Rethinking illegal immigration

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Now that the bitter election season is over, both parties will have to return to the explosive issue of illegal immigration.

Increased border patrol, a 700-mile fence to stop the easiest access routes (something President Bush signed into law two weeks ago), employer sanctions and encouragement of one official language can all help solve the crisis. But once the debate is renewed, congressional reformers will be blitzed by advocates of the failed status quo with a series of false assumptions concerning the issue.

Consider the shared self-interest argument — that the benefits to both the U.S. and Mexico of leaving our borders open trumps the need for enforcing laws and outweighs the costs to U.S. taxpayers from massive influxes of poor illegal aliens.

Libertarian supporters of relatively open borders, for example, have long argued illegal immigration is a safety valve for Mexico that prevents violent revolution south of our border. By allowing millions of poor people to cross illegally into the United States, we supposedly stabilize Mexico. Billions of dollars are sent to the needy left behind.

Yet for the last several weeks, the Mexican city of Oaxaca has been in near-open revolt. What started out as calls to remove the state governor, Ulises Ruiz, on charges of fraud and corruption has spiraled into a popular uprising of the type that’s been seen in Venezuela and Bolivia. Yet the state of Oaxaca is also one of the chief sources of illegal immigration to the United States. Hundreds of thousands of dissatisfied Oaxacans have fled to the U.S. and now send millions of dollars back southward. Why, then, is the city on the brink of chaos?

Could it be that far from stabilizing Mexico, the continual flight of millions of Mexico’s disenchanted — 1 in 10 currently live in the U.S. — has only made things worse?

Young fathers and sons leave families torn apart and without immediate social support. The Mexican government puts off needed changes, assured its unhappiest will leave for the U.S., and that their subsequent cash infusions will cover up state failures. Anger, corruption and cynicism, not market reform and stability, often follow. A corrupt Mexican government always survives, but its people each year fare worse — as we see now in Oaxaca.

Another canard is that religious and family-oriented Mexican aliens are often corrupted by American popular culture, thus explaining why poverty, high-school dropout rates and arrests among Hispanics in the United States remain high. In addition, in 2002, half of all children born to Hispanic parents in America were illegitimate.

But as Heather MacDonald notes in the current issue of the urban-policy magazine City Journal, there is reason to believe illegal aliens did not develop these problems solely upon arriving in the United States. Indeed, illegitimacy is far more common in Mexico than in the United States. Likewise, fewer students per capita graduate from high school in Mexico than they do here.

Finally, employers plead that without cheap foreign labor they could not find enough American workers to maintain the surging U.S. economy. But here, too, this seemingly logical supposition doesn’t quite fit with reality.

Some U.S. counties with higher than average unemployment rates — such as California’s Central Valley, where the unemployment rate often has been in the double digits — are a favored destination of illegal aliens. That suggests there are already enough American laborers to meet job needs, but there is a fundamental failure to attract such manpower back into the workplace.

The ultimate — and more challenging — solution to a shortage of laborers may not be illegal immigration or even guest workers, but higher wages, a change in entitlement eligibility laws or a return to our former positive attitudes about hard, physical work.

Areas in the United States that have experienced far less illegal immigration seem to have no insurmountable problems manning restaurants, cutting lawns or serving the needs of hotel guests. Travel to the Midwest, for example, and you’ll see students are employed as cooks and maids. Construction relies on legal laborers. The evidence suggests massive illegal immigration causes as much upheaval inside Mexico as it supposedly prevents — while aggravating, not solving, problems in the United States.

What we need from this new Congress is not more hysteria about illegal immigration, but more re-examination of what seems true but really is not.

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