Compromised Immigration Reform
All the concessions are supposed to come from Republicans.


Victor Davis Hanson

Third, so far the immigration debate turns on the question of amnesty: Who gets to stay and why? But putting it that way fudges the taboo question: Who does not get to stay and why? Under the present suggested reforms, millions might be given green cards and a pathway to citizenship — while fewer unqualified others (whose numbers still could be substantial) would do exactly what? Stay undocumented in the shadows, return home, or wait until the next round of amnesty?

In other words, I doubt whether the Democratic leadership would accept a non-DREAM act, under which those convicted of crimes, those habitually on public assistance, and those who only recently arrived would have to leave the United States and return to their native countries.

Fourth, we have strange notions about the role of Mexico, as if it were a partner in reform. Yet it is the recipient of perhaps $20 to $30 billion in annual remittances from the United States, and it sees the border as a safety valve for internal dissent. In brilliant fashion, Mexico has cloaked its understandable self-interest with a humanitarian veneer, championing its expatriates in the United States in a way it never did when they resided within its borders.

In our relationship with Mexico we accept a number of asymmetrical absurdities that are not supposed to arise in polite conversation about immigration reform: Mexico lectures the U.S. about proper treatment of its own population, whose current economic disparity is, in some part, a direct result of immigrants giving up large portions of their U.S. income in remittances to make up for the absence of a safety net for relatives left behind in Mexico. It assumes that the United States does not and should not mimic Mexico’s own favoritism for native-born citizens in matters of government employment, military service, and public assistance. And Mexico believes that the U.S. under no circumstances should emulate its own immigration policy and treat Mexican illegal immigrants here the way Mexico treats illegal immigrants from Central America.

Fifth, immigrant lobbies have never squared the circle of demanding citizenship from a country that in most activist literature is portrayed quite negatively. From the trivial (the illegal alien who fled Mexico but whose car is plastered with Mexican-flag decals) to the important (Chicano Studies departments that teach southwestern American history as melodramatic pathology to students who desperately wish to acquire U.S. citizenship and discard or ignore their Mexican citizenship), we are baffled by the idea that criticizing America in the abstract is compatible with wanting it in the concrete. That paradox leads ultimately to an unsustainable situation — as we saw in the surreal reception of the U.S. national soccer team by the jeering crowd at the Rose Bowl in 2011. For many Americans the idea that guests make demands on their hosts is odd enough; but the notion that the country that was glad to say goodbye to its millions is so often romanticized while the one that accepted them is so often faulted is incomprehensible.

Sixth, we face an existential crisis in the United States: We are suffering one of the two worst stretches of long-term unemployment since World War II while demanding the importation of foreign workers. Something is terribly wrong in a system that can welcome a foreign national into a job in a meat-packing plant or as a hotel janitor with the expectation that neither his own offspring nor any other American citizen would be willing to do such work — a fact ensuring yet more foreign-national workers in the future.

As a nation, we have lost respect for hard physical work. Our welfare, food stamps, and unemployment and disability insurances have made entry-level employment not worth the effort. A large farmer in Fresno County can lecture on the need for a guest-worker program to ensure him pickers from central Mexico, even as the unemployment rate hits 17 percent in the surrounding towns. His plea — “Americans won’t do the work” — may be true now; but it is nonetheless not a legitimate answer, at least not unless we ask why and how this anomaly happened. Until America makes being a busboy or thinning apricots more respected, and more remunerative than sitting at home, it has no business negotiating a “guest worker” program. And why do those who clamor the most loudly for cheap foreign labor seem to keep the farthest distant from the schools and homes of their workers?

To achieve comprehensive immigration reform, the Republicans would have to concede amnesty for most but without deportation for some, and accept that meritocratic legal immigration would be seen as inherently unfair and border enforcement as something always up for discussion.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. His The Savior Generals will appear in May from Bloomsbury Books.