Telling the Truth about Immigration

By James Matthew Wilson for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

Berwyn, PA.  Nobody wants to.  Most politicians would rather appeal to platitudes about America as a “nation of immigrants” than confront their responsibility to attend to the common good of their own people.  And, depending on the poll you examine, it would seem most Americans view themselves as sufficiently removed from the effects of immigration that they, at least, think of lax immigration policies as “fair” and “nice,” and would just soon not consider what it entails for their material or cultural well being.  One recent poll, however, suggests that Americans are slowly coming to grips with reality, finding psychological strategies of maintaining a platitudinous openness while preferring to see an actual reduction in the inflow of foreign persons into our country.

Pandering to the heart of their party, many establishment Republicans draw the line that we ought to secure the border, breaking the floodtide of manual laborers who sneak cross the desert lands of the South West against the shoals of a fence, virtual or just plain literal.  They then add that we ought to welcome those qualified with technical skills — because, of course, dumb Americans are just so dumb that they do not study such subjects in sufficient numbers.  Well, as with nearly everything in establishment Republicanism, even when they are sincere they are still lying.  A new study shows that the H1-B visa program for “highly qualified” foreigners is in fact being used to lubricate the wheels of off-shoring American jobs. There is in fact NO shortage of science, technology, and math workers, but rather a surplus.  Certain companies and their wooden political spokes-models just pretend there is so that they may import foreign workers as consultants to help them prepare to send their call centers and information technology operations abroad.

Let me enumerate just a few premises and pieces of data that we ought to bear in mind as we ask those largely prudential questions about immigration — even as many of us refuse to recognize them as prudential, and with the usual obscurantism turn them into questions of human rights:

General Premises

1. The American birthrate is low.  Unless more Americans come round to desiring to have more children, we shall have to allow or even invite immigrants of many stripes in to support our economy as we decline into old age.

2. It is obviously true that America is largely a nation of immigrants, but it is mere sentimentality to think this factual claim can so easily be turned into an imperative.

3. What is an imperative is that every people, if has any goodness to it, ought to seek to preserve and perpetuate that goodness by means of the having of children and rearing them to embrace, embody, and ultimately pass on that goodness.  A culture flourishes only if it is cultivated; that which is truly good diffuses itself and sees its own preservation to immortality as an intrinsic expression of that goodness.

4. If our culture, in its goodness, entails a certain openness to new immigrants, it cannot possibly entail such openness that the culture itself would be essentially transformed.  That is the equivalent (to make a rare nod to Hobbes, though Aquinas says much the same) of someone submitting, for the sake of his survival, to be ruled by a monarch who will immediately command the subject to commit suicide.  The natural self-diffusion of what is good cannot rationally include self-dissolution.

5. But I should indicate that I think American culture could be nourished and enhanced, as it has been in the past, by an enlarged Catholic population, even as I also think that the Know Nothings and Nativists of the last century were outright prescient and justified to resist these changes.  American cities, always riotous, became more violent and corrupt places in consequence of those influxes, and the fact that Irish, Polish, and Italian immigrants eventually assimilated and escaped to the suburbs cannot erase the disastrous effects their influx had, many of which linger despite, and apart from, that assimilation (I have reflected on this troubling claim elsewhere).  And yet, let us recall the observations of that native American Catholic convert, Orestes Brownson, who suggests that Catholic intellectual and cultural traditions make American freedom intelligible to itself and, thus, capable of fulfilling its promise.  Evaluating and sorting out this messy history is a matter for prudential wisdom.

Specific Observations

1. If the reports cited above are accurate, we do not require any additional highly skilled immigrants.  To the contrary, their entrance into the country  hastens our demise.

2.  The Center for Immigration Studies has repeatedly documented that the abundant supply of illegal, low-skilled immigrants markedly lowers wages, and encourages brutal working conditions, in industries that would otherwise provide decent-paying respectable work to Americans.  Its report on the consequences of illegal labor on the meat-packing industry is especially striking.

3. One must either bear the mark of a secularized conception of sin, sometimes called “white guilt” (in which one vows to make one’s countrymen pay for one’s personal sense of social injustice: you may feel the guilt, but you sacrifice a scapegoat who looks a bit like you for the purposes of being shriven), or simply lack the capacity for complex thought to believe that the dysfunction of the countries to our south can be solved by importing them into ghettos here.  Our personhood entails duties to other human beings simply in virtue of their personhood, but we tend to cut the Gordian knot of prudence by way of a sulky and simplistic ideology that does not truly respect the personhood of ourselves or those we claim to be helping.  A sense of guilt rarely provides a solid foundation for love.  And the programs of secular guilt bear but little resemblance to a serious moral theology that recognizes our fallenness and our capacity to embrace and share the love of God.

As I complete this brief, insufficient list, I wonder if it is even possible to debate immigration honestly.  The Democratic party has bet big that the continued use of contraception among white Americans and the admission of peoples from the Latin south will, in the long term, tilt demography permanently in favor of its version of the welfare state, and, consequently, its sustained power.  Moreover, the turning away of Americans from marriage and the having of children suggests a lack of investment in, an apathy regarding, the future character of their country.  It is no more surprising that Americans should be resigned regarding the future of their culture than it is that Americans should desire immigrants to labor for the welfare state in lieu of the children who could have been. These trends are a tacit vote of assent to the Democratic strategy vastly more significant that any election-day tally. Further, neither Republicans nor Democrats seem to be capable of giving voice to a genuine love of country: one that does not base itself on being a jingoistic bully abroad, but rather on a reverent care to preserve and cultivate what we have, here, now, at home.    But, I shall, for the moment, maintain hope that facts are stubborn things, including the fact of goodness; it may be just the smelling salt to rouse us from the more suicidal platitudes of the American dream.

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