Take the imperative of addressing immigration, shape it into something perverse and ugly, hold it high enough to scare off anyone of a caring, reasonable disposition, and what do you have? Donald Trump, of course, or to be more specific, Trump’s call for mass deportation of the country’s millions of illegal immigrants along with other steps of similar, if not quite equivalent, craziness.
To be sure, there are manifold reasons to be less than enthusiastic about the near opposite of Trump’s boorish bellow. That would be President Barack Obama’s autocratically attempted amnesty for millions without first tightening up enforcement in ways that would decisively and clearly work or bothering to give Congress its constitutionally entitled say.
If the courts should bow to the illegalities the Obama plan requires, the result could well be a wholly unmanageable illegal influx on top of the mess already existing. Throw out a gigantic, internationally advertised reprieve, along with a shoulder-shrugging, ho-hum attitude about too many still existing restrictions, and you would in effect have issued a mass invitation to come and get it.
What is more, this surge would more than likely be devilishly accompanied by a dive in living standards. Vast numbers of illegal immigrants are uneducated and unskilled, and despite assertions to the contrary, such immigrants, whether legal or illegal, usually struggle to do well here.
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By statistically mixing their difficulties with the extraordinary achievements of highly skilled immigrants, some make it seem otherwise. But as the economics writer Robert Samuelson and Ron Haskins of Brookings Institution have shown, the unskilled add significantly to the poverty rolls. As Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute has shown, they tend to be assimilated into the underclass, too often indulging in the social pathologies that follow. And as still other researchers have documented, the social and economic costs can be huge.
The answer? First, we must find means to dramatically diminish illegal entries. It could then make sense to take exceedingly careful, demanding, one-at-a-time steps to grant lawful status to the most deserving who have lived here for long stretches, but only if Congress further revises legal immigration. The aim should be to more strictly limit arrivals unequipped to cope with a challenging economy that will wrestle many unmercifully to the ground. Overall, we need something far more balanced and under control than what we have.
What we emphatically do not need is the grotesque nastiness of callous roundups recommended by a conservative pretender. They would rip families apart, abruptly snatch hundreds of thousand here and more hundreds of thousands there from homes and communities they have contributed to for years and turn America into something resembling a fascistically instructed police state. Through its sudden slamming in multiple directions, the hugely expensive Trump proposal would also be a painful hit on all kinds of enterprises and institutions. The sum of it would be cruelty and disarray writ large.
The heart of conservatism is principled prudence. Instead of leaping before looking, one carefully examines practicality, ethics, law and the need for social order and still takes small steps so as to keep any unintended consequences equally small and readily fixable. If one is a recklessly inclined, flamboyant showoff thinking his billionaire celebrity entitles him to White House occupancy, the ideology just may be of a different and finally disastrous, overreaching, populist kind.
Our immigration policies need fixing in a way that maintains the prosperity and small “r” republican rule of law that make people want to come here in the first place. You do not get there by starting with the policy of a big “r” Republican presidential candidate who is giving the party a bad name the other candidates should make clear it does not deserve.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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