Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick's 'Immigration Wars': the wrong battle

Article subtitle: 
They ignore likely realities of a system driven by market demands
Article author: 
John Rohe
Article publisher: 
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Article date: 
7 April 2013
Article category: 
Our American Future
Article Body: 

Book review:

"Immigration Wars: Forging an American Solution"
By Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick
Simon & Schuster ($27)

In a book dedicated to their grandchildren, Jeb Bush and Clint Bolick hope to resolve a divisive national issue. For Mr. Bush, former governor of Florida, immigration is a "personal issue" based on family relationships. For Mr. Bolick, an attorney, his law practice provided an opportunity to advocate for more immigration. Together, they propose a "complete overhaul of our immigration policy."

Messrs. Bush and Bolick would eliminate illegal immigration by expanding legal immigration to meet market demands. In this "demand-driven" system, there would be more immigrant workers, more student visas, more foreign investors banking on citizenship, and "all" such immigration "in unlimited numbers."...

The authors find "a guest-worker program linked to market demand is an essential part of fundamental immigration reform." Immigrant workers would be favored over reunited family members. In this system, "the market, rather than the government" would "determine which skills are needed."...

They dismiss concerns that mass immigration would exacerbate "unemployment or depress wages."...

On this issue, "Immigration Wars" underestimates mass immigration. Foreign workers underbid the American living wage, and their line is long. Births minus deaths on the planet now add the equivalent of Pittsburgh's population every day and a half. The overwhelming majority are born into poverty. The book does not address our responsibility to the multitudes for whom migration is too costly.

The book also avoids discussing the appropriate level of immigration. How many new workers should compete with U.S. citizens? In certain age and education categories, particularly among minorities, U.S. unemployment exceeds 50 percent.

Even without the increase advocated by Mr. Bush, the U.S. Census Bureau projects the nation will expand by the total number of people now residing west of the Mississippi within approximately 60 years. Pew Research indicates that 82 percent of future U.S. population growth will originate through immigration.

A pervasive indifference to resource depletion permeates this book. The United States can be expected to experience more water shortages, sprawl, farmland intrusion, wetland losses, biodiversity casualties, gridlock, toxins, energy demands, health care challenges and social safety net gaps; our national parks will be loved to death. The book also fails to consider whether other nations would rightfully fear the world's leading military power poised to secure the appetite of a surging U.S. population amid dwindling global resources.

Messrs. Bush and Bolick repeatedly assume the nation needs more economic growth. They would prefer 4 percent annually. At this exponential rate, the economy would expand 1,000-fold within two human lifetimes. [See Exponential growth, doubling time, and the Rule of 70].

In a finite world of diminishing natural assets, it's increasingly difficult to reconcile Mr. Bush's indifference to limits with sound national policy.

...The debate is not about the immigrant as a person, but about immigration as a national policy. What is the proper level of immigration? No answer.

The book becomes an indictment of Americans as too lazy for unskilled work and too ignorant for skilled labor. So, as a solution, the authors propose flooding the labor pool with wage-suppressing disincentives.

Their analysis overlooks Americans performing every possible job, every day, hoping only for a living wage... Bush's "jobs Americans won't do" sentiment not only degrades immigrants, but it represents indifference to the desperate plight of unemployed Americans. Tragically, the authors' solution to a perceived labor shortage (amid high unemployment) will render America the next billion-person nation.

If you were hoping a book on migration would consider domestic and global ethics, this book will disappoint...

As intended beneficiaries, the authors' grandchildren, in an overcrowded, resource-scarce nation, could become the ultimate arbiters of their ancestors' indifference to the future.

John F. Rohe, a former Peace Corps volunteer, is vice president of philanthropy for Colcom Foundation. The views expressed are his own.