The immigration debate in America, and maybe the West as a whole, is not much of a debate, at least as far as public policy. Instead, it is something of a meta-debate, in that the facts and important decisions are talked about indirectly. For example, in the US, everyone sort of thinks it is about Mexican immigration, but no one ever explicitly speaks to the facts about Mexican immigration. Details about who is actually coming over the border or gaming the anchor baby system remains a mystery.
As is always the case with big issues in America, immigration is debated on purely moral terms and even there, the morality is not explicit. No one ever bothers to explain why America is a “nation of immigrants” or whether that’s salient. For that matter, no one can seem to wrap their head around why immigration of any sort is morally good. Even immigration hawks go to great lengths to speak well of legal immigrants. Ours is a meta-debate about the morality of undefined policies stripped of facts and details.
Imagine a public debate over building a bridge across a local river. The salient facts would be the cost, where to put it and who benefits from the bridge. Instead, one side talks endlessly about the morality of building bridges. It’s who they are. By extension, those who oppose bridge building in the abstract are immoral in some way. The other side, in contrast, spends its time trying prove they are not opposed to bridge building, but simply have questions about where to put this bridge and how much to spend on it.
Even when someone tries to talk about the economics of immigration, putting aside cultural preferences and demographic reality, the debate soon veers into a weird sort of romanticism. It’s just assumed that jobs are going unfilled due to the lack of labor. There’s never any examination of the claims. Further, it is assumed that temporary labor shortages in one area of a continent sized country are immoral. Rising wages are treated like an insult to the economy, this vaguely understood thing we must worship.
The fact is though, the reality of all public policy is that it is and will be a debate over the facts of the issue. That reality can be wished away for a long time, but eventually the reality comes home. That’s what we are seeing with the stand-off between Trump and the Cult of Brown Ascendancy. We’re slowing creeping up on the fact that immigration is about who and how many. That is, who will we accept and how many of them will we accept. Immigration has always been about who and how many.
Those are not a questions most Americans are equipped to answer. The how many part is the easiest, especially if you start with zero as the default. No one is walking around thinking to themselves, “We really need more Eritreans around here.” If immigration was capped at zero, no one would notice. In fact, if there was a moratorium and the government started to aggressively deport people, even those in the system, most people would not care. In other words, the how many number is a small number.
The tougher question is what sorts of immigrants will we accept, even in limited numbers. In the Mid-Atlantic, where a large Korean community exists, most people would be fine with Korean immigration. Unlike the Chinese, Koreans are not fleeing political oppression or economic uncertainty. Koreans come here for lifestyle reasons, so they assimilate rapidly. They also take pride in being the model minority, despite what what some lefty advocates claim. Koreans came here to be Americans.
At the other end, no one would want any Muslims from the Middle East, as they simply don’t fit a modern Western country. Everywhere Muslim migration has been high, we see terrorist barriers, armed patrols and absurd security measures. In fact, most Americans could be convinced that we make an exception to the First Amendment and ban Islam, maybe even deport all Muslims. It has not worked and it can never work. The Western policy toward that part of the country should first be containment.
Similarly, sub-Saharan Africans are a no-go. America has a long history of trying to integrate Africans into a Europeans country. It does not work. Most people can accept the moral obligation to the descendants of former slaves, even if their ancestors were not slave holders. Bringing in a new population of unassimilable people, with a natural hostility to Europeans makes no sense. Again, no one is walking around wondering how things are going in Chad. That and American blacks don’t like African migrants.
One of the interesting things that happens when you start to think “from where and how many” is the how many becomes an easier question the more you think honestly about the “from where” part. For Americans, the real issue is how many South Americans we will accept. That quickly reduces to a much simpler question. Do we need any of them? For most people, the answer is no, we don’t need more people. Therefore, the only question left is are we morally bound to take anyone in for permanent settlement.
That, of course, is why the open borders crowd prefers to keep this a meta-debate about meta-morality. Once you start thinking about the facts, the default on immigration swings 180 degrees. The default becomes zero and building a massive barrier to entry makes complete sense. The debate is over the exceptions and more important, the conditions for those exceptions. The moral authority becomes the will of the people, rather than a self-selected cult of true believers divorced from daily reality.