We all are familiar with the debates surrounding illegal immigration: absolute versus flexible laws; amnesty versus deportation or earned citizenship; closed versus open borders; entitlement dependency versus work no one else will do.
We also know the debates over the causation of this perfect storm that has resulted in 12 to 15 million illegal aliens residing in the United States. Was it the Right’s desire for cheap labor or the Left’s wish for more constituents, or both?
Was it abetted by the middle-class habit of wanting inexpensive nannies, housekeepers, and gardeners, and facilitated by the professional Latino elite’s dream of remaking American demography, with the ensuing careerist windfalls?
#ad#Of course, there was a desperate Mexico’s tripartite aim of obtaining billions in remittances, exporting what it apparently considers a bothersome poor, and winning a loyal expatriate population that seems to like Mexico all the more the farther it is distant.
The sloganeering and mytho-history were necessary relish: Illegal aliens only do the work others won’t do; the borders crossed indigenous peoples rather than they the borders; aliens are instead “undocumented workers,” who all work and who forgot their documentation at the border; America’s own poor are not hurt by the driving down of wages.
But lost in all of this talk is the real mystery at hand. The United States — ad hoc, often nonchalantly, without much debate or discussion — is currently engaged in one of the largest, most ambitious attempts at foreign aid and nation building in its history, one far more costly and daring that what is going on in either Afghanistan or Iraq. That such a project is not legal, much less approved by our lawmakers, and is funded largely by local and state governments, does not mean that it is not a project nonetheless.
Quite simply, America in almost instantaneous fashion has chosen to take in millions of the poorest citizens of one of the poorer nations in the world in an attempt to transmogrify them into middle-class suburbanites within a generation. That may not be the explicit description of our undertaking, but it surely is one arrived at empirically. And it is a multifaceted political, economic, cultural, and social effort that involves tens of millions of Americans at all levels of society and is proving to be the near salvation of Mexico.
Under the old protocols of legal immigration, we assumed that the world’s poor arrived here, struggled, learned English, assimilated, instructed their children in the exceptionalism of America, and achieved parity — but often not until the third generation. All that — both the methodology and the results — is obsolete today. In short, those who lived in near-18th-century poverty in Oaxaca can become statistical proof of America’s supposed racism and oppression in a nanosecond by simply crossing the border illegally. That they were poor and ignored in Mexico is considered almost natural; that they are still poorer than others after coming a foot north of the border and spending a second on U.S. soil becomes proof of the failure of America itself.
Take away illegal immigration, and in terms of assimilation, intermarriage, integration, income, and general well-being, the so-called Latino population is not all that much out of sync with the rest of America. Factor in millions of Mexican nationals, and we apparently have a massive problem that calls for Manhattan Project–like remedies, with all of the interested parties predictably participating.
Almost all university race-based research — and it is considerable — seeks to discover disparities in longevity, health, housing, and general quality of life, and it finds them, those responsible for them, and the government programs needed to address them. Such studies make no distinction in legal status. A recently arrived Mexican national from Jalisco who delivers a baby without much prenatal care is just as much proof of America’s “broken” health-care system as if she were an American citizen without health insurance. The failure to reach utopian results is as widely lamented as the near impossibility of the task of such massive assimilation is neglected.
#page#Indeed, sometimes this holistic effort at continuing the influx of hundreds of thousands of illegal aliens is truly mind-boggling. An unstable Mexico survives in part on tens of billions of dollars of remittances, its second-largest source of foreign revenue. To maintain that precious income stream, the Mexican government has adopted strict diplomatic protocols: (a) do everything possible to ensure that nearly a million Mexicans at least try to leave each year; (b) do not praise the generosity of the American host, but constantly suggest that its motives for trying to close its borders are selfish, racist, or worse; (c) open consulates and establish outreach programs to promulgate the narrative that expatriate Mexican nationals are patriotic colonists who, by leaving their homes, have rightly made the construct of borders irrelevant; (d) never mention the ensuing remittance revenue nor the cost to the U.S. economy of losing nearly $50 billion a year to Latin America nor the subsequent need of federal, state, and local governments to provide housing, food, and education subsidies to Mexican nationals to enable them to send cash home.
#ad#So for this landmark project to continue, certain perspectives have to be maintained. Racism is not found among the mostly white Mexico City elites who cynically export indigenous peoples from Mexico’s interior in a modern-day sort of helotage. Instead, the real bias lies with the American host that provides work and services without much audit, but fails to ensure near-instant parity with the American middle class.
For the new arrival, there is a vague sort of ideology that he senses he must embrace. In simplified and rather crude terms it goes something like this: Drop hostility for the Mexican government that failed you. Adopt a sense of noble tribal solidarity in which you work hard and receive less than your American counterparts, reflective largely of illiberal prejudice. React with charges of racist insensitivity to any suggestion that an alien in a host country should always investigate means of achieving lawful residency, always try to avoid imposing entitlement costs on the host taxpayers, and always show gratitude as a guest to the host. That parity is difficult to achieve when the new arrival is without English, a high-school diploma, or legality is unmentioned.
Indeed, one of the most baffling aspects of the project is this disconnect between rhetoric and reality. We suspect that illegal aliens, who so bravely have fought to come to U.S. soil, appreciate the differences between the economic, legal, political, and social landscape in America and its counterpart in Mexico. I say “suspect” because we almost never hear from illegal aliens or their spokespeople blanket and unqualified praise of the United States, its Constitution, its history, and its present system, which does something that Mexico apparently does not.
During the recent DREAM Act frenzy, when a few Mexican students in American universities came forward to announce that they were here illegally, we heard almost no reasons why in the abstract they wished to remain in the country they had traveled to — and why under no circumstances were they willing to return to the country where they were born. Indeed, had supporters of the DREAM Act praised the dignity of the United States, its economic robustness, its historical role in the 20th century of defeating totalitarianism, its rule of law, or its meritocratic system rather than postured that America “had to” adjust its protocols to the desires of the illegal immigrants, the DREAM Act might well have passed.
Of course the illegal alien believes that his labor is underappreciated; of course the host believes that his generosity is taken for granted. Tragically, the ultimate arbiter of that debate is the reality that Mexico wishes illegal immigration to continue and America now does not.
In sum, illegal immigration from Mexico into America is the most radical attempt at nation building on the world scene today, theirs and ours. Stranger still, its narrative assumes a general inability or unwillingness to explain why millions leave Mexico and do not wish to return there, why they so like this supposedly oppressive country and wish to stay — and why admission of that fact is apparently neither necessary nor wholesome.
— NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, the editor of Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome, and the author of The Father of Us All: War and History, Ancient and Modern.