Communist poet Bertolt Brecht, after the 1953 risings in East Germany, suggested that the Communist government should just dissolve the people and elect a new one.  That is essentially what is happening in the United States.  The American government is dissolving the people and electing a new one—in the name of shoring up and “growing” the economy.

Current immigration policy, however, makes absolutely no sense economically.  And the evidence for that has accumulated a lot more since I wrote Alien Nation.  It was the consensus then, in the mid-1990’s, among labor economists that the great influx of foreigners unleashed by the 1965 Immigration Act, and the associated illegal immigration, really did not benefit native-born Americans at all.  It did increase the Gross Domestic Product, but that mostly went to the immigrants themselves, through wages.  On the whole, America is getting nothing out of the immigrant influx.  In other words, America is being transformed for nothing.

One of the things that we now know a lot more about today is the impact of the welfare state—the transfer state, generally.  There is a substantial cross-subsidy to immigration from American taxpayers.  The National Research Council now says that, in California, this amounts to over $1,000 per native-born family per year.  In other words, not only is America being transformed for nothing, but Americans are actually having to pay for the privilege.

This is a very unusual situation.  Most Americans will say they have no objection to immigrants as long as they pay their own way.  That is not what is going on, however.  Instead, Americans are paying to have their country transformed.

George Borjas, the Harvard economist, who is also an immigrant (we’re everywhere!) has produced a new study in the Quarterly Journal of Economics on the wage impact of immigration.  Borjas has been able to demonstrate, by reanalyzing the data, that the wages of the college-educated in this country have suffered significantly from the immigration influx.  That is very interesting, because, if it is just a question of displacing black janitors, nobody cares; if college graduates are the ones being displaced, however, that is another matter.  The policy will fall, eventually.

There is, in fact, some sign that the “conservative” establishment is going through one of its immigration-conscious phases.  We should be thinking now about a series of litmus tests to judge the policies that it proposes.  National Review showed no interest in immigration from the moment John O’Sullivan was fired in 1998 until the spring of 2002—almost four years of no discussion, except for O’Sullivan’s own writing, under the terms of his severance.  Then, however, the magazine returned to the subject, boosting Victor Davis Hanson, and in other ways.  The change did not come immediately after September 11; it took another six months.  Apparently, the editors then got word from Neocon Central that it was OK to discuss immigration, probably because of the Muslims, whom they would like to cut out of the immigration influx.

One of the most important litmus tests involves numbers: We have to get immigration numbers down—a lot.  That means, essentially, a moratorium.  Anything less than that is going to be bid up in the legislative negotiating process.  And marginal reductions would only set the current privileged groups to quarreling over their share.  But if reform were to take immigration down to a net nothing—a gross of only 200,000 a year—it would have a great simplicity.  It would affect all groups equally—except, of course, the American people.  For them, it would just spell relief.

Next, we need to look at how (or if) reform proposals attack the problem of the tremendous population of illegal aliens in the United States.  When Alien Nation came out in 1995, it was reviewed, quite favorably, by Jack Miles in the Atlantic.  Miles, however, was very upset because I had raised the specter of a second Operation Wetback.  There was a similar illegal-immigration crisis in the 1950’s that everyone has now forgotten.  The Eisenhower administration ended it.  Within six months after coming to power, it threw out 1.5 million Mexicans.  And, as I suggested, it could be done again.  Miles said this would lead to warfare in South Central Los Angeles (as opposed to warfare in Baghdad!).  What that means, however, is that we have lost control of the country—if we cannot enforce the law within it.  That is why I am serious about deportation.  The U.S. government should strip citizenship from those who got it fraudulently: a sort of negative amnesty.

The most important way to demolish the illegal presence, however, is not through deportation but simply through the removal of incentives for illegals to stay.  Illegal aliens remain with us in order to receive the substantial transfers arranged for them by the welfare state.  If those incentives were removed, the illegals would deport themselves.  This has already happened in various areas of the country.  In North Carolina, after September 11, there was a dramatic reduction in the Hispanic population for a while—until illegals realized nothing was going to be done.  And so Litmus Test Two is the willingness of proponents of immigration reform to eliminate the presence of illegal aliens.

The critical reform, however, involves fixing the Citizenship Clause of the 14th Amendment by which an immigrant can enter the United States illegally and give birth to a child who becomes, automatically, a citizen—a so-called “anchor baby.”  Willingness to reform the Citizenship Clause is thus the single most important test for anybody who claims to want to do something about illegal immigration.  This applies, by the way, to guest workers, too.  It is impossible to have a guest-worker program unless we can solve this citizen-child question, since, once illegals make it onto American soil, it becomes very difficult to throw them out if they are anchored to it.

Current immigration policy is likely to fall, but this will take time, and we have to be patient.  It took 30 years for the last great wave to be cut off—from the founding of the Immigration Restriction League in the 1890’s until the cutoff in the 1920’s.

On the other hand, there is no need to despair.

I first met Bill Rusher, the publisher of National Review, in 1975.  He was then trying to organize a third party to go up against President Gerald Ford and the “moderates” who had total control of the Republican Party, sort of like today.  After I interviewed him—after he ascertained that I was not hostile (I was then working for a Canadian paper)—he said to me, off the record, “I think that all is lost and the red flag will fly over the world.”

“But,” he added, “we don’t give up.”  Because, first of all, you never know what is going to turn up.  And, second, there are theological injunctions against despair.

Within five years, Ronald Reagan was elected.  (I do not share the negative view of Reagan that some have—perhaps because I come from overseas.)  I think that there is a very good chance that, were it not for President Reagan, the Soviet Union would still exist, we would still be subsidizing it, and inflation would be goodness-knows-where.

The point is that nobody, least of all professional politicians, has the faintest idea what is politically practical over the long run.  (By the long run, I mean two or three years.)  The politicians are talking about tomorrow—if that.  They are like blind shrews, snuffling around by sense of smell and memory.  That is why they can make these 360-degree turns without rupturing their consciences.  They are not aware that they have turned around.

And that is what is going to happen on the immigration issue.

The most denounced passage in Alien Nation was my reference to my little boy, Alexander, who had then just been born—specifically, to his blue eyes and blond hair, appearing in the entirely legitimate context of the impact of immigration on affirmative-action quotas.

If immigrants are eligible for affirmative-action quotas, then it is a zero-sum game, and anybody who does not belong to one of the “protected classes” that are eligible for preference is going to be squeezed out.  So it actually matters to me, as the father of a boy who is manifestly not in one of the “protected classes,” how many immigrants there are in the country who fall into them.  That was a reasonable point to make then, and it still is.  We need to remove immigrants’ eligibility for affirmative-action quotas.  They have never been discriminated against in the United States: They weren’t here.  Why should they get preferences—here?

Alexander is now 12 years old and an enthusiastic Civil War reenactor.  One result of this is that, in the car, I have to play a lot of 19th-century music, including the American folk song, “Sweet Betsy from Pike,” which is about the great westward movement of Americans, their conquest of the West.  It is the story of Betsy and her lover, Ike, who trek to the West.

The final verse reads:

They crossed the wide prairies, they climbed the high peaks,

They camped in the mountains for weeks upon weeks,

They fought with the Indians with musket and ball,

They reached California, in spite of it all.

We just have to do it again.