You are wasting your time trying to convince CIS and FAIR


A friend in mainstream immigration policy wrote: "You are wasting your time trying to convince CIS and FAIR to support an increase in legal migration. Their raison d'etre is immigration restriction and that’s it. Even if the individuals who worked there changed their minds, would [they] carry their organization?"

This statement cuts to the heart of the matter. Do CIS and FAIR represent conservative orthodoxy, or conservative interests? If the former, then they are unable to negotiate on behalf of conservatives. If the latter, then they can consider trade-offs.

So let's consider some deals we could offer under an MBV system:

As a matter of principle, let's suppose we could close the unsecured border to illegal immigration by allowing in just one more migrant. Is that worth the trade?

What if, more realistically, we allowed in 500,000 more migrants one-time, which would reduce the asylum children headcount by 200,000 and eliminate the asylum backlog in the courts? That would actually happen in an MBV system. Those children cost US taxpayers about $15,000 / year in education, nutrition and health care, approximately $3 billion in total. By contrast, 500,000 incremental adult working migrants would increase government revenues by $3.5 billion. Thus, the trade-off is fewer children for more adults, an improvement of the government budget by $6.5 billion compared to the current situation. This would also close the southwest border to illegal immigration. Is that worth discussing? Or is that a failure from the perspective of CIS and FAIR?

What if we used the funds to build a wall? In an MBV system, a wall is unnecessary and will probably never be built. But we could allocate the funds. There is plenty of negotiating space to incorporate such a condition into the deal. Is it worth a discussion then?

As a practical matter, CIS and FAIR are supporting policies which have failed for fifty years, spectacularly so in 2019, and will continue to do so to the tune of 200,000 illegal immigrants annually based on recent trends. Is that the policy which FAIR and CIS are prepared to defend? They can say what they want, but history tells us that we will get more of the same dysfunctional migrant policy. Moreover, the pressures related to DACA and HR 5038 are going to yield some sort of accommodative legislation, and the right will get nothing because their representatives refused to take the field. If CIS and FAIR are stiff as stone, if their strategy is limited to nyet, then clearly conservatives lack representation in migrant policy negotiations.

Conservatives looking for solutions, rather than just rhetoric, will need to consider alternative institutions to support.

Or are CIS and FAIR willing to take a constructive attitude and help work through the issues?

As I have written many times before, although market-based visa system uses a liberal, price mechanism, it employs a conservative control in the form of the visa issuing authority (the VOMC). That is, the VOMC is by intent a conservative institution. It is there to maintain control over migrant headcount (otherwise it would be simpler to use Ideal's unlimited proposal). How can one design a conservative institution without conservative input? To me, it's inconceivable, and I believe we need expert, conservative voices at the table.

It comes down to whether conservatives are willing to trade something beyond headcount, beyond fantasies of a US in which the undocumented are deported in vast numbers and the border is miraculously closed as it has never been since 1965. That is not on the table, and never has been -- as the experience of the Trump administration so clearly shows. But we can achieve other goals. Does closing the unsecured border matter? Ending undocumented Hispanic labor in the US? Creating a safe, legal, transparent, and controlled migrant solution? Improving net government revenues of $20-40 bn annually? Getting a wall funded? All of these we can deliver. In structuring a deal, conservatives should have a seat (actually, three seats) at the table to contribute to a system which addresses the concerns of all major stakeholders. It's better than holding an uncompromising line.

Conservatives, however, are not the only ones who need to show some flexibility. Let me admonish my friends in the mainstream center right and left. Conservatism is a thing. Get used to it. Learn the theory and the vocabulary.

I sense a visceral fear on the center and left to even acknowledge conservatism, as though so much as discussing it will cause liberals to melt away. This desire to nullify a conservative perspective, to pretend that the people in 'fly over country' don't exist or don't count -- this is the very engine of the cold civil war in our society. It pushes conservatives toward fascism and away from conservatism and democracy, because clearly coastal democracy is about disenfranchising states without an ocean view. The mainstream policy elites embrace an attitude of casual superiority built on the willful ignorance of conservatism as a competing ideology. It's not helpful.

So to my liberal friends, have a little more confidence in your own values. Be tolerant of others, Be prepared to accept that conservatives have some valid points, and that creating a workable system implies incorporating some of those considerations. You won't melt, and the world won't end because you conceded the validity of some conservative concerns.

We have now more than a year before migrant policy is likely to resurface on the legislative agenda. While my readers left and right are pondering who is allowed to talk to whom, I am thinking about the data and analyses we will need to answer some fundamental questions about policy options -- and about the time and money implied. For policy-setting purposes, we don't really know enough about the demographics of the undocumented residents in the country. And we know almost nothing about corporate hiring behavior in the real world with respect to undocumented migrants. Both will be critical to creating sustainable policy. Further, we will require months to resolve certain disputed points between liberals and conservatives. But importantly, the key is not to convince the other guy of one's moral superiority, but to craft a deal for each stakeholder which is superior to the alternatives from their own perspective. That is the key condition for success. Because we are dealing with a black market, that opportunity exists -- if the stakeholders are willing to contemplate a broader deal beyond pure headcounts.

There is a lot of work to be done. Instead of complaining about the other guys, let's use the time to organize ourselves and work through the issues at the policy level.

Reprinted with permission.

About The Author

Steven Kopits For most of his career, Mr. Kopits served as a strategic management consultant and investment banker in Hungary and the United States. His work has focused primarily on the private sector, with some sector consulting for the governments of Hungary, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States. He developed expertise in the management of black market issues working in Hungary after the fall of communism there. While in Hungary, Mr. Kopits served, among others, as a Director of Financial Advisory Services at Deloitte & Touche, and later as Managing Director of T-Venture Hungary, Deutsche Telekom's corporate venture arm. He also served on the boards of several companies, both public and private. In the US, Mr. Kopits served as an investment banker at Dahlman Rose & Co., and then as Managing Director for Douglas Westwood Ltd., a UK-based consultancy specializing in the energy sector. He holds an undergraduate degree from Haverford College, an MBA in Finance and Accounting, and a Masters specializing in International Economics from the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University. He writes frequently on policy topics for a variety of publications, including Foreign Policy and The National Interest, and is a regular contributor to CNBC and The Hill, for whom he writes principally on topics related to illegal immigration.

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