We all are familiar with the debates surrounding illegal immigration: absolute versus flexible laws; amnesty versus deportation or earned citizenship; closed versus open borders; entitlement dependency versus work no one else will do.
We also know the debates over the causation of this perfect storm that has resulted in 12 to 15 million illegal aliens residing in the United States. Was it the Right’s desire for cheap labor or the Left’s wish for more constituents, or both?
Was it abetted by the middle-class habit of wanting inexpensive nannies, housekeepers, and gardeners, and facilitated by the professional Latino elite’s dream of remaking American demography, with the ensuing careerist windfalls?
Of course, there was a desperate Mexico’s tripartite aim of obtaining billions in remittances, exporting what it apparently considers a bothersome poor, and winning a loyal expatriate population that seems to like Mexico all the more the farther it is distant.
The sloganeering and mytho-history were necessary relish: Illegal aliens only do the work others won’t do; the borders crossed indigenous peoples rather than they the borders; aliens are instead “undocumented workers,” who all work and who forgot their documentation at the border; America’s own poor are not hurt by the driving down of wages.
But lost in all of this talk is the real mystery at hand. The United States — ad hoc, often nonchalantly, without much debate or discussion — is currently engaged in one of the largest, most ambitious attempts at foreign aid and nation building in its history, one far more costly and daring that what is going on in either Afghanistan or Iraq. That such a project is not legal, much less approved by our lawmakers, and is funded largely by local and state governments, does not mean that it is not a project nonetheless.
Quite simply, America in almost instantaneous fashion has chosen to take in millions of the poorest citizens of one of the poorer nations in the world in an attempt to transmogrify them into middle-class suburbanites within a generation. That may not be the explicit description of our undertaking, but it surely is one arrived at empirically. And it is a multifaceted political, economic, cultural, and social effort that involves tens of millions of Americans at all levels of society and is proving to be the near salvation of Mexico.
Under the old protocols of legal immigration, we assumed that the world’s poor arrived here, struggled, learned English, assimilated, instructed their children in the exceptionalism of America, and achieved parity — but often not until the third generation. All that — both the methodology and the results — is obsolete today. In short, those who lived in near-18th-century poverty in Oaxaca can become statistical proof of America’s supposed racism and oppression in a nanosecond by simply crossing the border illegally. That they were poor and ignored in Mexico is considered almost natural; that they are still poorer than others after coming a foot north of the border and spending a second on U.S. soil becomes proof of the failure of America itself.
Take away illegal immigration, and in terms of assimilation, intermarriage, integration, income, and general well-being, the so-called Latino population is not all that much out of sync with the rest of America. Factor in millions of Mexican nationals, and we apparently have a massive problem that calls for Manhattan Project–like remedies, with all of the interested parties predictably participating.
Almost all university race-based research — and it is considerable — seeks to discover disparities in longevity, health, housing, and general quality of life, and it finds them, those responsible for them, and the government programs needed to address them. Such studies make no distinction in legal status. A recently arrived Mexican national from Jalisco who delivers a baby without much prenatal care is just as much proof of America’s “broken” health-care system as if she were an American citizen without health insurance. The failure to reach utopian results is as widely lamented as the near impossibility of the task of such massive assimilation is neglected.