The Corner

Hispanic Straw Men

The carrier pigeon bringing us the Internet to the NR cruise ship brought along the Wall Street Journal’s latest editorial calling for open borders as a way of attracting Hispanic voters. It’s populated with more than the usual quotient of straw men and mistakes:

One myth is that Latino voters simply aren’t worth pursuing because they’re automatic Democrats.

Has any Republican politician, anywhere, said Hispanic voters “aren’t worth pursuing”? The point is not that American voters of Latin origin are “automatic Democrats,” but rather that they’re going to be predominantly Democrats for the foreseeable future.

The notion that Hispanics are “natural” Democrats and not swing voters is belied by this history.

Uh, no. The history the Journal cites demonstrates that Republicans generally get between a quarter and a third of the Hispanic vote. So there’s a swing vote within the Hispanic electorate, one that Republicans can and should do a better job of appealing to, but Hispanic voters as a group always vote Democratic.

Equally specious is the argument that Latino immigrants come here, often illegally, to “steal” jobs or to go on the dole.

There are two claims here.

#more#First, legal immigrants, Latino or otherwise, by definition don’t “steal” anything because we’ve permitted them to move here. Whether it’s advisable to admit more in the future is a matter of debate, but those who take us up on whatever we’re offering are behaving appropriately. But those who come here in defiance of our laws, or who arrive legitimately and then spit on our law by refusing to leave, are stealing from us — stealing jobs, stealing residency, stealing the blessings of liberty that we’ve secured for ourselves and our posterity.

The second claim is the strawest of straw men, if there is such a thing. No one who studies immigration imagines that “foreign nationals are primarily attracted to our welfare state,” as the editorial asserts later in the same paragraph. The problem is that most immigrants, with relatively little education, are mismatches for a modern, post-industrial economy. So, despite the fact that the vast majority work, their incomes are so low that they cannot support their families with their own earnings. As a result, last year 36 percent of immigrant-headed households used at least one major welfare program, a rate half-again higher than the native-born and double the rate for native-born whites or Asians. Among Hispanic immigrants specifically, 51 percent used welfare, a figure that dropped among native-born Hispanics, but only to 40 percent.

Illegal aliens aren’t eligible for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other federal entitlements. But even those low-income immigrants who are eligible for public assistance sign up at lower rates than their native counterparts.

The first sentence is true but incomplete; the children of illegal aliens are eligible for welfare benefits, and taxpayer funds are actually received and utilized by the adults in the family, so illegal aliens do in fact get welfare. And the second point might be put this way: The Journal thinks immigrants are a better class of poor people than low-income Americans. Even if that were true, why import more poor people? And it’s not even true — 44 percent of households headed by native-born black Americans (which is what the “immigrants are better” crowd is referring to) used welfare, compared with 51 percent of Hispanic-immigrant households. On top of that, the native-born poor are our people, their problems are our problems, and foreigners wouldn’t have a greater claim on our concerns even if they were somewhat less likely to use welfare.

Over the past decade, the states experiencing the fastest immigrant population growth have not been traditional gateways like New York and California. Latino newcomers have been flocking to Arkansas, Tennessee, Utah, Alabama, Mississippi, Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and the Carolinas—states that are among the stingiest for public benefits.

True — because immigrants go where the jobs are, not where the welfare is. But their earnings are so low, they qualify for welfare anyway, and then, over time, they cause the politics of those jurisdictions to shift to the left, just as they’ve done in “traditional gateways,” so those new destination states are guaranteed to become less “stingy” with public benefits.

When Republican presidential candidates are preoccupied with putting up an electrified fence along the Rio Grande and blaming Latinos (wrongly) for driving up crime, unemployment and health-care costs, we are a long way from Ronald Reagan’s welcoming GOP.

One Archie Bunker candidate interrupts his 9-9-9 mantra to make a stupid comment about electrified fencing and that’s “preoccupied”? And it’s not “Latinos” but “immigrants” who are crowding young workers out of the labor market and making up 30 percent of the uninsured. (The crime issue is ambiguous — there’s conflicting evidence about immigrant crime because the government doesn’t really want to know, so it doesn’t collect the necessary data.)

One irony is that Republicans obsessed with illegal immigration haven’t noticed that the problem is going away, thanks in part to a more secure border but mostly due to slower economic growth.

It’s true that illegal crossings are down, and this gives us breathing room. (It’s important to note, though, that the Pew report finding migration to and from Mexico about even in 2005–2010 counted U.S.-born children of Mexican immigrants as departing immigrants, which they’re obviously not. This means that even during this period, the number of Mexicans moving here, mostly illegally, was higher than the number leaving.) But if the slowdown was due mainly to the economy, that doesn’t mean “the problem is going away”; job growth will eventually pick up. And during Obama’s term, two-thirds of the net increase in employment has gone to immigrants.

The slowdown in illegal crossings is actually an opportunity to finish putting in place the infrastructure necessary to control immigration regardless of economic conditions — not just fencing, but a fully functional check-in/check-out system for foreign visitors (visa overstayers account for close to half the illegal population), universal implementation of the E-Verify screening system for new hires, and systematic, universal coordination between local cops and immigration officials to ensure that illegal immigrants have nowhere to hide. Only then can we talk about tying up loose ends through amnesty.


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