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Senate’s Upside-Logic Cake
The need to unite behind enforcement.


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John O’Sullivan

Last week, a coalition of eight Democrats and four Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee endorsed and ratified the prior weekend’s mass demonstrations by illegal immigrants against a proposed law passed earlier by the House of Representatives to enforce border security.

That law, responding to the anxieties of two thirds of Americans in opinion polls, would have reduced illegal immigration by placing sanctions on employers who hire them and by improving border security. Of course, it has always been against the law to hire illegal aliens and to enter the United States illegally; this simple but necessary measure did no more than tell the government to enforce existing laws.

That, however, was too much for the Senate. 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, senators now seem likely to insist that any such enforcement law must also amnesty the 12 million illegal immigrants already here and admit more legal immigrants by a “guest-worker” program and higher quotas for legal immigration.

In other words, the Senate will act on the following 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 very recently the advocates of this upside-down logic–Sens. Ted Kennedy and John McCain, President Bush, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, labor unions, various pro-immigration “experts” and almost all the nation’s editorial writers–maintained that immigration of all kinds, illegal and legal, was not a problem at all. It was a benefit from which all Americans and the U.S. economy gained enormously.

“Enforcement plus amnesty” was also the formula Congress invoked in 1986, passing an outright amnesty, paired with supposedly tough enforcement provisions to forestall future illegals. But, operating under that “all immigration is good” philosophy, the federal government simply stopped enforcing the 1986 law some time around, say, 1987.

By 2004, exactly four employers nationwide were prosecuted for employing those 12 million illegal aliens. Four. Think of them as winning a kind of reverse lottery.

Yet this vast official deception has become increasingly hard either to ignore or to justify. More and more Americans–mainly unskilled (lower-income) workers 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 only 9 percent of net new adult jobs went to the native-born Americans who form 61 percent of the workforce–and 1.5 million discouraged Americans left that workforce 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.”

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 Times and Bush in a rare bipartisan coalition) that immigrants take only those jobs that “Americans won’t do.”

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. workforce and 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.”

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 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 . . .”

Again, that was precisely the argument used to justify the 1986 amnesty that resulted in the 2004 prosecutions of four employers.

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

Even if new laws succeeded in admitting only legal immigrants in future, that would still mean admitting tens of millions more poor people to the United States–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 very little added tax revenue.

As Robert Samuelson has powerfully argued in the Washington Post, this is a policy of importing poverty: “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’s 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?

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 a divided bicultural 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 their 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 were not in fact 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.”

The rest of Congress need not go along with this folly. It can and should pass a “border-enforcement only” law in the immediate future–and then begin a long and calm consideration of policies to reduce future immigration to assimilable levels, gradually move away from multiculturalism and bilingualism, establish better mechanisms of assimilation, abolish dual nationality, and generally ensure that immigration produces American patriots rather than resentful expatriates.

If instead Congress ratifies the Judiciary Committee’s endorsement of the illegal-alien demonstrations by passing an amnesty/guest-worker bill, then America’s borders will gradually dissolve into meaninglessness. And the United States itself 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 and editor-at-large of National Review. He is currently writing a book on Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II.



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