A Different Immigration Perspective

Article excerpt

For most conservatives and Republicans, The Wall Street Journal long has been a trusted source of political and economic enlightenment. When it comes to immigration policy, however, many conservatives disagree fiercely with The Journal, which strongly supported the immigration reform bill that was killed in the Senate last month. As editorial page editor, Paul Gigot is boss of The Journal's famously persuasive and well-written editorials. I talked to Gigot about immigration -- a problem his paper has argued has been "inflated" -- by telephone on Thursday from his office in New York City:

Q: Are you -- editorially speaking -- pleased or displeased that the immigration reform bill died in the Senate?

A: I had problems with the Senate bill. But I think that bringing some rationality to our immigration policy wouldn't be such a bad thing -- particularly if the people who say they want, in the wake of 9/11, to know who is in the country. Then you're going to have to do something to give an incentive to bring those people out of the shadows and make them legal. Because you can shout all you want about amnesty, but if you don't give them that incentive, they are going to stay where they are and they're not going to become legal. The people who killed the immigration bill are going to have to live with the status quo and I hope they like it.

Q: What aspect of the bill was the least tolerable to The Journal?

A: I don't recall all the details ... but one thing that we didn't like was the way the guest-worker program turned out to be so constricted. I think they cut it in half and then they removed a market escalator. The whole point of a guest-worker program is to basically allow the labor force to move up or down with labor demand, so that if there are a lot of jobs waiting to be filled, people will come over, fill them and then go back. If you only have a cap of 250,000 or something, it's inadequate.

It would have bureaucratized things and made it more complicated for businesses. I also thought that the part with dealing with high- tech immigrants was inadequate. There just weren't enough slots there. And some of the enforcement stuff probably went overboard. I wouldn't have liked that sort of thing.

From a policy point of view, I'm not all that upset that it failed. There could have been worse outcomes. You could have foreseen a worse bill. Also, we weren't really demanding reform. In an odd kind of way, the people who most want to do something about immigration are those who ended up killing the bill. They were the ones who made a big thing out of it and have been trying to make a big issue of immigration for years.

And yet when politicians finally made an effort to do so -- including some very conservative politicians like Jon Kyl of Arizona -- they turned against it, largely on this question of amnesty, which I think is mostly a phony issue because there are 12 million people -- maybe 11 million, maybe 10 million, maybe 14 million, I don't know -- who are illegal. They're here. And we're not going to deport them. And we're not going to round them up. So I guess if you want to pin a defeat on Bush and do it around the amnesty slogan and feel good about yourself, fine. But I'm not sure what they accomplished.

Q: Last year Reason magazine made the provocative statement that the immigration "crisis" was not a national crisis at all.

A: I would agree with that. I didn't read the Reason piece. But I don't think it was a crisis, as it was somehow portrayed. I do think in the wake of 9/11 it would be nice to be able to have better track of who's here. That was part of this effort. I do think we could do a much better job of allowing willing workers to come here legally, particularly through H-1B work visas (for skilled, well-educated foreign workers) and in agriculture, where there are real labor shortages.

We have businesses coming through talking to us all the time saying they just can't get an adequate supply of workers to harvest crops in different parts of the Southwest and West in particular. …