Illegal Immigration Is a Moral Issue

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

As President Bush’s guest worker proposals slog through Congress, new reports suggest that there may be not 8 million, but almost 20 million illegal aliens in the United States, a population larger than most entire states. $400 billion in taxes—almost the current annual budget deficit —are not collected due to a growing underground cash economy.

Mexico brazenly issued a survival guide for its intrepid citizens on how to cross illegally into the United States. A 2,000 mile border is porous at a time when stealthy terrorists count on such laxity to enter the United States.

The hallowed assimilationist formula has too few overt defenders these days —even though measured, legal immigration, English emersion, multiracialism instead of multiculturalism, and integration have ensured that past legal immigrants from Mexico are among America’s finest citizens.

The laissez-faire right still lectures on open borders as if it were a matter of robust lawful immigration—emphasizing global competitiveness that accrues from cheap labor. The minimum wage, not illegality, supposedly is its only problem: if only the self-correcting market could be set free to adjudicate wages, $2 an hour might not tempt any more from rural Mexico.

The therapeutic left will not even talk of “illegal immigration”—taboo nomenclature that supposedly denotes racism. “Undocumented workers” is the politically correct terminology, even though not all aliens are working or simply misplaced their certification.

If employers count on inexpensive industrious laborers in the shadows, chauvinists envision a revolving, but still permanent unassimilated constituency to enhance their own agendas. In response to the tired rhetoric, perhaps it is better to envision illegal immigration from Mexico not as a question of divisive politics, but of collective morality. Is it ethical for the Mexican government to export annually 1 million to 2 million of its unwanted citizens to avoid long-overdue reform —hoping to free itself of dissidents and earn $12 billion in subsidies from its poorest abroad? No wonder Mexico talks of the problem in terms of U.S. imperialism in lieu of its own cynicism.

Is it moral for employers to count on illegal industrious workers, usually without English or education, to undercut the wages of American citizens—as if a laborer remains youthful and hale in perpetuity with no need of social entitlements when disabled or impoverished years later? No wonder employers claim that they are only providing a service to Mexico’s poor.

Is it so liberal that governments must pay for those who ignore the law while citizens go without? In California, the money to incarcerate more than 14,000 felonious illegal aliens from Mexico—well over $400 million—would fund the start-up costs of 20 university campuses like the new University of California at Merced, at a time when Americans (including many first-generation Mexican-American citizens) who are eligible for higher education cannot find access or financial support.

Is it so fair to assume that the unemployed in our midst—over 10 percent of the work force in many counties of the American Southwest that are most affected by illegal immigration—cannot find entry-level work? No wonder we insist that no one can discover a citizen to mow the lawn or cook his food—as if 30 years ago our yards were weedy and we did not eat out, as if states without illegal aliens have poor landscaping and empty restaurants. Picking an illegal worker up at the local lumber yard, paying him in cash for a day of digging, and then dumping him on the curb at twilight   —   “out of sight, out of mind”—is neither liberal nor humane even if done in Santa Cruz or Carmel.

And is it equitable that laws must be sacred for most, but not for some? Do we really want a bureaucratic system near collapse from fraudulent Social Security numbers, off-the-books wages, false names, cars without registration and insurance, even as millions abroad queue up to enter our shores lawfully? Are we to tell waiting Punjabis or Filipinos to certify their education, skills and method of support—even as we ask far less of those who break the law to cross the border from Mexico?

Who, then, is the real moralist? Is it the police officer who stops an illegal alien but cannot call immigration authorities? The contractor who knowingly accepts falsified identification and pays untaxed cash wages? The La Raza (“The Race”) activist who promotes ethnic chauvinism for those to whom it will prove most deleterious? Perhaps the grandstanding Mexican consul who faults the United States for his own country’s callousness?

Or is it the rest of us, who in fear of being slurred as “racists” or “nativists” often keep silent—just when candor and honesty on all sides are needed now if we are to avoid becoming an amoral apartheid society with a permanent underclass in the shadows?

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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