If you ask Americans an idealistic question about immigration, they almost always offer you an idealistic response. That’s because outside of a minority of nativists, there’s broad consensus among voters that immigration is a net positive and that the nation should nurture it.
On the other hand, if you dig deeper, it gets a lot more complicated. Year after year Gallup polls show that a majority of Americans want to keep incoming numbers the same or decrease them. In a recent Harvard-Harris poll, for example, 35 percent said they wanted fewer than 250,000 new immigrants a year. Another 19 percent said it should be between 250,000 and 500,000. Only 18 percent said they want to see 500,000 to 1 million.
The United States already allows over a million people to obtain permanent resident status every year. This number, obviously, doesn’t account for the millions that come here temporarily — around 4.4 million in 2016 — or the number that come here illegally. In 2016 the foreign-born population, according to the Census Bureau, was 45.6 million people. The share of the U.S. population, legal and illegal, is over 13 percent. Personally, I’d like to see far more legal immigration — and amnesty for all Dreamers — but the idea that we’re a country unwelcoming of foreigners is a myth.
Maybe, once you brush aside the emotionalism and moralizing of Democrats, more voters than we think are uneasy about the lawlessness that is inherent in our immigration non-policy. Maybe the liberal’s own absolutist position on the issue isn’t a winner. Politically speaking, Democrats have gone from advocating America welcome immigrants who embrace American values and follow our laws to arguing that every person in the entire world has an inherent right to come to the United States — legally or illegally — without any preconditions and without any concerns and without any consequences. “Comprehensive immigration reform,” once a batch of wide-ranging ideas about effective immigration, temporary worker permits and enforcement, including funding for a “wall,” has now become euphemism for legalization.