Jeb Bush on Immigration

In this recent Washington Post op ed on how the GOP can increase its appeal to Hispanic voters, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush says the following about immigration:

The American immigrant experience is the most aspirational story ever told. Immigrants left all that was familiar to them to come here and make a better life for their families. That they believe this is possible only in America is the best expression of American exceptionalism I know. And on this score, Republicans have a winning message and record as the party of the entrepreneur….

[W]e need to think of immigration reform as an economic issue, not just a border security issue…..

Republicans should reengage on this issue and reframe it. Start by recognizing that new Americans strengthen our economy. We need more people to come to this country, ready to work and to contribute their creativity to our economy. U.S. immigration policies should reflect that principle. Just as Republicans believe in free trade of goods, we should support the freer flow of human talent.

These points are not new. That immigration “strengthen[s] our economy” is the longstanding consensus view of most economists. Others have previously noted that there is a deep contradiction between anti-immigration conservatives’ support for free markets and their opposition to the free flow of labor across national borders. Ronald Reagan recognized this many years ago, and supported freer immigration throughout most of his political career, even touting an America whose “doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here” in his 1989 farewell address to the nation. The importance of Bush’s op ed is not that it says anything new, but that the person saying it is a prominent Republican whom many conservatives see as a preferable alternative to the party’s current presidential candidates.

Unfortunately, Bush did not address what is perhaps the most important objection many conservatives have to increased immigration: the fear that it will lead to the growth of the welfare state. I covered that issue here. Contrary to conservative conventional wisdom, increased immigration not only does not lead to a bigger welfare state, but may well boost efforts to cut it back.