Johnston: Conservatives must recognize favorable side of immigration

Despite President Donald Trump’s clear opposition to immigration, the Republican Party should be supportive of it considering conservatism’s historical precedent with the issue. 

The conservative movement in the pre-Trump era had its roots in Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential run. Although he lost this election, Goldwater became conservatism’s old sage, inspiring the future run of Ronald Reagan. For both men, immigration was a much different issue than it is for today’s GOP. 

Goldwater’s ‘64 platform focused on increasing immigration of non-skilled workers from Mexico, drawing on his own experiences as a businessman in the border state of Arizona. Reagan spoke glowingly of immigration in 1980, remarking that immigrants have, for centuries, “[made] this the greatest home of freedom in history.” 

During his administration, Reagan signed into law the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, which effectively legalized the residency of over two million undocumented immigrants who entered the country before 1982. His record with refugees was just as notable. Over a million and a half Vietnamese, Cambodian, Cuban, Iranian and Soviet refugees entered the United States between 1981 and 1989, with Reagan’s blessing. 

Both Goldwater and Reagan based their views largely upon the fact that immigration has always had a positive economic impact on communities. They believed that new Americans, whether they came here legally or not, would create the next generation of hard-working taxpayers. Their willingness to do jobs that many native-born people pass up due to the lower wages has proven to be a boon for business in border states and provides every American with better and cheaper products and services.

Today’s Republican Party has built itself upon using immigrants as a scapegoat for internal problems that they have had little-to-no impact on. From the fentanyl crisis, which partly stems from production in China—and not Mexico as many lawmakers claim—to violent crime, committed on a higher scale by native-born Americans than by immigrants. Legal or otherwise, some would like to argue that everything stems from supposed crowds streaming across the southern border. 

These ideas fall apart upon even the slightest inspection. Even their argument that illegal immigrants cause undue burden on social services is a blatant lie, as these people are largely not eligible for programs. 

The National Immigration Forum think-tank points out that immigrants pay the same taxes as native-born citizens, with immigrants paying as much $328 billion in 2014 alone. They pay into a system that they cannot use, presumably to benefit their new home and their children’s future. 

These people may be better citizens than many native-born citizens, holding up the very values touted by every Republican president and presidential candidate from Goldwater to Romney. Perseverance, family values and a love for the freedom that we take for granted can characterize nearly every person who decides to become an American. 

Enshrined in our own Declaration of Independence is the unalienable right of every human to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If we are to make America truly great again, perhaps we should reference the document that created our grand experiment of liberty in the first place.