Wednesday, January 21, 2004

“We’re going for more. We’re going for more.” Such was Mexico President Vicente Fox’s jubilant reaction to George W. Bush’s proposal to grant de facto amnesty to an estimated 8 million to 11 million illegal aliens working in the United States, the majority of whom are from Mexico. President Bush believes that his plan “will make America a more compassionate, more human, and stronger country.” In fact, this amnesty is neither compassionate nor just; it is simply a bipartisan assault on the public good.

Under Mr. Bush’s so-called guest worker plan, all workers in the United States illegally will receive much-coveted “green cards” for three years, which may then be renewed for three additional years. This amnesty thus lays the groundwork for American citizenship later on.

Mr. Fox denies that Mexicans want citizenship. He says they simply want to take advantage of the economic opportunities available in the United States. In fact, Mr. Fox believes that merely giving legal status to illegal workers doesn’t go far enough. He’s on record saying he wants all immigration barriers removed and open borders established with the United States.

The stakes are high for Mr. Fox. He undoubtedly pressed his case vigorously with Mr. Bush when they met in Monterrey, Mexico, on Jan. 12. Illegal immigration to the United States provides Mexico with a much-needed outlet for its malcontent poor. At the same time, illegal aliens send billions of dollars in revenue back to Mexico every year. These remittances, which Mr. Fox is desperate to protect and possibly increase, are Mexico’s second-largest source of income, behind oil exports.

An American crackdown on illegal immigration would spell disaster for the Mexican economy. Mr. Fox needs an expanded amnesty to cover his failed economic programs and relieve the Mexican government of responsibility for the welfare of many of its citizens. And many U.S. lawmakers, Republican and Democrat, are eager to help.

Throughout American history, pro-immigration, even pro-illegal immigration, advocates have been coalitions of liberals and conservatives. Public opinion has always been against increased immigration, and especially wary of illegal immigrationandcallsfor amnesty. Immigration policies, however, are for the most part the preserve of Washington elites who have little to fear from public opinion. There is no significant constituency, it seems, for curbs on immigration.

The alliance between left and right on the amnesty issue is not a mystery. Both sides profit. Republicans want cheap and compliant labor for low-level manufacturing jobs, and especially farm labor. Not only will Mexican laborers work cheaply, their presence keeps wages low for Americans who are seeking entry-level jobs. Cheap labor also delays the expense of modernizing factories and farms.

The Democrats, on the other hand,wantfuturevoters. Whereas the Republicans seek to exploit the labor of Mexican immigrants, the Democrats seek to exploit them politically. The Democrats have always been far ahead of the short-sighted and largely apolitical Republicans.

The greatest incentive for illegal immigrants — Mr. Fox’s assurances nothwithstanding — is not the economic advantages available in the United States. Rather, it is the prospect of citizenship for any children born in the country. The world recognizes that American citizenship is a most valuable commodity. (The soaring legal immigration rates — 1.4 million a year from 2000-2002 — is powerful evidence of this fact.) By an inexplicable quirk in our understanding of citizenship, the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States are automatically considered U.S. citizens. This continues to provide probably the greatest incentive for illegal immigration.

The most compelling reason to oppose this latest amnesty effort, of course, has to do with the rule of law. Amnesty for illegal aliens is simply a reward for law-breaking. No system depending on a strict regard for the rule of law can treat law-breaking so casually. Amnesty will be a magnet for further illegal immigrants, who hope to be the future recipients of the nation’s “compassion.”

Mexico itself, however, remains unmoved by appeals to compassion or justice. It is making an extraordinary effort to seal its southern borders with Guatemala and Belize, recognizing the dangers to its internal politics and economy posed by illegal immigration from its southern neighbors. What Mexico demands from its neighbor to the north, it refuses to extend to its neighbors to the south.

Mexico also refuses to extradite criminal aliens who may face the death penalty or life in prison without possibility of parole in the United States. More than 60 alleged murderers, including cop killers, from Los Angeles County alone are in Mexico today. Mexican authorities know their whereabouts. While demanding compassion from the United States, Mexico refuses to accord simple justice to Americans. Before we extend compassion to our neighbors, we should first demand simple justice from them.

Public opinion is firmly opposed to increased immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens. Republicans, such as Sen. Orrin Hatch, who is sponsoring legislation to make Mr. Bush’s plan reality, would be well advised to stop imitating the Democrats and represent the deeply held opinion that strong measures must be taken to curb illegal immigration. Where is the compassion for those Americans on the lowest rung of the economic ladder who cannot compete (and should not compete) with illegal immigrant labor? Amnesty not only encourages illegal immigration, but contempt for the law as well.

Both political parties seem content to ignore public opinion on these vital issues. But the potential increase in the Latino vote from this cynical display of “compassion” is minuscule compared to the certain response from citizens who refuse to take the dilution of their citizenship lightly.

Edward J. Erler is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor of political science at California State University, San Bernardino, and serves on the California Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

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