Opinion

I’m a nationalist. Unfettered immigration would hurt us.

Man who left sanctuary is now in Georgia detention center. His supporters rally in Raleigh

A man who was arrested by I.C.E. on Friday as he attempted to keep an immigration appointment in Morrisville has been transported to an immigration detention center in Georgia. Meanwhile, supporters held a rally on his behalf in Raleigh on Monday.
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A man who was arrested by I.C.E. on Friday as he attempted to keep an immigration appointment in Morrisville has been transported to an immigration detention center in Georgia. Meanwhile, supporters held a rally on his behalf in Raleigh on Monday.

The Rev. William Barber II has a genius for issuing ugly, inflammatory statements that make situations worse.

He was at it again when he described the detention of an illegal immigrant who has exhausted his appeals as an “evil” comparable to slavery. “Our brothers and sisters from Mexico,” he said, “should not be treated like black people were during slavery by the slave patrol which would then snatch them up.”

I’m sure Rev. Barber knows that enslaved people had no legal recourse while Samuel Octavio-Butler has been granted numerous opportunities to argue his case since he tried to enter the country with fraudulent papers in 2014. I’d also bet Rev. Barber believes that President Trump’s rhetoric regarding illegal immigrants has made it harder to address this difficult issue.

The fault, however, lies not with the scorched-earth extremists who have turned immigration – and most every other consequential issue – into a Manichean morality play driven by raw emotion but with the rest of us who know better and say little.

It’s time we stand up, step back and focus on the basic choice we must make: whether we should ease restrictions on immigration policies.

A growing group, especially on the left, believes we should ease restrictions. They support sanctuary cities, an end to most deportations, citizenship for undocumented people already here and asylum laws that would cover people hoping to escape poverty – which might be half the world. When U.S. Reps. David Price and G.K. Butterfield of North Carolina denounced Octavio-Butler’s detention, they were suggesting that our current laws should not be enforced.

I disagree with this stance while acknowledging its force. It prioritizes the sad fact that too many of our fellow human beings —including members of the Central American caravan now stuck on the U.S.-Mexico border — are mired in conditions most Americans consider intolerable. They only want what we take for granted: a safe and comfortable life with the blessings of liberty for themselves and their posterity. As a wealthy nation, they argue, providing this opportunity is not a choice, but a moral duty.

This open-borders position, however, only sounds reasonable because we don’t have open borders — because the restrictions in place have kept the influx manageable. If we adopted their come one, come all approach, then what? What’s the limiting principle? Its logic suggests there is none, that we should accept every immigrant until we reach the point where it’s no longer desirable to come here.

I reject that globalist view because I am a nationalist — I believe we should put the needs of Americans first. Unfettered immigration will hurt us because the vast majority of newcomers would be poorly educated, low-skilled workers who are a drain on society.

A 2013 study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine found that the average migrant with less than a high school education would cost $115,000 over a 75-year period. If their descendants don’t graduate college, and only 6.2 percent do now, they, too, will be a fiscal burden. College-educated immigrants, by contrast, are net contributors.

The downside of low-skilled immigration will only intensify as automation reduces their opportunity for work; our national debt will only grow as this, in turn, intensifies calls for more government spending.

If open-borders advocates think we should pay this price, they should make the argument.

The wiser course is to become more selective in who we admit — focusing on educated strivers who can help finance the demand of our aging population and expanding welfare state. This will also enable us to do more to lift up the low-skill immigrants already here who, ironically, suffer the most from competition from newcomers.

What do you think?

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.
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