Jason Riley said his views should make even die-hard xenophobes think twice.
Riley, a member of the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and author of “Let Them In: The Argument for Open Borders,” visited Yale on Thursday to discuss his views on immigration reform, hosting both a lunch with students and giving a talk that evening. The speech, sponsored by the Afro-American Cultural Center and the Yale Journalism Initiative, focused on Riley’s views regarding the importance of immigrants’ assimilation into American culture, a perspective largely accepted by the students and local residents in attendance.
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In an interview with the News before his speech, Riley, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., argued that America should let supply and demand economics control immigration flow, as opposed to letting politicians set arbitrary limits.
“Free markets include free and open labor markets,” he said.
He disagreed with efforts like the border fence to reduce illegal immigration, calling them “a bit medieval.” He cited the non sequitur of building a fence to protect the country from terrorists who may use planes in their attacks and mentioned that 40 percent of “illegal” immigrants in the country came through legal means.
Moreover, such measures to block the border counteract efforts to reduce illegal immigrant numbers, Riley said. When former President Bill Clinton LAW ’73 beefed up security on the southern border, he said, seasonal workers began to stay over the winter, not wanting to return south to brave the journey the following year and getting permanent jobs in the process. The following summer, new immigrants came to fill the then-available seasonal positions, exacerbating the immigration problem.
Riley addressed many concerns often cited with open immigration; he explained that immigrants do not come unless there are jobs. In fact, he said, some analysts see counts of border crossings as a leading economic indicator.
Riley also opined on the Elm City Resident Card, saying the idea carries with it a number of benefits. He compared its controversy to the debate over drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants.
“Why prevent them, if you fear a threat, from joining a database?” he asked. “The idea that you can make life unbearable for these people, who come from places like Halisco,” he said, “is ridiculous.”
During his speech, Riley spoke about the assimilation of immigrants and the disparities between their desires and those of immigrant advocates. He cited bilingual education in schools as one such issue, asserting that many immigrant parents actually want their children to be taught in English.
As Riley put it, “Keep the immigrants; deport the Harvard faculty [who suggest such measures].”
Though turnout was low at Riley’s speech, the seven-person audience took part in a lively debate. In the words of Yale Journalism Initiative Coordinator Mark Oppenheimer ’96, “small groups are often the most spirited.”
Riley’s espousal of free-market conservatism at some times raised eyebrows.
“It’s just a weird mixture of very liberal … and very conservative positions,” said Steve Heller, a resident of Rocky Hill.
Another attendee, Miriam Chirico of Glastonbury, also characterized Riley’s views on the topic as a thought-provoking conglomeration of seemingly polar political views.
Riley said he lamented that neither candidate in the presidential election can be expected to effect sweeping immigration reforms.
Before joining the Journal in 1994, Riley worked for both USA Today and the Buffalo News.