Immigration: Let's Get Over It Already

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Jenny Ross / Corbis

Author Kurt Andersen's new book, Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America, examines the economic, political and cultural opportunities to be found in the wake of the financial crises. In this excerpt, the fourth of five pieces to appear on, he argues that open borders and innovative immigration policy are critical to America's rebound.

No other nation on earth assimilates immigrants as successfully as the United States. There are those who argue that we can no longer afford to open our doors so wide, but in fact precisely the opposite is true. Beyond giving sentimental, self-flattering lip service to our history as "a nation of immigrants," the sooner we can agree on a coherent and correctly self-serving national immigration policy — that is, to encourage and enable as many as possible of the world's smartest and most ambitious and open-minded people to become Americans — the better our chances of forestalling national decline.

I recently asked a friend of mine who operates a large farming business in California how many of his hundreds of employees are undocumented Mexican immigrants. Ninety percent, he told me. I literally gasped. And such numbers are not unique to agriculture or to California. Just as we are now dependent on cheap credit and cheap manufactured goods from China, we really can't afford to say no to cheap laborers from Mexico and Central America, and we need to admit that truth and make the system for absorbing them rational. At the upper end of the scale, it's crazily self-defeating for us to set arbitrary and entirely politicized limits on the visas we grant to skilled foreign workers, such as software engineers and nurses. Wouldn't it make more sense to establish a politically independent federal apparatus, like the Federal Reserve System, that would adjust immigration quotas according to the actual and projected ebbs and flows of our economy? The waves of exotic foreigners who poured in during the 1800s and early 1900s were unsettling to Americans at the time — culturally, economically, and politically. But our forebears got over it, fortunately, since the newcomers were instrumental in forging the American Century.

Read Kurt Andersen's RESET blog on

Read the first, second, and third excerpts from Reset.

Click here to purchase a copy of Reset: How This Crisis Can Restore Our Values and Renew America.