Paul Mirengoff Speaks Up on Immigration

Our ACRU bloggers have attempted to bring to this site the views of exceptionally bright and intellectually honest conservative thinkers concerning the immigration debate going on in Congress and around the country. Eric Langborgh has posted a videotaped discussion by former Attorney General (and ACRU Board Member) Ed Meese, and I have posted the views of Thomas Sowell and Charles Krauthammer. In this enty, I post the views of Paul Mirengoff, a brilliant and wonderfully clear-thinking legal and cultural analyst. Few people can hang with Paul in a debate — I know, because he routinely routed me in the hallway debates we had in the law dorm at Stanford 35 years ago. Now his two daughters could rout me as well, were I foolish enough to take them on. Paul’s entry on PowerLine, of which he is a founder, is as follows:

Conservatives demonized by unlikely source

The White House communications operation is in overdrive promoting its immigration reform proposal. I’m getting three or more emails per day on the subject. I feel frustrated that the White House failed, in my view, to push this hard for initiatives I favor, or when it came to defending itself on Iraq.

I’m also frustrated that the White House fails to treat seriously the concerns conservatives have about its immigration package. The tendency instead is to misrepresent or demean our concerns and, to some extent, demonize us.

We see some of this in the latest column by Michael Gerson, who until recently was a key aide to President Bush. The title of Gerson’s piece is “Letting Fear Rule”; the subtitle is “Nativism Is a Recipe for Long-Term GOP Losses.” So before Gerson even gets to his analysis, conservatives with whom he disagrees stand accused of nativism and being ruled by fear.

It doesn’t get any better once Gerson starts arguing. He begins by comparing the thinking of opponents of immigration reform to that of the Congress that passed the “Chinese Exclusion Act.” But opponents of the administration’s package aren’t taking a position on how many immigrants should be allowed lawfully to enter the country; only on how those who have entered unlawfully should be treated. Thus, Gerson is unfair to mainstream conservative opponents of the reform package when he asserts that “anti-immigrant sentiment” is driving our opposition.

Indeed, many conservative opponents are not even stridently anti-illegal immigrant. John and I have said that amnesty (or whatever one wants to call the forgiveness advocated by the administration) should be on the table if the government proves it can secure our borders. It is our skepticism that the government can, or even seriously wants to do so that drives our opposition to amnesty-like proposals at this time.

Nor do most mainstream conservative opponents of the administration’s plan call for harsh measures against the illegals who are here, even in the absence of effective enforcement. John McCain and Michael Chertoff attack a straw man when they talk about the impossibility of deporting 12 million illegals. To my knowledge, very few conservatives are calling for mass deportations. We simply don’t want to make those who have entered the U.S. illegally more comfortable than are today until we are fully confident that doing so won’t result in increased illegal immigration, as occurred after the last amnesty deal.

Gerson next argues that Republicans shouldn’t worry about being voted into irrelevance by Hispanic voters if immigration reform passes; they should instead worry about this unhappy outcome if they block such reform. Again, my view is that if we secure our borders illegals who are already here eventually can be permitted to become citizens, and the political chips can fall where they may. But I think Gerson is wrong to discount the potential adverse political consequences associated with this. The issue isn’t really how Republicans will fare — modern parties probably can adjust to demographic changes. The issue is how conservatives will fare. I find it difficult to believe that the infusion of millions of low-skilled, poorly educated individuals into the electorate will be good for the conservative cause. It has never before been good for American conservatives, and I doubt things will work out better for conservatives in our modern entitlement-oriented, group victim mentality society.

This leads to Gerson’s final argument — that conservatives should not fear that American identity will be diluted by Latino immigration. As my last paragraph suggests, the real concern about Latino immigration may stem from the fact that the American identity has already been diluted, and not because of immigration. In any case, Gerson’s analysis once again is too facile. He bases his cultural optimism on the fact that Hispanics as a group are quite religious.

Now I’m as good a “Christianist” as the next Jewish Republican conservative, but I suspect Gerson is placing too much weight on religion here. The belief that matters most for purposes of this debate is not religious belief, but civic belief — not belief in God but belief in our institutions and love for our country. It is the latter kind of thinking, and only such thinking, that will result in successful assimilation. I’m not fully competent to assess the prospects here, but the anecdotal evidence doesn’t seem too favorable. In any case, Gerson’s argument from religion is unpersuasive.