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Ron Paul On Immigration—The Good, The Bad, And The Idiosyncratic
Ron Paul's presidential campaign has exceeded all expectations. The man who at first was seen as a fringe libertarian candidate has become a household name with hundreds of thousands of loyal supporters. Many patriotic immigration reformers who share his America First stance on sovereignty and foreign affairs are attracted to his campaign. But some of these people assume that his views on immigration are near identical to that of Tom Tancredo or Pat Buchanan. This is simply not the case.
The good news first: Unlike many libertarians, Ron Paul does not support open borders. As he told VDARE.COM last summer, "I believe in national sovereignty". Paul understands that globalism is one the biggest threats to liberty. He also recognizes the relationship between mass immigration and the welfare state.
But at the same time, Paul says he supports the free exchange of labor, whatever that means, and wants as little government involvement as possible.
Just as with all the other candidates, we need to take a serious and thorough look at Paul's immigration proposals.
Let's start with where he's right:
- Ending welfare to illegal aliens. All the Republicans say they oppose illegal immigrants using government services, but for most this means instate tuition and maybe the EITC. Ron Paul goes a step further in saying taxpayers should not pay for illegal aliens who use "hospitals, clinics, schools, roads [n.b.!], and social services." Schools and hospitals are probably hit harder by illegal immigration than most other government programs. Paul is the only candidate who is serious about cutting off the welfare—really, transfer payment—magnets.
- Anchor babies. While Mike Huckabee has been vacillating about birthright citizenship, Ron Paul, to his great credit, has been a leader in this issue for years. He has co-sponsored bills that clarify that the 14th Amendment does not grant citizenship to children of illegals, as well as constitutional amendments if that approach fails. Paul recognizes that opposition to amnesty and welfare for illegals is futile when their children become US citizens and can receive benefits and, ultimately, sponsor their parents.
- Sovereignty: Ron Paul has opposed every single intrusion on America's independence including NAFTA, CAFTA, the WTO, and the potential North American Union and NAFTA superhighway. These institutions affect more than just immigration, but most of them have provisions that take immigration policy out of the hands of the American people.
- Opposition to Amnesty: while Ron Paul does not have a perfect voting record on amnesty—he repeatedly voted for Section 245(i), which created a de facto amnesty for illegal aliens while they waited to get green cards through normal channels—in recent years, Paul has made it clear that he opposes all "comprehensive immigration reform." Numbers USA long ranked him above Romney, McCain, Huckabee, and Giuliani in his opposition to amnesty. (Although recently he seems to have been out-promised. More about this in a future article).
But there are many areas where Paul's positions are not clear, even problematic:
- Civil Liberties and Federalism versus immigration reform. Ron Paul opposes the Real ID act and similar measures that some patriotic immigration reformers support. He also occasionally opposes federal legislation dealing with sanctuary cities, official English, and instate tuition, because he feels that it is not the business of the Federal government to tell the states what policies to have on these issues.
Personally, I don't think restrictionists should hold these stands against Paul. After all, VDARE.COM's Bryanna Bevens also thought REAL ID was a blunt instrument. It is perfectly possible to deal with the immigration problem without relying on Big Brother. With cities, states, and localities taking the lead on real immigration reform, it is also in our interest to keep the federal government and courts from interfering with state legislation.
- Pandering: Compared to most of the other candidates, Ron Paul has not engaged in much Hispandering... Nonetheless, Paul spoke at the Spanish Language Univision Debate. While there, he said, "I sometimes think that those who attack bilingualism sometimes are jealous, and we feel inferior, because we're not capable." He also agreed that there was a "negative tone" to the immigration debate. But he was willing to stand up the booing crowd when it came to the issue of the Cuban embargo. (He thinks it's counter-productive).
- Legal Immigration: Ron Paul's statements on legal immigration have been vague and occasionally troubling. He told ABC's John Stossel that without the welfare state, legal immigration "would be a non-issue." He also said, "I think we could be much more generous with our immigration," and "If we have a healthy economy, we would probably have a lot of people coming back and forth working in this country." [Ron Paul on Immigration, by John Stossel, January 03, 2008] Now of course all of these are hypotheticals—and he has told VDARE.COM's Peter Brimelow that we are not necessarily at that point yet.
It would be ideal if Paul would come around to oppose mass immigration in principle and practice. But I wish Paul would at least say what our legal immigration levels should be in the immediate future.
Chain Migration: Paul has yet to make any statements about how selective we should be about legal immigrants, except the vague statement that "Legal immigrants from all countries should face the same rules and waiting periods." While there are problems with both high skilled immigration and unskilled immigration, the current system of nepotistic preference for relatives of anyone already here are making both problems worse.
Dealing with the current illegal problem: Ron Paul has stated he supports deporting illegal aliens who get arrested. But he told VDARE.COM that "having an army to go around the country to round them up and put them in trucks and haul them out, that's not feasible." Most everyone says they are against mass deportations, but they instead support strengthening employer verification.
Employer Verification: Paul has not taken a clear stance on employer verification, nor has he signed on as a co-sponsor to the SAVE act. It is possible that Paul has some civil liberties opposition to this positions—though he hasn't said that—but if that is the case, he needs to articulate a serious alternative proposal to remove the illegal alien population in this country.
Border Security: Ron Paul has said he supported increased border security. But he also told John Stossel that he finds a border fence "rather offensive," and his vote for the border fence was symbolic. If Paul doesn't support a fence, he should explain what he would like to do to secure the border.
As this all demonstrates, Paul is a good but still mixed bag on immigration—especially legal immigration. The fundamental problem: he tends to see immigration as a purely economic issue. His idea that the welfare state is the key problem is overly simplistic and unrealistic. Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has shown that even if all means tested welfare, social services, and all direct transfer payments were abolished, low skilled immigrants would still be a fiscal drain—and that's assuming that they would pay the same amount in taxes that they do now. [Spinning the Real Costs of Illegals, June 28, 2007]
Immigrants are indeed attracted to the US for economic reasons. But even without welfare, we still have a much higher standard of living than most of the world. Immigrants will continue to flood here whether or not they have welfare—the biggest magnet is not welfare, but jobs. High minimum wages, union laws, and other policies that restrict low wage workers discourage immigration. This does not mean we need to adopt these policies, but it does mean that free markets alone will not solve the problem. Either by commission or omission, Americans still must choose who to admit into their national community.
And there many other reasons why libertarian constitutionalists should oppose mass immigration:
- The cultural and demographic preconditions for limited government—sometimes called the "metamarket".
- The chilling effect diversity has on the free exchange of thought.
- The need for authoritarian government to hold Balkanized ethnic groups together.
- The left wing attitudes, especially on economic issues, held by Hispanics.
- The revolt against capitalism where there are "market dominant minorities"—which whites will certainly become, if mass immigration continues.
Ron Paul has said honestly that immigration is an issue that he still struggles with. If he struggles with some of these ideas, he might gravitate closer towards our point of view. But this will not happen if all his patriotic immigration reform supporters give him a free pass.
Meanwhile, Paul's pusillanimity on the immigration/ national sovereignty issue is costing him dear.
Marcus Epstein [send him mail] is the founder of the Robert A Taft Club and the executive director of the The American Cause and Team America PAC. A selection of his articles can be seen here. The views he expresses are his own.