The most significant event of President George W. Bush’s second term (thus far) has been the defeat of the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S.1348). This bill was initiated by President Bush in collaboration with the Democratic congressional majority, over the opposition of the Republicans and a few rebellious Democrats. The real winners of this battle were the usually silent majority of conservative Americans who rose to protest the next wave of illegal-alien invasion, which would have followed the amnesty proposed by S.1348. The subsequent resignation of Bush’s senior Machiavellian, Karl Rove, was not surprising.
It is difficult to know if conservatives were primarily concerned with the sheer magnitude of immigrants or with the threat of terrorism. Both problems would have been exacerbated by the S.1348 amnesty, which could have resulted in as many as 100 million more immigrants, as estimated by Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation. After being double-crossed by the immigration acts of 1965, 1986, and 1996, our dissident conservatives seem to be saying, “What’s wrong with taking control of our borders by enforcing the laws we already have?”
Among its key proposals, S.1348 offered a virtual fence to monitor our Southern border, presumably as a replacement for the physical fence ordered by both houses last year, which remains unconstructed. It also proposed the use of biometric IDs in visa-entry, monitoring, and exit procedures, which would be administered by the Department of Homeland Security. Of course, the most important way to reduce the chief incentive for illegal immigration—restricting employment to legally approved aliens—is already provided for by present law. That law simply is not enforced with reasonable policing, a conclusion that is supported by the fact that there were only 718 employer arrests in 2006, despite estimates that more than half of the 13 million illegal aliens here are employed. The amnesty of 1996 only served to swell the flood of illegal aliens and increased pressure for additional legal immigration of relatives (who account for 83 percent of those naturalized every year). These figures validate conservative concerns about the prospects of yet another (and greater) flood tide.
In Washington, the political pressure for increases in immigration allowances is, first and foremost, a matter of supply and demand for cheap labor (both salaried and hourly). As of 2003, foreign-born workers made up one sixth of the U.S. civilian workforce. Since the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics, real compensation per unit of output (including fringe benefits) for workers in the private sector declined by one quarter, while real paycheck earnings per unit of output declined by one half. Before 1965, however, earnings and compensation per unit of output were relatively stable, so it is not difficult to conclude that immigration has had a negative effect on returns to labor. Admittedly, in the medical and high-tech fields, immigration has helped relieve inflationary shortages. In general, however, the massive flow of migrants has depressed middle-class wages. In addition, immigration enables employers to risk less capital in exchange for more return. Yes, as the mantra goes, the immigrants “are doing the jobs Americans won’t do”—but that is because Americans want reasonable living wages. The historically low U.S. unemployment rate (4.5 percent), which is regularly cited as proof that the current demand for labor is unsatisfied, does not reflect declines in both female and male workforce participation: 17 percent of American males, ages 16 to 26, refuse to take jobs that pay less than babysitting, but, when combined with welfare benefits, those jobs look good to unskilled immigrants. American workers—who, since Colonial times, were among the highest-paid laborers in the world—are being marginalized by the globalists’ manipulation of immigration and trade.
Why shouldn’t Americans at least take advantage of the bargain-priced services offered by unskilled aliens? The answer is simple: The immigrants and their employers may be better off for getting the business, but only at the expense of the average working and tax-paying citizen. The low-income aliens pay little or no income or FICA taxes, either by taking advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit or by avoiding paying taxes altogether. On average, these aliens have double the poverty rate and criminality of the rest of the population, and they secure substantial welfare benefits from both legal and illegal sources, including free medical care and education, paid for by U.S. taxpayers. Eventually, many of them become citizens and then qualify for Social Security and Medicare at a total net cost to taxpayers of over $150,000 per family (after comparing taxes paid to benefits accrued or received).
The fury of the grassroots at the soaring numbers of illegal aliens is warranted, but somewhat misdirected. After all, it is hard to blame aliens when they walk through an open door and help themselves to a better standard of living—and when it is obvious to them that the immigration police could not care less. The traffickers who locate and deliver them, those who employ them illicitly, and the border patrol and the federal overseers who do not enforce the law are at least as guilty as the aliens—perhaps more so.
Of equal or greater importance is the loss of the successful American way of life. For decades, conservatives have warned that excessive immigration would result in the loss of traditional communities, on which American success has been built; now these predictions are becoming realities. Michael Barone, in an op-ed published in the Wall Street Journal (“The Realignment of America”), shows that masses of native-born Americans are migrating from the East and West Coast cities to the cities of the Heartland. The population loss on both coasts is being driven and replaced by immigrants. It would appear that the prospects for the “pursuit of happiness” by native-born Americans—who have seen their former communities increasingly overrun by immigrant strangers—have deteriorated to such an extent that it warranted seeking new communities where they could live among other native-born Americans. In another Wall Street Journal op-ed, Daniel Henninger records the findings of Prof. Robert Putnam of Harvard University, who studied the effects of “diversity” by conducting 30,000 interviews in 41 U.S. communities: “Short version: People in ethnically diverse settings don’t want to have much of anything to do with each other. ‘Social capital’ erodes. Diversity has a downside.” Putnam’s composite findings are perturbing:
Inhabitants of diverse communities tend to withdraw from collective life, to distrust their neighbors, regardless of the color of their skin, to withdraw even from close friends, to expect the worst from their community and its leaders, to volunteer less, give less to charity and work on community projects less often, to register to vote less, to agitate for social reform more, but have less faith that they can actually make a difference, and to huddle unhappily in front of the television.
It appears that the vaunted “diversity” provided by increased immigration has proved no friend either to American communities or to America’s middle class, which has been the pride of our republic since its founding. Low-wage illegal-alien workers and their welfare subsidies are really subsidies to their U.S. employers—subsidies that drive up profits while depressing middle-class earnings.
The Christian churches of America, particularly the traditional denominations, represent the potential swing vote of the electorate, which could restore limited immigration. The leaders of these denominations have been purveyors of socialism and globalism for over a century. As a result, their congregations have been brainwashed into believing that taking in the world’s poor through an open-borders policy is the requirement of a good Samaritan. But consider the sobering picture painted by Peter Brimelow, in his comprehensive overview of immigration, Alien Nation: The Census Bureau predicts that, by 2050, the U.S. population will be 392 million; Leon Bouvier of Tulane University estimates that 139 million of them will be post-1970 immigrants and their descendants; and, David A. Coleman of Oxford University estimates that, currently, 60 million people wish to emigrate from the Third World to the United States. Should each of them be followed by seven relatives, as is the present trend, the result of our de facto open-borders policy could be an influx of as many as 480 million new arrivals—quite a burden for America’s good Samaritans. At some point, these good Samaritans will have to wake up to the fact that open borders mean putting their incomes, standards of living, culture, governance, and even law and order at risk. No country has ever survived when its citizens have given charity to mankind priority over the wellbeing of their families, friends, and neighbors.
Realistically, the 13 million illegal aliens who are currently residing in the United States cannot be abruptly returned to their native countries en masse. Their status should be resolved by our adoption of the temporary legal categories of alien-labor quotas proposed in S.1348, in agriculture, high-tech, and services, but not on the terms proposed by S.1348—that is, not by amnesty. Present illegal employees who “surrender” should be allowed to apply for these temporary jobs. Their employment should be contracted on an annual basis, and, after each year, they should be required to return home. Temporary residency should be monitored by biometric IDs. Alien workers’ wages and their numbers should be regulated to prevent any further depression of domestic compensation levels. Aliens without criminal records (other than border violations) who are granted temporary employment should be allowed to apply for naturalization, but with no promises and with no priority placed on their applications. Naturalization should require not only proficiency in English, civics, and history but a high-school degree or the completion of a GED taken in English. The Constitution should be amended so that citizenship is not automatically extended to those born to noncitizens in the United States, and so that English is established as the national language. As employers of illegal aliens are identified when their illegal employees surrender, they should be convicted and fined or incarcerated, as required by law. Hereafter, no illegal alien should be allowed employment in the United States or given any other basis for staying.
The Democratic and Republican parties have been content to use the immigration invasion to their political benefit, providing empty rhetoric to their respective bases, without regard for the tragic consequences for America and Americans. The Bush Republican machine has pandered to Central Americans and Mexicans, the principal source of illegal immigrants, with offers of bilingual education and citizenship, an approach that promises to turn the American Southwest into Kosovo. After all, President Felipe Calderón of Mexico has all but endorsed a reconquista by declaring that “Mexico does not end at its borders.” Meanwhile, the Democrats have worked toward a broad expansion of Third World immigration, in order to increase their voting base and thereby displace the Bush Republican regime. The rebellion of congressional Republicans in response to the demands of their core electorate could signal a movement toward sound immigration reform that would protect American communities and workers. Such a movement might even be joined by Democratic rebels intent on returning their party to its populist roots. Unfortunately, it is more likely that both parties, financed by corporate and Wall Street greed, will continue to profit from excessive immigration, making a mockery of the American experiment and its once optimistic prospects—both for Americans and, by example, for the rest of the world.
David A. Hartman, a retired banker, is the chairman of The Rockford Institute’s board of directors and a contributor to Immigration and the American Future.
This article first appeared in the November 2007 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.