News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion
SUNDAY, APRIL 16, 2006


Participants promote an upcoming immigration demonstration at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
AP Photo by Nick Ut
Participants promote an upcoming immigration demonstration at a news conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.

Congress must not give in to demands of pro-illegal lobby

By John O'Sullivan

Two weeks ago the United States began formal ratification of the collapse of American border security and immigration control. Responding to the pressure of corporate America and the White House for cheap labor and to demands from ethnic lobbies and labor unions for cheap recruits, leaders of both parties in the Senate proposed amnesty for the 12 million illegal immigrants already here, to admit millions more legal immigrants by a "guest-worker" program and sought higher quotas for legal immigration.

They almost succeeded — and might have done so if Alabama's Sen. Jeff Sessions had not led opposition to these "reforms" by a brilliant demonstration that they would bust the budget, provide amnesty for criminals, and gut many of the safeguards against illegal immigration in existing laws. The bill ran into the procedural sands.

But the battle is not over. When the Senate returns, party leaders will bring in another "compromise" shaped by the following principles:

Pretzel logic

In order to have fewer immigrants, we must admit more of them. In order to halt illegal immigration, we must legalize it. And in order to enforce the law, we must reward those who have broken it.

Until recently the advocates of this upside-down logic — Sens. Kennedy and McCain, President Bush, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, various pro-immigration "experts," and many of the nation's editorial writers — maintained that immigration of all kinds, illegal and legal, was not a problem. It was a benefit from which all Americans and the U.S. economy gained enormously.

So the federal government stopped enforcing the 1986 law some time around 1987. By 2004, four employers nationwide were prosecuted for employing those 12 million illegal aliens. Four. Think of them as winning a kind of reverse lottery.

Harm to Americans

This vast official deception has become increasingly hard to ignore or to justify. More and more Americans — mainly unskilled workers on lower incomes and their families — have been visibly harmed by the competition of immigrants willing to work for much less.

A recent study by Steven Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies shows, for instance, that between March 2000 and March 2005, 9 percent of net new adult jobs went to the native-born Americans who form 61 per cent of the work force — and 1.5 million discouraged Americans left that work force altogether as a result.

This immigrant competition has hit black Americans especially hard. A recent New York Times report pointed out: "In 2000, 65 percent of black male high school dropouts in their 20s were jobless — that is, unable to find work, not seeking it or incarcerated. By 2004, the share had grown to 72 percent, compared with 34 percent of white and 19 percent of Hispanic dropouts."

Commentator David Frum noted dryly that this detailed Times report unaccountably failed to mention "immigration." Admitting any link between immigration and black joblessness would undermine the faith-based claim (which unites the New York Times and President Bush in a rare bipartisan coalition) that immigrants take only those jobs that "Americans won't do."

Economic impact

In fact, there are no occupations in which immigrants form the majority of workers. Illegal aliens, despite their impact on wages, are less than 5 percent of the U.S. work force. They make up only between a quarter and third of workers even in those industries most dependent on them.

Their disappearance — as suggested in the pro-illegals movie, A Day Without Mexicans would result not in the seizing up of the U.S. economy but in the automation of some jobs, the export of others, an increase in wages for the remainder, and so the employment of more Americans at wages higher than today.

What benefits accrue to other Americans to counterbalance the disadvantages suffered by the low-paid? Well, some wealthy people get cheaper maids, gardeners and restaurant meals. But most native-born Americans benefit only slightly, if at all, from immigration. A survey of recent economic research by two Oxbridge professors, a Cambridge economist and an Oxford demographer, concluded with dry British understatement that "the claim that U.S. prosperity has been driven by immigration, as opposed to driving it, appears to lack any academic support."

Legalizing lawbreakers

As the disaster of uncontrolled immigration became undeniable, the pro-immigration lobby switched from simply defending it as a benefit to arguing that it was indeed a disaster — but one that could only be controlled by being legalized.

Tamar Jacoby — a writer of such intellectual agility that she has appeared in the New Republic as a liberal immigration expert and in the Weekly Standard as a conservative one — argues this case in a revealingly topsy-turvy way: "Expand legal channels in order to get control? Yes . . . (But) Once we replace our old unrealistic quotas with a more realistic guest worker program, we will need to enforce it to the letter . . ."

Hmm. That was precisely the argument used to justify the 1986 amnesty that resulted in the 2004 prosecutions of four employers. And since 1986 the United States has been admitting about 1 million immigrants each year through expanded legal channels. Far from being a substitute for illegal immigrants, however, these legal immigrants were a magnet for them. They sheltered newcomers from home, found jobs for them, and provided a sea in which 12 million of them could swim undetected by the law.

Enforcement needed — now

The illegal immigration lobby tells us that this time they and the federal government really mean to crack down on illegal border crossings and scofflaw employers. But why must this crackdown wait, as they insist, until a guest-worker/amnesty bill goes through? After all, all these bills (with their complicated Rube Goldberg schemes for helping millions of new legal and existing illegal immigrants over a series of new administrative hurdles) impose heavy additional tasks on a Homeland Security bureaucracy hardly famous for its efficiency. They would obstruct or even prevent a crackdown.

Even if new laws succeeded in admitting only legal immigrants, that would still mean admitting tens of millions more poor people — and granting legal status to the 12 million low-paid illegals already here. All these people and their families would then become eligible for the full social benefits of America's welfare state while contributing little additional tax revenue.

Importing poverty

As Robert Samuelson has powerfully argued in the Washington Post, this is a policy of importing poverty into the United States: "Since 1980 the number of Hispanics with incomes below the government's poverty line (about $19,300 in 2004 for a family of four) has risen 162 percent." It has also worsened every other social problem from over-stressed schools and hospitals to environmental degradation. And more will mean still worse.

The illegal immigration lobby has not been keen to estimate the costs of this imported poverty. But a Barrons writer compared the likely economic impact of amnesty alone to the costs of importing East Germany into the U.S. economy.

And then there is the problem of chain migration . . . but why go on refuting the arguments of people whose main claim to expertise on the economics of immigration is that they were wrong about it for the last 20 years?

A nation divided

For economics, though important, is less significant than the unity and solidarity of the American people. And what the demonstrations by illegal immigrants and their sympathizers have demonstrated is that our government's failure to control immigration is beginning to create within the borders of the United States a divided bi-cultural society like Canada at best, or a second (and not entirely friendly) nation at worst.

Far from living "in the shadows," as President Bush piously remarked, the demonstrators occupied the public square in thousands. Though asked by the politically cautious organizers to bring along only American flags, half the flags they waved were Mexican. They brandished placards and shouted slogans accusing the United States of stealing their land. In these and other ways they showed loyalty to other sovereign states while demanding the rights of U.S. citizens to which they are not entitled. Worse than all that, they succeeded in intimidating the U.S. Senate — or at least its Judiciary Committee — into surrendering to their threat of "No Amnesty, No Peace."

European example

My National Review colleague, Rich Lowry, points out that European countries allowed Muslim communities containing a jihadist minority to be established in Europe by a similar inattention to illegal immigration. They realized the dangers only when mobs started burning cars and planting bombs. Latino supporters of a Mexican "Reconquista" are much less dangerous than jihadists and probably a smaller minority in communities that are otherwise open to American patriotism. But that does not make them entirely harmless.

If Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro are watching, they probably see the crowds as containing potential allies within the belly of the Yanqui beast. No doubt their hopes are exaggerated; equally doubtless, they are not wholly without foundation.

Congress must not be pushed

What the rest of the U.S. Congress now needs to do is to make absolutely clear that we can be neither bullied nor provoked into folly. It should therefore pass the Republican House's "enforcement only" bill in the immediate future while beginning a long and calm consideration of policies to reduce future immigration to assimilable levels, gradually move away from multi-culturalism and bilingualism, establish better mechanisms of assimilation, abolish dual nationality, and generally ensure that the immigration produces American patriots rather than resentful expatriates.

If instead Congress, when it returns, endorses the illegal alien demonstrations by passing an amnesty-and-guest-worker bill, then the U.S. borders will gradually dissolve into meaninglessness. And the United States may cease to be a nation and become instead a territory on which two or more nations contend for mastery.

John O'Sullivan is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute in Washington, D.C., and editor-at-large of National Review magazine. He lives in Decatur.

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