Scott Walker’s recent comments suggesting that the United States’s policy on legal immigration should be focused on what’s good for American workers — a seemingly obvious point that nevertheless has ruffled feathers — offers further evidence of the Wisconsin governor’s political savvy. When two of one’s strongest competitors (namely, Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio) share a weakness on an issue, it’s smart to draw attention to that issue by making clear there is daylight between you and them.
What’s more, every Republican presidential candidate will soon step onto the debate stage and declare that he or she is against amnesty and in favor of strengthening the border first. GOP voters won’t be credulous enough to trust these avowals, but they will be left to search for clues as to who, if anyone, is actually to be believed. Among those who sound reasonable, the candidate who is criticized by the others (and by outside pundits) for bucking the consensus, for being to the right of the others on this particular issue, is the candidate voters will trust. When Walker says, “I’m not sure we need to increase legal immigration,” GOP voters will hear, “I really would strengthen the border and really wouldn’t grant amnesty.”
Nor is it merely from a political perspective that Walker is right to join Sen. Jeff Sessions in questioning the prevailing orthodoxy on this issue. Reflecting that orthodoxy, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin writes, “It’s not clear whether [Walker] understands that immigration is one way to boost economy growth.” Sure, if workers are added to the economy, it will likely boost economic growth, but it won’t necessarily (or even likely) boost per-capita economic growth. Politicians ought to focus on the well-being of the everyday American — or the median American — not on the aggregate size of the economy.
Rubin also writes that “immigration boosts revenue” — ignoring that it also boosts spending — and asserts that it “does not take jobs away from native-born workers.” (Try telling that to construction workers in places like Santa Maria, California.) If Rubin’s assertion reflected reality, it would invite this follow-on question: Why limit immigration at all? If something boosts economic growth and doesn’t take jobs away from anyone, why not push for an almost endless supply of it?
This seems to be the attitude of many Democrats and even some Republicans, but it is not the view of the American people. According to Gallup polling taken earlier this year, a plurality of Americans (39 percent) want to see immigration levels decreased, while only 7 percent want to see them increased. That 5.5-to-1 ratio is something that Walker and his party can take comfort in if he wins the GOP nomination and faces off against the likes of Hillary Clinton in the general election.
In truth, immigrants’ percentage of the U.S. population is already approaching an all-time high — which is something pundits and politicians never seem to mention. That percentage has nearly tripled — from 4.7 percent to 13.5 percent — since 1970, and it is now higher than it was in either 1880 or 1920. The Census Bureau projects that, a decade from now, it will clear 15 percent for the first time in American history.