President Barack Obama recently assured El Salvador that the United States would not deport the more than 200,000 Salvadorans residing illegally in the United States. As the election nears, and the president looks to court Hispanic voters, he has also created a new position of “public advocate” for illegal immigrants, whose duties would appear to be advocating that millions circumvent, rather than follow, current federal law.
The administration has also said it will focus its enforcement only on those who have committed crimes — with the implicit understanding that it is no longer a crime to illegally enter and reside in the United States. Obama has caricatured those supporting completion of a fence on the border as wanting to place alligators in the Rio Grande.
It is time that Americans revisit the issue and ponder very carefully the morality of entering the United States illegally.
True, American employers have welcomed in illegal aliens as a source of cheap labor. Employers were happy to pass the ensuing social costs on to taxpayers. To summarily deport those who have resided here for 20 years, obeyed the law, worked hard, stayed off public assistance, and are now willing to pay a fine, demonstrate English proficiency, and pass a citizenship test would be impracticable, callous, and counterproductive.
Most, however, probably do not fit those reasonable criteria.
More important, we forget that the influx of millions of illegal aliens unfairly undercuts the wages of the working American poor, especially in times of high unemployment.
Crossing the border was also hardly a one-time “infraction.” It was the beginning of serial unethical behavior, as illegal aliens on everyday forms and affidavits are not truthful about their immigration status.
The legal process of immigrating to America has been reduced to a free-for-all rush to the border. Million of applicants abroad wait patiently, if not naïvely, in line to have their education, skills, and capital resources evaluated. But they are punished with delay or rejection because they alone follow immigration law.
Billions of dollars in state and federal social services do not just help provide parity to illegal aliens, but also free them to send back about $50 billion in remittances to Latin America each year. That staggering sum also suggests that Mexico and other Latin American governments, as an element of national policy, quite cynically export human capital to gain U.S. dollars, rather than make the necessary economic, social, and political reforms to keep their own human capital at home.
Nor is it very liberal to turn illegal immigration into an issue of identity and tribal politics. Too many advocates for open borders and amnesty argue about the politics of ethnic solidarity rather than considerations of immigration law. In other words, we do not hear much national outrage over the plight of the occasional Pole, Nigerian, or Korean who overstays his tourist visa, but rather equate the circumvention of immigration law almost exclusively with social justice for Latinos.
How reactionary and illiberal that debate has become, when Mexican-Americans who object to the undermining of immigration law are slandered as sellouts, while non-Hispanics who do the same are smeared as racists and nativists.
In fact, illegal immigration has unfairly warped perceptions of Hispanic success. If one does not include millions of recently arrived, poor Latin American foreign nationals in federal and state surveys, then Hispanic-American citizens prove statistically to be assimilating, intermarrying, integrating, and finding economic success at rates comparable to those of many other immigrant groups of the past.
To mean anything, laws have to be followed. When newcomers choose to ignore them, then the entire structure of jurisprudence crashes as well. If aliens are free to ignore federal immigration law, why can’t citizens likewise pick and choose which statutes they find inconvenient?
Finally, illegal immigration has wrongly been couched in terms of a xenophobic and insensitive exploiter preying on a more noble and defenseless guest. In truth, the United States is the most generous host in the world, and never more so than during the present age.
There are now about 40 million foreign-born people residing in the United States, both legal and illegal immigrants. That is both the greatest absolute number and the greatest percentage of the population in our nation’s history. No other country in the world is more liberal in its legal immigration policies or has been more caring toward new arrivals. To suggest otherwise is dishonest and shows an ignorance of how most countries, who now export their citizens to the U.S., treat any who would do the same to them.
We can argue about the history or the future of illegal immigration. But please spare us the psychodramatic appeals to a higher morality.
In most respects, illegal immigration has proven as immoral as it is unlawful.
— Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and the author, most recently, of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom. © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.