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Brooks Wilson's Economics Blog: Can Romney Recapture the Center on Immigration?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Can Romney Recapture the Center on Immigration?

Pete Dominick, a radio talk show host for POTUS, recently asked how Mitt Romney, a politician often viewed as a centrist who veered right in running for president in the Republican primaries could move toward the center if he the nomination. I will describe how Romney can move to the center and increase his appeal to Hispanic voters by further describing rather than changing his immigration policy.

Romney described his plan before the Hispanic Leadership Network (“Mitt Romney & Newt Gingrich Attend Hispanic Conservatives Conference”) He would establish a low cost method for employers to verify that an employee was qualified to work in the United States. Deprived of employment, many illegal immigrants would return to their countries of origin. Workers that are here illegally would be given a temporary work permit to an orderly exit. He would also expand the visa program for hospitality and agriculture.

Before proceeding, I have a small confession. Mitt Romney and I share the same religion and we both served missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Romney in France and I in Argentina. Because of that shared experience, I looked for candidates that were not LDS (Mormons) that I could support but they did not run or dropped out of the race. I now grudgingly and reluctantly support his run for the Republican nomination despite my mission experience. The dynamic nature of our economy and foreign policy distracted potential proselytes from our gospel message. People often approached us, and yes we travel in twos, asking questions like why President Ford or Carter took some action or why the United States spent so much on the NASA rather than giving more international aid. These distractions would explode under a Romney presidency.

I also find Romney’s position on illegal immigration, which I will describe latter, harsh. My opinion is three parts normative and one part positive. First, having lived in Argentina, a relatively prosperous country that was mired in a low grade civil war known as the Dirty War, I understand completely why many wish the peace and security of the United States. Like virtually every other religion, mine teaches that parents have a God given duty to care for their families. For many, illegal immigration not only helps fulfill that mandate, it is the only chance they have to do so successfully. Second, Romney’s policy also fails to explicitly address the problem of families with split nationalities. Mexican parents may have four kids under ten, two who are Mexican citizens and two who are United States citizens. Under Romney’s plan, parents without legal status would return to Mexico and apply for legal status. In the meantime, two of their children would remain in Mexico, receive a bad education for the U.S. workforce and have the legal right to enter the United States and earn welfare benefits when the turn eighteen. The plan to end illegal immigration could slow the growth of the LDS church in Hispanic communities, a very high price to pay for having and LDS president (“Romney's tough line on immigration jars with some Mormons”). Finally, the economic literature does not support the contention that illegal immigration is costly to our country. The opposite is probably correct (“Economists’ on Immigration”).

Romney’s plan could easily become generous to current illegal immigrants while slowing future entrants. The Unites States has a quota of 700,000 for those seeking to immigrate. That number could be raised to two million per year. Grant work visas for five years for the parents of U.S. citizens born prior to January 1, 2012 and give them priority when filing for citizenship from their countries of origin. He already plans to expand work visas; granting a generous number of visas makes economic sense. Vigorously enforce the law. These changes are within the bounds of the policy that Romney has described and would be generous to current illegal workers, clarify their legal status without attracting people to enter illegally to work in the future.

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