The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Three): “It Wasn’t Me!” and Something to be Done.

American society, American whites, non-black minorities, and even some African Americans, have not fully absorbed the fact that American slavery was a long story of atrocities. It was also an endeavor of mass rape, as the light skin color of many African Americans demonstrates. (It was rape by definition; human “property” does not have the ability to give consent.) Soon after the abolition of slavery, incapacitating legally defined inferior treatment of black Americans descended on much of the country. In the South – the historical home of slavery – extra-judicial murder was frequent enough to keep many blacks timid and in partial subjection; sometimes, the resort to intimidation rose to mass murder. Incidentally, this forgetfulness is why I am glad that National Geographic, first, and Pres. Biden second, recently chose to showcase the 1921 Tulsa race massacre. Whatever the latter’s real motivation, that may be the first good thing he did.

Of course, the question should arise, must arise, of responsibility regarding both slavery and segregation. This for two reasons. First, long lasting acts of inhumanity should not go un-described lest ignorance do harm in the next generations. Second, the treatment of African Americans was, for centuries so spectacularly at variance with long standing Anglo-American tradition that some sort of explanation is required. But there can be no explanation, of course without a recognition of who the actors were, of their identification. In fact, there are voices among the pushers of Wokeness claiming that all whites are guilty by definition. (I choose my words with here care.) “It wasn’t me; I wasn’t even here,” reply many white conservatives. Below is an examination of the white case I know best, mine,

I am immigrant. I landed in the US as an adult for good in 1963. It was too late to contribute much to racial segregation. If one of my approximately 30 family antecedents since 1865 had made it to American shores before me, I think the news would have reached me through family lore. So, I am almost certainly innocent on the account of aiding segregation, including trans-generationally innocent. Slavery is another issue.

Assessing my antecedents’ possible contributions to slavery is more dicey because of the greater remoteness in time but, especially, because of the multiplicity of family lines one would have to follow. (I think that to arrive even at 1800, one would have to research up to 64 linkages.) It seems that both sides of my family going back to my great-great-grandparents at least come from eastern and northern France, hundreds of mile from the western coast slaving ports. This does not exclude the possibility that one young man or other among those who sired me found his way there and signed up for a slaving voyage or two without leaving a record worthy of notice. There is also no obvious record of anyone with my last name, or my mother’s maiden name being a slave owner in America. This leaves open the possibility that some of the other branches with different surnames reached here and held slaves. As they say, “Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.”

Still, on the whole, my antecedents are less likely to have profited from slavery than many, many people of coastal African descent, for example. Late into the 19th century, for example, the economy of the west African kingdom of Benin was centered on slave trading, including feeding the remaining cross-Atlantic trade. It would be surprising if some descendants of American slaves or some recent Nigerian immigrants were not also descendants of Benin slavers. Also, take the Kenyan Obamas, for example, with their Arabized first names… (“Barack” means “blessed,” in Arabic, a pious way to say “luck,” or “lucky;” and the aunt the president would not acknowledge was named “Zeituna,” Arabic for “Olive.” No olives grow in Kenya, I am sure. So, why “Olive”?) How did these names happen given that they are not Muslims? Could it be that the older Obamas were involved with the Arab slave traders of Africa’s east coast (who plied their trade much longer than anyone based in America)?

This mindless genealogical excursion is coming to an end, finally. There was a point to it though. It is this: It’s easy enough for many, possibly for most white Americans to argue that they should not be held to account either for slavery or for racial segregation because they were not here, in America, when those happened. What’s more, it’s likely that none of their ancestors were. The immigrant (legal, I hope) who landed yesterday from Russia certainly can make that claim, same as I do. It seems to me that the claim is largely irrelevant. In fact, and thinking realistically and cynically, if we looked for culpability through blood lines, we shouldn’t be surprised to find that the average African American of today is more related to slave owners of the past than is the average white American. (This speculation is based on the pretty good assumption that most of today’s white Americans trace all their American ancestry to post-1863 immigration.)

Thus my point here is not that American conservatives should wallow forever in useless guilt (like a liberal wimpette) because of some supposed culpability based on race. Neither do I think that they should help feed – by supporting this claim – a sense of impunity among black criminals preying mostly on innocent African Americans. Nor do I suggest that my fellow conservatives should yield to any of the endless, diffuse race-based blackmails filling our media today (in 2021). My point rather is that we, Americans, including, and especially American conservatives, should fix what we can. I explain the ethical reason why we must do so below.

Yesterday’s immigrant, and I, and most Americans probably, live, exist, some thrive, in part thanks to the existence of a federal state that guarantees our safety from exterior threats. It’s the same federal state that makes possible a certain peacefulness, a degree of predictability of daily life without which we couldn’t even contemplate the pursuit of happiness. The fact that it does so with a heavy hand and at a high cost that I often deplore, does not change the basic fact that it does. If your libertarian beliefs make it difficult to think of this, look at Nigeria for the past ten years and at Mexico during its current elections (June 2021). However, the same federal state, in a straight historical line again, the very same federal state, engaged without discontinuity, in slave catching for fifty or one hundred years. It went on until the very eve of the Civil War. I don’t mean that the Federal Government went hunting for slaves in Africa but that it cooperated in returning runaway slaves to their owners. The practice was thunderously re-affirmed as late as 1857 in the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott Decision. For all, we know, slavery as a regional economic system might have collapsed early if the long boundary between free and slave states had been one great big open door devoid of federal interference.

It seems to me that there is no way to affirm honestly: Yes, I am appreciative for the benefits I derive from the Federal Government but I am in no way responsible for any of its past actions. Rather, I think, the following conservative principle must prevail:

The Federal Government is my servant; I am responsible to repair what my servant damaged.

I hasten to say that I don’t know how to compensate anyone for the great physical and emotional damage slavery and then, segregation inflicted on their ancestors. I confess this while noting that financial compensation for pain and suffering stands right in the middle of the mainstream of Anglo-American legal tradition. I want to focus instead on something more tangible: income.

Money often comes down through the generations. It also often fails to so come down, it’s true. This is a complicated matter. What is sure is that if the ancestor has not money, the descendant will not inherit his money. If the ancestor has no money to transmit because he is lazy, a drunkard, a whore-monger, or even simply handicapped, it’s not really any of my business as a citizen of this federal state. If, on the other hand, the descendant inherits nothing because of something my servant did to his ancestor, it’s clearly my responsibility to try and do something about it.

An unresolved concrete matter from both slavery and segregation is one of unpaid wages, and of income that could not be realized in part because of the actions of the Federal Government. I mean, my Federal Government, yesterday’s immigrant’s Federal Government, and also my Hispanic neighbors’ Federal Government. I think we all owe some compensation to our fellow citizens who have slave ancestors. (I am also ignoring here the possibility that segregation adversely affected black immigrants, people with no US slave background, because, I think, there were hardly any until recently. In general, I am skeptical of immigrants’ claims, as I indicated earlier.)

Forty-five years ago, economists Fogel and Engerman showed in Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery that slavery could fairly rigorously be subjected to conventional quantitative economic analysis, including if memory is correct, that of wage equivalencies. (The fact that the book soon became controversial only means to me that many readers don’t know how to read figures, or don’t care to.) It shouldn’t be beyond the power of modern economists to give us a rough estimate of the wages slaves would have been paid if they had not been slaves. The figure might seem surprisingly low, incidentally, because slaves were housed and fed, after a fashion, and housing and food constituted the two main recurring expenses of unskilled free workers.

Whatever the case may be, Americans in general, or just conservatives, could announce an overall amount of wages owed to slaves and, separately, of potential income black citizens lost to segregation, both augmented by accumulated interest. Proposals for discharging this collective debt should be submitted to broad public discussion. Ideally, personally, I would prefer a single payment or partial payments spread over how long it would take all made to those contemporary citizens who can show slave ancestry in the US. Since I have no illusion that any method of direct payment to individuals would have any chance of being accepted because of ambient puritanism, my fallback position would be educational/ training grants awarded to any descendant of slaves upon reaching legal maturity. I like this solution because there is good evidence that education is a reliable income and wealth multiplier. Enhanced education/training thus creates -however slight – the possibility that American society might leave that particular portion of a more general problem behind forever. Help with down payment on real estate would also probably be favored by many and for the same reason. (It seems that owning a house is the main mean of saving for most Americans.) There are many other possibilities.

Ideally, the funds for this historical compensation would come from a voluntary levy, from a subscription (a method for financing public goods not tried often enough in my view). African Americans with slave ancestors and ancestors hurt by segregation number no more than 45 million. My back-of-the envelop suggests that if everyone else reserved 1 % of his income for slavery and segregation reparation that particular debt might be extinguished in less than a lifetime. (Just a general idea; my calculations are not to be trusted literally, of course) Failing a voluntary levy, a new dedicated federal tax could accomplish the same end, of course.

Do I hope that this kind of limited compensation to the descendants of slaves could be managed in a fair, organized, decent way? Not really. I think though that it could put a damper on the present liberal temptation to replay the whole long, disastrous War on Poverty of Pres. Johnson. It would point to another way to deal with a festering wound. In any case, the inability to describe how a mission ought to be conducted should never stop us from admitting openly, even announcing, that the mission is necessary. The main virtue of this proposal would be to free to some extent those who contribute from the moral servitude resulting form our having servitude imposed on others with the help of our servant, the federal state. Acting in good faith toward other individuals is its own reward. It may even inspire others.

Beyond this, I think the Woke culture is going to collapse soon under the weight of its own ridiculousness. In the meantime, it will have ruined the careers of a few important people, including highly visible liberals who did not have sufficient alertness to duck in good time and to offer proof of their virtuousness without being asked. Even academia will regain its senses eventually though it will take some time because it’s so well protected from reality. I am betting that what will be left of this (2020-2021) societal frisson of righteousness will be the empty and therefore poisonous word “equity.” It will no doubt be used and used again until it ends exhibited in the pantheon where the Left keeps the equally empty and equally poisonous terms: the “rich,” and “fair share.” We may not prevent this but we, conservatives can keep the voice of sanity alive.

I conclude by affirming to my possibly scandalized conservative friends that nothing in this three-part essay alters my view of the broader American political context of today (2021). Pres. Biden’s administration is the worst in my long lifetime. Like everything that dampens economic growth, its policies will turn out to be especially noxious for African Americans. And liberals and progressives will blame our “selfishness,” of course.

The Great American Racial Awakening (Part Two): “Get over it!”

For most of my fifty-plus years living in this country, I have thought that white Americans have not digested the facts of slavery beyond the most basic level. I think they have avoided emoting about them and also about the much nearer-in-time ninety years of segregation in some of the country, at least. (Reading the memoirs of traveling black Jazz musicians led me to believe that segregation was not just in the South. They tell how on arriving in a new town anywhere in the country, the first thing they did was inquire about lodging accepting blacks if arrangements had done been made in advance.)

It’s hard to tell what liberals know and feel about the country’s racial history broadly defined. First, since most of them vote Democrat, they have an internal conflict of interest that must stand in the way of both clarity of mind and of sincerity of expression. Historically, their party is the party of unfailing support for slavery and then, it morphed into the party of racial segregation. I don’t know how you deal with this on an individual level. Second, I find it personally hard to tell what really moves liberals because many are the kind of people who tear up at the violent spectacle of three puppies wrestling in their containment basket.

I am pretty familiar however with my fellow conservatives’ expressed views of the whole matter. (Of course, I don’t know what they feel their hearts of hearts.) Three responses keep coming up. The first is a reference to the hundreds of thousand dead of the Civil War, implying it was payment enough for the evils of slavery. No, I am sorry, the Civil War only stopped the evil of slavery. It did not make up for it. It did not stop the transmission of its perverse effects through the generations. I does not help that some conservatives include the Confederate dead who gave their lives in defense of slavery even if it was not always clear to them.

The second common response is a nonchalant: “Get over it; it was long time ago.” That’s not a reasonable response, I believe, as a conservative, specifically. I think many good things, and many bad things, come down through families, even from ancestors way back. My own narrow experience tells me that it’s so. My paternal grandfather was killed in WWI, in 1916, exactly, twenty-six years before I was born. That’s more than one hundred years ago. My mother was thus brought up in an all-female family. Had that not been the case, she would have raised her own children differently, I think. Note that I don’t say, “better” because, I don’t know. It’s just that she would have been a different person herself, a different woman. Again, I am only trying to make the point that family experiences reach far forward in time.

I knew my maternal grandmother well. Though there were merrier aspects to her personality (as I recount in my book, I Used to be French…..) she was a mostly silent presence for all the time I knew her. I don’t know that she may have a had a wealth of experience, or simply stories, she would otherwise have shared with me. I was brought up without a grandfather. (There was an other one but alcoholism had made him dysfunctional.) Had I had a grandpa, I am certain I would have been a different man, a nicer one. Incidentally, I only came to realize this clearly when I became a grandfather myself, a very distinctive and nurturing role. If the repercussions of the simple and common fact of not having a grandfather can be carried across a hundred-plus years, I tell myself, imagine the cumulative, tenacious effect of having had all slave predecessors for hundreds years. In my book, it’s not that consequences of slavery might live on today among African Americans, it’s that they surely do. It seems to me that this is hardly open for discussion. (Though w you should feel free to argue with me on this point.)

Another detour is in order here. I am only discussing the burden of the majority of black Americans who do have slave ancestors. The implied moral calculus is not relevant to the large and growing minority of black Americans who are immigrants and children of immigrants. (The fact that their numbers are increasing fast, in itself, speaks volumes.) Don’t like it here for whatever reason? Go back to Jamaica; go back to Nigeria; go back to Haiti. This calculus also does not concern the invented category “Hispanics.” Except for the special case of Puerto Ricans, they are also practically all immigrants and descendants of immigrants. They have no right to complain just because heir parents or other ancestors had the good sense to cross the border, often at great cost and at great risk, so they could enjoy a standard of living and a freedom vastly superior to those they left behind. In most cases, such American Hispanics are entitled to citizenship in their ancestral land or, they can regain it easily. Even Puerto Ricans, whose country the US annexed without consultation, have the latitude to go home where they are unlikely to be exposed to racism. All those so-called minorities can thus easily avoid current alleged white American racism and, to the extent that they carry a special burden, it’s because of choices their own antecedents made. It seems to me none has any right to blame America nor to expect favored treatment on this account.

Expecting the descendants of slaves to “get over it,” is not reasonable, as I said. The likelihood is quite high that the adverse consequences of slavery have followed their ancestors, their parents through the years like a pig moving through a python. There is not particular ground to believe that these negative effects must automatically become diluted over time. This assessment is possible (and, I think, only fair) irrespective of whether we know what to to about it. Recognizing that a problem exists does not require that one know its solution.

In the next and last installments of this three-part essay, I will look at resolutions after introducing the third common attitude of conservatives: “It wasn’t me.”

The Great American Racial Awakening: A Conservative Approach (Part One)

When the so-called progressive forces opened America wide to everything black after the police murder of George Floyd, I feared the worst. I thought I would be daily embarrassed by an endless parade of black affirmative action wonders. I was thinking of mediocre or frankly bad African American actors, would-be pundits, pseudo-intellectuals, and demagogues promoted solely because of their race in an act of mendacious collective contrition. (And it’s true that the Democratic Party, the current home of “progressives,” has a lot to be contrite about, going back to its foundation.) I had learned that fear from thirty years in academia, of course, as well as from the continuing demonstration of lack of acumen of the media in staging again and again Al (“Honest”) Sharpton and the seemingly immortal Reverend Jackson.

Here, a detour is in order. What I saw in academia was not the admission, or hiring or promotion of wholly incompetent individuals because of their race (except one time). What I witnessed instead was the fact that people who were qualified overall, were given a solid bump up because of their race. In the last academic hiring in which I was involved, for example, the favored job candidate was more than qualified, rather overqualified for my department, in fact. At 28, she was hired at the same salary I had achieved after twenty years. She was black, of course. Not good for race relations! End of detour.

To my great and pleasant surprise, this obvious orgy of promotion of the embarrassingly incompetent but racially endowed is not most of what happened in the past year. Instead, I began seeing more black faces and hearing more black voices in the English language media I normally follow. This happened without any loss of average quality. In the inside “culture and lifestyle” pages of my daily Wall Street Journal, for example, plays and movies by black authors and directors were reviewed instead of the usual whites’. I found nothing shameful there; in fact, it was a little bit refreshing. Whether this speaks to the quality of black culture producers or to the ordinary mediocrity of the WSJ inside pages, I am not sure. My point is that the descent into the intolerable I had feared and expected did not happen.

On the other hand, and as might be expected, National Public Radio crawled forward and backward to be ahead of the game and to do more for black authors, and black everything, and black everywhere, than anyone else. But in doing so, NPR fulfills all my usual expectation rather than my specific post-Floyd killing expectations. NPR is often unbearable because of its piousness, both sincere and contrived. And, I am well informed about this because I listen to NPR every weekend, have for years. First, it’s good for my moral character, like a cold shower upon getting up in the morning. Second, I want to be well informed about my enemies’ thinking and NPR gives me this in the most concentrated, efficient form possible. In addition, I frankly like a few of its weekly narrative offerings, such as “How I Built It” and the “Moth Radio Hour.”

To my mind, the Great American Racial Awakening is all pretty superficial. I think (I intuit) that few deep transformations will afflict it. My mind says, “Don’t panic!”

My optimism is rooted in the belief that the more grotesques forms of the new consciousness are going to be sloughed off naturally. For example, I am betting what within a short time, a combination of state actions, school board reactions, and quiet teachers’ rejections is going to push into oblivion the delirious statement that mathematics is “racist.” “Critical Race Theory,” that the schools are supposedly forced to teach, does not worry me much because no one knows what it is, not even those who are cramming it down our throats. (Perhaps two dozens academics really know what it is. They don’t matter.) I think it’s only a fancy word standing for a certain brand of historical revisionism. It seems to me it’s an attempt to make Americans re-focus and look at their history from a different angle. I will address this re-focusing in my next installment. I will do it explicitly as a conservative.

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 11 of 11)

Unanswered Questions

Large questions whose answers would guide immigration reform are left unanswered, I think. Below are four.

First: The Republican Party, and many Republican elected officials, seem terrified that any immigrants, legal, but especially illegal immigrants, would automatically swell the ranks of the Democratic Party, perhaps ushering a permanent Democratic majority at the national level. If this is correct, it’s difficult to understand why the Republicans have hardly even begun discussions of the possibility of legal US residency with not link to citizenship (and thus to voting). The European Union has done this for thirty years or more and it’s not one of its problems.

Two: Republicans in general are shy to discuss the obvious burden influxes of immigrants (legal or illegal) from across the border impose on local services, and especially on schools. They seem to be entirely too fearful of incurring contrived accusations of racism. Yet, even solidly Democratic voters are affected. In my area of California, it’s probable that about 40% of the population is composed of immigrants from Mexico, their children and their grandchildren. In some elementary classes, half the students are children who speak no or little English. It’s obvious that teaching how to read and write, or teaching anything, to such classes is problematic. I would guess that all the children are held back by this situation, the non-English speakers as well as the English speakers. Pointing this out constitutes common sense, not racism. There are well tried solutions to this problem but conservatives show no enthusiasm for them.**

Three: At the risk of exposing here my ignorance, I must say that I am not aware of any serious research on the following proposition: It might be cheaper, more lasting and less destructive of our social fabric to repair the three nearby countries that are flooding us with poor people than to try to handle humanely their fleeing population at the border and inside the US. I refer, of course to the so-called “Northern Triangle” of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala which has a total population of about 32 million. GDP/capita in those countries are about $ 4,200, $2,700, and $4,000. An investment of $1,000 for each citizen of those God-forsaken countries would cost about 32 billion US dollars. Such investment is almost certainly beyond these countries inhabitants’ present capacity to save.

Two comments about this idea: First I don’t know how much the current reception and care of immigrants from these countries actually cost (but see below). My nose says it will reach this order of magnitude by accumulation fairly soon in 2021. Second, I am well aware of the fact that such investment may do little lasting good absent a deep institutional change in those countries, as concerns the rule of law, in particular. This is another topic, of course and it could easily undermine the credibility of any reasoning along the lines I propose here. So I pose the question: Would the American taxpayer be better off or worse off if the federal government, perhaps guided by select NGOs, orchestrated investment in the Northern Triangle equivalent to $1,000 for each of its inhabitants. Order of magnitude check: According to Jason Riley in the Wall Street Journal of 4/21/21, the small federal bureaucracy in charge of sheltering immigrant minors alone had spent all of its annual budget by mid-April. The budget was $1.3 billion (billion). The question above does not require a yes or no answer to be useful. It could simply be the beginning of a fruitful discussion in the same general direction.

The example of the neighbors of the Northern Triangle suggest that such a rough proposal is not merely pie-in-the-sky. As always, I pay attention to what might be expected to happen but does not happen. Note the absence of Panama and of Costa Rica in the current horror narrative of alleged refugee flooding. Granted, Panama has a considerable resource in the Canal. But Costa Rica has nothing but good government. Even perennially troubled, leftist-run Nicaragua makes almost no news in connection with refugee immigration into the US. I am only emphasizing here that in this matter as in others, geography is not necessarily destiny. Yet, ultimately, each of the countries in the Northern Triangle, is different, of course.

Four: There is a perverse hidden obstacle to taking vigorous measures against illegal immigration that is seldom discussed, I think. In areas where many illegal immigrants can be presumed to live, almost everyone who favors a firm hand against illegal immigration, has in mind an exception or two. Yes, they say, throw the whole lot out tomorrow – except Luis, Luis is a hell of a car mechanic! No, not Elena, who cleans my house; she is a pearl! This suggests that the lack of political will to deal with immigration issues I mention elsewhere does not reign only in the political class. Instead, it penetrates far and deep into the general population. Relate this punctual exceptionalism to the mild penalties for crossing the border illegally; relate to the infrequency of actions against big employers of illegal aliens.

I propose no solution to this particular problem. Instead, I consider it a proxy for the general idea that Americans may profess to hate illegal immigration in general and in the abstract but that many realize that our society needs immigrants. (As I showed above, the forceful distinction between legal and illegal immigrants is largely illusory because many excellent potential immigrants have no legal way to move to the US legally.) In my completely subjective observation, many Anglo-Americans actually like immigrants. As I said though, numbers matter.

One final thought. I wonder if it would be practical to limit both the quality and the quantity of immigration though a vast sponsorship program? I imagine that every single immigrant would have to be sponsored by a US organization, including a non-profit organization, or by a US citizen. Sturdy strings would be attached to sponsorship.


**So-called “Spanish immersion” elementary school classes are widely considered successful in my area of central California. They attempt to teach both Hispanic and Anglo children alternatively in both Spanish and English each week. This is a slow process. Something else does not get done, probably. Given the low productivity of teaching in the lower grades though, I wouldn’t worry about what does not get done. The attractiveness of immersion programs for Anglo parents is that their children do learn some Spanish, much less than they think but enough to impress a skeptic like me. (While I was writing this piece, I heard a blue-eyed blonde at the pharmacy explain something fairly complicated in Spanish to a customer and it worked fine. She told me she was a product of local elementary Spanish immersion classes. Yes, I know Spanish well.) The more conventional approach everywhere but in the US and in a handful of other countries is to alphabetize first the children in their own language and to switch them gradually to the dominant language if it’s not the same, including for reading and writing. (I did learn to read and write in English as a child in France, after all.)

[Editor’s note: this is the final of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 10 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 10 of 11)

The Family Multiplier: a Large, Not Well Known Issue

Here is an important consideration that I have never heard discussed although nearly everyone understands in principle that numbers matter. The doctrine of family re-unification underlying all our immigration laws guarantees that a multiplier is built into every single legal immigration (legal): When you bring in one, you nearly always bring in more than one. Take my own case. Sometimes around 1975, I received a Department of Labor Certification, that is, I was officially deemed useful to American society because of some rare skills I possessed. Even before I could become a US citizen, I was able to turn my also foreign-born wife into a legal immigrant. Five years later, right after I became a US citizen, my wife and I adopted two foreign children who became automatically legal immigrants then, US citizens. That’s four legal immigrants for one initial admission. I have little doubt that both my wife and I could have brought in our parents as legal immigrants although that may have taken some time. Had we done so, my initial single admission on the basis of a variant of American need, would have recruited seven additional immigrants, none of them obviously needed for their skills or competence. (My two children were a few months old when we adopted them. I will let you imagine what their few skills were!)

I am not in favor of changing the doctrine of family reunification nor of reducing its scope. Doing so would likely result in a substantial increase in the proportion of legal immigrants who are young, single and male. Those are highly mobile people whose chance of acculturation to American society is generally not great. In every society, they are also the main substrate of criminality. (They consume little by way of maternity costs though!) Let me say again that this multiplier is not a form of abuse of proper form; it’s written into the current law.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 10 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 9 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 9 of 11)

American Sub-Consulates in Mexico

To avoid falling again into the same swamp of ineptness, the US might approach Mexico with a request to open twenty or so sub- consulates whose sole function would be to examine refugee applications, most of which – again – we know to be phony. Such establishments might be acceptable to Mexican authorities because they would not need to be under ultimate US sovereignty, unlike traditional consulates and embassies. By the way, the US has only two consulates in Mexico while Mexico has about forty consulates in the US. Perhaps, a Mexican administration could be induced to believe that a partial evening out would be only fair. The new sub-consulates would have to be placed fairly far south of the US-Mexico border, for two reasons. First, the Mexican side contiguous to the border is notoriously dangerous, not a good location to make innocent people and their families wait their turn. Second, the closer to the border the first examination of refugee claims, the greater the temptation to try and jump into the US. The further from being valid theses refugee claims,also the greater the temptation to jump in.

Such a new disposition by itself would have a big dissuasive effect on would-be refugees from the Northern Triangle without a serious claim. I mean that it would help expedite the backlog, avoid the release of large numbers into the general US population but, more importantly, it would also cut down on the large numbers now eager to gamble on being eventually admitted because of the vagueness, not in the relevant laws, but in the manner of their application.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 9 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 8 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 8 of 11)

A Different Way to Process Refugees

The current policy for would-be refugees consists in inviting them to apply inside or very near the country followed by catch-and-release with an honor-based request to appear for final legal disposition, at a distant and undefined date, or never. It’s as if designed for failure. It’s not really part of an immigration policy because it predictably manufactures illegal immigrants.

The policy ignores the obvious fact that would-be illegal immigrants and their carriers and facilitators are continuously alert to American immigration related events and policies. This is difficult for many Americans to believe because they are habitually uninterested in and indifferent to happenings beyond our borders but there are whole subcultures nearby that are vitally concerned about what goes on in the US. They are well equipped to stay informed thanks to the internet and to cellphones. Every anodyne comment on immigration by a high level American politician or public servant is immediately interpreted – and over-interpreted – as the forerunner of a policy change (as we saw in the first three months of the Biden administration with respect to child refugees). In brief, immigration controls begins much before anyone reaches the border. Even loose words often appear as de facto policies. They may signal that doors into the US will be more or less open, or at least ajar.

The current official policy combined with its soft application must unavoidably act as a powerful attractant for very poor people living under conditions of chronic insecurity and within traveling distance of the southern US border. Look at it from the standpoint of a parent of a 14-year-old, say a Honduran: Bad schools leading to unemployment or to very poorly paid employment; lives lived in constant fear of gangs; no expectation of any sort of happy future.

You are told by people whose knowledge you trust the nearly incredible news that if you can manage to move your child to the US-Mexico border, there is a better than even chance that he will end up inside the US. There, he will be allowed to attend school, (no questions asked) and he will be given at no cost better health care than he has ever had in his life or, that he has any right to expect in Honduras. As soon as he is eighteen or, likely sixteen (no one really checks), he will be able to earn more in two hours than skilled adult men earn back home in one day. You are aware that the endeavor is both dangerous and a little complicated. You probably underestimate both danger and complexity because your main sources though well informed have no interest in emphasizing them. (I wonder about charitable organizations with no financial interest in the process. I don’t know if they publish warnings nor how frequently.)

The true news is that your son or even you if traveling with him, may apply for refugee status calmly at many designated points on the border with little fear of anything. Failing this, they say, you will be able simply to surrender to any member of the Border Patrol and be taken care of. I can’t see how such information can help but act like a powerful advertisement enticing you to begin moving north. Finally, and, repeating myself, the fact that most of those who say that they are seeking refuge status, when caught, or surrendered, are shortly released inside the US, probably sounds too good to be true. But, even the very poor have cellphones and the whole happy truth gets around quickly.

Under the current system, the authorities are forced to practice catch- and-release with would-be refugees who have little chance of being formally accepted in the end. That is because there is a huge backlog, a backlog of several years, in finally disposing of refugee applications. This is difficult to understand in light of the seeming broad consensus that only a small percentage of those who apply have a valid case that would eventually gain them official refugee status if their case were examined properly. I am also told that laws pertaining to refugee or asylum status are not especially difficult or complicated. If that is correct, the federal government should be able to recall hundreds of retired judges, and to draft many attorneys to act as pro tem judges to adjudicate thousands of cases within a short time. One the backlog is removed in this manner, the original small contingent of professional judges could finalize positive decisions.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 8 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 7 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 7 of 11)

Open the Southern Border to Mexican Citizens

A high degree of flexibility would follow a measure that I advocated in 2009 : “If Mexicans and Americans could cross the border freely” (pdf). (Formerly: “Thinking the unthinkable: illegal immigration; The bold remedy.” ), with Sergey Nikiforov, The Independent Review, 14-1: 101-133 (Summer)). That is, to allow Mexicans (and Americans, of course) to come and go across the southern border at will. Such a policy might do little to relieve worker shortages in high tech fields in the short run. Yet, it would probably be enough for lower skilled labor to transport itself where needed entirely according to demand. Of course, no implied promise of citizenship would be attached to this free border policy. Before the new open border policy is implemented a strong, loud announcement should be made to the effect that no change toward citizenship and no “amnesty” will take place. There would still be some leakage, of course, in particular because Mexican citizens would marry American citizens they would encounter in the course of their daily lives working in the US. A black market in phony marriages might also develop. That would probably be managed easily.

There are two big objections to such a policy of free movement. First, incoming Mexicans would be competing with Americans and effectively place a ceiling on the wages of the least skilled among them. Of course, I understand this Econ 101 argument but I believe it mostly does not apply here for the simple reason that the stereotypical comment is correct and there are jobs Americans just won’t do. There are crops rotting in the fields three miles from where I live in central California, for example. Yet, the downtown retail employees laid off by COVID and who used to earn $11 an hour are not rushing to try and earn $18 or more picking Brussels sprouts. Most Mexican immigrants (legal and illegal) come from rural agricultural areas and they are used to hard, dirtying physical labor. We simply don’t have a reservoir of such population in the US anymore.

To understand why Mexican citizens performing any work they like in the US would probably not undermine much the native born’s wages requires a small dose of cynicism. Coming from rural areas as most do, those people have little opportunity to study English. Working more or less full time, it takes most of them many years to reach a level where they are more or less functional in English. Accordingly, it takes them many years really to compete realistically with the native born. If my hypothesis is correct, many would have saved enough and gone home before they reached that stage.

Incidentally, and contrary to a belief widespread among my fellow conservatives, Mexican immigrants and other temporaries are well aware of the fact that their earning capacity would shoot up if they knew English well. Accordingly, none resists learning English. The reverse fairy tale that they do originates in an American collective belief about learning languages that verges on mental illness. I wrote about this phenomenon in: “Foreign Languages and Self-Delusion in America.”

I think that few Mexicans really want to move to the US permanently. Many are trapped here because we make coming and going so difficult and so dangerous. Instead, most of them just want a chance to earn five or six times more than they earn back home, take their savings and go home there to buy a farm or to open a restaurant, or to set up a car repair shop. I realize this is merely anecdotal evidence, but I have met enough Mexican returnees in Mexico who explain with clarity that they like Mexico more than they like the US and that they wish to live among their relatives. This is not absurd, of course. It’s at least plausible.

The second main collective argument in favor of the establishment of such free circulation zones is this: The existence of so many economic hostages in the US would give any Mexican government an additional motivation to guard its southern border more carefully. The obvious is not said often enough: Salvadoran, Honduran, and Guatemalan pretend-refugees and potential illegal immigrants into the US have no practical way to try their luck without first entering Mexican territory and crossing a large portion of it with immunity.

More objections to such partial but permanent border opening are predictable. Some will argue that it would give free rein to numerous different kinds bandit enterprises based in Mexico, including drug cartels. I think the reverse is true. If a level of funding broadly commensurate to the present were still dedicated to the southern border, many more resources could be diverted from checking on innocent Mexican manual workers seeking honest employment to diverse varieties of gangsters. Furthermore, any Mexican administration, however corrupt, would understand that the free roaming policy could be rescinded any time, causing much disturbance inside Mexico. This would encourage it to try and keep a better lid on trans-border illegal activities, including terrorism. Lastly and, I think, most importantly, the policy would turn many of tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of border crossing Mexicans eager to keep the policy alive into law enforcement informers.

In passing, of course, if an international agreement existed to permit such free movement some Americans would go and try their luck in Mexico. Many are already there, working on commission, selling real estate and part-time rentals. More would follow. It makes sense to think of this as a good thing for both Mexico and the US. This happens, in spite of significant bureaucratic barriers that such an agreement would tend to lessen or eliminate under the international principle of reciprocity.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 7 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 6 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 6 of 11)

Work Targeted Immigration

Of the roughly 1,2 million admitted in 2016, only a little more than 10%, 140,000 were granted admission on the basis of some occupational qualification or other work-related fact. This is a small number for a mostly prosperous population of 320,000,000. The possibility that this small number outstrips either our economic capacities or our economic needs is difficult to consider.

One important problem is which workers to admit. The federal government cannot, in principle, determine by itself what categories of foreign workers are required. The current system, under which industry associations and sometimes single companies lobby the government for foreign visas is probably the best we can do. I mean that every other system imaginable is liable to be worse in some respect or other. It’s liable to be worse, in particular because it could induce the creation and/or growth of even more eternal government bureaucracies. Congress can help by quickly enlarging the number of such work visas available in any given year. (As it has done recently, in late 2020.) Greater flexibility than is current, trying to map quickly changes in real labor markets are desirable. I have not thought about how to achieve such flexibility. I don’t think though that the federal government should indirectly, through targeted visas predict winning and losing economic sectors.

We do know from experience that loosely defined “high tech” fields as well as agriculture are perennially short of workers. There must be others. The most efficient and least expensive way to provide such would be a system that is not a system in a government sort of way but a situation where foreigners find and walk to waiting jobs as needed. This non-system violates some of the strictest requirements of sovereignty, of course. Yet, it may be preferable to the current situation. A single inventive alteration in our immigration policies would go a long way toward helping fill low-skilled labor skills, including agricultural ones.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 6 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 5 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 5 of 11)

Closing All the Borders

I focus on the southern border because Canadians do not tend to emigrate in mass to the US, being rather disdainful of their loud and agitated American cousins. Canadians also guard their border rather competently. Moreover, the southern border is the access route for a potential hundreds of millions of destitute people from Latin America. It may be also that it’s becoming increasingly the entry point for many others from underdeveloped countries everywhere, including terrorists. That would be because the countries of Latin America do not guard their own borders rigorously, as a rule. Violent jihadists from Yemen can easily enter Mexico as tourists, for instance. (Maria Anastasia O’Grady reports in the Wall Street Journal of 4/26/21 that 20,000 “undocumented immigrants” entered Panama through its physically very rough southern border in 2020. She says the number appears to be increasing in 2021. She asserts also that these migrants largely originate from outside continental Latin America.)

Closing our southern border is not that difficult in principle. Former President Trump showed the way. A physical wall supplemented in places by sophisticated electronic devices (especially in remote areas where allowing wild life to circulate between the US and Mexico forbids a solid wall) would work fine. This can probably be done at a long term cost that compares favorably to the expenses occasioned right now, for example (April 2021) by the necessity to deal in a panic mode with large immigrant surges. What’s required is the political will to do so. It has been lacking for a long time in a large fraction of the US population or, at least, the Democratic Party thinks so.

If the political will to enforce the border were more widespread, we would find penalties against employers of illegal immigrants imposed more frequently and systematically than is the case now. The penalties applied to employers would also be high enough to be more frightening to them. We also indicate our lack of collective seriousness by keeping low the personal penalties imposed for illegal border crossing. It’s now a misdemeanor associated with a $50 to $250 fine. This is not much to people – even poor people – who pay thousands for help crossing the border.

There is a second border issue that almost never makes the news. It’s likely that as many immigrants, and as many illegal immigrants come by plane and even by ship as walk or drive across the southern border. Controlling these should not, in principle, be difficult either. It has long been the practice to hold carriers who bring travelers to the country responsible for their possessing a proper visa. Presumably, the practice has withstood legal challenges. It could be enlarged to make carrier responsible also for foreign visitors not overstaying their visas. There is no reason why the carriers could not be compensated for this service. Tax credits come to mind. It would be cheaper than any other, civil service-based, solution.

We now have a kind of system of randomly open borders. It’s probably possible to bring sufficient numbers of citizens and of their elected reps to agree that there is border and that it should normally stay closed through a Grand Bargain on immigration. First, the Republican Party should come forward finally to solve the problem of illegal residents brought to the US by their parents when they were children (the so-called “Dreamers”). This continuing issue is a blotch on American honor, to my mind.

The Republican Party could also offer to trade cooperation on the matter of closing the border against the acceptance of greatly increased numbers of refugees and asylees. (Those who want to be here and whom we don’t necessarily want.) The Republican Party has nowhere to go but up in this respect anyway. Those refugees admitted in 2019 and in 2020 were a ridiculously low number for a US population of about 320 million. There were a total of 76,00 refugees and asylees admitted in 2019; only 18,000 refugees were permitted in 2020; I have no information about the number of asylees in the same year. (The Biden administration announced in mid April 2021 that the cap on numbers of refugees would remain the same as in 2020. Then he seemed to walk the position back. As of this writing, we don’t know what his administration will do. Does it?) By way of comparison, Canada admitted 102,000 refuges in 2018. Its population is 37 million. Germany with a population four times smaller than ours took in 101,000 refugees in 2019. Tiny Switzerland admitted almost as many. These figures are for illustration only. One must keep in mind that refugee admissions numbers can vary greatly from year to year depending on geopolitical events.

In general, the recipe for success in controlling nation-states’ borders is straightforward: Keep the doors closed until there is a legal reason to open them. Be clear and thorough about what legal reasons are. Don’t confuse again pity and necessity. This formula does not solve the problem of walk-in refugees who avoid legal entry points. A wall largely supplemented by making all applications take place outside the country – with a few exceptions – would solve that problem. I deal with this issue [here] under: “A Different Way to Process Refugees:…”

[Editor’s note: this is Part 5 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 4 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 4 of 11)

The Nation-State and Borders

Nation-states have to possess immigration policies or they cease to exist. I mean any number of things by “cease to exist,” including falling apart organizationally and economically, to the point of being unable to provide a minimum degree of order, of predictability. (This last sentence might rub pure libertarians the wrong way. I am willing and eager to engage them on the topic of nation-states, societies, and social order.) This failure to function can be the result of an influx of large numbers of immigrants unable to provide for themselves, obviously. I am not suggesting that this is the only possible cause. It’s one cause and it’s staring us in the eyes as I write (April 2021, three and half months into the Biden presidency).

More prosaically, but also a little mysteriously, “cease to exist” may simply refers to the nation-state becoming something else, subjectively less desirable than what it was. The insulting word “nativism” does not do justice to the complex and subtle issues involved here.

Right now, for example, many French people believe that the large presence in their midst of un-assimilated Muslim immigrants endangers the fundamental building blocks of their society’s ethics and laws. These would include, for example, the separation of church and state (of religion and government) and the equality of men and women. Many French people who are not “white supremacists,” (or, more pertinently perhaps, not Christian supremacists) are calling for an end to all Muslim immigration. (Note that I have said nothing about whether I believe their fears are justified.)*

Guarded national borders have been the conventional way to protect the nation-state since the mid-19th century. They don’t have to be but other available methods are even less palatable to those who love freedom. If, for example, every resident of the US carried a personally identified GPS that it is illegal to turn off, it would be easy to monitor the totality of the population. Those moving about without an authorized GPS would stand out. Legal immigrants might be given a GPS with a different signal. Legal visitors who are not immigrants would get yet another with a signal set to come off on or just before their visa expiration. Illegal immigrants would carry no authorized GPS. This absence would designate them the attention of immigration authorities. (Of course, fake GPS would soon be for sale but they would be more difficult to create than are current SS card and other such paper or plastic documents.) And, thinking about it, a microchip painlessly implanted under each person’s skin might work even better! See what I mean about guarded borders not being so repugnant after all?


*The French left-wing media do not offer substantive arguments to calm the widespread alarm raised by the center, by the right, by many others. Instead, they try to make the alarmed feel guilty of “Islamophobia,” supposedly a close cousin of racism. This accusation quickly losses forces because many people realize that Islam is a set of beliefs and of values that Muslims are free to abandon, unlike race. At least, they may abandon it in the French legal context. (In several Muslim countries, such “apostasy” is theoretically punished by death.) By the way, a month before this writing, I talked on a Santa Cruz beach with a pleasant young French Muslim, a pure product of French public schools born in France. He told me calmly that he believed French law should forbid blasphemy.

With all the agitation and all the negative emotions, people with Muslim names appear well represented at all levels and in all sectors of French society. (Firm numbers are hard to come by because the French government does not allow its various branches to collect information on religious affiliation nor on ethnicity.) And, by the way, I just love what Arabic influence has done to French popular music and songs.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 4 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 3 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

If We Ignore Climate Change Horrible Things are Gonna Happen…

There is a good chance American society will soon be committed to huge new expenditures based on the urgency to do something about the anticipated ravages of climate change. Some of the monster amounts (in trillions) the Biden administration is asking for will, in fact, be spent on making everything in sight electric, especially (but not limited to) automobiles. This is happening at a time when fossil fuels prices are near a historical low and we, in the US, are awash in clean energy in the form of natural gas and nuclear power. There is no “proven reserves” limitations on either as there was in my youth with respect to petroleum, for example. (You read that right. When I was thirty, the “proven reserves of petroleum,” oil in the ground, were a fraction of the amount of petroleum we have actually extracted and used since then!)

As a fairly idle retired old dude, I follow a variety of media almost copiously. I do it daily in two languages, English and French. In both languages, the news and a wide variety of programs, including practically all documentaries, take the reality of “climate change” as unquestioned and unquestionable. In my heart though, I am sure the French anchor and the American news commentator who casually mention “climate change” have only the vaguest idea of what the two magic words mean. I would bet large amounts on my guess.

This whole thing puzzles me because it seems to me the quasi-religious zeal that used to accompany the mention of most climate topics has abated a lot in, say, ten years. Perhaps, it’s because successful religions need not be clamorous. Still it perplexes me that millions, in America and world-wide, are accepting the prospect of multi-generational debt and probably of a reduced standard of living in the absence of a clear explanation of what events/developments they are avoiding through such meek assent.

I, for one, have not come across an explanation although I almost certainly spend more time with the media than most well educated people. I am aware that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change threatens us with a one degree centigrade rise in mean global temperatures before the end of this century if we don’t mend our collective ways. (Or, is it 1.5 C? I don’t care to check. See why below.) I tend to think that that which cannot be expressed with figures probably should not become the object of government policy. And if it does, it should only come to the attention of local government whose subjectivity I understand best. But the warnings on climate change are often in fact expressed in a quantitative manner. This one, at least, satisfies my criterion, this criterion, this way: one degree centigrade (or, maybe, 1.5 C).

What is discreetly but stubbornly missing in the associated narrative is this: Why should I care? If the +one C. change happened even suddenly, say, within ten minutes, it wouldn’t be enough to cause me to go and get a sweater. I doubt it would even be sufficient to get me to roll down my sleeves.

So, please, Ms. and Mr. Media (and yous and theys) try to remember to remind me of what horrors are awaiting us if we don’t mind climate change enough. Please, limit yourselves to whatever noxious effects have clear and fairly abundant scientific backing (say, two published studies in double-blind refereed journals). Please, include the references or, better, links, so that I and my fellow “deniers” can try and read the studies if the spirit so moves me and us. And no, I shouldn’t have to be on my own to go searching for the scientific backing that you keep implying supports your (your) beliefs that I, we, don’t share, at this point. If you don’t do so, at least once in a while, it proves that your ideas are bankrupt. It also means that the giant expenditures you are forcing on us are based on wanton lies.

One last thing: Don’t bother lecturing me on clean air and clean water; I am in favor of both. And, I agree that we use too much plastic.

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 3 of 11)

Numbers Matter

Numbers have a way of sobering the imagination while dispelling some absurd beliefs. In 2016, about 1,200,00 people were admitted into the US. (Some had been physically in the country for a long time, due to technicalities not worth discussing here.) This is all about being a legal immigrant. If there were only 200 annual candidates to admission to the US, for example, no one would be speaking about immigration. But the figure of legal admissions has been consistently over one million in past years, with many candidates rejected. The proportion of the population born abroad is currently as high, – or as low – as it has ever been, somewhat under 15%. Many people, especially conservatives, vaguely feel that it’s too many. (The fact that many of those tell themselves fairy tales about the quality of past immigration in contrast to current immigration makes matters worse, of course. This is another story, something we can talk about if anyone asks.)

Quantitative limitations on immigration ought to be subject to cold- blooded assessments. First, there must be a mental recognition that the world’s misery is immense and that the US cannot take care of all of it however much Americans would like to. (Personally, I think it’s honorable for us Americans to take charge of our share of misery and of a little more than our share; it’s good for our collective soul and we can afford it.) Second, as I will explain below, the numbers of immigrants we agree to accept for reasons of either the mind (those we want) or the heart (those who want us) are subject to a near automatic multiplier. I explain this [here] under: “The Family Multiplier:….”

[Editor’s note: this is Part 3 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 2 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 2 of 11)

Does America Need Immigrants?

By way of honest introduction, let me say that I think American society needs immigrants. I also think it will draw them either through an orderly process or through a disorderly one. Two big reasons US society needs immigrants. (There are other reasons.) First we have chronically unmet labor needs. As I write, more than a year into the pandemic, the unemployment rate of 6.2 is unusually high (not very high) as compared to mean unemployment for the past 70 years. Yet, many jobs are going unfilled according to newspapers, national and local, and to other media, including Fox News, repeatedly. I know the overgenerous subsidization of unemployment during COVID plays a role in the lack of responsiveness to job offers. I don’t think it explains everything, especially toward the top of the income structure and also toward the bottom where many just don’t qualify for benefits.

The second reason American society needs immigrants is that it is aging fast. It’s aging fast enough to threaten the future viability of such essential social programs as Social Security and Medicare unless we have an unprecedented rise in per worker productivity (which is not out of the question given fast technical progress, and a greater acceptance of artificial intelligence and of robotization). The bad news is that the current mean number of children per US woman (including permanent immigrants with a superior fertility) is only 1.7. That’s much below the generally recognized replacement rate of 2.1. If current trends continue, we will be seeing dwindling numbers of physically active younger people struggling to support a growing population of old people. (Current trends do not have to continue, I know.) I realize that there are solutions to this problem other than immigration including making many or all work latter into their lives, or even earlier. Still immigration looks like the quickest solution. In the short term, its concreteness, its immediacy, makes this solution pretty much irresistible. One more reason to think it through.

[Editor’s note: this is Part 2 of an 11-part essay. You can read Part 1 here, or read the essay in its entirety here.]

Immigration in the Time of Joe Biden: What to Do (Part 1 of 11)

Mike B., a Facebook friend and an immigrant like me, invited me to give my views about what should be the US immigration policy. I can only do a little here but, it’s worth the effort. Let me point out first that I have a fairly up-to date, reasoned description of American legal immigration (legal) posted here. I mention this because I have learned through the social media and also, by watching Fox News, that American conservatives are often ill-informed about the relevant laws and facts. I will pretend below that I have been selected by a Republican partisan Congressional commission to make immigration policy recommendations (unfortunately, on a pro bono basis). Below are some disparate thoughts on the topic. (I am not worried because the competition appears to be today sparse and shallow.) Here they are, more or less in order of priority.

Lightly Rethinking the Main Issues

First things first. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t hear a fellow conservative, a local or a national pundit, even a Congressperson, declaring directly or by implication, that there are proper, legitimate, legal ways to emigrate to the US that contrast with the illegal kind. That’s mostly not true. There is nearly zero way for the average unmarried Mexican, for example, to move to the US. It’s not a racial issue: The average Norwegian is even less likely to be able to do so. (See my longform essay here at NOL for a classification of different kinds of admissions.) Incidentally, an unmarried Mexican has a better chance because one quick way to be admitted is to marry a US citizen. (Has to be a real marriage. You may be fined for not sleeping in the same bed as your supposed spouse!)

Next, two changes in our collective ways of thinking about it must precede any significant reform of our immigration system, I believe. First, Americans, and especially, their lawmakers, must free themselves from an important conceptual confusion that’s obvious in the public discourse. It’s about the relationships between American society and potential immigrants. We must remember to distinguish clearly between immigrants we want to come in and immigrants who want to come in. The two categories should be treated differently as a matter of policy. The fact that there is always some overlap between the two – there are foreigners who want to join us that we would like to have – does not change this fact. Ignoring the distinction causes us too often to treat the ones with more sympathy than is warranted, and the others insultingly. It muddles our thinking.

Put another way: We should respond differently to the same 26-year- old male stranger in the strength of his age with no English when we think he has come to eat from our plate and when he is the guy who arrived to move the truck parked across our driveway.

Secondly, it’s useful to frame the problems (plural) that immigration poses as a balancing act between our economic and other societal needs (think bilingual au pair girls), on the one hand, and the requirements of sovereignty, on the other. The first force opens doors, the second tends to close them. At any rate, there are doors. Doors can be shut or open; there is nothing in-between.

[Editor’s note: this is the first part in an 11-part essay. You can read the essay in its entirety here.]