Republicans need a new approach to immigration

Conservatives must offer an alternative to clashing ethnic tribalisms. Just as melting-pot nationalism helped forge a common American identity in the middle decades of the last century, we need a new melting-pot nationalism suited to our own time. And this new nationalism must begin with a fresh approach to immigration policy. Anti-immigration rhetoric tends to frame high levels of immigration as a threat to natives, not as a barrier to integration, assimilation, and upward mobility for the tens of millions of immigrant families that have settled here. That needs to change. The ongoing influx of less-skilled immigrant workers puts economic pressure on the less-skilled immigrants who already reside in our country, and it reinforces their cultural separation from Americans who belong to other ethnic groups. Moreover, less-skilled immigration strains the fiscal capacity of government. By reducing less-skilled immigration, we could tighten the market for less-skilled labor and increase the likelihood that immigrants will interact with people outside their own ethnic groups.

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Keep in mind that sharply curtailing less-skilled immigration needn’t entail a drastic reduction in immigration levels overall. While the U.S. has welcomed large numbers of less-skilled immigrants, Canada and Australia have welcomed an even larger number of skilled immigrants. The result is that the latter countries have immigrant populations that have integrated far more successfully than America’s. The U.S. can learn from their experience. Indeed, moderately increasing the influx of skilled English-speaking immigrants who command high wages and reducing less-skilled immigration could be complementary strategies. While less-skilled immigration increases the number of Americans who need public assistance, skilled immigration can ease the burden of financing these social programs. There will have to be more to melting-pot nationalism than just conservative immigration reform. But conservative immigration reform can serve as the foundation on which this new nationalism rests.

Are any of the Republican presidential candidates capable of talking about our fractured national identity in an intelligent and compelling way? So far, two candidates stand out. Ted Cruz has gone the farthest in outlining a detailed agenda for strengthening immigration enforcement and limiting less-skilled immigration. For that, he deserves great credit. Marco Rubio, one of the architects of the Gang of Eight immigration bill, has much to answer for.

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