City Journal editor-at-large Myron Magnet, a recipient of the National Humanities Medal and author of The Founders at Home, has an article up at the Manhattan Institute's City Journal site taking issue with the call by Sheldon Adelson, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett for congressional action on immigration.
Mr. Magnet draws a distinction between skilled immigration, which he says he favors, and unskilled immigration, which he describes as "a way of changing the character of the American people, both by enlarging the underclass whom Democrats can claim it is their mission to rescue with ever more generous welfare programs, and by creating yet more Democratic voters, if these kids ever become citizens—or if they become anchor babies who can then legally bring in their parents and siblings under our existing, and harmful, family-unification immigration policy."
The real immigration debate is over illegal immigrants like these—Hispanics with no skills, little social capital, and less education. To be sure, they have been a boon to industries that depend on cheap unskilled labor, from agriculture to construction to hotels and restaurants. And they are a boon to the prosperous, who hire them as nannies, pool-boys, gardeners, butlers, what-have-you—though I take for granted that our billionaire-authors make Social Security payments for such employees, after making sure they are legal immigrants...we need an immigration policy that chooses, among all the world's huddled masses yearning to breathe free, those who will turn out to be net contributors to our national wealth and well-being. In an age of an all-pervading welfare state, and with our culture of self-reliance being elbowed aside by an entitlement culture and a street culture that turns immigrants into gangstas as easily as it turns them into tycoons or dentists, it's no longer possible to say, well, our greenhorn grandparents made it, despite their apparent disadvantages. They were different people, and that was a different country.
I admire Mr. Magnet, but I think his distinction between skilled and unskilled immigrants is a false dichotomy. It's possible to acquire skills and education here in America, after all. There's no way of telling at the outset who will become a success in America and who won't, so we might as well let as many immigrants as possible in to increase the chances that some of them will be successful. If you look at successful immigrants to America — Andrew Grove, George Soros, Sergei Brin — there was no way of knowing when they applied to come here that they would be so successful.
As for the fear of "ganstas," there were plenty of Jewish gangsters and Italian ones in the earlier waves of immigrants, as there are Russian gangsters. There will be Hispanic gangsters among the current wave of immigrants but there may also be the next Carlos Slim or Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Every new wave of immigrants to America has been greeted by descendants of previous waves of immigrants insisting that this latest wave of immigrants is "different" in some egregious way.
As for the fear of welfare dependency, the proper approach is to reform welfare, not to keep out immigrants. If anything, more immigrants are a solution to the entitlement problem, which is in part a problem of too many retirees and not enough young workers.
As for the politics of it, the fear that the immigrants will become Democratic voters, it risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy if the Republicans are the one trying to slam the golden door closed.