- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 3, 2006

A discerning Episcopal bishop once prayed, concerning his enemies: “Lord, let them go too far.”

You might wonder whether the bluntest, angriest foes of illegal immigration have not indulged in the same supplication. Certainly some they want to boot back into Mexico are playing into their hands.

You really couldn’t ask, could you, for a harder kick in the rump to congressional plans for a guest worker program than for the intended beneficiaries to boycott the businesses they say they want to keep working for. “You go, amigos.” is what the foes of easier immigration are surely crying. Keep boycotting. Go as far as you want — as long as it’s too far.

That didn’t happen May 1 to the extent the critics might have desired. Marches were large, but boycott effects seemed milder than organizers had hoped. The idea of overwhelming white and black America with a sense of brown economic power didn’t fully work.

Good thing. I speak as neither a seething slam-the-door type nor a beaming exponent of open-it-wide. I speak, I hope, as a realist. One kind of realist — my kind, the conservative kind — will say, when large changes are coming, if there’s only so much to be done about it, and if good things as well as bad may come of the changes, let us, for heaven’s sake, seek to manage these changes.

Immigration to the world’s best economy is one of those changes I think we really wish, deep down, not to block. I think we have to manage, not mangle, changes in immigration policy — not least because the expulsion of 11 million or so illegals just isn’t going to happen.

We have to create circumstances in which those desirous of coming and staying here will desire to come legally and in broad daylight rather than illegally and in darkness.

But there’s another side. It’s neither racist nor unreasonable — as some immigrant action groups appear to think — for Americans to set the terms of residency and citizenship for residents and citizens.

How big a screwball, or demagogue, do you have to be to argue, essentially, we’re here, we want our “rights,” and if you don’t like it, try mowing your own lawn? You don’t shoulder your way into a neighbor’s house and order him to redecorate. You look for suitable ways to blend your respective tastes, remembering, for one thing, your neighbor has options of his own, not all of them peaceful or in accordance with your own preferences.

The culture question can’t be blinked — though many duly try to pretend it doesn’t amount to a hill of frijoles.

If anything rightly sets American teeth on edge when it comes to immigration, that thing is the displacement of English by Spanish in a land that presupposes the speaking of English in just about every context. The idea of Spanish-language ballots, for instance. There is but one thing to say about it: Aarrghhhh.

Last week’s “Star-Spangled Banner” flap, stemming from a British music producer’s nonbright idea for a translation of the national anthem into Spanish, was, if not the last straw, pretty close to it. Just a second here: If you’re an American, you know the English words. If you’re not an American — something that needing foreign words implies — why would you sing our anthem to begin with? What we have here, Americans are entitled to conclude, is some people (exact number unknown) who want to live in America without becoming Americans.

“Lord, let them go too far.”

Most probably will not. It’s those who do — some of whom seem, for their own reasons, to be spoiling for a fight — who could mess everything up. The United States needs a rational immigration system, concerning whose contours good folk may differ — in Spanish, English or both.

Just now, given hardening attitudes on both sides, prospects for creating such a system are not what you might call — as we say in the language of the United States of America — real good.

William Murchison is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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