Illiberal Aspects of Illegal Immigration

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

A group of citizens calling themselves the Minutemen patrols the border looking to stop illegal immigrants from entering the United States. Mexico’s president, Vicente Fox, states that Mexican migrant workers in the U.S. are “are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do.”

Meanwhile, many Republicans think President George W. Bush’s guest-worker program either mocks the law or is unworkable, while in California a frustrated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blurts out, “Close the borders in California and all across Mexico and the United States.”

Illegal immigration is again in the headlines, but the debate isn’t going anywhere. Instead, all the tired controversies are again being aired.

Some believe illegal immigration is a win-win bargain: An impoverished Mexico obtains critical dollars, while job-hungry America receives industrious unskilled workers.

Critics counter that millions of illegal workers undermine the sanctity of the law, and only abet a corrupt Mexican government that uses remittances to avoid needed reform.

Both sides agree that when newcomers arrive legally from Mexico in the thousands, rather than unchecked in the millions, these immigrants become among our best American citizens.

The politics are by now surreal. Those of the corporate right want cheap labor. So they join the self-interested multicultural left in politics, journalism and academia who don’t mind seeing a growing presence of unassimilated and dependent constituents.

Contradictory statistics — showing illegal immigration resulting in either a net gain or loss to the U.S. economy — are used by both sides. Human-interest anecdotes circulate about both the amazing successes and abject failures of individuals who came here illegally.

Yet rarely mentioned in the debate are the illiberal aspects of millions coming to the U.S. in violation of the law.

For starters, take remittances. Billions of dollars are sent annually back to Mexico from its citizens who come to the United States — one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the Mexican economy.

But that cash does not come out of thin air. If such transfers aid depressed parts of Mexico, they also drain capital from struggling immigrant communities in the United States. Workers without high school diplomas who send back much of their wages often cannot pay for their own proper heath care, education or housing here.

In the American Southwest, entire towns are deprived of critical revenues that could be invested in infrastructure, alleviating the need for state and federal intervention to ensure some sort of parity with American citizens.

Second, when employers hire millions of young laborers from Mexico — often off the books and in cash — poorer American workers cannot organize and thus are left to watch their own static wages eaten up by rising costs.

Third, what do we tell the millions of equally poor immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa who wait years to come here legally? It is not especially liberal to require an indigent Filipino or Ethiopian to learn English, find a sponsor, hire a lawyer and queue up for years, while others simply break the law and come here illegally.

Fourth, progressives are understandably proud of environmental legislation, zoning laws and the culture of recycling in states such as California. But when millions in this country don’t speak English, are impoverished and uneducated, and live outside the law, it is only natural that they do not have the money to worry about how many families live in a single house, whether cars meet emission standards, or whether discarded furniture is disposed in authorized landfills rather than on roadsides.

Fifth, the question of concern for the underprivileged seems not always to extend to our own citizens. California, for example has over 14,000 illegal aliens incarcerated in its prisons, costing yearly more than 20 times the annual budget of the under-funded new University of California at Merced — a college located where it could best serve underrepresented poor and minorities.

Finally, there is something elitist in this new idea that American youth should no longer work summers and after-school hours in agriculture, hotels, restaurants and landscaping. These hard jobs were once seen as ways to gain experience and understand the nobility of hard physical work. An entire generation of Americans is growing up that has never mowed a lawn, pruned a bush or washed a dish.

For too long the debate over illegal immigration has been demagogued on hot-button issues of economics, ethnicity and relations with Mexico. The subtext always has been that those who support open borders are somehow more caring or ethical than their purportedly insensitive opponents who wish a return to measured and legal immigration.

In fact, the opposite is true. More frequently it is an uncaring elite — made up of both Democrats and Republicans — that advocates not enforcing immigration laws. And it is past time for them to explain why it is moral or liberal, rather than merely convenient, to import millions outside the law to do the jobs we supposedly cannot.

©2005 Victor Davis Hanson

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