The Public Policy

The Immigration Twist

In this dance, there's no substitute for the first step: border control.

By 4.14.06

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Like all else in politics, the immigration question is a matter of timing. In the complex and illicit dance of states, citizens, governments, agendas, and 12 million aliens, the jitterbug caught out of step is trampled unforgivingly. The GOP has now assumed this most embarrassing of dance-floor positions -- and with the President leading feet that won't follow, cringeworthy moves were a given. Yet it's the House where sequencing has been worst out of sync, and though there's still time to get it right, the beat goes on with or without us. We've got a lot of catching up to do. To get our steps right, we first need to understand how timing shows us what about the immigration crisis is and isn't a real issue. Then we need to grasp the objectives of those pro-illegal enthusiasts who dance to such a different drumbeat. Only then can we move with confidence.

The immigration crisis cannot be reduced to a single issue. Change one element -- or separate it out -- and you get a whole new debate. One element is volume: if the U.S. were home to only a million illegals, there would be no crisis. Another element is rate: only 500 illegals crossing over yearly also spells no crisis. We must remember that the rule-of-law issue, so critical and urgent given 12 million illegals, is negotiable on a sliding scale. Practically, the sovereignty of the United States is not damaged by very low volumes and rates of illegal immigration.

On another sliding scale is the character of the illegals themselves. Twelve million looks like a horrendous number, and the hordes of protesters clogging our cities seem dedicated to the overrun and overthrow of the law maintaining the American character. But think: if the protests fielded, in total, between 1 and 2 million unique individuals, then somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of illegals cared enough about their legal or political status to take to the streets. The others stayed home -- or at work. And at least some of the protesters were already American citizens. So, for easy math, let's estimate that one eighth of our 12 million illegals hit the streets. For every one who protested, perhaps seven chose not to. The percentage of the 12 million, in other words, who mobilized for amnesty or voting rights or Aztlan or whatever, is a clear minority of the illegal immigrant population.

Indeed, those who did protest certainly did so for different reasons. The story is in the slogans. For some, "today we march, tomorrow we vote" was the unnerving rallying cry. But for others, the goal was much more practical: not being deported. Some protesters seemed most concerned about getting across an emotional message -- don't hate us more than don't ban us, with "us" being Latinos or Mexicans rather than simply illegals. There is a pile of mixed motivations here. But it is clear that HR 4437, because of its felony provision, was a leading external incitement factor. I bet most marched to register their opposition to being made felons. It's equally clear that a leading internal incitement factor is a highly-motivated vanguard group that wants high-volume, high-rate Mexican immigration -- legally or illegally -- because it wants to change the character of not just the USA but nationalism itself.

FOR THE PRO-IMMIGRATION element, legality is a side issue. Before talk of criminalization, how much agitation did we see for amnesty? Before state measures designed to deny social services to the "undocumented," who took to the streets to demand citizenship for those who didn't seek it out in the first place? Those in favor of large numbers of Mexican immigrants do not need official legality, and they never have -- so long as the system tolerates, includes, and provides for immigrants regardless of their legal status.

The real agenda of the pro-immigration element at its leading edge, politically speaking, is not amnesty for non-citizens but de-citizenship for all. For Mexican-Americans with would-be immigrant friends and family in Mexico, the important thing is relocating their community into the United States in a way that meets its needs and desires. The formality of citizenship is a second- or third-order objective. For American businesses looking to pay workers at rates Americans won't take, the citizenship status of obliging Mexican laborers is moot. It does not affect their ability to do the job. And for Latino intellectuals and movement thinkers, citizenship itself is an obstacle to the future.

Andrew Sullivan caught Michael Lind "satirizing the people with whom he must sometimes form alliances" thus:

"Hello. I'm a post-patriotic progressive. I believe that nation-states like the USA are obsolete and indeed immoral. I abhor and denounce the bigotry of 'citizenism' -- the idea that the American government should favor the interests of the 300 million citizens of the US over those of the other 5.7 billion people on earth."

Gents of the gente like Andres Rozental, president of the Mexican Council on International Affairs, and Professor Raul Hinojosa, director of the North American Integration & Development Institute at UCLA and O'Reilly Factor guest last month, don't like amnesty because it makes more U.S. citizens. They want to go beyond citizenship. Rozental and Hinojosa's longstanding dream for the Norteamerica of the future takes its inspiration from -- the European Union. In Business Week, in 2003, Rozental complained, "we've done nothing to build the idea of a North American community that would deal with the issue of broader economic and political integration." And the soul of Hinojosa, who has appeared before Bill O'Reilly several times, is captured in this Factor recap from December 2004:
An organization in Los Angeles is calling for a boycott of gasoline stations each Monday as a protest against a move making it more difficult for illegal aliens to obtain drivers licenses...."This boycott is innovative because it makes an important point," Hinojosa said. "In California you have many undocumented people building the economy of this state. We need driver's licenses for everybody. The boycott is sending a message -- we want everyone to recognize you can't have people contributing to the economy, and not treat them with respect."

Still illegal, but documented -- the legal legitimation of noncitizens is the goal, as prelude to making national citizenship meaningless for illegal immigrants as well as you and me.

IN THE IMMIGRATION DANCE, HR 4437 stepped badly -- playing into the hands of its enemies and failing to focus on the most practical and most popular element of the issue: border control. Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake has admitted as much in the Washington Post. "It was an ugly bill in most respects, the felony stuff, the wall and no amendments"; and even the wall isn't that ugly.

What is ugly is the missed opportunity to zero in on the heart of the crisis: timing and pacing. The lack of border control is the reason why we have 12 million illegals today -- what lawyers call the proximate cause. The lack of border control is why we will have 12 million more at this rate. Criminalization of resident illegals fails to address the root problem, whereas border control is an irrefutable winner. Neither Cardinal Mahoney nor any other social-justice hero can fight half as hard for the decay of national sovereignty as they can for the decent care of illegal fellow humans already in the United States.

By failing to go straight for border control, alone, in a freestanding bill, the House stepped on its own toes. Since the Senate has done the same, we have one last chance to do immigration reform right -- and to protect the rule of law, the integrity of sovereignty, and the value of American citizenship.

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About the Author

James Poulos is a doctoral student at Georgetown and the former Political Editor of Culture11. His writing has been published by The American Conservative, The National Interest, The New Atlantis, Partnership for a Secure America, and The Weekly Standard. In addition to AmSpecBlog, he has blogged at The American Scene, Doublethink, and Postmodern Conservative, which he founded. With degrees in political science and law from Duke and USC, he is currently at work on a dissertation about life after Napoleon.