Politics & Policy

Drop the N-Word Already

Facts, not nativism, account for conservative opposition to the Senate's immigration bill.

To observe the sentimental fantasy and ruthless political calculation that fuels the Bush administration’s immigration plans, one need only turn to Michael Gerson’s most recent Washington Post column. Former Bush speechwriter Gerson was a powerful voice in the White House, especially on the matter of injecting faith into policymaking; his May 25 column provides a window into how the administration deals with facts.

Gerson accuses opponents of the Senate’s recent amnesty proposal of a nativist fear of illegal immigrants. Such a fear, he argues, will hurt the Republican party’s electoral chances and miss an opportunity to make the country even more religious. Powerlineblog.com’s Paul Mirengoff has dismantled Gerson’s key arguments, rejecting in particular his claim that illegal immigrants’ religiosity should affect policy decisions about their fate: “The belief that matters most for purposes of this debate [writes Mirengoff] is not religious but civic — not belief in God but belief in our institutions and love for our country. It is the latter kind of thinking, and only such thinking, that will result in successful assimilation.”

But Gerson’s column is flawed on another front as well: It recycles open-borders bromides that have nothing to do with the truth. In warning against a rejection of amnesty, Gerson states: “If the Republican Party cannot find ways to appeal to natural entrepreneurs, with strong family values, who are focused on education and social mobility, then the GOP is already dead.”

What planet is Gerson living on? Far from being “focused on education,” Hispanics have the highest drop-out rate in the country — 47 percent nationally, and far worse in heavily Hispanic areas. Schools in illegal-immigrant-saturated southern California spend enormous sums trying to persuade Latino students to stay in school and study, without avail. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, just 40 percent of Hispanics graduate, and those students who do finish school come out with abysmal skills. A controversial high school exit exam in California would require seniors to correctly answer just 51 percent of questions testing eighth-grade-level math and ninth-grade-level English in order to receive a diploma. Naturally, immigrant advocates have fiercely opposed this all-too-meager measure for school and student accountability. The California Research Bureau predicts that the exam will result in a Hispanic graduation rate of below 30 percent.

Behind Hispanic educational failure rate lies an apathy towards learning, as the Manhattan Institute’s Herman Badillo argues in One Nation, One Standard. Hostility towards academic achievement is higher among Hispanics than among blacks. Factor in gang involvement and teenage pregnancy, and the Hispanic drop-out rate looks almost inevitable. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that a whopping 15 percent to 20 percent of illegal immigrants may not qualify for the proposed amnesty because of their criminal records, according to the Wall Street Journal. Gerson’s claim of a culture “focused on education” is pure delusion.

Gerson’s hackneyed invocation of Hispanic “family values” is equally laughable. Nearly 50 percent of all Hispanic children are born out of wedlock, compared to 24 percent of white children and 15 percent of Asian children. Black out-of-wedlock births are higher — 68 percent — but the black population is not growing rapidly. And the fertility rate among unmarried Hispanic women is the highest in the country — over three times that of whites and Asians, and nearly one and a half times that of black women. The Hispanic teen-fertility rate also far outstrips other groups. Among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, the teen birthrate is 93 births per every 1,000 girls, compared with 27 births for every 1,000 white girls, 17 births for every 1,000 Asian girls, and 65 births for every 1,000 black girls. As conservative policymakers such as Gerson should know, there is no better predictor of future social pathologies than out-of-wedlock childrearing.

Low levels of education and high levels of illegitimacy help explain why, contrary to Gerson’s myths, Hispanics are not showing the “social mobility” of other immigrant groups past and present, as Harvard’s George Borjas has documented and City Journal’s Steve Malanga has reported.

Gerson’s disregard for basic accuracy makes his Machiavellian view of the law all the more troubling. He claims that Republicans must do whatever it takes to capture a portion of the “fastest-growing segment of the electorate” (of course, what is growing fastest is the illegal population, who as of yet are not entitled to vote). “At one level,” writes Gerson, “any immigration debate concerns a raw political calculation: Who ends up with more voters?” Such “raw political calculations” clearly govern White House machinations, but here are some factors that influence less partisan observers of the immigration mess: respect for the rule of law and a desire to show fairness to foreigners who comply with our immigration policies. In the American heartland, it is illegal aliens’ disregard for U.S. immigration rules that most infuriates the public. Conservatives usually embrace the rule of law as a central component of their ideology — except, apparently, when the primacy of law interferes with more important objectives, such as getting elected. Had Democrats used Gerson’s political calculus in deciding whether to support civil rights in the 1960s, they would have held on to power in the South, to be sure, but at the cost of principle .

Pace Gerson, it is not nativism, but facts and principle that lie behind opposition to the Senate’s latest amnesty proposal. Playing the nativist (read: racism) card allows propagandists like Gerson to ignore both.

Heather Mac Donald is a fellow at the Manhattan Institute.


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