• This article contains all four parts of Thomas Sowell's essay "Immigration Solutions." The first part of Sowell's essay was published in the Daily News on Wednesday, April 12, 2006. The final portion was published in our Sunday Perspective section on Sunday, April 16, 2006.
Immigration 'solutions' begin with recognizing the problem
Activists who are organizing mass marches and demonstrations in cities across America may well be congratulating themselves on the huge numbers of people they can get to turn out to protest efforts in Congress to reduce illegal immigration.
No doubt that will impress many in the media and intimidate many politicians. But how these marches will be seen by millions of other Americans is another question entirely.
The Mexican flags and the strident assertions of a right to violate American laws are a danger signal to this society, as they would be to any society.
The releasing of children from schools to take part in these marches and the support of the marchers' goals by some religious leaders demonstrate that this contempt for the laws of the land has spread well beyond immigrant communities.
For some, this is just another extension of their general anti-establishment attitudes and activities. They are ready to protest virtually anything at any time.
At the other end of the political spectrum are staid and sober representatives of business interests who simply want a continuing supply of cheap labor. They don't march, they lobby politicians.
Both liberals and free-market libertarians often see this as an abstract issue about poor people being hindered from moving to jobs by an arbitrary border drawn across the southwest desert.
Intellectuals' ability to think of people in the abstract is a dangerous talent in a world where people differ in all the ways that make them people. The cultures and surrounding circumstances of those people are crucial for understanding what they are likely to do and what the consequences are likely to be.
Some free-market advocates argue that the same principle which justifies free international trade in commodities should justify the free movement of people as well. But this ignores the fact that people have consequences that go far beyond the consequences of commodities.
Commodities are used up and vanish. People generate more people, who become a permanent and expanding part of the country's population and electorate.
It is an irreversible process — and a potentially dangerous process, as Europeans have discovered with their "guest worker" programs that have brought in many Muslims who are fundamentally hostile to the culture and the people that welcomed them.
Unlike commodities, people in a welfare state have legal claims on other people's tax dollars and expensive services in schools and hospitals, not to mention the high cost of imprisoning many of them who commit crimes.
Immigrants in past centuries came here to become Americans, not to remain foreigners, much less to proclaim the rights of their homelands to reclaim American soil, as some of the Mexican activist groups have done.
In the wars that this country fought, immigrant groups were among the most patriotic volunteers, earning the respect of American citizens on the battlefield with their blood and their lives.
Today, immigrant spokesmen promote grievances, not gratitude, much less patriotism. Moreover, many native-born Americans also promote a sense of separatism and grievance and, through "multi-culturalism," strive to keep immigrants foreign and disaffected.
This is not to say that all or most of the illegal immigrants themselves share this anti-establishment or anti-American bias of many of their spokesmen or supporters. Most are probably here to make a buck and have little time for ideology.
Hispanic activists themselves recognize that many of the immigrants from Mexico — legal or illegal — would assimilate into American society in the absence of these activists' efforts to keep them a separate constituency. But these efforts are widespread and unrelenting, a fact that cannot be ignored.
Whatever is said or done in the immigration debate, no one should insult the American people's intelligence by talking or acting as if this is a question about the movement of abstract people across an abstract line.
What is likely to be done? A pretense of reducing illegal immigration and a reality of amnesty under some other name.
Immigration 'solutions' pose problems for vote-hungry politicians
The massive marches organized and orchestrated by people supporting illegal immigrants have created a political problem for elected officials. Meanwhile, uncontrolled borders create a major social and security problem for the country. Whose problem are the politicians trying to solve — their own or the nation's?
If you were trying to solve the country's problem, the first order of business would be to regain control of our own borders. After trying various ways of doing that, and seeing how each one worked out, members of Congress could later turn their attention to what to do about the millions of illegal aliens already here in our midst.
On the other hand, if politicians are concerned primarily with solving their own political problem — that is, appeasing angry American citizens without risking the loss of Hispanic votes — then a package deal on immigration legislation is the way to achieve that.
The only way to avoid the loss of Hispanic votes, and the votes of others sympathetic to the cause of illegal immigrants, is to create amnesty of one sort or another under one name or another.
The only way to placate angry Americans is to call this amnesty something besides amnesty — and present it in a package deal with gestures toward controlling the border that will be called "tough," whether or not any of these gestures will be seriously enforced or would be effective if they were.
The notion that we cannot do anything about the borders until after we solve the problem of millions of illegal aliens already here is nonsense. There are many other fugitives from the law in this country and the fact that we cannot find them all does not mean that we should simply stop calling them fugitives and legalize them.
We certainly do not refuse to take legal action against other fugitives when we do encounter them. Yet illegal immigrants who are caught crossing our borders suffer no penalty whatever, but are simply sent back to try again the next day if they want to.
There are whole communities where policemen are under orders not to report illegal aliens to federal authorities when the cops catch the illegals for some other violation of the law. Other local officials are likewise supposed to see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil when they encounter illegal immigrants in the normal course of their duties.
It is a phoney talking point to ask how we can find all the millions of illegal aliens already here. Many politicians clearly don't want to do anything when illegal aliens are found.
By not doing anything about the millions of illegal aliens already here, we encourage even more millions to come here illegally in the future. By legalizing them to sweep the problem under the rug, we virtually guarantee that more millions will come.
Worse yet, we ensure that there will be millions of people living here who are routinely accustomed to violating the law. What does that do to respect for our laws, not only by illegal aliens but by native-born Americans who see the law openly treated with contempt without any consequences?
Even the usually astute Wall Street Journal equates the free movement of international trade and investment with the free international movement of people. It claims that there is not merely an inconsistency but even an "absurdity" in "closing off our markets to foreign labor but not to, say, foreign capital and foreign technology and foreign goods."
There is nothing absurd about treating different things differently. Is it absurd to have windows that let in light but keep out rain?
Just as light differs from rain, people differ from things.
People bring a huge amount of baggage that things do not.
We can import Japanese cars or cameras without importing the Japanese language. We can import clothing from China without importing China's corrupt dictatorship. We have long been importing oil from the Middle East without importing its economic backwardness or religious fanaticism.
Imported things cost those who buy them but do not cost the taxpayers money or cost the whole society the erosion of its culture and laws.
Democrats see the immigration debate as a way to win seats
The same man said all of the following things. Can you guess who it was?
"Our borders have overflowed with illegal immigrants placing tremendous burdens on our criminal justice system, schools and social programs."
"Our federal wallet is stretched to the limit by illegal aliens getting welfare, food stamps, medical care and other benefits, often without paying taxes."
"Safeguards like welfare and free medical care are in place to boost Americans in need of short-term assistance. These programs were not meant to entice freeloaders and scam artists from around the world."
"Even worse, Americans have seen heinous crimes committed by individuals who are here illegally."
Who said all these things? Pat Buchanan? Bill O'Reilly? Lou Dobbs?
Not even close. These statements were all made by Senator Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada, and currently Senate Minority Leader fighting fiercely to protect illegal immigrants from the restrictions proposed in Republican bills in Congress.
When Senator Reid said all those other things, it was 1993. There was no congressional or presidential election that year and it was not the Republicans who were trying to pass an immigration bill. It was Senator Reid who introduced his own immigration bill.
In short, the immigration bill is not just about immigration. It is about politics — and the stakes are high. Under such conditions, it is not unusual for a politician to rise above principles.
Immigration represents a golden political opportunity for the Democrats to regain power. It is an ideal issue for the Democrats because it unites them and divides the Republicans.
The Republican majority in Congress is split between supporters of President Bush's "guest worker" proposal and those who are serious about controlling our borders and upholding our laws. Meanwhile, the Democrats are united for legalizing illegality.
Under these conditions, the chances that Congress will solve the nation's problem, rather than the politicians' problem, seem slight — unless the voting public's anger is expressed so clearly and so massively as to outweigh the political intimidation of the pro-illegal immigrant marches.
If the Republicans wimp out, that could so demoralize their base that Republican turnout in the fall elections could decline to the point where Democrats regain control of the House of Representatives.
With California's ultra-liberal Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi as the new Speaker of the House, Democrats would be in hog heaven. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, so even the wild Republican spending of the past few years could be escalated to new heights with Democrats in the majority.
Impeachment charges also originate in the House of Representatives, so Democrats could deal the Republicans another blow by impeaching President Bush. It doesn't matter that he would never be convicted in the Senate.
What matters is that the Republicans would be forced on the defensive and bogged down politically.
Even if a bill of impeachment did not get a majority vote in the House of Representatives, it would get major coverage in the media, which would accomplish the same purpose of damaging the Republicans before the 2008 presidential elections.
In short, the Democrats' goal is not immigration reform but recapturing the White House in 2008. This is clearly demonstrated by the way Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid has gone all-out in opposing the kinds of immigration crackdowns that he himself advocated back in 1993, when the political situation was different.
It is all a political charade. At the heart of this charade is a package deal that will allow Washington politicians to be on both sides of the issue — in favor of the appearance of border control, while making it easier than ever for existing illegal aliens to stay and get citizenship, and allowing more people to cross our borders for their own benefit, rather than ours.
Border control a matter of national survival
Shaky political arguments for going easy on illegal immigrants are sometimes backed up by equally shaky economic arguments.
There is, of course, the perennial favorite that we "need" immigrants to "do work that Americans won't do." But what is the basis for this claim?
What specific jobs in this country are performed exclusively by immigrants? Indeed, in what jobs are immigrants an absolute majority? Those who make this sweeping claim seldom offer a speck of evidence to support it.
In some particular places, such as California, agricultural jobs seem to be almost exclusively filled by immigrants. But, in a country with huge agricultural surpluses costing the taxpayers billions in subsidies and storage costs, why is there a "need" for more workers to increase the surpluses and the costs?
One editorial cartoon pictured consumers confronted with $20 lettuce because immigrants no longer grew or picked it for low wages. But it is our agricultural subsidy laws which drive up the price of fruits and vegetables by taking vast amounts of this produce off the market, in order to keep prices artificially high.
If this surplus produce is not grown in the first place, that just saves subsidy and storage costs. The price of the fruits and vegetables sold in the market need be no higher than right now.
Even in fields like engineering or science, where particular immigrants bring particular skills much in demand, that is no argument for tolerating illegal immigration. Tolerating illegality means that the immigrants determine what kinds of people enter our country and become part of the U.S. population, whether or not their skills, attitudes or behavior are wanted by Americans.
A broader economic claim is that immigrants add to the national output, benefiting us all as consumers. Plausible as this might sound, its logic will not stand up under scrutiny.
If more immigrants are a good thing, where do we stop — and why? Why not fling the doors open to all the people who want to immigrate here from Haiti or Cuba or anywhere else?
Even if every one of those immigrants added to the national output, that does not mean that today's American population would be economically better off after this unchecked influx from around the world.
After all, people not only produce, they consume — and some consume more than they produce, courtesy of the American taxpayers.
Nor are our schools or our neighborhoods improved by becoming a tower of babel or scenes of clashing standards of behavior, noise, or violence. We need to count all costs, not just money costs.
Why is this a far more prosperous country than the countries from which most of our immigrants come? Many of those countries are well endowed with natural resources but are lacking an economic and political culture that would allow those resources to be used to produce better results than the poverty which drives their people to other countries.
When you import people, you import cultures. Those cultures no longer give way to the American culture when "multiculturalism" is a dogma and its apostles and activists make it necessary for American laws, language, and culture to give way, or at least accommodate growing alien enclaves in our midst.
A nation is more than a collection of whatever population happens to reside within its borders. Something has to unite those people if the country is not to degenerate into the kind of unending internal strife brought on by Balkanization in many countries around the world, not just in the Balkans.
It can be a matter of national life and death whether a country is or is not united against its external enemies. Internal disunity contributed to the decline and fall of the Roman Empire over a period of centuries and to the much faster collapse of France, which surrendered after just six weeks of fighting in 1940.
A generation earlier, a united France had fought on for four long years, despite far higher casualties than in 1940.
Unity and patriotism are not luxuries. Survival in an international jungle depends on them. What are dangerous luxuries are the open borders which erode national solidarity. The fact that we are already at each other's throats over the immigration issue is an ominous sign.