Politics & Policy

The Ideology of Illegal Immigration

Signs at an immigration reform rally in Chicago, March 27, 2014. (Jim Young/Reuters)
Gang members next door and dead dogs dumped in your yard? Don’t complain, or you’ll be called racist.

Illegal immigration has become so deeply embedded for so long within contemporary power politics, demography, and cultural change, so charged with accusations of racism, nativism, and xenophobia, that we have forgotten its intrinsic contradictions.

We saw a glimpse of reality with the recent “caravan” of Central Americans. With a strong wink and nod from their Mexican hosts, the travelers assumed an intrinsic right to march northward into the United States. Had they done so, they would have confirmed the impression, advanced during the last administration, that the border is porous and that a sovereign United States and its citizenry have scant legal right to secure it.

How did we get to such a point of absurdity?

The ideology of illegal immigration rests on certain illogical assumptions that must not be questioned. Immigration exactly is one-way. But why exactly do we simply accept that without inquiry? What is it about a free-market, constitutional, transparent, and law-abiding America that draws in millions desperate to abandon their homes in otherwise naturally rich landscapes in Mexico and Central America?

In the absence of intellectual honesty about the need for political and economic reform in Latin America, mythologies can abound. Millions are desperate to enter a country antithetical to the protocols of their own. They are even more desperate to stay here — even as many mask that paradox by expressing ethnic and cultural chauvinism, along with anger at their hosts. Witness the signs, flags, and symbols of many open-borders, anti-immigration-enforcement rallies. Apparently, nations that create conditions that drive out their own can be the objects of romance, but only at a safe distance.

The ethos of the Mexican government has become surreal. Its racist and imperial classes welcome the flight of 10 percent of its indigenous population. It assumes that the United States cannot, must not, adopt immigration laws similar to its own. Driving out one’s own people apparently vents social tensions in lieu of reform, and the government is thereby exempted from accountability for its utter failures. About $30 billion arrive in return as remittances, many of these transferences subsidized by American social services and entitlements.

To hide the asymmetry, Mexico becomes accusatory, playing the same role that China does with trade. The aggressive party is always the victimized. Mexico constantly warns us that an anti-American, left-wing presidential candidate, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, may soon be elected.

No other country in the world — certainly not Mexico or China — would allow its open borders to become as politically weaponized as America’s.

But what exactly would the feisty Obrador do in anger: Punish the U.S. by closing the southern border, unilaterally quit NAFTA, accommodate the repatriation of 12 million of its citizens, build a wall of his own, forbid the emigration of the impoverished of Oaxaca, expel U.S. companies and investments, cut off the reception of billions of dollars in American remittances, drive out U.S. citizens, or demand the extradition of its own citizens now in American jails and prisons? And what would be the U.S. reaction to such “punitive” measures?

Promises, promises?

The illegal-immigration project will ultimately fail because although its politics are transparent, its practice is incoherent, and chaos is therefore its only possible end. With the exception of an ailing European Union, no other country in the world — certainly not Mexico or China — would allow its open borders to become as politically weaponized as America’s. Yet no other nation is so faulted as illiberal as is the uniquely liberal United States. The result is a growing American exasperation. Ingratitude and hypocrisy stir human passions like few others traits.

The entire vocabulary of illegal immigration has become Orwellian. Once descriptive nouns and adjectives such as “alien” and “illegal” have melted into “undocumented” and “immigrant” and then into just “migrant,” ostensibly to mask the reality of both legal status and the fact that migrants go in one direction — and there is an existential difference between immigrants and emigrants.

Illegal immigration is defended as a gift to the United States, as if without millions of illegal arrivals, America would ossify. But aside from the fact that the labor participation rate of America is about 62 percent of the available work force, and millions have given up on seeking jobs, when the proponents of illegal immigration south of the border are asked politely to withdraw their supposed beneficence and generosity, they react with furor and slander rather than with gratitude and relief.

Once someone makes a decision to enter a country illegally — his first decision as an incoming alien — and thus breaks a U.S. law with impunity, then most subsequent decisions are naturally shaped by the idea of exemption. Zealots argue that entering the U.S. illegally is merely a civil infraction. But the IRS in 2017 identified some 1.2 million identity-theft cases, in which illegal aliens had employed illegitimate or inconsistent social-security numbers to file tax returns — and implicitly thereby cause innumerable problems for the U.S. tax system.

So much of the discussion of illegal immigration is predicated not just on fantasy, but on Soviet-style censorship, and not just of speech, but of our very thoughts.

Any U.S. citizen who did that would be charged with a career-ending felony. And identity theft — the great unspoken twin of illegal immigration — is not just a minor infraction, as I can attest from having my name and checking-account number stolen by an illegal alien. False checks, identical in color and style to my own, were then printed up by him with his name and phony address on them, albeit using my banking router number at the bottom; he then cashed the checks at a compliant rural store, using a false identity, stamped on the back in the form of a fraudulent driver’s license and bank credit card. Multiply that reality thousands of times over per month — but never dare to suggest that such a crime is connected with illegal immigration or even constitutes much of a crime.

So much of the discussion of illegal immigration is predicated not just on fantasy, but on Soviet-style censorship, and not just of speech, but of our very thoughts. Taboo are suggestions that illegal immigration could be a prime reason that California now has the highest basket of income, sales, and gas taxes in the nation; the highest number of welfare recipients (one of three in the United States), with a fifth of the state living below the poverty level; and now a fourth of all hospital admittances found to be suffering from diabetes or prediabetes; or that national rankings of infrastructure quality place the state nearly last in the country.

Talk of race has approached something like Lewis Carol’s Through the Looking Glass, in which everything is upside down. “La Raza” — until recently the nomenclature of the nation’s largest Hispanic advocacy organization — has supposedly nothing to do with race, while others who would never have an odious desire to use its odious English equivalent, “The Race,” are deemed racists for their objections to La Raza terminology.

Residency is deliberately conflated with citizenship, as if the two are legally and morally equivalent. But again, nowhere else in the world is this true, and certainly not in Mexico. I have lived abroad for over two years. As a guest in Athens, I followed Greek politics closely. I paid steep Greek sales taxes and assorted fees and tariffs as a legal resident alien. But at no time did I imagine that taxes or my physical presence as a lawful guest on Greek soil allowed me to interfere with the politics of my host, much less to issue demands on Athens, or to give me de facto the same legal rights as Greek citizens. As a legal alien, I surely did not think I could vote. I knew better than to tell Greeks that their country was not to my taste. And I knew fellow aliens who overstayed visas, worked without permits, and did not register as foreign residents. At least before the days of the latest incarnations of the European Union, the resulting fines were stiff, and expulsions were uncontested.

Illegal immigration is embedded not within racial and political ecumenicalism but within an exclusionary ethnic and political matrix. There would be no lectures about principle and logic from a Jorge Ramos or Vicente Fox were a million a year from China or Africa entering the southwestern United States illegally — except as likely voices of opposition to such unlawful and asymmetrical influxes in their own countries’ neighborhoods. In our upside-down world, calls for diverse, legal, meritocratic, and measured immigration are considered xenophobic, precisely because they would be racially blind and not predicated on current racial and ethnic chauvinism.

Without illegal immigration at current levels, the powers of assimilation, integration, and intermarriage would turn most immigrants into Americans within two to three generations, as in the past. That fact apparently frightens ethnic chauvinists, who disguise the advantages they gain from identity politics by smearing those who wish to at least make race and ethnicity incidental and not essential to our characters. If Univision eventually went the way of 19th-century German-language daily periodicals, what would a Jorge Ramos do?

For those who live at the nexus of illegal immigration, life is lived quite differently than in the past, from the trivial to the existential. A few examples suffice. Last night I was awakened by automatic gunfire on the road at 2 a.m.; the shots came from a long-ago-sold farmhouse of one who was a friend and neighbor for 50 years, but whose house is now rented out to gang members, many from Mexico. No worry, within an hour, the shrieks of resumed cockfighting returned as usual.

Do PETA members object to illegal immigration? We play a sort of rescue-dog roulette. Dogs are tossed and dumped on the side of road, without licenses, vaccinations, unneutered and unspayed, and often injured. After we reach our limit of adoptions — six presently — we try to vaccinate, neuter, license, and heal additional strays that wander in off the road, put shiny collars with tags on their necks, and let them feed and roam near our fenced yard. Then a welcomed reverse but invisible process can sometimes follow: theft. Dogs formerly dumped are now recycled, as it were, snatched stealthily by new owners who steal back mysteriously “improved” pets rather than throw out a dog.

In rural California, the law as it once was is now often inoperative, if not sometimes nonexistent. Utility and common practice substitute. In my neighborhood, I assume that zoning and building-codes statutes apply only to those who are citizens and have the means to pay for permits and possible fines. Everyone else does what he pleases, assuming either that it would be illiberal to fine the Other or not cost-effective in a bankrupt state.

Illegal immigration and environmentalism war with each other. But the former usually is exempted from any green audit. No one much cares, certainly not law enforcement or the state and federal environmental agencies, that roadsides outside Central Valley towns are littered with abandoned appliances, furniture, tires — and toxic and wet garbage. I suppose if it became a county issue, the complainers would first be called whiners and then nativists. So silence reigns. In a pre-civilization manner, the law-abiding of all races and classes quietly pick up the garbage in their environs each week.

When I find a dumped rotten canine carcass with a rope still around its skeletonized neck or a tossed disemboweled chicken, I surely must not privilege my own culture and think that dog- or cockfighting is barbaric.

Behind the official silence is apparently the apologia that poverty prevents proper disposal, or that illegal arrivals still naturally follow protocols found south of the border, or that the citizen hosts are a bit too anal retentive and judgmental in harping about mere moldy mattresses or old televisions set in their alleyways or orchards.

Again, the logic of illegal immigration is that the guilty host must accommodate the uninvited but more virtuous guest, not vice versa. When I find a dumped rotten canine carcass with a rope still around its skeletonized neck or a tossed disemboweled chicken, I surely must not privilege my own culture and think that dog- or cockfighting is barbaric. Perhaps the pile of used hypodermic needles dumped by my barn were left by accident? Today I pick up sacks of wet garbage with the owner’s name and address on several bills: Does one redeliver back to the dumper, and if so, armed or not? Or does one find it not cost-effective to do so? (Do not suggest “call the authorities” — that is a complete waste of time.) These are the small, mostly trite decisions that a person at the nexus of illegal immigration makes every day.

When a foreign gang member drives in, without English fluency, looking for the house of a drug seller, or asking about a neighbor’s trailer of prostitution, I don’t impose my values on him, but offer a polite, “No lo se.”  Live and let live as it were — given the alternative of possibly facing criminal exposure by calling authorities and thereby by aiding and abetting ICE.

Most assume that if hit by an illegal-alien driver (with a license or not), the latter, if unhurt, flees the scene of the accident. Only a naïf would think that registration or insurance would ever be found on the abandoned vehicle. When someone scrapes my car in the parking lot, the driver, if caught, sometimes wants a quick cash transaction to avoid calling the police.

When Jerry Brown or Nancy Pelosi lectures the state on its illiberality, or on the immigration sins of Donald Trump, or the advantages of nullification and a sanctuary state, we assume that these are just the penultimate chest poundings and virtue signals of rich septuagenarians about to go into apartheid retirements in Napa or Grass Valley.

In that context, all of their legacies above make perfect sense.

 

 

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won.

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