Politics & Policy

Amnesty Trapdoor

What is the president thinking on immigration?

In comedy, when you see a man walking straight towards an open trapdoor, his eyes fixed on the far horizon, you laugh. In politics, when you see the same thing, you wonder why.

Just now President Bush is striding three-quarters of the way to “open borders” immigration policy. According to the Washington Post, Mr. Bush will next week announce an immigration package with three new elements:

1. A new visa system for “temporary” workers who would be allowed into the U.S. if there were jobs unfilled by Americans waiting for them (i.e., a new guest-worker program.)

2. Some kind of “legal status” for the estimated eight million “undocumented workers” in the U.S., i.e., an amnesty for illegal aliens.

3. Stricter entry controls “to make the plan more palatable to conservatives.”

Even on its own terms, Mr. Bush’s plan is full of holes. Experience from Germany to California shows that “guest-worker” programs invariably increase illegal immigration since they create welcoming cultural enclaves of foreign nationals into which the “illegals” promptly vanish without trace. Amnesties also encourage illegal immigration by sending the message that if an “undocumented worker” makes it over the border, he will eventually be granted legal status. The 1986 amnesty prompted just such an upsurge in illegal immigration. And what exactly is the point of stricter border controls if you admit anyone willing to work-temporarily–for starvation wages? Surely not even Republican congressmen are likely to be deceived by such a “palatable” absurdity.

All in all the effect of such reforms will be to increase both legal and illegal immigration massively. This in turn will foster an underworld of American life in which the authorities–despite the palatable cosmetic of better border technology–are simply unable to keep track of who is in the U.S. and for what reason. It hardly needs pointing out that such an underworld would be an ideal environment of night and fog for the terrorists to move about in.

We have already gone too far in building such an underworld. It is an open secret that neither administration officials nor federal immigration judges enforce the law on deporting illegal aliens. Judges in particular often refuse to order arrest warrants for those illegal aliens who fail to turn up for their court hearings. And according to a senior official in the Homeland Security Department (quoted by Michelle Malkin in her indispensable column), the Bush administration is about to reintroduce the Travel Without a Visa program that has enabled illegal aliens from countries harboring al Qaeda terrorists to simply walk out of Los Angeles airport into the underworld. They probably weren’t terrorists. But who knows?

Both our current immigration policy and the “reforms” proposed by the president are national-security disasters waiting to happen. So why is Mr. Bush walking so determinedly towards the trapdoor?

Can it be that more immigration will benefit the U.S. economy sufficiently to justify the national-security and other risks? The answer to that is plainly “no.” Peter Brimelow’s Alien Nation remains the best guide to the economic arguments. But research shows quite clearly that the net economic benefit to native-born Americans from immigration is miniscule–and dwarfed by the fiscal costs that immigration imposes in the form of higher spending needed for the extra schools, hospitals, roads, and other services that immigrants use.

Two specific groups do benefit substantially from immigration: namely the immigrants themselves and those who employ them at lower wages than Americans would accept. The corollary, however, is that some specific Americans lose out: namely, low-paid workers, often minority Americans, who must either lose their jobs or must accept lower wages to compete with the new arrivals.

If economic benefits are not the explanation of Mr. Bush’s reforms, what about political benefits? It is certainly possible that the president, under the tutelage of his pocket Machiavelli, Karl Rove, may believe that there are votes in a policy of more immigration. Not from the voters in general to be sure–every poll shows that about two-thirds of the American people want less immigration rather than more. But Rove apparently sees immigration as a vote-winner with particular ethnic groups, such as Hispanics who supposedly want to see Mexican “illegals” legalized, or from Arab/Muslim voters who resent some immigration controls as anti-Muslim. Nor are these just recent concerns. As part of such outreach, President Bush was scheduled to meet with Muslim and Arab-American leaders to discuss an end to ethnic profiling at airports (or “flying while Arab”) and “secret” trial evidence on the afternoon of–September 11, 2001.

However firmly held, however, such beliefs are a delusion as Steve Sailer of United Press International has documented in several analyses of exit polls for the 2002 elections. To begin with, self-identified Muslim voters account for 0.3 percent of the electorate–and 90 percent of them voted Democrat. Second, Hispanics, who account for only about 6 percent of the voters, consistently lag 20 points behind whites in voting Republican in both landslides and defeats. Third, Hispanics are only slightly less hostile to illegal immigration then the rest of America. Not surprisingly either since new immigrants, both legal and illegal, tend to compete with them at the lower end of the labor market. And, finally, almost all other voters–namely 90 percent–are bitterly opposed to illegal immigration–and 60 percent are hostile to the legal kind too. So much for outreach!

That leaves the left-wing critique: Bush is simply doing the bidding of corporate America by supplying them with an endless supply of cheap labor to hold down wages. A RICO lawsuit against Wal-mart in New Jersey–brought, ironically, not by displaced American workers but by the illegal immigrants Wal-mart employed at one remove through contractors–reveals a second underworld of sweatshops in which workers are bullied, cheated, and casually dismissed that is the inevitable result of uncontrolled mass immigration.

Maybe the president thinks he is ending such sweatshops that by legalizing illegals. Not so, alas. By increasing the supply of labor without limit and without legal risk, he is really making it easier to import sweatshops throughout America. For mass immigration and sweatshops go together like love and…well, like love and shacking up.

So, as President Bush strides confidently towards the trapdoor, I am reminded of Talleyrand’s famous question: “I wonder why he did that?” His question was inspired by the death of the Russian ambassador.

John O’Sullivan is editor of The National Interest and National Review editor-at-large. He can be contacted via www.benadorassociates.com.

Members of the National Review editorial and operational teams are included under the umbrella “NR Staff.”

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