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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2004 / 19 Teves, 5764

Bill Steigerwald

Bill Steigerwald
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Paradise lost? Ten minutes with Victor David Hanson | We thought if we just allow people to have entitlements and we welcome everybody in, and we let each culture have their own political or cultural agenda, and we never judge anybody, and we never make hard choices, then everybody will get along.

The problem was, it turned out to be just the opposite.

Classics professor Victor David Hanson used to be known for his military histories and his social commentaries. But today the fifth-generation fruit farmer from California's Central Valley and National Review Online columnist is best known as the author of "Mexifornia," his personal account of how his state's economy, culture and social harmony have been battered and abused for 30 years by waves of illegal immigrants coming across the border from Mexico. (Click HERE to purchase. Sales help fund JWR.)

On Thursday, the day after President Bush announced a major overhaul of immigration policy that would grant legal status to millions of illegal immigrants, I talked to Hanson by telephone from his office at California State University in Fresno.

Q: What is your reaction to President Bush's plan for immigration reform?

A: Well, he's trying to split the difference between those who want amnesty and those who want deportation, those who want legal and those who want illegal immigration, those who want open and those who want closed borders. He's trying to defuse the situation 10 months before the election.

The problem with all of this is that illegal immigration is a systemic, holistic problem that is rampant with illegality. You can't just take one little portion of it -- guest workers, 300,000 or so -- and say we're going to make this legal but we're not going to apply legality to any of the other people.

Not all the people immigrating are young male agricultural workers, for example. What are you going to do, bring back labor vans that go around and pick people up and take them back across the border? What are you going to do with the other thousands of workers who will not or cannot participate, because once you say this is the legal way of doing it, there are going to be hundreds of thousands of others who say, "You know what? I'm still going to come across."

Q: How do you define yourself on this issue?

A: I think I'm a moderate. I don't believe in sequential or rolling amnesties. On the other hand, it's going to be very hard to deport people who have been here for 30 or 40 years. What I would like to do is get both sides to sit down and say to the open-borders, La Raza people:

"Look, we're willing to give amnesty to people who've lived here 10 years. But this is not going to be an every-five-year amnesty. From now on, we're going to shut the border, we're going to deport people who are here illegally, and we're going to set a quota on the number of people who can come in from Mexico, as we do with Korea, Europe and everyone else. And you're not going to be privileged vis--vis any of these other groups. And this is what we're offering. And if it's 10 million people that can be citizens, that's going to be it."

Q: California is suffering the effects of our immigration policy more than any other state. Is it California's fault, in part, or is it only the federal government's?

A: There are two points to be made. One is that all states that share this 2,000-mile border with Mexico share a similar problem -- illegal immigration. But California is unique in two different ways. It's the most affluent of all the states, so it's the most attractive for people from Mexico to come across the border. It's the most generous and liberal state, as far as social attitudes and entitlements. And it has the highest proportion of what I would call "Hispanic citizens" -- almost 40 percent. It has some unique characteristics that New Mexico, Arizona and Texas do not have.

Q: Why are we having this immigration crisis, if you would define it as a crisis, and who are the bad guys and who are the victims?

A: Any time you have a crisis, you have to ask yourself, "Who benefits from it?" The people who benefit are numerous: the Mexican government uses immigration to avoid domestic political reform. So if a dissident (in northern Mexico) is not eating or can't find health care or would like to see a change in the system of Mexican politics or economics, that won't happen as long as he can go north. The Mexican government knows that. The Mexican government gets $12 billion in remittances, the second largest earner of foreign exchange. ...

The employer in the United States wants a permanent class of people who come without education, without the English language and without legality. They can't form unions. They can't bargain collectively. They are a permanent menial force that can be exploited, and they like that.

The politicians in the Chicano movement want an unassimilated constituency that requires bloc or group representation, as we see in the California Legislature. They want open borders.

Then there are the rest of us -- all of us in the middle. Californians, for example, have adopted an 18th-century French aristocratic idea about work. They want somebody to mow their lawns, clean their pools, clean their house. They really don't care in the short term whether that person happens to be here illegally from Mexico.

They are only beginning to see that paying someone $6.50 an hour to mow your lawn is really not a bargain when that same person becomes 50 or 55 and has a bad back and they have to turn to the entitlement industry for health care, translators, education. They pay the taxes on that.

Q: Looking at California from back East, to a lot of people, this probably looks like just another "crazy-California" problem. There's always something wrong out there.

A: Well, there's something to that. Think about it. We have two great ports on the West Coast in Oakland and Los Angeles. We have the Silicon Valley, a wonderful tourist industry, the Sierra Nevada, a wonderful climate, the biggest agricultural industry in the world, natural resources from timber to oil, yet we're $38 billion in the hole. It's almost as if we took everything nature gave us and what our ancestors gave us -- wonderful freeways, universities -- and we ruined them.

The answer is that we were victims of our own therapeutic culture, our own misdiagnosis of human nature. We thought if we just allow people to have entitlements and we welcome everybody in, and we let each culture have their own political or cultural agenda, and we never judge anybody, and we never make hard choices, then everybody will get along.

The problem was, it turned out to be just the opposite. People are at each other's throat in California. The crime rate is high. The university system is in shambles. The primary schools that used to be the best in the country are among the worst. That was what the recall election was about: It was taking another look at the nature of man, human nature. Anybody from the other states would look at California's immigration policy and ethnic separatism and say, "Whatever they're doing, don't do it."

Q: Do you think either California or the federal government has the brains or willpower to implement a sound, humane immigration policy?

A: I do, because we used to have one. We never would have had this conversation in 1950. There was no conversation about a wall or a fence. It was very simple: If you came across the border illegally, you were deported. The employer was not to hire people who were here illegally. It's very simple to do, but it just requires a degree of courage.

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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.

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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald