Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Immigration almost killed the candidacy of Sen. John McCain and most politicians look forward to dealing with the issue about as much as they do a trip to the dentist.

One of the reasons for this discomfort is the vast division among the public on the subject. Also, there is a tendency on both sides of the issue to resort to inflammatory rhetoric and engage in a debate that draws more heat than light.

Mark Krikorian is not as provocative as some advocates and analysts of the subject. Nevertheless, he is a fierce advocate for his views, which are solidly conservative and come down squarely on the side of restricting legal immigration and doing more to clamp down on the illegal kind.

The author, who runs the Center for Immigration Studies, contends that immigration has wreaked havoc on everything from the American sense of identity to the economic well being of much of the lower and middle class. You name the problem and he can find a link to immigration. One half expects to turn the page and see Mr. Krikorian cite the influx of newcomers as the reason more people are catching colds.

He contends that many of today’s immigrants are too eager to retain strong ties to their native country, some even going so far to get dual citizenship. This trend is abhorrent, he argues, and discusses the dangers of dual loyalty, especially when it means that new Americans are reluctant to learn English or take other steps toward becoming more assimilated.

“It is characteristic of modern societies that they have great difficulty in assimilating large numbers of newcomers into the model of territorial nation-state, with a common language and civic culture helping to cultivate the patriotic solidarity necessary for both mutual sacrifice and respect for individual rights,” he writes.

Mr. Krikorian also makes the usual arguments about how immigrants are taking jobs away from Americans, though he is too quick to make sweeping generalizations to prove his points. He notes (correctly) that Americans are becoming more educated and a significant number of immigrants are less educated, thus making it harder for them to find jobs. These immigrants, whom President Bush has called “willing workers,” are a threat to those Americans at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale. But the problem is that immigrants provide needed man and woman power, such as the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, where there is a severe labor shortage.

His arguments about the threat of some immigrants to national security are also not as rigorously argued as they could be. He says massive immigration “represents a significant security threat” by overwhelming the government’s ability to regulate who comes in and refreshing communities that he calls “havens for malefactors.” But his solution, in addition to the proverbial “more enforcement,” amounts to little more than throwing out the proverbial baby with the bath water, which would limit the opportunity for immigrants who seek a better life and would make a positive contribution to American society.

Mr. Krikorian’s approach is generally more scholarly and academic and he rarely resorts to some of the inflammatory rhetoric we are using to hearing from some of his ideological allies, such as Rep. Tom Tancredo, a former presidential candidate. Unfortunately, the author can’t resist occasionally using loaded phrases such as “illegal aliens,” and he shockingly says that “the only targeted approach that might conceivably work” to bar the new generation of Muslim terrorists “would be to bar people of the Islamic faith, whatever their nominal citizenship.” He quickly adds that Congress could conceivably do this (he doesn’t bother to address its dubious constitutionality) but that its “political impossibility is obvious.”

When not on his soapbox, he does an effective job of synthesizing a lot of the existing scholarly literature on the subject. That’s how he has stretched material that has the makings of an opinion magazine article into a book.

Mr. Krikorian’s literary effort will reinforce the views on immigration of those who share his perspective on the subject. What “The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal” won’t do is sway many people who disagree with him or are undecided about how to deal with the situation.

Claude R. Marx is the author of a chapter on media and politics in “The Sixth-Year Itch.”

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