Politics & Policy

Illegals Vs. Enforcement

The protesters in the street get it. Does Congress?

Advocates for illegal immigration might have trouble ginning up much support for their cause if they didn’t have recourse to a handy expedient: constantly importing more supporters. Every day that more illegal immigrants arrive in this country is a day that the constituency for defying our immigration laws grows larger.

Illegals demonstrated that last weekend when they swelled the ranks of anti-enforcement protesters in a Los Angeles rally estimated at 500,000, and in rallies in Chicago, Denver, Phoenix, and Milwaukee that drew tens of thousands. The protests generated sympathetic media coverage that emphasized how much opposition there is to a House bill toughening enforcement, although the idea of stricter enforcement is wildly popular with the American public.

Proponents of an amnesty and guest-worker program often say, “There are some jobs Americans won’t do.” When it comes to manning massive protests against our immigration laws, they are right. For that, you need illegal labor.

In the short term, the anti-enforcement protests might backfire. In 1994, illegal immigrants were part of a huge protest against California’s Proposition 187, which denied various public benefits to illegals. But the specter of protesters waving Mexican flags only fueled public support for the measure, which passed handily. This time, there was an ample supply of American flags at the L.A. rally, but influential blogger Mickey Kaus still reports that there was an even split between Mexican and American flags. “If you said ‘Mexican flag’ every time you saw a Mexican flag,” Kaus writes, “you never stopped talking.”

Well, aren’t there plenty of Irish flags at St. Patrick’s Day parades, and Italian flags at Columbus Day celebrations? What makes the Mexican displays more ominous is their hint of a large, unassimilated population existing outside America’s laws and exhibiting absolutely no sheepishness about it. As the New York Times put it delicately in a report on the protests, they included “immigrants who were long thought too fearful of deportation to risk so public a display.” But there is safety in numbers.

Opponents of immigration enforcement hope to create demographic realities on the ground that inevitably shape our policy. Already, one of their favorite arguments is to ask, with exaggerated incredulity, “What are you going to do with the eleven million illegals already here, deport them all?” Mass defiance of immigration laws serves to make those laws seem steadily more unenforceable, undermining them from within.

Democrats are happy to stoke this self-perpetuating dynamic, since it directly benefits them. Political scientist James Gimpel of the University of Maryland says that Latino voters who have recently become citizens vote Democratic by a margin of 2-1. So, the more new Latino voters there are, the stronger the lax-enforcement Democrats become.

Republicans are tempted to get on this treadmill, too, in order not to “alienate the Latino vote.” It used to be only California that the GOP had to fear “losing,” but now it’s also Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, with Latino voters becoming more important in southern states like Georgia and North Carolina as well. But whatever Republicans do to allow more Latinos into the country only creates more Democratic voters in the near term.

If demographics isn’t quite destiny, it really matters. Look at Europe. Muslim immigration is challenging the cultural identity of Holland and has created unpoliced no-go zones in the Paris suburbs. The nightmare is something similar happening here, unless we pause to culturally digest our recent immigrants. Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington, who presciently wrote of a “clash of civilizations” years before 9/11, warns of the threat to America’s national cohesion from an ever-growing, poorly assimilated Latino population.

All such warnings seem unduly dire–until, as the Europeans have learned, they come to pass. Then it’s too late (what are you going to do, deport them all?). The stakes in the current immigration debate are huge, in both defining our laws and what we are as a nation. The protesters in the street get it. Does Congress?

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years.

(c) 2006 King Features Syndicate


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