Posted: October 14, 2004
ournalist Peter Brimelow warned nearly a decade ago that the "bland bargain" on immigration between Republicans (who want cheap labor) and Democrats (who hope to harvest immigrant votes) would balkanize America and imperil the future of the Republican Party. Brimelow's once-controversial arguments in his book, Alien Nation, now pale in comparison to developments we see every day in the news. Most notably, the California legislature and a doomed Governor Gray Davis passed a bill granting driver's licenses—with minimal background checks—to illegal immigrants. Worse, no one in the Bush Administration objected—not even the Department of Homeland Security. What's more, virtually all of the Democratic presidential candidates favor illegal immigrant amnesty—as do, in a more modified fashion, Republican Senator John McCain and California's new governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The public is outraged; elites are less concerned. This divide—more important than traditional Left-Right divisions—was illustrated in a 2002 Chicago Council on Foreign Relations survey that found 60 percent of the general public considered the present level of immigration a "critical threat to the vital interests of the United States." Only 14 percent of the nation's leaders felt so threatened. Why? Rank and file citizens are directly affected by the consequences of massive legal and illegal immigration. Their educational and occupational interests are threatened by cheap immigrant labor—especially when combined with minority preference policies. America's elites, however, are increasingly insulated in residential and occupational enclaves; and they reap increased profits from cheap employee labor and the social peace promised by ethnic quotas.
As they were once bound together by the military industrial complex and Cold War ideology, today's institutional elites share a cosmopolitan consensus rooted in economic globalization, internationalism, and multiculturalism. High-level faith in globalization, however, was severely shaken by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The immigration debate burst forth anew along four distinct lines: (1) national security, (2) legal and moral issues, (3) sociological/cultural, and (4) economic. Two leading authors in this debate exemplify the distinct but complementary arguments. Michelle Malkin's Invasion is a sweeping indictment of how border policy chaos threatens law and national security. Victor Davis Hanson soberly ponders how massive illegal immigration is transforming California into Mexifornia.
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"Profits, political correctness, and pandering to ethnic voters and customers systematically trump national security," charges Malkin. The open-borders establishment makes for odd bedfellows: the AFL-CIO, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, the agricultural lobby, a deceptively named Americans for Better Borders (a front for "border buster" businesses such as Ford Motor Company and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce), and "pandering strategists" in both major political parties. The travel industry wants barrier-free borders to boost international tourism. Higher education is likewise hooked on an estimated $12 billion from foreign student enrollment. The American Immigration Lawyers Association is quick to label discriminatory or "racist" any proposals that more closely track Muslim tourists and visitors. Authorities in New York, Los Angeles, and other immigrant enclaves have proclaimed their cities "sanctuaries" from immigration law enforcement.
Well-intentioned programs have gone astray or been badly corrupted. "Political asylum" has become an indiscriminate "open sesame," permitting entry for a depressingly large range of terrorists, bombers, and criminals from all over the planet. Past and anticipated amnesty programs simply encourage more illegal immigration, as do programs that let illegal aliens "adjust their status" and gain permanent residence by having a spouse or an employer pay a $1,000 fee. A "diversity lottery"—once promoted by Ted Kennedy to favor Irish immigrants—now awards "green cards" to applicants from terrorist states such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Sudan, and Afghanistan. The "Transit Without a Visa" program—originally founded to help with the resettlement of World War II refugees—permitted entry of more than 5 million immigrant airline passengers over a three-year period. Worse was the notorious—and now defunct—"visa express" program, pushed through by the travel industry that, in 2001, allowed 17 million visitors from 28 nations to come to the U.S. for visa-free tourism or business for 90 days.
Malkin portrays the Immigration and Naturalization Service as a nightmare of duplicity, disorganization, and misinformation. The agency has bestowed citizenship on more than 10,000 immigrants without necessary background checks. (An audit of the Clinton-inspired "Citizenship USA" project revealed that more than 90 percent of cases were handled improperly. Of the 1.3 million immigrants who were processed, 80,000 had fingerprint checks that generated criminal records but who were naturalized anyway. In New York, 24 percent of those incarcerated in city detention facilities are illegal immigrants.) INS computer systems and personnel are so error-prone that airlines and other organizations shy away from using INS databases.
While deeper questions of national purpose and priorities underpin Malkin's machine-gun attack on lax immigration policies, her concern is clearly with practical and compelling national security dangers. She's alarmed by high-level inaction and ambivalence, and growing popular suspicion that elites may be trying to "normalize" increased risk of terrorism as a price for open markets.
Malkin prescribes strong policy medicine, including militarizing the border until 100,000 new INS agents can be hired, and scrapping the widely abused H-1B visa program, originally intended to let businesses import "hard to hire" personnel. She also advocates better scrutiny of asylum applicants, instituting a visa moratorium for some specific groups (such as Muslim clerics), and ending the ridiculous "voluntary departure" program and the clumsy INS court system that allow known criminals to slip in and out of the country. Some of her recommendations have been taken up by commentators on cable chat shows and talk radio—but the mainstream media and Congress balk.
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Meanwhile, back at his ranch in Selma, California, Victor Davis Hanson observes the local and wider immigration dramas. An eminent classics professor and part-time farmer, Hanson is a fifth-generation Californian who grew up among mostly Mexican and Mexican-American classmates. His family includes Mexican American in-laws; his children routinely date Mexican-American peers.
But the California of Hanson's own youth, shaped by the orderly assimilation of modest numbers of legal immigrants, has given way to a chaotic flood. Not only does the state contain an estimated 4 million illegal aliens but its population swells every year by about 283,000 new, legal immigrants— more than a third of that flow from Mexico. A majority of California's 500,000 new births are to immigrant mothers.
As Hanson anchors his wider analyses with visits to Selma past and present, Mexifornia takes on a sober but lyrical Our Town quality. Hanson accepts change, yet, "I was deeply attached to the old town, now vanished. It was by no means perfect, but it was a society of laws and customs, not a frontier town like the current one in which thousands reside illegally, have no lawful documentation, and assume that Selma must adapt to their ways, not the reverse."
Cultural assimilation was the stern task of the Selma school curriculum of the 1950s. English, patriotic songs, the Pledge of Allegiance, and upbeat American history were "forced down our throats," he writes. Though Spanish was banned in everyday schoolyard conversation, and skin color and national origin were routinely acknowledged, these were rarely the basis for adolescent conflicts. "The great dividing line of most rumbles was whether you were born in Selma or Fresno." The old order was repressive but it worked: most graduates obtained respectable jobs and stable families.
Today, reports Hanson, a Left-Right alliance winks at an open-borders policy and at the emerging cultural hybrid that is neither Mexico nor California. He darkly discerns its chief characteristics: an economy hooked on cheap labor that exploits and uses up millions of human beings without providing adequate public services; an amazingly prosperous, self-absorbed middle class that looks the other way at immigration-related problems because they are no longer able or willing to clean their own homes, mow their own lawns, or look after their own children (if any); a subsidized "race industry" of academics and politicians who sabotage upward mobility for immigrants' children by pushing ethnic grievances, identity politics, and watered-down curricula; and elites who cannot defend or promote assimilation.
Publicly, Californians acknowledge the new diversity. But in the privacy of the voting booth, they cut taxes and curb benefits to immigrants, bilingual education, and affirmative action. Lack of cultural and political clarity, in turn, reinforces mistrust and resentment between the nation's citizens and the millions of impoverished, undocumented Mexican newcomers still ambivalently tied to their nearby homeland. In sociological terms, they are sojourners, temporary migrants to the U.S. who dream of returning with fortunes made; most seem fated, however, to remain lifetime, marginalized non-citizens in menial jobs.
Critics jeer "Mexifornia" as another sour, "there-goes-the-neighborhood" narrative of ethnic succession. Liberals, libertarians, and neoconservatives offer soothing predictions that Latinos are following the assimilation path paved by past generations of immigrants. There is evidence of economic progress, and Hanson acknowledges assimilationist trends like rising intermarriage rates even in his own family. The Pew Hispanic Center's 2002 National Survey of Latinos offers mixed evidence of both continuing cultural differences and assimilation. Though a complex group, the survey states, "Latinos share a range of attitudes and opinions that set them apart from the mainstream." Yet the vast majority of them realize that English is a must and continue to believe that the U.S. is a land of opportunity. In California's recent recall election, nearly half of Hispanics voted to recall Gray Davis and 30 percent voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But there is also research echoing Hanson's warning of a permanently polarized Mexifornia where illegal immigrants resemble a caste of modern-day helots. The California Public Policy Institute already notes widening and hardening class boundaries in California, driven to a large extent by low-skilled Mexican immigration, especially in central California. University of Michigan demographer William Frey maps what he calls "diversity flight," rising numbers of working and middle class whites (and some blacks) abandoning crowded, high-immigration regions. And Harvard sociologist Christopher Jencks warns ominously that, "fifty years from now our children could find that admitting millions of poor Latinos had not only created a sizable Latino underclass but—far worse—that it had made rich Americans more like rich Latin Americans."