Sometime around 1212, mystics in Europe cooked up the idea that kids could part the seas, reach the Holy Land, reclaim Jerusalem, and convert the infidel Muslims. Thousands of children in Northern Europe flocked to the Mediterranean in response to such rumors, but when they reached the shore, the seas would not part, and many of them died as they scattered home in hunger.
We are witnessing a sort of children’s crusade on our own southern border. Thousands of young, poor would-be immigrants — 90,000 this year alone — have swarmed across the border, the logical fruition of the entire cynical approach of the Obama administration toward illegal immigration.
People in Latin America took note of the erosion of U.S. immigration law, as did our friends in Mexico who facilitated their transit. It is not quite clear whether the recent surges of kids and teens are grass-roots phenomena, or in part orchestrated by the Latin American media and governments. The latter seem to think that the clueless U.S. is not much good for anything other than offering a safety valve for what they consider their own excess population and a source of billions of dollars in cash through remittances.
What we can say for sure is that Obama has nullified U.S. immigration law, made it clear that deportations were de facto over, praised the arrival of young illegal aliens, and thereby prompted a surge northward of thousands more kids without their parents. The apparent thinking of the crusading children was that the U.S. border would open, as the Mediterranean once was supposed to have done. Kids would become near-instantaneous citizens. And they would then be anchors for their patient parents, who had sent them ahead with the promise they would all soon be reunited in the north.
Let us quickly review these shibboleths.
Those who oppose illegal immigration are dubbed nativists and racists. But if so, why do Americans not object when Africans, Latinos, and Asians immigrate legally and in reasonable numbers — given that legal immigration has long since virtually ceased to be a European phenomenon?
In fact, illegal immigration is in itself a racist enterprise. Latino activists here are eager to welcome new illegal immigrants and ensure that immigration laws are not enforced not because they believe it benefits the United States. They are not concerned with the American working poor and the effect of cheap labor on their livelihoods. They could not care less about the abstract principles of immigration (what would the La Raza industry say should 300,000 Congolese immigrants, fleeing genocide, unload from freighters off the Texas coast?).
Identity-politics operatives are focused on illegal immigration solely because it involves tribal identity. Were illegal immigrants not predominantly Latinos, then Latino activists would not worry much about illegal immigration other than to oppose it. Consider the implied racialist proposition: Either accept our demand that we alone can adjudicate who enters the U.S. and under what conditions, or we declare you racists.
Mexico is not a partner with the United States, as we see from its facilitation of the current children’s crusade. For Mexico, there are simply too many upsides in flooding the border areas with its own citizens and other Latin Americans: billions of dollars in remittances, a safety valve to alleviate the consequences of its own political failures, a way to establish a population of loyal expatriates who become fonder of Mexico the more distant they are from it, and a sort of Schadenfreude that the Yanquis are getting some payback for their past insensitivity to Latin American sovereignty.
“Comprehensive immigration reform” is not meant to be reform. It is not comprehensive, and it has little to do with legal immigration. If it did, we would be told precisely how the border was first to be secured; on what grounds those illegal aliens with criminal records, those on public assistance and without a work history, and those who just arrived would be deported; and how legal immigration in the future would be adjudicated. All that is never quite spelled out, because activists do not want the border closed. They do not want anyone deported under any circumstances. They do not want legal immigration to be meritocratic and ethnically and racially blind. But they cannot say that publicly, so they revert to the slurs of “nativist” and “racist.” To the degree that any would-be reformer wishes any of the above clarifications, it is probably only on the assumption that Barack Obama won’t enforce such laws anyway, but would pick and choose those that suit him, as he has in the past.
Then we come to the Chamber of Commerce, Silicon Valley, and the WSJ crowd, who want inexpensive labor and expect the market to adjudicate human traffic to and fro across the border. Even they do not claim America is experiencing labor shortages, given that we are suffering with the largest number of non-working adults in recent history. Business people most certainly do not want illegal aliens joining unions and organizing for higher wages once they become legal residents. And they do not want their own children in “diverse” schools where large numbers of impoverished, non-English-speaking immigrants might “enrich” the educational landscape.
Corporate types as a rule worry about neighborhoods where gangs are ascendant. In truth, they want illegal aliens working in their factories, hotels, restaurants, and fields, but not living next door. I don’t quite know whether the corporate grandee just wants cheap labor, with the understanding that government and the taxpayer will pick up the ensuing social costs of illegal immigration when his laborers become sick or too old to work, or whether he finds his loud support for illegal immigration a sort of psychological recompense for his guilt over his own apartheid existence, but the two are not mutually exclusive.
Go to Palo Alto or Mountain View and then contrast it with Redwood City: Metrosexuals and Pajama Boy techies make a great deal of money in the former, while their low-paid gardeners and nannies crowd into the latter. And never the twain seems to meet, if at all possible. If Silicon Valley’s billionaires were to build mansions in Redwood City and plan to put their children in the public schools there, they might be a bit more credible in their loud denunciations of all those who are not persuaded by their multi-million-dollar advocacy of illegal immigration.
Then there is the public. We do not insist that immigrants learn English, as our grandparents did a hundred years ago. We do not instruct them in the history, protocols, and traditions of our own country — not surprising, perhaps, given that either we no longer know them ourselves, or, if we do, we find them disturbing. We do not live among and associate with Latino immigrants. And then we wonder why all of sudden an illegal alien from Oaxaca boos the U.S. soccer team as he cheers on Mexico’s, or why those who risked their lives to flee horrid conditions in Mexico plaster the Mexican flag on their cars in a way they would never do in Mexico. Or why, after tramping into the American desert ostensibly to become an American, the immigrant child proceeds to soak up in his Chicano Studies class why the desert is not really American in the first place. Only this bankrupt generation of Americans could distill messages to illegal aliens that the homeland they fled is wonderful and the paradise they risked their lives to reach is abhorrent.
What a sad bunch we have become. Add them all up: a demagogic president at war with the Constitution and eager to nullify existing law for partisan purposes; the conniving employer who wants cheap labor to drive down the cost of doing business as he praises the “free market”; the scheming Mexican government in need of remittances and apparently desirous to have fewer of the poor, indigenous people of Oaxaca; the racialist identity activists who in projection call everyone else racist; the calculating Democratic politician eager to have more impoverished constituents who need him to give them stuff; the bankrupt educationalists who dreamed up ethnic-studies classes that would retard integration and assimilation.
To paraphrase Tacitus, we created a desert and called it comprehensive immigration reform.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Savior Generals.