November 28, 2011
In the Republican debate on national security last week, Newt Gingrich confounded not only political pundits but the conservative Base by calling for a more practical, humane policy on illegal immigration. It wasn't supposed to be the main focus of the debate, but an offhand comment he made sort of took a life of its own. In response to a query about the issue, he said:
If you've come here recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home period. If you've been here 25 years and you got three kids, two grandkids, paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church -- I don't think we're going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.
While I basically agree with what he is saying, and am glad that Gingrich took a firm stand on behalf of reality-based politics, I was a little annoyed that he kept using that same cliché over and over again. That kind of situation probably accounts for less than five percent of all illegal immigrants, so Gingrich was in a sense using a red-herring argument. Of course nobody's going to deport some immigrant who is well established and abides by the law. And the repeated reference to belonging to a church -- as if some bureaucrat is going to check up on church attendance to see if someone gets to stay in this country or not. Not very likely.
Meanwhile, the rest of the candidates in the debate wasted no time in "get tough" rhetoric, making sure to please the hard core conservatives who dominate the party. In doing so, they demeaned themselves and the party. It reminds me of the rather ugly campaign brochure distributed by State Senatorial candidate Scott Sayre in the spring of 2007. Then, as now, I object to the idea that we need a massive police dragnet to get rid of all illegal immigrants. Deporting the criminals is an obvious first priority, and attrition will take care of most of the rest of the problem. But the first thing that needs to be done is get everyone who is already here illegally registered, as a prerequisite to any future chance at getting long-term legalized status. On that part, Newt Gingrich is absolutely correct. We can figure out what to do with the rest of them in due course.
In the Washington Post, columnist Dan Balz doubts that Gingrich can manage the balancing act for very long. He sees the matter in terms of voter ethnicity: "An overwhelmingly white party must find a way to expand its coalition if it hopes to have success in a country that is growing more diverse by the day." I agree it's a challenge for the GOP, but it would be a terrible mistake to set policies according to calculations of how they will affect particular groups, ethnic or otherwise. Facing up to the severe distorting effects that illegal immigration has on our economy as a whole is absolutely essential for undertaking the kinds of long-term structural policy reforms that will promote the creation of good jobs for American workers.
Rick Perry's waffling stance on the right to education by illegal immigrants brought to light a curious fact about the Lone Star State. As reported by dallasnews.com:
The number of illegal immigrant college students paying in-state tuition and receiving financial aid at Texas' public colleges and universities continues to climb, according to state higher education records.
During the fall semester, 12,138 students - about 1 percent of all Texas college students - benefited from the state law granting in-state tuition, according to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Most of the immigrants among those students are illegal, and some others are not legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens.
Texas awarded about $33.6 million in state and institutional financial aid to those students between fall 2004 and summer 2008.
In 2001, Texas became the first state in the country to pass an in-state tuition law. The law created a national movement. Many private universities also now award aid to illegal immigrant students.
And in case you're still not convinced that illegal immigration is harmful, take a look at what has happened to the town of Maywood, California at thelandofthefree.net. Pro-Latino immigrant radicals have run amuck, and the municipal government can no longer provide essential city services. Also see Americans for Legal Immigration. Hat tip to Stacey Morris.
The flap started by Newt provides me with an opportunity to present, for the record, various Facebook comments I have made on immigration over the past few months. Obviously, it's an issue that I care deeply about, and have for a long time. I think this will help lift the veil of ignorance from some of the canards and false premises that are often repeated by opponents of immigration reform, such as "those who want to keep out undocumented aliens are probably racists." I'm not even sure exactly when I wrote most of those things, probably in August or September. I have kept each comment in its entirety, even though the lack of context may make some of those sentences puzzling. ("Bruce" is Bruce Bartlett, "Andrew" is Andrew Murphy, and "Kevin" is Kevin Gutzman; I'm not sure about Michael and Steven.)
Here in Virginia, Prince William County Supervisor Corey Stewart obtained official records which revealed that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement released hundreds of illegal aliens who had been detained; see this outrage for yourself at youtube.com. My comment on Facebook:
Congratulations on responding to this latest travesty in an effective and proper way. Even many apologists for illegal immigration are starting to have second thoughts. I also appreciated your point that immigration enforcement agencies need more funding and resources to do their job.
[CLARIFICATION: The next two sets of comments responded to criticism of people whose protests against illegal immigration are grounded in the need to uphold the rule of law, which those critics regard as a hypocritical stance.]
I'm still not sure who Bruce was referring to by "strict constitutionalists ignore the plain meaning of the 14th amendment." I agree that the bill proposed by AZ state Sen. Pearce violates the 14th Amendment; that's self-evident. What disturbs me is the continuing wave of derision by Bruce and others aimed at those of us who defend the rule of law, on immigration as well as other areas. The status quo is unsustainable, so if you've got a better solution to the myriad ills caused by mass-scale illegal immigration, please let us know.
@ Bruce -- I know of some people like that, who make excuses for tax evasion but rail against illegal workers. Their hypocrisy makes me sick, but I don't think they are typical of those who defend the rule of law.
@ Murphy -- Labor CAN cross borders, just like capital. In both cases, however, such movements are subject to laws of the respective countries and to international agreements. If the legal framework is scoffed at, the very notion of a fair society is subverted. The arguments you provide in favor of more immigration are just missing the big picture. The status quo constitutes a fraud of gigantic proportions, allowing companies to weasel out of providing workers the benefits that legal workers enjoy, just so the upper classes can enjoy goods and services at cheap prices.
That being the case, to take the libertarian/globalist position of just opening up the borders and letting everybody in -- at a time when unemployment is very high -- would amount to declaring war on the American working class. If you want to go that route, then be open about it and push for new laws to raise the annual quota, or just do away with quotas. But don't be surprised if self-appointed border militias or Pat Buchanan's "peasants with pitchforks" go berserk.
A *conservative* (in the classical sense) position would strike a prudent balance between economic forces (i.e., partial accommodation of globalization) and social forces (i.e., preserving national identity and giving lower-class Americans a stake in their country's future). To me, it's obvious we need to raise the quotas, but I would insist that it be as part of a reform package that includes cutting back worker entitlements (esp. UI) and cracking down on employers who profit from the "indentured servants." Without such a reform -- which is NOT what Pres. Obama or most immigrant advocates mean when THEY talk about "reform" -- it's pointless to argue over whether to restrict or loosen up on immigration.
Another series comments of mine on Bruce Bartlett's page:
Kevin is right: You really need to live in Latin America to understand that their poverty is largely a reflection of a defective culture that sneers at civil society and the rule of law. For most of them, the way to get ahead in life is to cheat. I say this not as a "bigot" but with sadness and pain, because there is also much to admire in Latin American culture. Unless we get a handle on the influx of immigrants and assimilate them, however, we will become more like them.
Back to Bruce's original comment ("Arizona-type laws are losers, politically"), I agree, ironically. Of course the polls in Arizona indicate support, because those people know what is going on and have to face the consequences, but in other parts of the nation it's easier to adopt a "compassionate" posture, scorning the "racist bigots." Pathos trumps logos.
The same general phenomenon also applies to cutting the budget deficit, reforming entitlements, reforming education, and just about every other cause I believe in. Likewise, the civil rights reforms of the 1950s and 60s were suicidal in political terms, and we should be thankful that LEADERS ignored conventional-minded nay-sayers and did what was RIGHT.
That seems to be the exact opposite argument of the cultural determinists such as Lawrence Harrison or Max Weber. I take a more nuanced view.
If it were not for the fact that the status quo deliberately fosters mass-scale illegal immigration, then the adaptation of which you speak might have been feasible. Tragically, that did not happen, and now we have a tacit system of apartheid in which cultural pride militates against the healthy and fruitful "cross-pollination" between Anglo and Latin cultures that I used to dream about.
Sure: It's an unholy tacit alliance between (mostly Republican) businesses that need cheap labor with no bargaining rights and Latino immigrant advocates (mostly Democrat) who are desperate to get their foot in the door as the first step toward legalized status. Neither party at present represents the public interest, and the current populist thrust of the GOP raises the danger of xenophobic hysteria, blaming the exploited victims for the failure of U.S. immigration policy.
Certainly pride does not have to be toxic, but when illegal ("undocumented") people come to be a dominant proportion of the Latino immigrant community, there arises within the legal faction a mixture of shame and resentment of the way their compatriots are treated. The established practice of tolerating illegal immigration is creating unbearable psychological tension in individuals, and leading to greater tension in society as a whole.
Michael -- We are speaking not of immigrants in general, but of ILLEGAL immigrants, who by definition are excluded from Social Security benefits, can't join unions (at least not yet), and lack standing to seek legal redress for grievances. As you say, they can just turn down a job if they don't like it, but their mobility is severely limited, and most of them would prefer to remain exploited rather than going hungry or try to find a way to return home. It is a perverse and evil human condition.
In most cases, their ILLEGAL (no need for quotes) status is why they are here in the first place. Making them legal en masse would automatically entitle them to the benefits listed above, thus voiding their attractiveness to sleazy employers, who would then have to find NEW illegal immigrants to hire. It would merely speed up the process that has been going on anyway for the past few decades, as earlier cadres of illegals eventually gain legal status, and need to be replaced by new cadres with no rights. It's a colossal scam, and you're not going to rectify matters by letting the co-conspirators off the hook.
The essential corollary point that I have made elsewhere is that the status quo of generous "compassionate" entitlement programs undermines the incentive for native-born Americans to do manual labor. We're not as bad as France yet, but we're getting there. Until unemployment insurance is abolished and replaced by some kind of public works program, there will remain a huge demand for illegal workers.
On a separate point, you are quite right that many immigrants have learned to become successful entrepreneurs, defying the "wetback" stereotype. It's indeed a ray of hope, but it's clouded by the fact that many of those businesses (or their clients) operate on the margins of the law.
Steve -- Mexico, etc. are as much a part of the globalizing economy as we are, and perhaps more. Many Americans can get by in spite of being ignorant of international market conditions, but poor countries don't have that luxury. I wouldn't call them "victims," necessarily, but their choices are more sharply constrained, at least.
Michael -- I'm afraid I don't understand why you and many others resist using the word "illegal" when it comes to immigrants who have broken the law, in one way or another. That attitude is itself at the root of our country's inability to grapple with the problem, leading to greater polarization within the U.S., and needless enmity with our neighbors to the south. It's not just a quibble over terms, the status of illegality is rather a fundamental aspect of the socially bankrupt social entitlements system in this country. American businesses NEED illegal workers in order to circumvent obligations to provide unsustainably generous wages and benefits which are mandated by law. (You seem to not want to make that connection.) But hardly any Republican politicians want to alienate their big business contributors, so they pander to the xenophobic crowd and make a big noise while doing nothing to address the underlying forces that create the problem.
The way to address the plight of illegal immigrants (in which they share culpability with the employers) is not to give them legal papers, as though the government were admitting that its laws were not valid, but to encourage them to press for reforms in their own countries, including more free and open markets. The choice between the U.S. becoming more like the Third World out of a misguided sense of compassion or Latin America achieving broad-based socio-economic development is crystal clear.
Michael -- Sorry for the hiatus, I'm back. I'm still puzzled by your not wanting to have "illegal" modify "status," but if it's just a syntactical issue, it's probably not worth hashing over. Many people object to the very notion of illegal aliens, which is a dispute of a substantive nature.
As for wages and benefits, I'm referring to the panoply of labor laws including minimum wage, unemployment insurance, etc. and in particular those which companies that do business with the Federal government must heed. The fact that there is such a huge number of illegal workers here is primarily a function of the artificial shortage of domestic workers caused by policies which raise the price of labor (wages, etc.) far above the equilibrium level. We're following in the footsteps of European countries (especially France) where workers are coddled with so many entitlements that native-born people refuse to do the "dirty jobs" necessary to keep society running. Hence the huge influx of (UN-entitled) immigrants from S.E. Europe, Africa, and Asia, leading to social strife, xenophobia, etc.
As you suggest, part of any lasting solution to the problem of illegal immigration would be to sharply curtail such entitlements, so that a semblance of equilibrium would return to the labor market. Some favor an isolationistic policy, trying to preserve the old way of life for American workers, while others embrace globalization, implying that the standards of living of American workers will gradually converge with those in the Third World. I'm in between those two extremes.
I'm not sure on what basis you believe that current laws are "wrong," but the law IS the law. Mass amnesty would spark mass outrage. I would say the law needs to be brought into rough concordance with economic realities, as part of a reform of labor laws, etc. In the current polarized political climate, however, I'm not very hopeful.
In ironic juxtaposition to the fierce debate over immigration policy in Arizona and elsewhere, a court has granted asylum to President Obama's aunt, who was about to be deported to Kenya six years ago. Now Zeituni Onyango has a precious "path to citizenship," no doubt raising hopes for millions of others in the Third World waiting for their golden opportunity. See the Washington Post. Well, isn't that special?