Newt Gingrich has a surprising immigration plan that conservatives should love

During the 2012 GOP primary, Newt Gingrich espoused a surprisingly libertarian position on immigration.

In the words of a Gingrich spokesman, Newt advocated “the idea of a local community review board where citizens can decide whether or not their neighbors who have come here illegally should find a path to legality.”

Whether or not Gingrich is still promoting this idea, it’s one that conservatives should consider.

When Ronald Reagan called libertarianism “the very heart and soul of conservatism,” he pointed to a desire for “less centralized authority” as a goal both libertarians and conservatives share. Both groups want policy decisions to be made at the most local a level as possible.

Conservative icon Russell Kirk said “In a genuine community, the decisions most directly affecting the lives of citizens are made locally and voluntarily.” Though Kirk was a bitter enemy of libertarian theorist Murray Rothbard, the two men agreed on this essential point. Each believed that it is preferable for policies to be made by bodies that compete with one another, that share in the experiences of their constituents, and that are accountable to the individual voter.

Neither Kirk nor Rothbard made immigration the exception, and there really is no reason that we should do so now.

Suppose that columnist Ann Coulter is right when she warns that immigration will dramatically expand the government. What is Coulter’s proposed solution? To call for stricter federal controls on immigration. Yet, according to Coulter herself, the federal government is negligent in enforcing already-existing immigration controls.

Insofar as immigration presents real challenges, then, decentralization would actually enable their redress. Likewise, Gingrich’s solution would allow communities to enjoy immigration’s benefits – in effect resolving the issue by creating a market.

Libertarians and conservatives alike value the freedom to work and to hire on the one hand, and are averse to ballooning the welfare state on the other. Decentralization would reconcile these two concerns. If a locality wishes to welcome all newcomers while liberally providing welfare, let it do so, and let it shoulder the costs itself. If a locality wishes to disadvantage itself with an unreasonably restrictive immigration policy, let it suffer the consequences, and not impose them on others.

The overriding effect of Gingrich’s suggestion would itself be a cherished libertarian and conservative value: competition. Communities would be under pressure to innovate and to work towards the best possible policy. Over time, the market would pressure local governments to neither provide universal cradle-to-grave services nor exclude immigrants for ridiculous reasons.

Review boards and other steps that would apply the principle of community to immigration are a win-win.

At a time when conservatives are having a hard time coming up with a viable immigration reform plan, if Newt Gingrich was able to promote a solution that could appeal to both conservatives and libertarians perhaps the Republican Party should consider it.


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