Saturday, May 19, 2018

Who is a public charge?

After dropping hints for more than a year, the Trump Administration now appears to be serious about discouraging immigrant welfare use. Longstanding law forbids entry (or adjustment to green-card status) of any immigrant who “is likely to at any time become a public charge.” Unfortunately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has regulated that law into irrelevance, as “public charge” has become so narrowly-defined that it applies to virtually no one. Under existing regulations, immigrants can receive (or be likely to receive) Medicaid, CHIP, subsidized housing, child care, energy assistance, food stamps, and more, all without risking rejection on public-charge grounds. The administration’s proposed change would allow USCIS to consider these non-cash benefits in making a public-charge determination.

The new rule is common sense. I talked about it on Joyce Kaufman's radio show last week.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

On ethical issues, go hard or go home

Ruth Marcus spurred quite a discussion earlier this month with her Washington Post column, entitled “I would’ve aborted a fetus with Down syndrome. Women need that right.” Ms. Marcus’s argument was nothing if not blunt. In fact, she elevated the debate by clearly laying out the competing moral claims and explaining how she weighs them.

That’s a lot more than can be said for Leah Torres. She’s an ob-gyn and outspoken leftist who achieved notoriety recently for some gory comments about the abortion process. More frustrating for me was her response to a question about whether she would perform an abortion the day before the due date. The response from Torres: “Would you live on Mars? I can’t imagine this scenario, so I can’t give a fair answer.” Needless to say, the question about late-term abortion poses a classic “hard case” to probe the doctor’s views on exactly when the right to life begins, or when that right outweighs women’s health interests. It is an entirely fair challenge, and someone who is confident in her views about abortion should be happy to answer it. Claiming (dubiously) that a hard case is unimaginable – and therefore deserves no analysis -- is simply a cop-out.

I wrote about another example of “hard-case denial” for National Review earlier this week. To make her point that race-based admissions generate a racial skills gap at universities, Penn Law professor Amy Wax observed that black students at her school “rarely” graduate in the top half of their class. The dean, Ted Ruger, promptly declared her observation false – but you’ll have to take his word for it, because no data are forthcoming. “Penn Law does not permit the public disclosure of grades or class rankings,” he wrote. That excuse is about as lame as it gets. Simply reporting the percentage of black students who graduate in the top half of their class would obviously not reveal confidential information about any individual.

Dean Ruger is avoiding the hard case. Racial preferences in admissions may seem anodyne when presented as merely breaking ties in favor of minority applicants. In that case, standards wouldn’t necessarily suffer. But what if admissions standards must be dramatically lowered in order to achieve the level of racial diversity that elite law schools aim for? That’s the hard case. Rather than run from the data, Dean Ruger should present it openly. If, as expected, the percentage of Penn Law's black students who graduate in the top half is far below the 50 percent that it would be under a merit-based system, he should own it. “Diversity is so important to our school and to broader society that lowering standards is a worthy price to pay,” he should declare. At least then we’d understand his thinking.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

“Low-Skill Immigration: A Case for Restriction” published in American Affairs

Last fall, I participated in a Center for Immigration Studies panel entitled “Immigration and Less-Educated American Workers,” alongside University of Pennsylvania law professor Amy Wax and political scientist Charles Murray. The panel was perhaps most notable for Murray’s revelation that, despite his libertarian instincts, he had come around to the position that we should “shut down low-skill immigration for a while” to encourage more Americans to rejoin the labor force.

Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 2017)
Murray’s announcement is not the panel’s only legacy, however. Amy Wax and I realized that the material from our own presentations would combine nicely into a long-form essay. Now, one year later, that essay appears in the latest issue of American Affairs. Our essay is unique in that it combines “top-down” Census Bureau data on native job losses with “bottom-up” ethnographic research on employer preferences for immigrant labor. From the introduction:
Lawler Foods, a large commercial bakery outside of Houston, prefers to hire Hispanics. That was the allegation in legal briefs filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which contends that Lawler created its 80-percent Hispanic workforce in an area where much of the low-skill labor pool is black by advertising for Spanish speakers, then relying on word-of-mouth among its Spanish-speaking employees. When non-Hispanic applicants still showed up, the company would discourage them with horror stories about the nature of the work, emphasize that Spanish is required, and sometimes declare outright that non-Hispanics would not be considered…. 
How did we get here? This is a story about the decline in the quantity and quality of work performed by less-skilled U.S.-born workers, along with the concurrent rise of immigrant labor as a cheap and reliable alternative. Immigration is only one part of a complicated dynamic that has caused ever-greater proportions of natives to withdraw from the labor force. However, as long as the United States receives a steady flow of low-skill labor from abroad, little incentive exists for politicians, business owners, and opinion leaders to address the problem of native idleness. The Left and the Right, for different reasons, have embraced a system that encourages the replacement of native workers—including subsequent generations of immigrants—rather than improving their prospects. This system threatens to create a politically and economically untenable cycle for lower-wage workers. 
Cutting off the flow of low-skill immigration could force a renewed commitment to getting Americans back to work—a commitment that must include, among other things, aggressive job recruiting and training by employers, reviving the social expectation that prime-age men must work, ending the “college for all” mindset that devalues blue-collar occupations, and strengthening work requirements as a condition of aid.
The whole essay is available here.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

We've reached full generality

A perplexing tweet has been making the rounds:

An old cliche in Washington is to pretend that one's pet issue is a matter of national security, or of public health, or of some other important and neutral-sounding goal that disguises the underlying politics. I've written about or linked to several cases before:
Same-sex marriage is a matter of public health
Gun control is a matter of public health
The gender wage gap is bad for the economy
Ethnic diversity is essential for learning
The Electoral College is a national security risk
Common Core is a national security imperative.
But that tweet takes things to a whole new level. It's not just that X is a matter of some unobjectionable goal such as national security or public health. Now X is a matter of Y, where X and Y are anything at all. The cliche argument has reached full generality!

I suppose that "X is a matter of Y" is a crude attempt at coalition building, suggesting that seemingly different causes actually fall under the same Social Justice umbrella. To me, however, the open illogic and blurred distinctions in that tweet are really just invitations to stop thinking.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Abolish the diversity lottery

Early reports indicate that Sayfullo Saipov, the terrorist who killed eight people when he drove his truck down a bike path in Lower Manhattan, came to the U.S. by winning the "diversity lottery" -- a program that randomly distributes about 50,000 green cards each year to people from countries that are not major immigrant senders. The incident is a grim reminder of the program's irrationality. I wrote about the lottery in a magazine piece for National Review way back in 2011:
The national-security risk of the lottery is certainly real, but the program is problematic for a more fundamental reason: It does not select for any of the immigrant characteristics that most Americans consider important. The three main kinds of legal immigrants the U.S. currently accepts are people with family members already in the U.S. (66 percent of immigrants in 2010), workers with desirable skills (14 percent), and refugees (13 percent). But the lottery involves no selection at all. It does not make our workforce more skilled, reunite families, or further any humanitarian ends. Its exclusive purpose is to increase the national-origins diversity of immigrants.
It's way past time to abolish this irrational program.

Update: I wrote a new piece for NR on the cold comfort of "dying for diversity":
One terrorist incident by itself does not justify abolishing a program, but it does bring the pointlessness of the lottery into sharp relief. When a refugee commits terrorism, there is perhaps some minor consolation that our heart was in the right place when we brought him here. For all the problems with our refugee program — and there are many — at least it is rooted in our desire to alleviate human suffering around the globe. But Sayfullo Saipov was not invited for any humanitarian reason, nor was he invited to rejoin family members or to apply his specialized skills. He was invited because his name was drawn out of a diversity hat. Cold comfort to his victims, indeed.
Read the whole thing here.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

"We support free speech, but [we don't support free speech]."

Those who follow me on Facebook know that I enjoy quoting the various "We support free speech, but..." excuses from censors as they explain why they fired or disinvited or blacklisted people whose views they don't like. Remarkably, two different vice presidents at Google used this formulation in their reactions to employee James Damore's common-sense points about gender differences.

From one VP:
Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But...
And from another VP:
Questioning our assumptions and sharing different perspectives is an important part of our culture, and we want to continue fostering an environment where it’s safe to engage in challenging conversations in a thoughtful way. But...
In a recent piece for National Review, I took the opportunity to list several other examples of but's and however's that I've come across over the years. Two that I did not list -- to avoid making the piece seem self-serving -- were statements made by Harvard students who wanted the university to retroactively reject my dissertation. From a coalition of 23 ethnic student groups: "In any healthy democracy there is always disagreement, but..." And from a student petition with nearly 1,000 signatures: "Academic freedom and a reasoned debate are essential to our academic community. However..."

Maybe it should be encouraging that censors feel obligated to praise free speech in the abstract. But there's something Orwellian about their statements that troubles me even more than a straightforward rejection of free speech would. "We support X, but we oppose X" feels like an attempt to dull people's senses, to encourage them not to think too hard lest they become troubled by what's happening around them.

Friday, May 5, 2017

"California Fails the Immigration Test" published at Real Clear Policy

From my perspective, much of the immigration debate takes place on the right. Traditional conservatives feel that mass immigration is a cultural and economic disruption, while libertarian-leaning conservatives emphasize how immigration makes the American economy more efficient. To the extent that progressives are involved in the immigration debate, it is generally as advocates for the immigrants themselves -- arguing that deportation is unethical, for example, or that immigrants should be allowed to sponsor their extended families. For progressives, to what extent is immigration seen as a positive good for natives rather than just for the immigrants? More specifically, do progressives believe immigration moves us closer to their ideal vision of American society?

If so, please read my new piece for Real Clear Policy. I describe how America's leading progressive state, California, is failing on the issues most important to progressives -- poverty, low education, and social distrust. Many factors contribute to that failure, but one that stands out is the demographic change caused by decades of mass immigration. From the piece:
Given the impact of immigration, it is tempting to excuse the failure of progressivism in California on the grounds that the state faces demographic challenges that other states do not. After all, one can easily identify both blue states and red states that perform well on various social indicators, and that performance is largely driven by the states’ people, not by their governments. But here is the problem for progressives: They told us immigration-related challenges could be overcome through policy. High tax rates, strict labor regulations, and strong unions were to lift the least-skilled into a middle-class lifestyle. Investments in education were to close early-learning gaps. Ethnic tensions were to be smoothed over with diversity training seminars and multicultural textbooks. 
Needless to say, however much progressive policies in California are helping achieve those goals, they have not succeeded nearly enough. In the showdown between mass immigration and progressivism, immigration has won, hands-down. The California experience thus stands as a hard lesson on the limits of public policy.
I would like progressives to engage more on this question.

Update 5/18/2017: None ever did.