Santorum Needs a New Immigration Plan

Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Byron York, in an interview with Republican Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum at this past weekend’s Western Conservative Summit, asked, “In your view, should immigration be kept at its present level, increased, or decreased?” Santorum, citing an immigration rate of “1,050,000” per year, the “highest it has ever been in our country’s history,” vehemently denounced the visa lottery and chain immigration.  Santorum went on to assert “that we have an increasing supply of workers coming from overseas, and yet we do not have an expanding market of unskilled jobs to be able to bridge the gap.”

Santorum believes that we ought to reduce levels of immigration, whether it be legal or otherwise, and in doing so ignores the fact that people come here for jobs and that many would do so legally if given the opportunity.  Simply put, Santorum’s plan perpetuates the issue that plagues the current system: immigrants have no real pathway to the status of legal worker and thus are incentivized both to enter the country illegally and to remain here illegally.

The fact is that American markets require overseas workers in the extreme poles of the labor market: high-tech jobs that require advanced degrees on one end and labor-intensive manual jobs on the other.  In refusing to accept the fact that workers will come to the United States, whether we allow their entry or not, and will benefit American firms, Santorum has constructed a plan that is neither bi-partisan nor altogether coherent.   To state that legal immigrants in search of work will no longer be welcome in this country is not just bad politics, but wholly un-American as well.

Republicans seeking a nomination in 2016, including Mike Huckabee, who has used similar rhetoric, would be wise to listen to Latino leaders like APIA’s Alfonso Aguilar, who unveiled his five-point plan for conservative immigration reform earlier this month.  Jeb Bush has firmly embraced this proposal of providing immigrants with a path to legal status, while other candidates, such as Carly Fiorina, have conveyed openness to the idea.

Nick Leaver works for American Principles in Action.