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May 19, 2006
Westphalia vs Utopia

Charles Krauthammer wonders why border security has been dismissed as a concern only to conservatives in the current debate over immigration reform. It's a question that organized labor might want answered as well:

Bush's enforcement provisions were advertised as an attempt to appease conservatives. This is odd. Are conservatives the only ones who think that unlimited, unregulated immigration is a detriment to the republic? Do liberals really believe in a de facto policy that depresses the wages of the poorest and most desperate Americans, African Americans most prominently among them? Do liberals believe that the number, social class, education level, background and country of origin of immigrants -- the kinds of decisions every democratic country makes for itself -- should be taken out of the hands of the American citizenry and left to the immigrants themselves and, in particular, to those most willing to break the very immigration regulations the American people have decided upon democratically?

And is it just conservatives who think the United States ought not be gratuitously squandering one of its greatest assets -- its magnetic attraction to would-be immigrants around the world? There are tens of millions of people who want to leave their homes and come to America. We essentially have an NFL draft in which the United States has the first, oh, million or so draft picks. Rather than exercising those picks, i.e., choosing by whatever criteria we want -- such as education, enterprise, technical skills and creativity -- we admit the tiniest fraction of the best and brightest and permit millions of the unskilled to pour in instead.

The immigration debate comprises many curious contradictions, and Krauthammer identifies the most curious of all. The business class wants unfettered immigration in order to access a large pool of low-cost labor, one of the most exploitive workplace relationships since sharecropping. The labor pool involved has no leverage to demand better working conditions, and their presence allows employers to shut out workers who do not have to fear ICE if they organize. Wages and working conditions do not suffer as a side effect of this relationship, but forms the entire purpose of it.

Unions understand this and have demanded some sort of action to reduce the competition for unskilled workers. However, their allied politicians do not grasp this and continue to press for open borders. For that matter, the business community loses its natural political allies on this issue, with normally pro-business politicians demanding an end to their low-cost talent pool. Obviously something more than economic concerns drive this argument with the philosophical leadership of both sides.

I would argue that the liberal and conservative positions on immigration differ on one concept, and understanding that makes all positions consistent. The immigration debate has come down to a referendum on national sovereignty, and whether people feel that the concept is worth defending.

Conservatives see illegal immigration as an affront to American sovereignty. Even Krauthammer uses the language of offense in this regard. He points out that illegal immigrants have taken it upon themselves to make decisions about our immigration policy and that the lack of response from the government unfairly negates the will of the American people. Not only do the illegals flagrantly and arrogantly disregard our borders, but then they march to openly demand that their choices supercede ours.

Liberals, on the other hand, do not worry about the concept of national sovereignty as much as they care about the plight of the immigrants themselves. They see the immigrants not as arrogant intruders but noble workers. It fits within their utopian vision of a world without borders at all. Many modern liberals base their political philosophy on the tenets of socialism, which teaches a Karl Marx-lite version of class warfare between labor and capital. It also plays on the guilt that some feel over the Mexican-American War; having grown up in the Southwest, I can tell you that the notion that we "stole" the region from Mexico has plenty of traction, and those inclined to worry about that a century and a half later will not be sympathetic to robust American claims to sovereignty and control over the territory.

We saw these dynamics played out in the recent immigration demonstrations, and they produced predictable reactions. For liberals, they saw an oppressed and robbed people finally rising to their feet to demand a sort of reparations. They agreed with those who claimed that they didn't cross the border, but that the border crossed them, and now support the notion that they deserve unfettered immigration and unquestioned amnesty. Conservatives saw this as an escalation in the arrogance they already perceive in the illegal immigrants who flood the border and use American resources in health care and education. They saw the demonstrations as diktats and a repudiation of American sovereignty over our own nation, and they grew much more hard line in their opposition to any kind of middle-ground reform.

The problem isn't really economics, at least not primarily. The problem has become the different world view that has Americans questioning just what it means to be American, and whether the nation deserves to control its borders. That basic dispute over national sovereignty as it applies specifically to America and more broadly to the post-Westphalia world in which we have lived for 360 years. Does the nation-state have the highest authority, and should it? We seem to have very divergent views, and until we agree that the nation-state should continue to exercise the highest authority, we will have this split between Westphalians and Utopians.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 19, 2006 5:40 AM

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» The Democratic conundrum when it comes to immigration from Bookworm Room
Here's a quick heads-up for a great post: Riffing off of a Charles Krauthammer article about the constant characterization of border security as a conservative issue, when it really ought to be a union issue (since illegal immigrants take union jobs),... [Read More]

Tracked on May 19, 2006 1:37 PM


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