In 2018, he and another former governor, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), got 54 votes, six short of the necessary 60, for a bill that included $25 billion for border security. For Dreamers — largely those brought here illegally as children — there would have been protection from deportation and a pathway to citizenship. The incremental bill almost succeeded because it was not “comprehensive,” which is a synonym for “futile.”
“Many legislators,” writes economist Tim Kane, “want reform to fail because unsolved problems are invaluable for election campaigns.” In his book “The Immigrant Superpower,” he shows why China, too, probably wants fewer immigrants to the United States: China is, as totalitarian states must be, inimical to immigration, whereas the United States became the world’s richest nation by welcoming the most immigrants.
The Declaration of Independence’s list of complaints against King George III included his attempt to keep the colonies weak by obstructing immigration. Today, this is an injury many Americans advocate self-inflicting.
Kane calculates that if immigration levels since the Founding had been only half what they actually were, today there would be 90 million fewer Americans. And perhaps two countries: Forty-three percent of the Union military during the Civil War consisted of immigrants or their sons. Twenty-five percent were foreign-born, whereas only 13 percent of U.S. citizens were.
Today’s military recruiting difficulties are being addressed by offering instant citizenship to legal permanent residents (green-card holders) who enlist and complete basic training. Congress should give green cards to those who enlist. Why not? During wartime the military can offer citizenship to service members without green cards.
A few Founders were anti-immigration. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention, it was said that immigrants should not be allowed to serve in government because “men who can shake off attachments to their own country can never love another.” Actually, immigrants love America before arriving.
Some conservatives wary of immigrants as future Democratic voters should consider this from the Hoover Institution’s David L. Leal: “Why does red-state Texas currently have more Latino elected statewide officials than does blue-state California? Why are the most pro-Latino presidents in American history George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan?”
Conservatives lacking confidence in the nation’s capacity for assimilation should know that among the 11 million (down from 12.3 million in 2007) illegal immigrants, 62 percent have been here at least 10 years, 21 percent at least 20 years, only 15 percent for less than five years, and 35 percent own their homes. They have assimilated.
Immigration, “the sincerest form of flattery,” is an entrepreneurial act: Families who risk everything by walking from Guatemala to Texas will probably enhance American industriousness.
Immigrants are prolific at starting companies — Kane says start-ups create 3 million jobs a year, and “there is no net job creation” without them. Ignore the “lump of labor” fallacy that there is a fixed amount of work, hence a fixed demand for workers. (Do you remember how the nation suffered when tractors displaced agricultural workers? No, you don’t.)
Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose public life coincided with the post-World War I era of immigration restriction, said “immigration was a thing of the past.” Speaking to the convention of the deeply conservative and often nativist members of the Daughters of the American Revolution, he did not actually address them jocularly as “fellow immigrants,” as is sometimes alleged. He did, however, say that “you and I especially are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
Mike Rounds’s ancestors on his father’s side arrived here before FDR’s Dutch precursors: a few years in the Mayflower’s wake and some of them married into Mayflower families. South Dakota was partly settled by foreigners attracted by the nation’s first important immigration legislation: The 1862 Homestead Act was partly intended to attract foreigners to fill the West’s emptiness. (Not quite fill: If today there were 1 billion Americans, the nation’s population density would be half that of Germany’s.) By 1870, the population of Dakota Territory was 34 percent foreign-born. The immigration debate, long frozen, might yet thaw, thanks to a South Dakotan, and kindred congressional spirits.