Those nasty "nativists" may be in the majority these days

Immigration is a big topic this election cycle, particularly on the GOP side of the aisle. Whether you’re talking about protecting the borders from illegal fence jumpers or concerned over domestic job security, the fast and easy response from the media is that you must be a “nativist” if you support any sort of restrictions. But how in touch are the media mavens and high office seekers with the average Joe on the street? One new poll highlighted at Bloomberg this week indicates that Americans are far less sanguine about traditional attitudes when it comes to rolling out the welcome mat. (Bloomberg News)

Sixty-one percent of Americans agree that “continued immigration into the country jeopardizes the United States,” according to a new poll commissioned by management consulting firm A.T. Kearney that revealed pessimism across a wide range of issues.

The degree of concern is remarkable considering that the question was about all immigration, including the legal kind. Even Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has said he supports legal immigration into the U.S.

A.T. Kearney gave Bloomberg Businessweek an exclusive first look at the results of the survey, which covers 2,590 respondents and is part of an [email protected] study that’s intended to gauge the nation’s direction with 10 years to go before its 250th birthday. The study, which will be posted online later this month, was conducted last October and November by NPD Group.

The knee-jerk reaction will no doubt be to blame this all on Donald Trump, but are we really going to give him credit for that much influence? This may be yet another case where the business mogul was simply one of the first ones to publicly stand up and say something a lot of other people were already thinking. The fact is that our immigration policies, both in terms of legal immigration and border control against illegals, is in bad shape and worthy of scrutiny.

The illegal immigration question is supposed to be a given for conservatives. Unlike Democrats, who want to treat “undocumented immigrants” like misunderstood Americans in Waiting, controlling our borders and rejecting those who choose to break the law has long been a basic plank in the GOP platform. (How you solve the challenge is a question still up for debate.)

But what about legal immigration? New questions are being raised this year over a variety of visa programs and precisely how hard employers are looking for American job applicants before reaching out beyond our borders. We’ve also come to realize that we are almost entirely powerless to track visitors with legal visas who overstay their welcome and we have grossly insufficient resources available to track them down and make sure they go back home. Neither of these challenges comes anywhere near the concerns that many Americans share over terrorists and the possibility of their using legal visa channels or refugee assistance programs to sneak into our country with malice aforethought.

Perhaps it’s time to lay off this instinctive reaction to slap the “nativist” label on anyone looking to put the brakes on some aspects of legal immigration and increase efforts to weed out the illegal immigrants. It’s a self-defeating argument which needlessly divides the conservative movement for a few cheap political points. The voters are increasingly aware of this divide and it’s a broader policy question which deserves a fair hearing in the public square.


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