Miscellaneous Thoughts on Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is one of our country’s most divisive, intractable issues. The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 was supposed to solve it, but illegal immigration has continued to increase. This year’s attempt to craft comprehensive immigration reform legislation blew up in Congress. Given the record of failure for effective comprehensive reform, perhaps it is time to address the problem in incremental, piecemeal proposals.

Twelve to twenty million immigrants are in the United States illegally. This is socially corrosive.Respect for the law withers when masses of people disobey the law with impunity and government seems impotent to enforce it. Somehow, we must drastically reduce the number of illegal aliens in our country. To achieve this, two different ways are often suggested: deporting them and then sealing our porous borders, or reclassifying them so that they are not illegal.

Most of those who favor deportation are motivated by love of country and the honorable belief that those who break our laws should not be allowed to get away with doing so. However, I don’t believe that mass deportation is going to happen. Its implementation would be a logistical nightmare, requiring armies of law-enforcement personnel and possibly military troops (perhaps “aided” by citizen vigilantes) to conduct raids on neighborhood after neighborhood, like military sweeps in Iraqi cities. Politically, this isn’t a viable alternative. The party that attempts such a sweeping action will commit political suicide, driving the numerically decisive and currently-up-for-grabs Hispanic vote to the other party, as two GOP congressmen from Arizona who advocated an “uphold the law” strategy found out the hard way in the 2006 elections.

What can be done, then? First, let us reduce the incentives that draw illegals to our country. Of course, the primary incentive is our robust economy, teeming with opportunities, and we surely don’t want to change that! But we should at least stop rewarding illegals with the ultimate prize: automatic U.S. citizenship for their children born here. This is absurd: “Congratulations, Ms. Gonzalez! You have broken our laws, entered our country illegally, evaded the immigration service, and now your son has all the rights of U.S. citizenship.” It is time to amend the Constitution so that the precious gift of citizenship is awarded only to babies born here of parents who are in the country legally.

Second, one way to reduce the number of Mexicans in the country illegally would be to make it easier for them to enter the country legally for a specific period of time to work on specific jobs. Finding a way to identify and register temporary workers has the potential to bring this segment of our underground economy above-ground. To be explicit, I oppose unlimited immigration, but neither do I accept the specious claim that we don’t need any of these workers. As much as 30 percent of this year’s crop of foods that are picked by hand went to waste for lack of pickers. An emerging shortage of nursing home employees is also becoming apparent. Let’s make arrangements for such productive work to be done legally by tax-paying visitors.

Third, we should rethink our longstanding policy (one enshrined in a Supreme Court decision several decades ago) of mandating that schools must provide free education and hospitals free health care to illegal immigrants. Why not have 10 percent of foreign temporary workers’ wages deducted for local social services that they consume? The current policy of giving away such services creates a powerful incentive for illegal immigration. Furthermore, this policy produces an inconsistency in our laws. Businesses that hire workers whose papers are bogus are subject to prosecution, whereas social service providers must accept illegals without question, and some city governments—the so-called “sanctuary cities”—openly defy federal law and actively help illegals evade detection. We can’t succeed in getting a grip on this problem if different segments of our society are working at cross-purposes. The unfair anti-business bias must go.

Fourth, let’s make the USA monolingual by law. Certainly everyone may speak and write whatever language they prefer, but when it comes to things like official business, this should be an English-only country. When I lived in Mexico, I spoke their language, and when they come here, they should speak ours, just as earlier generations of immigrants from around the globe learned to do. Let’s keep the melting pot working, and avoid the divisive impulses that plague bilingual countries like Canada.
We either reject immigrants, assimilate them, or let them cause the disintegration of our society. Which is it going to be?