean that computer programmers are quite as likely as low-paid restaurant workers to see immigration as a threat to their jobs and pay levels. And they are more likely to be vocal about it…

One of the internal contradictions of Kemp-style ideological conservatism was the attempt to combine mass immigration with the scaling back of entitlement programs: Keeping wages down through immigrant competition is incompatible with moving away from state welfare entitlements to market provision…More widely, mass immigration builds up a large new constituency for state welfare programs of every kind. ​

As a New York Democrat once remarked, the Republicans have a choice: They can either change their policy on immigration or their policies on everything else. Trump stumbled on that insight earlier this year; it may have transformed American politics forever. Or not.

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