Every few years I try to write a column staking out a reasonable middle ground on immigration. After all, most big, important issues are clashes in which both sides have a piece of the truth.
The case for restricting immigration seems superficially plausible. Over the last several decades we’ve conducted a potentially reckless experiment. The number of foreign-born Americans is at record highs, straining national cohesion, raising distrust. Maybe America should take a pause, as we did in the 1920s. After all, that pause seemed to produce the cohesive America of the 1940s that won the war and rose to pre-eminence.
Every few years I try to write this moderate column. And every few years I fail. That’s because when you wade into the evidence you find that the case for restricting immigration is pathetically weak. The only people who have less actual data on their side are the people who deny climate change.
You don’t have to rely on pointy-headed academics. Get in your car. If you start in rural New England and drive down into Appalachia or across into the Upper Midwest you will be driving through county after county with few immigrants. These rural places are often 95 percent white. These places lack the diversity restrictionists say is straining the social fabric.
Are these counties marked by high social cohesion, economic dynamism, surging wages and healthy family values? No. Quite the opposite. They are often marked by economic stagnation, social isolation, family breakdown and high opioid addiction. Charles Murray wrote a whole book, “Coming Apart,” on the social breakdown among working-class whites, many of whom live in these low immigrant areas.
Challenging piece with good comments after, such as:
Rural areas have been declining, and have done worse economically than urban areas, for decades, and it’s not because of immigration. Small farms were driven out by big industrial farms. Jobs moved South to take advantage of cheap non-union labor, lower taxes (coupled with less government service), snow-free winters and air-conditioned summers. Manufacturing moved to the South, to Mexico, and overseas. The Rural Electrification Agency brought electricity to rural areas in the 1930, but Republicans have refused to force telecom companies to provide internet service to these areas today.
I could go on. The point is, it’s not the fault of some ingrained anti-immigrant attitude. Attitudes didn’t cause economic decline. Decline causes the attitudes. Obama was right when he said that when a community suffers hard times year after year, people cling to their guns and their religion. They also cling to their clans. My guess is that David Brooks has never experienced hard financial times, or lived in a struggling rural community, and I don’t think he’ll ever understand it. But these folks aren’t going away, even if Trump does, and they’ve got an electoral college advantage that coupd swing elections for decades.