Can we be honest about illegal immigration?
It is a common challenge to almost every advanced Western country that is adjacent to poorer nations.
American employers and ethnic activists have long colluded to weaken border enforcement and render immigration law meaningless. The former wanted greater profits from cheaper labor, the latter wished more political clout for themselves.
Mexico conspired, too. It received billions of easy dollars in remittances from its expatriates in America. Mexico had few qualms about letting millions of its citizens illegally cross its northern border into the United States — even though the Mexican government would never tolerate millions of Central Americans illegally crossing the border to become permanent residents of Mexico.
For better or worse, illegal immigration is tied to race and ethnicity. No doubt, ignorant racism drives some to oppose illegal immigration. But by the same token, the advocates of open borders, many of them with strong ties to Mexico, would not be so energized about the issue if hundreds of thousands of Europeans or Africans were entering the U.S. illegally each year.
There is too often a surreal disconnect about the perception of the U.S. in the immigration debate.
Millions, we sometimes forget, are fleeing from the authoritarianism, racism, corruption and class oppression of Mexico. They have voted with their feet to reject that model and to choose a completely different — and often antithetical — economic, social, cultural and political paradigm in the United States. Somehow that bothersome fact is lost in the habitual criticism of a hospitable and magnanimous America.
Then there is the matter of law. America went to war over the Confederate states’ nullification of federal laws. A century and a half later, do we really want hundreds of sanctuary cities, each declaring irrelevant certain federal laws that they find bothersome?
For every left-wing city that declares immigration statutes inoperative, a right-wing counterpart might do the same with the Endangered Species Act, gun registration laws, affirmative action or gay marriage. The result would be chaos and anarchy, not compassion.
Controversy has arisen over the number of undocumented immigrants who have committed felonies or serious misdemeanors, such as the Mexican national — a repeat felon and deportee — recently charged with the fatal shooting of a young woman in San Francisco. But the furor begs the question: Why would any guest violate the rules of his host? And why is the data on such violations so hard to come by and so prone to controversy?
Either the number of undocumented immigrants who commit crimes is so vast that no one knows the extent of the problem, or there are political hurdles in determining that number — or drawing politically incorrect conclusions from it.
We should not minimize criminality. Creating a false identity, using a fraudulent Social Security number and knowingly filing inaccurate federal forms are serious felonies for most Americans. They are neither minor infractions nor simply the innocuous wages of living in the shadows, but undermine the sinews of a society.
Numbers also count. When millions come to a country illegally, integration breaks down and tribalism takes over. Do we really want permanent Balkanized ethnic lobbies, frozen in amber — another century of a monolithic Asian, white or Latino vote? Are Americans to fragment even more, as they collectively sigh, “If they vote predictably along ethnic lines, I guess I should, too”?
President Obama talks grandly of “immigration reform.” But he apparently does not mean what most Americans would assume from that faddish catchphrase.
Reform should first include strict enforcement of the border. A new, ethnically blind immigration system would select from among applicants based on skill sets and education, and consider candidates from all over the world — not on the basis of ethnic identity or proximity to the border.
Immediate and lasting deportation would ensue for those who committed crimes or cynically chose to receive public assistance rather than work while here illegally.
Many Americans are in favor of offering a path to legal residence to those undocumented immigrants who have long lived and worked in the U.S. and have crime-free records — after they pay a fine for breaking federal law and then wait patiently in line while the legal process plays out — as long as the border is sealed to prevent future illegal immigration.
If some newly legal residents wished to become full-fledged citizens, then they could pass citizenship and English tests and assimilate into the American body politic.
Somehow I doubt that this fair, reasonable process is what the president really wants.
Victor Davis Hanson is a Tribune Content Agency columnist. He is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.