- The Washington Times - Friday, June 10, 2005

Citizens calling themselves the Minutemen patrol the border in an effort to stop illegal aliens from entering the U.S. Mexican President Vicente Fox says Mexican migrant workers in the U.S. “are doing jobs that not even blacks want to do.”

Meanwhile, many Republicans think President George W. Bush’s guest-worker program either mocks the law or is unworkable. In California, a frustrated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger blurts out, “Close the borders in California and all across Mexico and the United States.”

Illegal immigration is again in the headlines, but the debate isn’t going anywhere. Instead, all the tired controversies are again being aired.

Some believe illegal immigration is a win-win bargain: An impoverished Mexico obtains critical dollars, while job-hungry America receives industrious unskilled workers. Critics counter that millions of illegal workers undermine the sanctity of the law and only abet a corrupt Mexican government that uses remittances to avoid needed reform.

Both sides agree that when newcomers arrive legally from Mexico in the thousands, rather than unchecked in the millions, they become some of our best citizens.

The politics by now are surreal. Those of the corporate right want cheap labor. So they join the self-interested multicultural left in politics, journalism and academia who don’t mind seeing a growth of unassimilated and dependent constituents.

Contradictory statistics — showing illegal immigration resulting in either a net gain or loss to the U.S. economy — are used by both sides. Human-interest anecdotes circulate about both the amazing successes and abject failures of illegal entrants. Yet rarely mentioned are the illiberal aspects of millions coming to the United States in violation of the law.

(1) For starters, take remittances. Billions of dollars are sent annually back to Mexico from its citizens who come to the United States — one of the largest sources of foreign exchange for the Mexican economy.

But that cash does not come out of thin air. If such transfers aid depressed parts of Mexico, they also drain capital from struggling immigrant communities here. Workers without high school diplomas who send back much of their wages often cannot pay for their heath care, education or housing here.

Entire towns in the American Southwest are deprived of critical revenues that could be invested in infrastructure to alleviate the need for state and federal intervention to ensure some parity with American citizens.

(2) When employers hire millions of young laborers from Mexico — often paid off the books and in cash — poorer American workers cannot organize and thus must watch their own static wages eaten up by rising costs.

(3) What do we tell the millions of equally poor immigrants from Asia, Latin America and Africa who wait years to come here legally? It is not especially liberal to require an indigent Filipino or Ethiopian to learn English, find a sponsor, hire a lawyer and queue up for years, while others simply break the law and enter illegally.

(4) Progressives are understandably proud of environmental legislation, zoning laws and the culture of recycling in states like California. But when millions in this country don’t speak English, are impoverished and uneducated, and live outside the law, it is only natural they lack the money to worry about how many families live in a single house, whether cars meet emission standards, or discarded furniture is disposed in authorized landfills rather than on roadsides.

(5) Concern for the underprivileged doesn’t always seem to extend to our own citizens. California, for example has imprisoned more than 14,000 illegal aliens, costing yearly more than twentyfold the annual budget of the underfunded new University of California at Merced — located where it could best serve the underrepresented poor and minorities.

(6) Finally, there is something elitist in this new idea that American youth should no longer work summers and after-school hours in agriculture, hotels, restaurants and landscaping. These hard jobs were once seen as ways to gain experience and understand the nobility of physical work. An entire generation of Americans is growing up that has never mowed a lawn, pruned a bush or washed a dish.

For too long the debate over illegal immigration has been demagogued on hot-button issues of economics, ethnicity and relations with Mexico. The subtext always has been that those who support open borders are somehow more caring or ethical than their purportedly insensitive opponents who wish a return to measured and legal immigration.

In fact, the opposite is true. More often it is an uncaring elite — among both Democrats and Republicans — that advocates not enforcing immigration laws. It is past time for them to explain why it is moral or liberal, rather than only convenient, to import millions outside the law to do jobs we supposedly cannot.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University and a nationally syndicated columnist.

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