Our Moral Quagmire

by Victor Davis Hanson

Private Papers

Recently there was a demonstration not far from my home in central California. A number of illegal aliens were marching to demand the right to obtain California driver’s licenses. Their shrill advocates on television claimed that illegal residents of the state were willing to put up with demeaning questions about their legal status—but only if it meant in exchange gaining sanction to drive and obtain government identification.

Not long after the 9-11 commission released its findings. It rebuked government agencies for their laxity in issuing IDs. At least 14 of the 19 hijackers had obtained drivers’ licenses and then used them as entrée to acquire a host of other certifications, credit cards, and bank accounts. Some were here illegally; many entered on questionable visas from Saudi Arabia issued under dubious circumstances.

The same week as the commission’s findings were published, the press reported that a number of Middle Eastern males were apprehended crossing the US-border. Are we as a nation unhinged, in contemplating easing rather than tightening the criteria to obtain the most common form of American certification—at a time when thousands of our stealthy enemies depend on just such laxity to ensure our very destruction?

Why then is illegal immigration the third rail we dare not talk about?

The politics of it are surreal. Wall Street Journal economic libertarians cite cheap labor and robust demography brought on by unchecked immigration as an economic plus for us in an increasingly global economy. The Left apparently sees an entire new generation of voters who can be nursed on the need for government entitlements to ensure them a parity of result rather than an equality of opportunity.

Yet despite the politics, there are other reasons why all citizens of conscience should worry about illegal immigration well beyond national security and deficit spending. It is a moral quagmire that soils everyone and everything it touches. A complacent and often corrupt Mexican government has not made needed social and economic reforms. Despite oil, minerals, favorable climate, and soil, it cannot feed its people or treat them humanely. Why? Mexico City prefers to export dissent, hoping to rid the country of its surplus poor—even as it counts on $12 billion in remittances from loyal and nostalgic expatriates to prop up a failing system back home in need of long postponed reform. Mexico is not a close friend of the United States. If one were to ignore all the cheap attacks on America in its wild press, and simply examine its policy toward American sovereignty, it would be classified by any fair standard as a belligerent.

American employers need not seek continual mechanization nor pay U.S. citizen workers—many of them legal immigrants from Mexico—a decent wage when there is a constant pool of hard-working young males without documentation who cannot organize or collectively bargain.

We the public, who benefit for a time from having cheap labor to run our hotels, serve our food, and pick our fruit are in a fool’s paradise. Not only is unemployment of U.S. citizens still high, but we have created an aristocratic sense of entitlement among some of our youth, who prefer the mall to the summer peach orchard.

There is still an untold collective wage to pay when millions of poorly educated workers age are injured or are laid off. Without legal status or education, they all have a future rendezvous with unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation, welfare subsidies, and disability pensions. A bricklayer of 19 from Oaxaca may appear happy and a great bargain for the United States—but only if he stays 19 and healthy of the next fifty years.

We have also created an entire La Raza (“the race”) industry of well-heeled grandees whose reason to be is a perpetual underclass in need of group rather than individual representation. Under the old system, when Mexicans entered the United States mostly under legal auspices and in measured numbers, the melting pot of integration and intermarriage worked. Thus 1960s rhetoric about “brown power” and “a bronze state for a bronze people” increasingly grew superfluous and finally merely annoying. Only a continuous stream of millions heading north, one illegal, exploited, and living in the shadows of American society, can sustain the race industry in our political caucuses, Balkanized media, and Chicano Studies programs.

Our government also is contaminated when it forfeits the very sanctity of its laws. Why should students who are citizen residents of New Mexico report their out-of-state status truthfully to California universities when they know illegal residents of that state will pay a third less for college tuition? Why should parents pay much attention to providing birth certificates to obtain their teenagers’ licenses—a rite of passage at the Department of Motor Vehicles—when they know those who broke the law will not?

Illegal immigration is a cancer eating away at the values, ethics, and laws of America—a tragic malignancy that is no longer an economic or defense problem so much as an abject moral wrong.

© 2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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