Reform Immigration Policy

Senior Fellow
Newt Gingrich
The last of two excerpts of the book Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works. Click here to view the first excerpt.

Our current immigration troubles are almost entirely problems of success. Our challenge is to seize that success and turn it into a boon for America, rather than allow bureaucrats to turn it into yet another failure.

America has the best economy in the world. America has the greatest opportunity for hardworking people to be upwardly mobile and to dream that their children can have even better lives. America creates jobs on a scale that Europe and Japan envy. In fact, America creates more jobs than there are Americans to fill them.

There is a clear path to an effective immigration solution that is better for America and better for immigrants. The challenge is to get the elites to listen to the American people.

For four hundred years, since the first European immigrants landed at Jamestown, America has attracted energetic, ambitious people from all over the world. If we adopt the right economic policies and the American economy continues to be the most productive and prosperous, we will continue to draw people from around the world.

This is a good challenge. It is better to be the country people want to join than the country people want to leave. It is better to have the highest standard of living in the neighborhood than the lowest. It is better to have hardworking, energetic, ambitious people clamoring to join you than to have them seeking desperately to leave.

However, this opportunity requires a level of honesty from our political elites that they have not delivered. There has been more demagoguery and less honest dialogue about immigration than about any other topic in the last six years. The elites desperately try to ignore the needs of the American people and close their ears to demands for reform. The American people are furious at the elites because they have lied about immigration and lied about what we need to do to fix our immigration system.

In 1986 I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill because we were told it would solve the problem of massive illegal immigration. In his diaries, President Ronald Reagan said he was going to sign the bill because we had to regain control of our borders. The Simpson-Mazzoli bill contained three promises:

  1. The government would make a concerted effort to control the borders.
  2. An effective employer verification program would ensure that only legal workers were hired.
  3. One-time amnesty would be granted for people illegally in the United States.

All three promises were broken. The government has made no serious effort to control our borders. It has made no serious effort to develop and implement an effective employer verification program. There are millions more in our country illegally today (twelve to twenty million) than there were in 1986. And we are now facing yet another flurry of amnesty proposals. Today's popular anger with the elites stems from the twenty-year failure of the government to keep the promises made in the Simpson-Mazzoli bill.

There is a clear path to an effective immigration solution that is better for America and better for immigrants. The challenge is to get the elites to listen to the American people.

I owe a lot to Helen Krieble and the Krieble Foundation for their groundbreaking work in listening to the American people and trying to find a solution that meets our values and would be acceptable to the vast majority of Americans. Republican congressman Mike Pence deserves a lot of credit for working with the Krieble Foundation. Had President Bush worked with Congressman Pence and Republican senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, there might well have been a successful immigration reform bill in 2006.

Unfortunately, the Washington elites have agreed on a definition of success that is infuriating to the average American. The elites on the left oppose border control, oppose English as the official government language, oppose expanding legal immigration, and want to find a way to allow everyone here illegally to stay, all while prohibiting illegal immigration in the future. The country is convinced that this so-called solution is incompatible with American values and will weaken America's future.

In trying to force their left-wing solution on a country that rejects it, the elite have resorted to describing their critics as racist, xenophobic, unrealistic, and much worse. Those attacks are merely a sign of the elites' desperation.

Becoming American

One of the biggest gaps between the elites and the average American is on the issue of American civilization, American history, and English as the official language of government.

Elites on the left have worked furiously to eliminate American history from school curricula (or to teach contempt for a pro-America version of American history). They have opposed English as the dominant language. They have rejected assimilation into America in favor of a multicultural system with no norms. The American people reject all these attitudes as undermining American unity.

This cultural struggle over the future of America--and the very definition of America--underlies the immigration fight. The gap between the leftist elites and the rest of America could hardly be broader.

By 87 percent to 11 percent, the American people favor English as the official language of government. Even when they learn that this designation might mean no longer printing ballots or any other government document in a foreign language, they still support English as the official language by 74 percent to 23 percent.

Overwhelmingly, by 83 percent to 17 percent, Americans believe new immigrants should be required to learn English. The American people are willing to pay for their belief in English. By 83 percent to 15 percent, they would support a program offering intensive English instruction to all who need it, including stipends to help immigrants attend the program. Americans are also prepared to allow businesses to require employees to speak English while on the job (80 percent to 17 percent).

On all these topics there is a huge gap between the news media, the academic Left, and left-wing politicians on one side and the overwhelming majority of Americans on the other.

Newt Gingrich is a senior fellow at AEI.

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