When I read about the recent controversies over Jason Richwine, formerly of the Heritage Foundation, and learned that Christopher Jenks was one of three Harvard faculty members who signed off on Richwine’s controversial dissertation, I immediately thought about an article by Jenks published by the New York Review of Books in 2007 entitled “The Immigration Charade.” That article includes a review of Patrick Buchanan’s State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America. I read the review a long time ago, and the book is not on my list of favorites, but the memory of the review came flooding back to me because the similarities between the arguments that Richwine made in his doctoral dissertation and those that Buchanan makes in his book are striking in this regard: both provide policy recommendations that flow directly out of their own deeply troubling assumptions about race in general, and “Hispanics” in particular. Christopher Jenks provides a sort of common thread that allows me to consider Buchanan and Richwine simultaneously, while also questioning the role of scholars in confronting the misuses of “race” and “culture” in policy debates.
Jenks’ 2007 review of Buchanan’s book unfolds through an introduction and four sections. In his introduction, Jenks asserts that “America’s ongoing argument about immigration has followed a fairly consistent sequence for three decades.” He breaks the sequence down as follows: a rash of reports concerning illegal settlement, which lead to charges that the U.S. is overrun by foreigners, which lead to Congressional hearings, which lead to employers and legal immigrants pushing back on large-scale restrictions, which lead to legislation that includes a combination of legalization of unauthorized migrants, workplace enforcement and reconfigured – and generally expanded – channels of lawful immigration, which leads to widespread legalization and expanded legal immigration channels, but no enforcement of the worksite provisions. This summary appears reasonably accurate, although it may be a stretch to call this a “consistent sequence for three decades,” since it describes a “sequence” that has happened precisely once over the course of the past 30-odd years. Jenks then briefly chronicles the sad travails of comprehensive immigration reform in the waning days of the second Bush administration.
With this setup, Jenks proceeds to the first section of his review, in which he discusses the soft nature of both public support for and opposition to legalization for unauthorized migrants. He observes, with apparent sympathy, that opponents of “amnesty” see little evidence that the federal government has any intention of enforcing immigration law. Jenks also notes that the federal government has favored a strategy of symbolic border enforcement over potentially more effective enforcement strategies largely for political reasons.
In the second section of the article, Jenks attacks the argument that immigrants are merely taking jobs that “Americans” won’t do, suggesting instead that employers just don’t want to pay wages that would attract “poorly educated natives” to these positions. Respected studies raise questions about whether these groups actually are pitted against one another in this way, but Jenks appears to side with those (including his colleague George Borjas) who generally believe that it does. Jenks then proceeds to the third section of his article: a review of Buchanan’s State of Emergency.
So far, Jenks’ review offers a relatively stock liberal story about immigration, politics and the U.S. labor market. I disagree with some of what Jenks says in these first sections, but it all seems reasonably defensible to me.
I begin to grow uneasy, though, when I turn to the third section of the article.
In the third section, Jenks provides a summary of Buchanan’s basic arguments: immigration is bad, Republicans should awaken to the fact that they are doomed if they support immigration reform, Mexicans are angling for a reconquista of the American southwest through mass immigration, and the mass influx of crime-prone immigrants who do not demonstrate a deep love of the United States and who refuse to assimilate is a disastrous proposition for the nation. Jenks, unsurprisingly, makes short work of Buchanan’s alarmist claims, pointing out, for example, Buchanan’s deceptive deployment of statistics concerning migrant criminality.
Oddly, however, Jenks never calls Buchanan out for the pseudo-scientific claims that the he makes about race in his book. This oversight is problematic considering the extent to which such claims effectively form the foundation for the book’s policy arguments. To take just one example, at page 135 of his book, Buchanan asserts that “[n]ot only do Mexicans come from a different culture, they are, 85 percent of them, mestizo or Amerindian. History teaches us that separate races take even longer to integrate.” I am not sure what “history” Buchanan is referring to, nor can I figure out what he means by “race.” The term is never defined and evidence to substantiate his claim about race and assimilation is never offered. These sorts of statement pepper the book and drive Buchanan’s argument to its logical conclusion: not only should we crack down on illegal immigration but we should also impose a widespread moratorium on legal immigration.
Jenks challenges Buchanan’s assertion that today’s immigrants fail to assimilate, but he oddly never mentions the pseudo-scientific claims about race that undergird the argument. While Jenks clearly does not take many of Buchanan’s arguments particularly seriously, he also fails to take the author to task for what I see as the most disturbing aspect of the book – its unsupported claims about the behaviors and propensities of certain (presumptive) racial groups. Buchanan treats race and culture as variously distinct and interchangeable, depending on his claim. His problematic deployment of both “race” and “culture” beg for interrogation, but it does not come in this review.
In part four of the review, Jenks effectively weaves Buchanan’s arguments into a legitimate conversation on immigration policy by returning to his argument that legalization in the absence of workplace enforcement “has had huge costs,” namely, “exacerbat[ing] popular distrust of the federal government” and “increase[ing] hostility to foreigners, especially Mexicans.” Jenks’ claims seem intuitively appealing. I am not sure they are true. In the late 1990s and very early 2000s, few were calling out the federal government for failing to raid workplaces even though workplace enforcement was at its lowest ebb. In contrast, at a time that the federal government was deporting 400,000 people a year, and spending $16 billion a year on enforcement measures, Arizona voters passed legislation designed to do the immigration enforcement job that the federal government was purportedly refusing to do. The relationship between distrust and federal enforcement is not a simple one.
Similarly, distrust of foreigners (and particularly Mexicans), while a disturbing feature of American life for over a century now, hardly seems to turn on the strength of federal immigration enforcement. Moreover, the highly visible, criminalizing workplace enforcement strategies of the Bush administration actually seemed to fuel xenophobia, which suggests to me that enforcement strategies can either increase or decrease distrust, depending on how they are deployed.
It seems more likely to me that the state of the economy does a better job of accounting for levels of distrust of the federal government and “foreigners” (actual or perceived) than does the efficacy of immigration enforcement. And as Jenks himself noted, distrust can be strategically mobilized. Jenks points to the Minutemen and NumbersUSA as examples of organizations that worked hard to do just this in order to defeat immigration reform in 2007. Buchanan is another sower of distrust.
In the current battle over immigration reform, the Heritage Foundation recently has assumed such a role, advancing the dubious claim that the Senate’s immigration reform package carries a $6.3 trillion dollar pricetag.
One of the authors of the study – Jason Richwine – resigned from Heritage after it became public knowledge that he wrote his doctoral dissertation at Harvard on “IQ and Immigration Policy.” In his dissertation, he argues that “Hispanics” have lower IQs than Asians and Europeans (page 60), and he ultimately concludes that immigration policy should favor immigrants with high IQs. Like Buchanan’s claims about race and assimilation, the racial terms are amorphously defined and, as in Buchanan’s book, the policy conclusions are insufficiently supported by the evidence.
Christopher Jenks signed off on Richwine’s doctoral dissertation. I don’t know if Jenks pushed back on the problematic ways that Richwine defined his “racial” categories and deployed his evidence concerning race. I hope that he did. But in his review of State of Emergency, Jenks never really called out Buchanan for some of the same sorts of manipulations. I think he should have. Because when scholars fail to confront racial pseudo-science and call it by its name, it becomes much easier for dedicated opponents of almost any social policy to generate opposition by sowing the seeds of racial distrust amongst U.S. citizens already overwhelmed by job losses, wage stagnation and general economic uncertainty.
Jennifer Chacón is a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law.