The Revolt on Illegal Immigration

by Victor Davis Hanson

Tribune Media Services

After the utter collapse in the Senate last week of a comprehensive immigration bill, Washington insiders are blaming everyone and everything.

Supposedly, talk-radio hysteria killed the bill. Or was it the purported racism of yokels? Or did most of us fail to appreciate the hidden benefits of open borders so clear only to those in Washington?

In reality, the 1,000-page bill failed because millions of Americans opposed it, believing, among other things, that it provided virtual amnesty to illegal aliens. Through the “Z visa,” the bill offered illegal aliens legal worker status — along with a ticket to eventual citizenship — after only a precursory background check.

More importantly, people were skeptical, to say the least, of hundreds of pages of more regulations when the last “comprehensive” immigration legislation, in 1986, either made things worse or was largely unenforced. That’s why various polls reveal that most Americans were against the new bill, with, according to a June Rasmussen poll, less than 25 percent in favor of the Senate version.

What causes this grassroots furor, and where will it lead?

The public thinks anti-terrorism efforts are futile when hundreds of miles on our southern border are, for mysterious reasons, left wide open.

Then there is the American sense of fair play: Thousands of would-be legal immigrants wait in line from all over the world to come to this country. So why the special considerations that seem designed to address the concerns of just one group — especially when Mexico already supplies the largest number by far of our legal immigrants?

Americans were brought up on lectures about the sanctity of the law. We were supposed to revere the Social Security system. Yet when the government discusses millions of phony Social Security numbers used by illegal aliens, it is usually in the cynical sense of whether that con enriches or bankrupts the system — not whether such rampant fraud is legally and morally wrong.

Most citizens fret if they leave the house without their driver’s license. They get nervous when their car registration or proof of insurance is lost — and so grow irate that millions of others on the road don’t or can’t share their concern.

Another public irritant was that the present state-sponsored bilingual documents and ballots along with government interpreters were all never legislated. According to a Susquehanna Polling & Research poll, in February 2007, nearly 70 percent of Americans supported an ordinance in a town in Pennsylvania that included making English the sole official language.

Illegal immigration and the efforts to accommodate it have come about from either bureaucratic prerogative — under pressure from employers and ethnic lobbyists — or court decisions. In contrast, polls, referenda and legislative action all reflect a public desire to reduce illegal immigration and close the borders now. In fact, in a June Rassmussen poll, 70 percent of the public supported an immigration bill that does that — and only that.

If the American public wants the border closed first, and discussion of everything else later, is that really such a bad thing?

Were the government to enforce laws already passed — fine employers for hiring illegal aliens, actually build the approved fences, beef up the border patrol, issue verifiable identification — we would then soon be dealing with a static population of illegal aliens. And that pool would insidiously shrink, not annually grow.

Some of the 12 million here illegally would willingly return home. Some with criminal records could be deported. Some would marry U.S. citizens. Some could be given work visas. Some could apply for earned citizenship.

The point is that our formidable powers of assimilation would finally catch up and have time to work on a population that would be at last fixed, quantifiable and identifiable. As aliens were more readily integrated with the general citizen population, Spanish would evolve into a helpful second, not a single alternate, language. Wages would rise for workers already here — many of them soon to be Mexican-American citizens — without competition from a perpetual influx of illegal aliens who work more cheaply.

Mexico would be forced to deal with rather than export its own problems. Billions in earnings would stay in the United States to help our own entry-level and legal immigrants from Mexico, not be sent back as remittances to relatives.

In short, a savvy public is neither racist nor hysterical in wanting the border closed now. It’s the only comprehensive solution to the present mess of illegal immigration.

©2007 Tribune Media Services

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