Thursday, March 30, 2006

As one of those American rarities — a Los Angeles native — I looked at recent, mainly Mexican protests against proposed restrictions on illegal immigration with more than just outrage over lost U.S. sovereignty. I was also reflexively examining aerial photos to pinpoint where in L.A. those hundreds of thousands of Mexican-flag-waving demonstrators were marching.

It was downtown Los Angeles, of course, a section of the sprawling city I rarely visited growing up. Then it hit me: As a little kid in the 1960s, my mother had taken me on an outing to Olvera Street, an old section of downtown (“old” for Los Angeles being mid-to-late-19th century) where visitors went to enjoy folkloric Mexican food and crafts as — it sounds unbelievable now — a colorful tourist attraction. And visitors still go there. But then it really hit me: There weren’t that many Mexicans in Los Angeles back then.

Or, to put it another way, citing the online encyclopedia Encarta: “In 1960, non-Hispanic whites made up 82 percent of the population of Los Angeles County.” Forty years later, the 2000 census showed that the white population had dwindled to 31 percent, while Hispanics — 79 percent of whom hail from Mexico — accounted for 44.6 percent of population. This colossal surge has made the Mexican population of Los Angeles second only to that of Mexico City. Little wonder LA voters in 2005 elected Antonio Villaraigosa, the city’s first Hispanic mayor since 1872 when, Encarta notes, L.A. was “a small frontier town of about 6,000 people.”

“Reconquista” plans to “return” the American Southwest to Mexico aside, Mexicans by the millions are a relatively new demographic phenomenon in the USA. So, how did Los Angeles become a Mexican metropolis? Encarta harkens back to the 1965 Immigration Act, which, it explains, officially ended “bias in favor of Northern European immigrants …opening the doors to massive immigration from Latin America and Asia.”

I found this explanation almost refreshing in that this landmark bill is often overlooked in considering American demographic shifts. As Peter Brimelow brilliantly argued in his book “Alien Nation,” the 1965 Act remains central to the immigration debate that American political elites have so assiduously and irresponsibly avoided for decades. Still, while mentioning the 1965 Act, Encarta also not-so-subtly implies that European “bias” was bad, while “opening the doors” to the Third World was good. This adheres to the infantilizing orthodoxy of good (nice) and bad (mean) that has stunted debate on immigration, forcing it into a political fetal position moved by the odd emotional spasm. (Courageous Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, is the leading grownup exception to this rule.)

But now the debate — at least one side of it — has spilled onto the streets, where alien activists, having festooned themselves in Mexican flags, demand amnesty and rights. This outpouring may be the tangible fusion of every liberal orthodoxy, from multiculturalism to “inclusiveness” to “self-esteem”; it’s also in-your-face symbolism of the abysmal failure to assimilate, to Americanize, even on the most superficial level, an ever-growing influx of foreign-born millions.

All of which needs to be openly discussed before the Senate actually votes on immigration reform. This would be a first. In 1965, when Congress passed the immigration act that “opened the door” to “massive” immigration from the Third World, there wasn’t, as Mr. Brimelow has noted, much in the way of a national debate. In the two decades that followed, along with millions of legal immigrants, the U.S. attracted a huge, mainly Hispanic, illegal population — roughly 3 million of whom received amnesty from Ronald Reagan in 1986. Twenty years later, in 2006, we see a fourfold increase in that illegal population, now estimated at 12 million. Rather than break the pattern, President Bush wants to grant de facto amnesty again.

But then what — another fourfold increase over the next 20 years? That would equal 48 million illegal, mainly Hispanic, aliens by 2026. It’s not impossible — particularly if we continue to shroud the issue in the irrational silence of taboo, never asking the most basic questions. Such as: Should America plan to become a Hispanic nation? The question is neither “racist” nor “xenophobic,” but central to any coherent policy. If the answer is yes, we all might as well salute the red, white and green. If not, we better call our senators.

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