Wednesday night, students filled the Ford School of Public Policy’s Weill Hall to listen to Reihan Salam, a political commentator, columnist and executive editor of National Review magazine, talk about his ideas on immigration policy in his new book “Melting Pot or Civil War?”
The American Enterprise Institute at the University of Michigan, along with the National Review Institute and Young Americans for Freedom, hosted Salam. Clare Ath, the NRI campus outreach coordinator, said one of the main goals of her organization is to promote civil public discourse, which is why she helps bring conservative voices to college campuses.
“Our focus is to show that no political ideology should be trying to prove that they’re right, but they should be working to convince people to their side,” Ath said. “It isn’t a ‘we beat you,’ it’s a ‘let’s see where we can find commonality and come to the best solution together.’”
Salam noted the difficulty of having civil debate on a hot-button issue like immigration, for which both sides are so impassioned.
“Immigration is not an easy, slam dunk question at all,” Salam said. “There are very decent, good-hearted people on every side of this debate, and there is a tendency we have to talk past each other in the debate, and the reason is because many of us feel so passionate about it.”
Salam spoke to the audience about how his proposed system, which calls for limited immigration and prioritizing high-skilled immigrants, would better address issues of inequality, foster a sense of national solidarity, and create a balance of diversity and assimilation. Critics of merit-based immigration point out many industries in the United States rely on low-skill labor that generally raises economic output and reduces prices.
He first talked about this idea of solidarity, referencing the book “The Paradox of Vulnerability: States, Nationalism, and the Financial Crisis” by John Campbell and John Hall, which claims societies that are smaller and more vulnerable to outside threats are more likely to develop cooperative institutions. With a higher influx of immigrants and a lower birth rate of American citizens, Salam said, U.S. society may feel less inclined to bond together for the future generations.
“One thing you see happen is that in societies where you have smaller family sizes and population growth is chiefly coming from net migration, those societies are often societies where you don't see the same level of enthusiasm in the idea of investing in the next generation,” Salam said.
A 2016 report by National Academics, on the other hand, found children of immigrants contribute more to state fiscal coffers than do other native-born Americans, while immigrants make up roughly 14 percent of annual economic output.
Salam claimed issues of social mobility, instability created by populism and ethnic inequality would be exacerbated by open border immigration policy. He said when immigrants first come to the U.S., they largely become a part of the working class, which can create feelings of isolation and anger.
“If you are increasing the number of folks who are vulnerable to technological displacement or competition, you're then creating a class of people who have every reason to believe that they're being cheated by the system,” Salam said.
To face these challenges, Salam wants to put in place an immigration policy that favors skilled immigrants, thus tightening the labor market for lower-skilled workers and giving them more opportunities.
“Given those challenges, it makes sense in the future to say let's have a skills-based immigration policy, in which we prioritize people who will be able to provide for themselves and their families,” Salam said.
In response to a question about how law enforcement should work at the border, Salam emphasized his belief that immigration policy goes beyond what happens at the border. One point he made was many people who want to emigrate to the U.S. have no means to do so.
“Dealing with the situation reactively – we are just going to react to the people who show up at the border – does not actually deal with the underlying crisis,” Salam said. “And the underlying crisis is a crisis of public security, that there are hundreds of thousands of people who are in no position to move.”
A Diag demonstration last week by the Latinx Alliance for Community Action, Support and Advocacy criticized inhumane enforcement at the borders.
“There (are) people in Central America and all of these countries struggling and trying to come to the U.S. for more educational, economic opportunities, and who are facing violence, persecution in their communities…especially in interactions when it comes to border patrol,” LSA senior Yezenia Sandoval said last Tuesday.
Salam’s talk drew a number of people, including Engineering junior Naman Shah, an international student from Singapore. Shah came to Salam’s talk because he was curious about how people feel about immigration in the U.S., as Singapore is dealing with similar issues.
“I was invited by a friend, and immigration is a topic that we’re facing as well, so I’m just interested to hear another view on it from another country where the norms are different, the expectations are different,” Shah said.