First, let me express my thanks to Alex Nowrasteh of CATO for providing us visibility and fostering a wider debate on illegal immigration policy, including market-based visas. I think the mood is turning and the wider US community is now open to considering a commercial approach to solving illegal immigration. This morning a Fox affiliate radio station in Houston called me, and they were the ones to bring up market-based visas to address the increasingly desperate situation in Texas.
As regards CATO's response, any proposal must meet three tests: Purpose, Practicality and Passage
Does it address the problem, which today is ending the asylum crisis, closing the southwest border and eliminating the domestic black market in migrant labor?
Is it administratively practicable? Can it be successfully implemented in practice in a reasonable amount of time?
Will it pass in Congress and be signed by the president?
If you don't have those three elements, you may have a worthy editorial or interesting concept piece, but it is not a policy proposal.
It's not clear that the CATO proposal ends the black market and closes the border.
CATO expresses a willingness to consider the 6.5 million visas which might arise if only 0.1% of the population from the eligible countries participated in its proposed approach. Today, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs processes about 10 million visas per year. Thus, a 0.1% participation rate in CATO's Gold Card program would increase the workload by 2/3 on consular services. That alone would blow up the system. Notwithstanding, the recent experience with asylum seekers suggests that participation rates could easily be in the low single percents, that is, closer to 50 million visas. That is simply not a viable number in any plausible administrative framework.
Meanwhile, over on the right, visas for even 600,000 incremental migrants would constitute a massive political lift. So it's all well and good to call for a liberalized system, but it's at least an order of magnitude too big to qualify as a legitimate topic of discussion on the right, much less an initiative which could pass in Congress.
Therefore, the CATO proposal is much like the Kushner Plan. It is an interesting concept, but it fails to qualify as a policy proposal.
And that's fairly typical. The conservative think tanks are no better, and they matter more under the current political constellation.
Here's the electoral math. A recent Quinnipiac University poll shows the President locking down Republicans while enjoying virtually no support among Democrats. Critically, however, he trails Joe Biden by an astounding 30 percentage points among independents. If the president can't move the needle with independents -- and market-based visas will appeal to independents -- then the election will be a blow-out. In such an event, conservatives will be picking the Democrats' dust from between their teeth for a decade.
Thus, while deeply held sentiments about national sovereignty have their place, the conservative DC think tanks have to focus on what can be passed now, and that means considering more than just conservative priorities. Purpose, Practicality and Passage. We need all three from the DC policy shops.