Mark Krikorian on the Great Recession and a new American DREAM

Libertarianism is death to our borders and death to the nation. Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, explains. Photo: Associated Press

FLORIDA, August 18, 2012 — Illegal immigration is a political lightning rod. The flow of illegal immigrants into our country is a security and economic issue that demands direct and unflinching attention, yet the politics of race distorts our thinking on the subject and makes politicians afraid to touch it. 

In this second and final part of our interview, Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, lays out some of the important issues and explains why the Libertarian movement has no part in a solution. 


Joseph F. Cotto: Illegal immigration is a political lightning rod. What would you say is the most effective manner of handling it?

Mark Krikorian: It’s a “lightening rod” only because politicians are afraid of being called names. The public abhors illegal immigration and a firm stance against it is popular. But politicians taking such a stance also need to understand that strident, fringe-y rhetoric is going to turn off people, as it should. So a hawkish stand on immigration enforcement, but delivered in a tone that’s not scary and is combined with a welcoming outreach to legal immigrants, is the way to go.

Cotto: Despite the federal government’s numerous attempts to stimulate the economy, America remains caught within the Great Recession’s clutches. Do you believe that our current immigration policy is partly to blame for this?

Krikorian: There are a lot of reasons for the economic doldrums we’re in. Whatever our immigration policy, the business cycle won’t go away. But at a time when more than 22 million Americans are unemployed or involuntarily underemployed, the idea that we are continuing to import 100,000 *legal* foreign workers each month is absurd. Curbing immigration wouldn’t make the Great Recession go away, but it would soften the blow for large numbers of people, especially the less-skilled and young workers just entering the job market.

Cotto: What role does illegal immigration play in our national security? 

Krikorian: Immigration control needs to be a central feature of a modern nation’s approach to security. While we will always face the conventional kinds of military threats, the terrorist threat to our homeland (which can come not just from non-state groups like al Qaeda but also states like Iran or North Korea) is a danger we will have to face for the indefinite future. And terrorists can’t attack our territory if they can’t get here. This is not to say that we need only security-related immigration measures, such as better watch-lists or background checks. 

A look at the records of the dozens of terrorists who have been active in the U.S. shows that even ordinary immigration enforcement would have stopped many of them. For instance, not one of the 19 9/11 hijackers should have been granted a visa on normal grounds — they all had profiles that almost screamed “future illegal alien,” meaning that young, unattached men from the Third World, without money and without homes or other encumbrances at home, are very likely to just stay after their period of stay in the U.S. expires. In another example, three of the Ft. Dix plotters were illegal aliens who had been stopped by police dozens of times for traffic and other offences, and yet no one ever checked their immigration status.

Cotto: Many political forecasters are saying that the future of the American center-right belongs to libertarians, specifically those of the Ron Paul variety. Do you share this view? Regardless, from your perspective, would U.S. immigration policy fare well under strong libertarian influence?

Krikorian: The Center for Immigration Studies has no involvement in electoral politics, but personally, I think libertarianism is an infantile disorder, an “ideology” in the worst, anti-Burkean sense of the word. That is not to say that many Americans who call themselves “libertarians” share that disorder — I think the appeal of the label comes from the Republican Party’s pathetic big-government record over the past couple of decades. Despite the many patriotic Americans who call themselves “libertarians” as a kind of protest, the ideology of libertarianISM is a post-American creed that rejects national borders and nationhood itself. Obviously, this has immigration consequences, namely that libertarianISM is inseparable from open borders.

Cotto: How did you came to be such a prominent voice in America’s immigration debate? Tell us a bit about your life and career.

Krikorian: Though I was born here, as were my parents, I grew up in an immigrant-heavy Armenian-American environment and didn’t speak English until I started kindergarten — it wasn’t until high school that I realized there were old people who spoke without accents. I went to Georgetown as an undergraduate and got my master’s degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, which is affiliated with Tufts. 

I also spent two years in then-Soviet Armenia as a student. I think that combination of immigrant experience and international experience means I don’t have anything to prove — and it’s a sense of ethnic inadequacy, if there is such a term, that impels a number of prominent people to support amnesty and open borders — people like Jeb Bush, who feels inadequate that he doesn’t have any recent immigrant background, or former senator and cabinet secretary Spencer Abraham, whose grandparents immigrated from Lebanon but who feels guilty that he has no meaningful connection to his immigrant heritage and so advocates for open borders as a way to make up for that.

As for how I became a prominent voice on immigration — I have no idea. I guess there wasn’t much competition on the pro-control/lower-numbers side of the issue, so even someone like me, who has a face made for radio, was able to get attention!

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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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