“Remember the immigration debate of the `90s?" asks
Review senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru in an article on
immigration policy in the magazine`s April 2 issue.
No, I`m afraid I don`t, actually.
What I remember was not a debate so much as a
smear campaign to label anyone who favored
restricting immigration as a "racist," a
"xenophobe," a "nativist," and
any other nasty epithet that seemed to fit.
Mr. Ponnuru`s article is ostensibly an effort to reclaim the case for
immigration restriction from those into whose smudgy
hands he claims it fell in the last decade.
He himself, he assures us, is one "who
finds that case compelling," but not of course
for the essentially "racist" reasons he
accuses the old restrictionists of offering.
It`s most peculiar that a National Review
senior editor should put it that way, since Mr.
Ponnuru himself acknowledges that the "chief
intellectual force behind the restrictionist
movement of the 1990s" was another National
Review senior editor, Peter
Essentially, Mr. Ponnuru is accusing his own former colleague and his
own magazine of promoting what he calls the "racialization"
of the immigration issue — that is, arguing against
immigration by appealing to race. The fact is, however, that neither Mr. Brimelow nor most
other supporters of immigration restriction really
did that. All
Mr. Brimelow did was point
out that if non-white immigration continued
unchecked, it would result in a non-white majority
nation by the middle of the present century and that
the American people ought to have a chance to decide
whether that`s the future they want.
Yet aside from his innuendoes about his own colleague, Mr. Ponnuru wants
to start up his own immigration restriction
movement, this time one that is not only
The way you do that, he tells us, is to
abandon the major policy goal of the old
restrictionists, a moratorium on all legal
The moratorium idea, according to Mr. Ponnuru, was a bad one because
among other reasons it "struck many voters as a
sign of blanket hostility to immigrants."
In its place, Mr. Ponnuru is pushing more
modest proposals, such as simply reducing the number
of immigrants but not terminating immigration
totally for a period of years, as a moratorium
Unfortunately, Mr. Ponnuru`s analysis is a leaky boat.
In the first place, a moratorium was never
presented to voters, so it never left voters with
any impression of "blanket hostility to
A moratorium has been repeatedly proposed in
and was endorsed by Pat Buchanan in his presidential
campaigns (not to mention National Review as well,
in pre-Ponnuru days), but the public at large really
doesn`t have much impression of what it is at all.
Secondly, a moratorium has advantages that reductions lack.
For one thing, it`s simple and clear and
satisfies all the many arguments against immigration
without necessarily endorsing any of them: arguments
about cultural and political consequences, national
balkanization, and the impact on the economy,
population growth, the environment, welfare, jobs.
These different arguments reflect different
ideological and political positions, and a
moratorium avoids having to pick one or some at the
expense of others.
It`s a policy around which a coalition could
be — and was — built.
By contrast, the argument for merely reducing immigration numbers runs
into lots of problems.
How many immigrants should we take?
Where should they come from?
What should be their qualifications as to
language, education, job skills, etc.?
Since much of the political pressure for mass
immigration comes from
construction), mere reductions in numbers would
probably wind up letting in the least skilled, least
educated immigrants available, those most suitable
for digging ditches and slinging burgers.
Moreover, any legislation that merely tried
to reduce numbers would almost surely wind up being
amended to let in some politicians` favorite foreign
Nor would a mere reduction in numbers be received as any less
"blanket hostility" to immigrants than a
moratorium or the almost milquetoastish Proposition
187, California`s modest 1994 ballot initiative
that merely tried to deny public benefits to illegal
its moderation, anyone who supported 187 was
promptly denounced — as a "racist," a
"xenophobe," and a "nativist."
So cheap and easy is it to yell
"racist" today and so frightened of being
called one are almost all politicians and public
figures that the pro-immigration lobby really
doesn`t have to make much of an argument about
anything else. That`s why there never was much of a debate in the 1990s.
Mr. Ponnuru seems to be the sort of conservative who thinks you make
real progress when you surrender
territory to your adversaries.
It will be interesting to see how many troops
he`ll persuade to march in his cleaned-up crusade
for "pro-immigrant" restrictions on
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