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GOP needs to get real on immigration

David Frum

TEXT OF COMMENTARY

KAI RYSSDAL: It's going to be a big night for Republicans tonight in St. Paul. Their vice presidential nominee, Sarah Palin, will take the podium.

And we'll take the opportunity to look at some GOP policies. While the convention's on, we've asked some Republican thinkers to tell us where they think the party can do better.

Commentator David Frum says they ought to start with immigration.


DAVID FRUM: Since the year 2000, more than 10 million people have migrated to the United States, the majority of them illegally, most of them very poorly skilled. That's on top of the nearly 30 million who arrived between 1970 and 2000, again most of them poorly skilled.

Here's what the National Research Council has to say about the economic effect of such a mass migration:

"If the wages of domestic unskilled workers did not fall, no domestic worker (unskilled or skilled) would gain or lose, and there would be no net domestic gain from immigration."

The fiscal impact -- what immigration does to government spending and taxes -- is even more troubling than the economic impact.

Take, for example, North Carolina, a state that has recently become an immigration magnet. In 1995, the state estimated it spent only about $10 million educating the children of illegals. Ten years later: $210 million.

Illegal immigrants don't qualify for many federal benefits. But they do use schools, they do use roads, they do use hospitals, and they do use jails. And all of these are paid for by state and local property taxes that fall much more heavily on the middle class than does the federal income tax.

Suppose the United States adopted an immigration policy like Canada's or Australia's? One that favored high-skilled immigrants who could earn their way out of poverty and whose families would contribute more in taxes than they consumed in benefits. Immigration would still redistribute wealth. It would just redistribute it from top to bottom. Today's policy redistributes from bottom to top and taxes the middle to pay the adjustment costs.

And what do we Republicans say? Our nominee wants to make the problem worse. He supports a big, new guestworker program to import even more low-skilled workers and an amnesty to legalize those already here.

We've had enough faith-based policy. If our party is to rejoin reality, it's time to start with some reality on immigration.

RYSSDAL: David Frum is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. His latest book is called "Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win Again."

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