Letters From the West

Conservatives should embrace immigration reform, Norquist tells Idaho audience

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist told the Boise City Club there is a simple reason for conservatives to support immigration reform.


Norquist, arguably the single-most important voice in branding the modern Republican Party around tax cuts, said low taxes and open immigration are at the heart of the American success story. Fixing the immigration system now will make the 11 million immigrants living in the shadows more productive and grow the economy by $2.5 trillion, he said.

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist speaks to the City Club in Boise on Tuesday afternoon Idaho Statesman Photo by Joe Jaszewski)

Anti-tax activist Grover Norquist speaks to the City Club in Boise on Tuesday afternoon Idaho Statesman Photo by Joe Jaszewski)

“We’re not doing it to win votes, we’re doing it because it’s good economics,” Norquist said.

Japan, China and Germany will falter because they have limited immigration and aging populations. The United States is the only nation in the world that has, from its beginning, largely welcomed and integrated immigrants, which has contributed to its prosperity, Norquist said.

“We’re the future,” Norquist said. “We’re going to dominate the world because we do immigration well.”

Conservatives who worry that more immigrants are going to add to the welfare burden are projecting their concerns over programs like Medicare, health care and education. He tells conservatives that their fears are in the future and he said the Paul Ryan budget plan, passed by the U.S. House, would solve those problems.

“We’re going to get the Ryan budget plan in 2016 or 2020 or the country is going to crash and burn,” Norquist said.

Doubters are buying into the view of 18th century British scholar Thomas Malthus, who predicted overpopulation and disaster.

“The idea that more people makes us poorer is what Malthus said,” Norquist said. “Malthus was wrong.”

Racism drove past efforts to limit immigration — aimed at the Chinese in the 1890s, Catholics and Jews in the 1920s. He stopped short of saying it contributed to today’s anti-immigration politics.

But when conservatives make the argument now that more people cost more money, “that’s when you wonder what their real reason is.”

Norquist said those who say immigration reform is a rule-of-law issue forget how many people violated the 55-mile-per-hour speed limit before it was raised. Laws that no one obeys should be changed.

“We’ve been having a 55-mile-per-hour speed limit on immigration in a 75-mile-per-hour world economy,” he said.

He pointed to the 55-mph speed limit again when he talked about making the borders secure first before fixing immigration: “We didn’t do enforcement first then,” Norquist said.

In an interview after his speech, he called Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador “one of the most expert guys in Congress” on the issue and said he understands the tactical reasons he pulled out of House immigration negotiations over whether Obamacare would cover immigrants over the next decade.

Norquist said Republican family-oriented values and initiatives including tax cuts would be attractive to many immigrants and their relatives who are voting citizens. But lack of reform stands in the way.

“You don’t get to have a conversation when you threaten to deport people’s relatives,” he said.

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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