In a sane world, the sight of more than a half-million immigrants—many of them illegal—flooding the streets of downtown Los Angeles and waving Mexican flags would have been something of a wake-up call for Southern Californians. It wasn’t. No matter how in-your-face the protesters have become, conventional wisdom argues that these nice folks are simply fighting against oppression and injustice and really want to become Americans.
After the original protests, thousands of students, not just in Los Angeles but in suburban school districts, ditched school, blocked freeways, took down the U.S. flag from public-school poles, then raised the Mexican flag and put the upside-down Stars and Stripes underneath it—all the while chanting, “Mexico! Mexico! Mexico!” In the days that followed, the protesters—stung by criticism of their Mexican flags—brought along mostly American ones, but the real message had already been sent.
Other cities across America faced similar demonstrations, but, being Ground Zero for Mexican immigration, Los Angeles endured particularly big and unruly ones. Few people here in La-La Land got the point: Our region is home to millions of unassimilated aliens who are defiantly proud of the country from which they came and view America as little more than a place to earn money. I had always worried about the possibility of Balkanization, but the demonstrations suggest that it is already here.
The local media were in full pander mode, which only highlighted their increasing irrelevance. As the Spanish-speaking population has grown, the circulation numbers and listener ratings for English-language media have been falling quite rapidly. The most popular medium around is Spanish-language radio, and most news accounts credit those radio stations for bringing out the big crowds.
Here is the way that the Los Angeles Times described the scene, in a March 27 editorial entitled “Making their voices heard”:
Downtown Los Angeles hosted the most awe-inspiring political rally in recent California history Saturday as an estimated half a million people came together peacefully. The ostensible reason was to protest harsh anti-immigration legislation being considered in Washington, but the rally’s broader purpose was to celebrate immigrants and reclaim the initiative in the debate from strident anti-immigration voices. . . .
It’s one of those classic pieces of legislation unencumbered by any relation to the real world, existing in a fantastical parallel universe in which the United States can deport about 11 million undocumented workers, let alone avoid suffering and an economic calamity as a result.
The Times editorial page itself seems unencumbered by reality in describing the day’s event as “a poignant drama featuring an endless stream of immigrants and their supporters wearing white and waving American and Mexican flags (sometimes artfully blended).” Who can complain if they are artfully blended?
Well, at least that “fantastical parallel universe” took place on an editorial page. On April 2, I was having brunch near Palm Springs when the banner headline from that city’s Desert Sun caught my attention: “What if all undocumented left?” Note the use of the p.c. modifier, as if these immigrants simply lost their documents in the Sonoran Desert. Where the Times thought it preposterous that illegal immigrants could be sent home, the Desert Sun acted as if the entire low-cost labor pool was about to be deported.
“What would happen to the Coachella Valley economy if undocumented workers were not here?” asks writer Lou Hirsh.
Developers, golf course operators, entrepreneurs, hospitality officials and others with a stake in the economic vibrancy of the region agree with the answer provided by Aftab Dada, general manager of the Hilton resort in Palm Springs. “The impact could be huge here.”
Despite a length of 2,900 words, the article found space to quote only one person even mildly supportive of any restrictions on immigration.
Most local politicians, of course, sided with the illegal immigrants, and Roger Cardinal Mahony was on his moral high horse, denouncing criticism of illegal immigrants and insisting that his church would defy the supposed requirement that churches turn illegal immigrants over to the authorities. That bit of dishonesty played quite well in the media. On Good Friday, the diocese of Orange devoted its Stations of the Cross to the plight of illegal immigrants, just in case anyone missed their other politically oriented pronouncements on the matter.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave his full endorsement to the crowd, saying that no one was there illegally. The only criminal, he said, was the Republican congressman who sponsored the immigration bill. And on and on went the nuttiness. Maybe Art Torres, the sanctimonious former chairman of the state Democratic Party, had a point when he called the 1994 Proposition 187, which barred illegal immigrants from receiving public benefits, “the last gasp of white America in California.” Today, there is no more gasping by any group of taxpayers, white or otherwise, only an acceptance of massive immigration-driven changes that are resulting in enormous local and national problems.
L.A. Times staff writer James Felch wrote, on August 24, 2004, that
Los Angeles County, which has lost six emergency rooms in a little over a year, is on the brink of a far more serious problem, facing more closures that could jeopardize emergency care for tens of thousands of residents, according to public officials and independent analysts.
The next round of cuts is expected to target large, heavily used emergency rooms at private hospitals. If they proceed as expected, they will reduce by a further 10 percent to 15 percent the county’s emergency room capacity, which already has lost the ability to serve 75,000 patients in the last 14 months, hospital and healthcare officials say.
Why is the region’s healthcare system crumbling, with the availability of emergency-room care approaching a crisis level? Emergency rooms must treat anyone, regardless of his ability to pay, and they are being inundated with nonpaying customers—mostly illegal immigrants, who depend on free healthcare. Throughout Southern California, public-school populations are growing rapidly, and much of the growth is driven by the children of immigrants, legal and otherwise.
Some of my fellow libertarians continue to argue that open borders increase freedom. Even if one is foolish enough not to care about the importance of nation, community, and shared values, one would be hard-pressed to explain how the above scenarios do not lead to bigger, more costly government. The closing of overworked emergency rooms is pushing medical associations to favor socialized medicine; a single-payer system would at least guarantee hospitals payment for these “guests” who show up for free treatment. Growth in school populations leads to endless proposals for new bond measures and more taxes to finance an increasingly dysfunctional school system. (If you want a closer look at a nightmare that could be coming to a school district near you, do a Google search for the “Los Angeles Unified School District.”)
These massive demographic changes are transforming this once-conservative region into a bastion of leftism. Orange County used to enjoy a reputation for being a lily-white conservative community. However, between 1990 and 2000, the Latino population of Orange County grew 55 percent. While there are various Latino “communities,” some of which are middle class and conservative, there is a large and growing Latino community that is poor and strongly Democratic. As the demographics shift, so do the politics—from right to left, as the 1996 election of U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez over B-1 Bob Dornan shows. Local assembly and senate seats in the most heavily immigrant areas have likewise shifted from conservative to solidly liberal.
The new immigrant communities are so large that individual immigrants are more isolated from the broader society than ever before. Newcomers, legal or not, never have to acquire English to survive, let alone learn about the precepts of the American founding.
Today, simple issues take on the hard edge of ethnic politics. Recently, the sheriff of Orange County proposed a seemingly unobjectionable policy: When someone is arrested for a felony, the deputy will check the suspect’s immigration status to see if he is here legally. That proposal was vigorously denounced as racist.
I am not against immigration; but it should be done legally, lest the rule of law be undermined. And it needs to be limited, or else we place massive strains on an already bloated welfare state and create Balkanized communities that threaten the fabric of our nation (if anything is left of it). At the very least, we need an honest debate about why America should endlessly import Mexico’s poverty, and about the impact of endless immigration on the wages of other low-wage workers.
Yes, assimilation does happen. I can point to scores of wonderful immigrants I know who would never fly the flag of their native country and whom I would choose as neighbors any day over many of the indolent “Anglos” I have known. The problem, though, is that new waves keep coming so rapidly that assimilation is often impossible. Shouldn’t we be able to talk honestly about this?
Then again, who cares about assimilation? Writing in the Lexington Herald-Leader, Prof. Ruben Nazario takes an increasingly popular view, arguing that assimilation is a bad thing. “Assimilation implies that the culture abandoned is not necessary,” he wrote. “It implies that U.S. culture is so valuable and so unique that it doesn’t allow cohabitation with other cultures.” Instead of assimilation, we should “make both Spanish and English official languages of the United States.”
Why even bother with English?
There are plenty of troubling numbers to look at, such as the growth in the U.S. poverty rate and the increase in uninsured residents caused largely by mass immigration. It is not surprising that poverty rates grow when millions of poor people continually move to the United States.
Here in Southern California, you can see a society that looks more and more like the Third World. The rich and famous live in their multimillion-dollar homes near the ocean, enclosed by a sea of barrios where families double and triple up in old tract homes, after which you find the foothills and the further reaches of the area, where middle-class folks live in their million-dollar tract homes, often in gated communities. Meanwhile, the haves—mostly the aging Anglo population—become more protective of their turf, supporting no-growth rules that drive up prices. And the have-nots are becoming more demanding of bigger government.
The companies that play by the rules bear the burden of California’s endless levels of punitive regulation, workers’ compensation and taxation, and those who work in the underground economy. Why pay a mover the going rate when you can hire three guys at one tenth of the price down at the city-run daywork center, where illegal immigrants await employment, protected from any snooping immigration cops?
Politically, the Democrats love Mexican immigration, because the net result is a strong shift toward their party. Republicans are of mixed views. The grassroots want action; but the leadership still remembers the days of Prop.187, when Republicans were depicted as hateful for supporting it, arguably paving the way for a backlash against the GOP. Republicans are caught in a catch-22: If they do nothing about the borders, the new immigrants will continue to come and support Democrats by about a 2-to-1 margin; if they try to stem the tide of immigration, they risk pushing the present Latino voters further into the Democrats’ arms. Not surprisingly, California has gone from a state that often supported Republicans to one in which the Republican presidential nominee cannot get within one million votes of the Democrat.
Readers from the Midwest and the South should study this picture carefully. As Nicole Gaouette wrote in the Los Angeles Times (June 25, 2005), “Illegal immigrants are moving in unprecedented numbers to the southeastern United States, choosing that area over traditional ‘destination states’ such as California.”
Or, as a certain California governor once said, “Hasta la vista, Baby!”