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The Great Immigration Debate

Yet of all the first-order policy issues facing the nation, this may well be the hardest one for us to approach rationally. We are hardly alone, of course. Our self-contradictions abound. Defining ourselves as a nation of immigrants, we also view immigration as a threat. Defending our autonomy, we also invite millions of strangers to come here, transforming our society Demanding secure borders against illegal workers, we also advocate the free movement of goods, technology, and capital. Growing global interdependencies further muddy the debate, making it harder to know who “we” are and what “our” national interests really are.

In one sense, immigration policies are highly constrained; in another, they are up for grabs. Any sovereign nation must decide who may enter, who may become a member, and on what terms. In the American welfare state, completely open borders would be a political impossibility, engendering a harsh backlash against immigrants that could make earlier nativism pale by comparison.

Within that constraint, however, there are any number of ways to combine and weight our multiple goals in admitting immigrants. We let in some immigrants to reunite families; others because of the labor, skills, or other resources they bring; still others for a mixture of humanitarian and geopolitical purposes providing a haven for refugees and embarrassing regimes we oppose. This diversity of goals, coupled with an intense demand for U.S. immigration slots, gives immigration policymakers some latitude…link

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