A Conservative Path to Open Borders


A long-time reader of Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby, I would certainly not challenge his conservative bona fides, but he’s apparently feeling as if that may soon be a risk:

One of those ideals has always been the encouragement of immigration as an engine of American progress and prosperity. I grew up in Ohio, a state filled with Americans-by-choice — including my father, who came from Czechoslovakia in 1948. As my conservatism deepened, so did my conviction that an open and welcoming immigration policy was a self-evident part of the conservative creed. In one of my earliest columns for The Boston Globe, a plea to open the door to Haitian refugees, I described immigrants as the great “growth hormone” of American history. “The vast majority of immigrants repay their adopted homeland with energy, enthusiasm, hard work, and new wealth,” I wrote.

I wrote it as a Republican-leaning conservative. Twenty-two years later, my view hasn’t changed. I’m distressed that that of so many Republicans and conservatives has.

Even as a conservative who would currently characterize himself as non-open-borders, I’m sympathetic to contrary arguments based on both economics and freedom.  The problem, as I see it, is another principle that I would characterize as fundamentally conservative: Policies cannot be developed and implemented as if in an abstract model, as if, to paraphrase Melville’s criticism of Emerson, we believe we could have offered some helpful pointers to God upon the world’s creation.  We have to look at reality, both current circumstances and enduring realities.

It is not conservative to allow indiscriminate waves of immigrants into a country where a political machine is primed to make them dependent, to prevent them from assimilating (see Mike Gonzalez’s thoughts on “Obama’s Ethnic Divide-and-Conquer Strategy“), and to harvest their votes for a party intent on ending America’s run of capitalistic representative democracy.  Such a policy is not conservative any more than it is libertarian to attack cultural institutions that keep people from relying on government or than it’s respectful of freedom to let somebody accidentally fall into a pit with spikes at the bottom rather than to push him back from the edge.

We see this dynamic again and again in history.  The vast majority of people on any side of a question won’t give even their issues of greatest concern the level of nuanced consideration that people who think and write about them for a living do.  Therefore, the latter shouldn’t cling to a nuanced policy when its foundations are gone. That is when the prerequisites to benefit from open immigration are gone, one can’t argue that we must maintain open immigration.

To get to open immigration from where we are now, we have to repair our civic society and economy.  I happen to think that means restricting the flood of immigrants so we have room to fix the ship of state, but at the very least, it means electing people who appear to disagree with Jacoby about the long-term goal.

  • Max

    It’s odd to read how immigrants built this country from the same people who claim times have changed and same sex marriage, smoking pot, and selling baby parts are acceptable.

    • OceanStateCurrent

      That’s why folks like Jeff Jacoby are worth engaging on the topic. They’re people who’ll say immigrants built this country and, at the same time, that the constitution should be strictly interpreted and our traditions should be preserved.

      • Mike678

        True–immigrants built his country when it needed building. Now it is built. Times–and needs change. Metaphor:

        When filling an empty reservoir, you open the flow to the max because you have a large space to be filled. As the level rises to near the top, you begin to restrict the flow to achieve equilibrium. If you don’t, there goes the dam.

        The government’s primary role is to protect its citizens, not look out for the rest of the world. Their government should be looking out for them–and as the saying goes, you often get the gov’t you deserve. If yours is broke, fix it. Stop running away.

        Our leaders seem to have forgotten this–especially Merkel who is now reaping the whirlwind of her immigration largess. But it is her people–the people she was supposed to protect–who are being raped and beaten.

    • ShannonEntropy

      What exactly is wrong about smoking pot ??

      It happens to be legal here for medical purposes

      … and possession under an ounce is legal too

      A Libertarian Anthem =►


      • Max

        Legalization had nothing to do with the comment.

        • ShannonEntropy

          No … legalization has *everything* to do with your comment

          You equate smoking pot with abortion and SSM

          That is like saying that you are totally opposed to Hitler ,, Stalin ,, Charles Manson ,, and fuzzy puppies

          • Max

            I equated acceptance of pot with change. Sorry if it wasn’t more clear.

      • Max

        Just reread your comment and just to clarify, possession of under an ounce of marijuana is NOT legal in this state without a marijuana card.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    “One of those ideals has always been the encouragement of immigration as an engine of American progress and prosperity. ” As everyone knows, the trouble with the “melting pot theory” is that it has never boiled. Even, perhaps particularly, when Mr. Jacoby is speaking about it, in 1948, we didn’t welcome everyone. For the most part, we made grudging acceptance of Europeans, and we weren’t so happy about a lot of them. We developed “quota systems” for various countries, we outright excluded Asians for a 100 years (or so). “Ship of Fools” tells of our turning away a boatload of Jews who had to return to Nazi Germany (a true story, although I have never seen the movie).

    Another thing, we are no longer developing a culture, we are now an established mature country with an established culture. Rather than form it, we now seek to protect it. Perhaps this has always been true, watch “Gangs of New York”, better yet read the book. It was written in 1920 and was closer in time. The Irish were swarming over with a foreign religion, Catholicism. The were not made very welcome. The Federal government used them for cannon fodder. A generation ago every Irish family had a sign in the “rec room”, “Help wanted, Irish need not apply”.

    There is so much mythology about it. Much is made of there not being any federal immigration laws, until about 1860. That is true, but it does not mean there were no laws. It was considered a matter for the states (Constitutionally, they determine who can vote) and there were plenty of laws. NYC, for instance, had any number of laws about things such as how many passengers, without return tickets, a ship could land. We still had “open land”. While the Irish and Italians (despised adherents to “Papism”) tended toward major cities, other Europeans, Swedes, Scandinavians, Germans, etc headed for the Midwest to create farms in “land grant” states, causing little friction. . When “Germans” are discussed, it is important to note when it is code for “Jews”. Another fact, rarely spoken of, is that a majority of Europeans returned home. It is unclear whether they “couldn’t make it” or their original intent was temporary.The two exceptions were the Germans and the Irish. They had nothing to return to. Ireland was starving, Germany didn’t exist, it was a bunch of warring Kingdoms and principalities. Interestingly, French (not French Canadian) were relatively few. In the 1860’s the Irish assembled in New England and actually invaded Canada (who knew that?). We did encourage that, as we did with the Cubans. And all of this trouble was with racially similar people with a common morality descended fro Christianity and “chivalrous knights”. I would like to think that immigrants from despotic countries could at least relate to Runnymede. I fear it would be dismissed as a bunch of dead white males.

    Plus, being an immigrant was hard, you needed to have a sponsor (employment) to prevent your becoming a charge on the public welfare, there were minimal health tests, once past the gates, there was next to no support, you could starve.

    Let us dump the dreamy eyed mythology and then talk about it. Sorry, ran on here.

    • ShannonEntropy

      Let us dump the dreamy eyed mythology and then talk about it. Sorry, ran on here…

      Run on as long as you will ,, Rhett

      You are def one of my fave posters here


  • Cranston Senior Home Resident
    • OceanStateCurrent

      Umm… not sure what a weird local story involving my employer’s ex-wife has to do with anything.

      • ShannonEntropy

        Sue Stenhouse was my Ward 1 Repub Council·woman in Warwick. My daughter dated her nephew for over a year. She lived on a street literally named “Friendly” a one minute walk from ours up until and after she ran — and lost — her run for RI Sec·State

        So we are not exactly what you would call ‘BFFs’
        … but I find it extremely difficult to believe she would stoop to this kind of low-level shenanigan

        This is not the kind of prank a classy chick like Sue would be involved with … and you can call me as a character witness if it comes to that ,, Sue

      • Cranston Senior Home Resident

        I suggest that if the administration putting on this charade with taxpayer dollars were not a republican one your response would not be so indifferent. Non-partisan, right?

        This is the funniest thing that has happened in RI politics in a while, it’s too bad you are so blinded by your bias that you can’t appreciate it.

        • OceanStateCurrent

          You suggest wrong. It’s a weird story, but I haven’t seen anything that makes it very significant, no matter the party involved.

          • CCranston Senior Home Resident

            So paying tax dollars and forcing an employee to cross dress to promote a new governmental program is not “significant” in Justin’s world? Maybe there’s a side of you we don’t know about.

            The Justin we know should want to know where the wardrobe came from and if tax dollars were involved. What about moving in fake snow for the photo op?

          • Max

            You keep suggesting that tax dollars were spent to put on this ‘charade’ and the driver was forced to cross dress. Has that been acknowledged or published somewhere or are you just filling in the blanks?

      • Mike678

        Please don’t feed the trolls.