- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Social Security once was called the third rail of politics but illegal immigration is the real third rail that both political parties are afraid to touch.

Cops who find illegal aliens are under orders not to turn them in to the feds. And the federal government’s own border guards have their hands tied by the higher-ups as well.

Now that Hispanics are the country’s largest minority, and with the country closely divided politically, neither party wants to risk alienating the Hispanic vote by enforcing immigration laws.

Many other Americans may be outraged at how illegal aliens are handled with kid gloves — and, in some places, even given rights normally reserved for citizens — but so long as this outrage is directed at both parties, neither party wants to the risk losing the Hispanic vote.

America’s weakness in controlling its borders has only promoted contempt for the United States on the part of the Mexican government, which publishes instructions to help people illegally get into this country. It also offers helpful hints on how to take advantage of U.S. welfare state benefits.

When some Americans living near the border in Arizona organized to watch that border and report on people crossing it illegally, the media immediately demonized them as “vigilantes,” though these observers used no violence and inflicted no punishment.

When California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said he would welcome such observers on California’s borders, there was another media outcry against him. There is a reason illegal immigration is the third rail of politics. Not only is there a fear of losing the Hispanic vote, there is a fear of being demonized in the media and therefore losing other votes as well.

Among the intelligentsia, there have long been those who think themselves citizens of the world, and who think of national borders as just arbitrary lines drawn on a map. In addition to those liberal attitudes, there are some conservatives who think we need workers from Mexico to do work Americans will not do.

Virtually every job in the country is work Americans will not do, if the pay is below a certain level. And the pay will not rise to that level so long as illegal immigrants — “undocumented workers” — are available to work for less.

Even those who write editorials about how we need Mexicans to do work Americans will not do would not be willing to write editorials for a fraction of what they are paid. If Mexican editorial writers were coming across the border illegally and taking their jobs, maybe the issue would become clearer.

You cannot discuss jobs without discussing pay, if you are serious. And, if really serious, you need to discuss all the welfare state benefits available to Americans who won’t work.

You might also want to consider the attitudes promoted by the intelligentsia and activists that people should do only “meaningful work” and not accept “chump change” but insist on some arbitrarily defined “living wage,” even if that is more than their labor is worth.

When you say Americans have a “right” to have their “basic needs” met, you are saying that, when some people refuse to supply themselves with food and shelter, other Americans should be forced to supply it for them.

If you subsidize workers when they won’t work and subsidize employers by making illegal aliens available to them, then under those particular conditions it may well be true that illegal immigrants take jobs Americans won’t do. But such statements conceal more than they reveal.

Hard-working immigrants may indeed be a godsend, not only to farmers and other employers, but also to families looking for a caretaker for children or an aged or ill member of the family. But Americans worked as farm laborers and maids before there were “undocumented workers” to do these chores.

If it has been done before, it can be done again. All that prevents it is the welfare state and the attitudes it spawns.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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