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May 31, 2006
What The Senate Didn't Tell You About Immigration

Robert Samuelson explains to his Washington Post readers what the Senate failed to communicate when it passed its Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA) last week. Many people wrote about the Heritage Foundation's analysis of the proposal, which estimated that 100 million people would emigrate to the US over the next twenty years under CIRA's provisions. Robert Rector adjusted that figure to 66 million after CIRA passed with several new amendments which provided some limitation to entry.

The Heritage study received some criticism for its supposedly pessimistic view of immigration reform. However, Samuelson points out that the White House and the CBO actually have similar numbers:

The Senate passed legislation last week that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed as "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history." You might think that the first question anyone would ask is how much it would actually increase or decrease legal immigration. But no. After the Senate approved the bill by 62 to 36, you could not find the answer in the news columns of The Post, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Yet the estimates do exist and are fairly startling. By rough projections, the Senate bill would double the legal immigration that would occur during the next two decades from about 20 million (under present law) to about 40 million.

One job of journalism is to inform the public about what our political leaders are doing. In this case, we failed. The Senate bill's sponsors didn't publicize its full impact on legal immigration, and we didn't fill the void. It's safe to say that few Americans know what the bill would do because no one has told them. Indeed, I suspect that many senators who voted for the legislation don't have a clue as to the potential overall increase in immigration. ...

One obvious question is why most of the news media missed the larger immigration story. On May 15 Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama held a news conference with Heritage's Rector to announce their immigration projections and the estimated impact on the federal budget. Most national media didn't report the news conference. The next day the CBO released its budget and immigration estimates. These, too, were largely unreported, though the Wall Street Journal later discussed the figures in a story on the bill's possible budget costs.

The immigration reformers made sure to avoid those numbers when debating the impact of their bill. Instead, we got plenty of lectures about the noble immigrant looking for a better life, as if almost all of us hadn't descended from those exact same kinds of people. We never argued for shutting out all immigration, but what we wanted was controlled and sensible immigration that would benefit us and the world.

What we got instead was the deluge. Even with the White House estimates of 40 million people over the next twenty years rather than the Heritage Foundation's 66 million, we still need to know how this nation will assimilate two million people every year, both economically and culturally. I take that back: we need to know whether this country will assimilate two million immigrants or whether we will allow them to form insular communities instead.

Even with assimilation, that scope provides a daunting one-time task, let alone every year. Minnesota, for instance, only has 5 million citizens. That level of immigration would be the equivalent of adding eight Minnesotas to the nation within a generation without adding any more territory, and that doesn't even take into account the concomitant growth through births. Where will they all go, and what will we do to house and educate them?

By 2026, over ten percent of our population will have emigrated here within the past generation. What kind of impact will that have on our economy, our culture, our politics? Has the Senate even bothered to find out?

Samuelson is right. The Senate failed to inform us of the impact of CIRA, and the media did little to correct the problem. Samuelson argues that this reflects a bias that punishes those who ask critical questions about immigration policy, labeling them as bigots or idiots. Their closed-minded approach to debate instead reveals them as partisan absolutists, and in this case has done a tremendous disservice to their consumers.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 31, 2006 8:01 AM

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