Americans across the political spectrum are unsure about what the future of immigration should look like: how many immigrants are allowed into the country, what types of skills should we be seeking, and so on. In October of 2019, the Institute for Humane Studies facilitated a debate on this topic as part of the Campus-Wide Events program. The debate was held between National Review magazine senior editor Ramesh Ponnuru and Reason Foundation senior analyst Shikha Dalmia at American University in Washington, DC.
Dalmia began the debate making an economic case for immigration. Economists, she argues, have seen immigration as beneficial for the United States. Many philosophers, with the exception of Karl Marx, have agreed that immigration is helpful for the economy.
At the heart of this issue of immigration is also an issue within the environmentalist movement: are humans a liability who deplete resources or an asset who themselves are the resource?–Shikha Dalmia
Human ingenuity advances society, Dalmia said. While they consume resources, immigrants produce far more than they consume within society when provided an opportunity—regardless of if they are considered skilled or unskilled.
Dalmia highlights three reasons why immigrants do not diminish professional opportunities for domestic workers, as well as how the H1-B visa has contributed the growth of the technology industry in the United States.
When Ponnuru begins his case, he clarifies that while he believes there should be more restrictions in place on how many immigrants should be accepted, he thinks the frequent association between immigrants and violent crime is false and dehumanizing.
Balancing competing interests, Ponnuru argued, is critical when considering immigration policy. He believes the economic arguments for or against immigration, however, are not particularly decisive.
If a larger inflow of low-skilled immigration is reducing the wage levels for immigrants themselves, that also is something that ought to affect the way we think about our immigration policy—because we want a successful experience of immigration.–Ramesh Ponnuru
By evaluating what skills an individual brings to the economy, the country can improve the basic experience for them.
Ultimately, he is concerned with assimilation and social cohesion. This is not say that immigrants should give up aspects of their original culture.
“I want newcomers to our country to be full participants in American life, in our politics, in our culture,” Ponnuru said. “To be seen by themselves and be seen by others as fully American.”
After the debate, there was time for students from American University to ask questions. These students, from public health to economics, asked thoughtful, engaging questions of the debaters. The topics explored during this time included healthcare for undocumented immigrants and envisioning ideal assimilation for immigrants.
This event was part of the Diana Davis Spencer Foundation Debate Series, which gathers speakers across the ideological spectrum together to debate on important contemporary issues. These programs give students and the wider campus community a unique opportunity to explore core concepts within the classical liberal tradition. IHS thanks the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Jack Miller Center, American University Political Theory Institute, and the Matthew J. Ryan Center at Villanova University for their collaboration on this series of events.