Toward a conservative populism

Another necessary step, of course, is to come up with a realistic immigration platform — which means, in various ways, rejecting the approach of each of the Republican factions today.

Many influential Republicans want more low-skilled immigration. But this is foolhardy. We don’t need it: The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the 2013 immigration bill would have doubled immigration levels while making a negligible contribution to per capita income. We don’t want it: Polls consistently show that only a minority of Americans favor higher immigration levels. And it would work against the national interest in assimilating newcomers. These Republicans also tend to favor granting legal status or citizenship to illegal immigrants, even at the risk of attracting more such immigrants.

Conservatives who reject these ideas have repeatedly managed to defeat attempts to implement them, in both the Bush and the Obama years. (National Review has done its part to rally the opposition.) But the attempts have been repeated, and determined, too, enjoying strong support from both Republican and Democratic leaders, mainstream media outlets, business groups, unions, and church leaders — much stronger support than they have received from Americans at large. To opponents this has had the feel of a conspiracy about it, especially when their legitimate objections have been treated as pure bigotry. It is no wonder that many people are distrustful and angry on this issue, especially in light of President Obama’s efforts to effect amnesty through diktat.

But a policy of mass deportation is wholly unrealistic. Even more unrealistic is deporting and then returning the immigrants — Donald Trump’s cracked version of a “touchback” amnesty. We’re not going to do it, and we shouldn’t. The better alternative is to enforce immigration laws, reduce low-skilled immigration, insist on assimilation, and then deal with the remaining illegal population — perhaps even with a limited amnesty.