- The Washington Times - Friday, November 30, 2001

For what feels like the first time, talk of tightening or even closing the borders is not the last confidence exchanged by kindred souls in a dim nook, but an actual ice-breaker at cocktail parties. Is such frankness a sign of a new day after September 11? Hard to say. It may instead be testament to the resilience of the survival instinct, even now even after all these years of being taught a terminal kind of tolerance. That is, the sudden outbreak of common sense could just be the result of a fear-fueled adrenal rush that has scrambled everybody's pre-programmed responses, but only temporarily.

Regardless of the reason, immigration policy has become topical. Used to be it wasn't mentionable, certainly not by politicians and woe to a body who blurted things out from time to time, a la John Rocker. Of course, only a few pols are bold enough to say what's what including Reps. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, Virgil Goode, Virginia Independent, possibly Elliot Engle, New York Democrat but that doesn't mean the issue hasn't become urgently newsworthy.

After all, 19 immigrants just shattered our lives. Three of them carried expired visas and faded into the national woodwork. As for the other 16, it was shamefully easy for them to enter and remain in the country by the book. We now know the names of 93 of the 104 mainly Muslim Arab immigrants charged in the September 11 investigation with federal crimes ranging from using fake identification to possessing phony HAZMAT licenses. Little wonder, as a recent Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll discovered, 90 percent of Americans would like to see tougher limits on immigration from countries "thought to be connected to terrorists."

Also intriguing is another finding: By 65 to 29 percent, Americans favor "temporarily sealing U.S. borders and stopping all immigration in the United States during the war on terrorism." There's a thought: a temporary moratorium. Such a breather would give newly minted Americans time to assimilate, while the nation could watch its pulse drop before debating a national immigration policy something which doesn't really exist today. The fact is, preventing American office buildings from being blown up is a vital part of immigration policy, but not its only concern. We need to apply some of that newfound, possibly short-lived frankness of ours to the still-taboo topic of non-Middle Eastern immigration and what it means for the nation not in economic terms, not in political terms, and not, please, in the racial terms that stop discussion cold, but rather in strictly cultural terms. What happens to a nation when massive blocs of foreign peoples enter its lifestream with little intention of assimilation?

Between 8 million and 10 million illegal aliens live in this country, mostly from Mexico. Before the attack on America, the big story was President Bush's proposal to extend amnesty to millions of Mexicans here illegally. September 11 put the kibosh on that. But now the issue is back on the table. With it should come a fearless assessment of all the implications including the deeper entrenchment of multiculturalism, the further spread of bilingualism and the growing Mexican activist claim to vast reaches of the American Southwest.

With Mr. Bush's concept of a "security perimeter" around North America (not just the United States) in the air, Mexican and American officials traded capital visits in November, after which Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said he expected Congress to pass legislation next year that would include amnesty, or "regularization," for illegal Mexican aliens. (Even Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn got into the diplomatic act, meeting with Mexican President Vincente Fox in Mexico City, where Mr. Hahn declared, "Our city is a Mexican city." He was talking about Los Angeles.)

In a development the State Department might find of interest, police in Southern California's Orange County hammered out an agreement with Mexican Consulate officials in October to accept name cards issued by the 46 Mexican consulates in this country as valid identification. That means that illegal aliens from Mexico will no longer be deported from Orange County for not possessing American-issued papers. Green cards, schmeen cards; citizenship, schmitizenship: a $27 Mexican identification card (Mexican birth certificate required) will do the trick. Just a week or so ago, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution urging law enforcement and other local agencies to follow suit.

Even with our eyes on the borders, it's all still a blur. Maybe not even September 11 will revive a belief in nationhood or a touchstone culture. Maybe a majority of us actually look forward to the multicultural, multi-lingual conglomeration of peoples that the future promises. But these are fundamentals to ponder and discuss in relative calm not while people, events and pulse rates are moving so quickly.


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