A Hard, Compassionate Case for Immigration Reform

Listen up: The first thing Buzz noticed when we got our advance copy of Press 2 for English: Fix Immigration, Save America were numbers: "The direct after-tax costs illegal immigrants impost on the public coffers each year," said press material accompanying the book, is $9.6 billion.

The source cited for that hugely debated number was the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank on immigration that claims to do independent research. The Southern Poverty Law Center says otherwise, citing CIS' alleged ties to far-right nativists and anti-immigrant groups.

We flipped through the book by Dr. S. Rob Sobhani, a former professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, conservative pundit and son of Iranian refugees. Among his suggested solutions for the immigration problem: a five-year moratorium on legal immigration, ending birth-right citizenship, making English the official U.S. language and tougher law enforcement. His book emphasizes the supposed harm that low-wage immigrant labor has done to the economic prospects of poor, black U.S. citizens. Our pinko radar was pinging a right-wing demagogue alert. He's one of them ... from the other side, willing to pit black against brown.

And that's the problem right there, isn't it? We — you and Buzz — bring ourselves to listen to those guys on the other side — whatever the side might be. Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party sit in their separate pews and demonize the heretics on the other side of the aisle at the 99 Percent True and Only Gospel Tabernacle. Meanwhile, it burns down around them.

Turns out, Sobhani — urbane, charming and intelligent — is not some border-fence-loving Minuteman. He's an educated conservative who believes, essentially, that America doesn't have the resources to support endless immigration, that the influx of low-wage labor harms working-class people, especially poor black people and illegal immigrants, consigned to the underclass, underpaid and uncommitted to a country that essentially offers them a bad business proposition. He fears America is becoming Balkanized. "When we were born as a nation, we were born with a birth defect — slavery," he says repeatedly over lunch. Unregulated immigration is draining resources and exacerbating the enduring effects of that defect, but our political leaders, particularly black political leaders, would rather pander for Latino votes than lead the nation to tough, pragmatic and humane solutions.

Of course, virtually any of his statements could be filtered, blended and recast to make him sound like Lou Dobbs' smarter soulmate.

To Sobhani, though, the immigration problem is the other side of a foreign relations problem: "I think we've neglected Latin America. We've neglected Mexico," he says. His book calls for policies to combat corruption, improve governments in Latin America and encourage international investment so that the immigrants he writes about with compassion don't have to come to America to live in merely less onerous poverty than they faced at home.

All of which sounds kinda reasonable. Maybe the Italian lunch put us in a good mood. Maybe Sobhani is a honey-tongued devil. Our pinko radar certainly is giving us a raspberry, but maybe — it could happen — this guy has a point.

—Patrick Williams