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Resisting Immigration Reform
Identity politics rejects ending illegal immigration and reforming legal immigration.


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Victor Davis Hanson

We are fast approaching what promises to be the year of “comprehensive immigration reform.” In the manner of the “Affordable Care Act,” it will not be comprehensive nor will it reform immigration.

All sorts of new trends have emerged in the American Southwest to address the fact that federal immigration law does not really apply to those who arrived here illegally from Mexico or Latin America. In-state tuition discounts at public universities are now customarily extended to those without citizenship — in effect, privileging the foreign national over the U.S.-citizen student from out of state who helps subsidize the cost. Cities establish sanctuary zones that protect illegal immigrants from the enforcement of federal immigration laws — and the taxpayer picks up the additional tab in social services. Imagine what might happen should a city declare in similar fashion that it was exempt from enforcing federal gun-control laws.

Another trend is the effort to end penalties for past use of multiple Social Security numbers. Many who crossed the border illegally adopted various — and thus fraudulent — identities and acquired numerous Social Security numbers. When they later obtained green cards or citizenship, their poly-personas were found out. But isn’t it discriminatory to count such illegal behavior against the job applicant, if such criteria apply disproportionately to a particular ethnic group?

In other words, there is an effort to make the idea of immigration law per se mostly irrelevant, and instead to focus only on the immigrant in terms of his ethnic makeup and place of origin. Otherwise, who would oppose simply closing the border? Many Latinos, of course, would object should Kenyans, Slovakians, and Koreans be coming by boat by the thousands and landing illegally on the coast near San Diego. Like other Americans, they would probably demand enforcement of common-sense federal immigration law.

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If the present political conundrum were not about identity but only about the issue of immigration per se, then compromise would be rather easy. For example, in regard to the several million foreign nationals estimated to be residing in the U.S. illegally, but without arrest records, not on public assistance, and with a record of residence going back several years, many Americans would be willing to offer some sort of path to citizenship that would entail paying a fine, demonstrating English proficiency, and passing a basic citizenship test — while in the meantime allowing the applicant provisional legal residence on a green card.

Unfortunately, open-borders advocates would object to the idea that the borders should be closed and thus illegal immigration from Latin America and Mexico, as we have known it, should essentially end. Especially bothersome would be establishing criteria to determine whether those who broke the law to enter the U.S. at least have not arrived only recently on rumors of amnesty, have been able to avoid arrest, and have worked steadily and not gone on public assistance.

Who would oppose deportation for those who did not meet such reasonable requisites? After all, would any country in the world allow foreign nationals to cross illegally into its territory, commit crimes, draw public assistance — and then be rewarded with citizenship?

If there were good-faith efforts to reform legal immigration, again compromise would be easy. We would simply establish criteria that would privilege those with educational degrees and skill sets, make completely crime-free backgrounds mandatory, and ignore ethnic and racial makeup. Yet in the topsy-turvy world we live in today, such reasonable criteria would be anathema to the open-borders lobby, which will fight ferociously against the idea that conviction for a crime or public dependency should be grounds for not extending amnesties to those who came illegally and broke laws to remain in the United States. This, after all, might result not, as is the case at present, in the vast majority of new immigrants coming from Latin America and Mexico but, instead, in classically liberal fashion, in a true diversity of immigrants from Asia, Africa, and Europe as well as our own hemisphere.

If the illegal-immigration debate is not just about providing amnesty for long-residing aliens who, after once breaking immigration law, have avoided arrest and who have been gainfully employed, and if the legal-immigration controversy is not about establishing meritocratic criteria that would promote diversity and ignore race and ethnicity, then what drives the current acrimony?



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