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Jewish World Review
April 12, 2006
/ 14 Nissan, 5766
Immigration debate, un-spun
The numbers at the immigration marches were remarkably impressive. They
have been, as organizers claim, historic events.
The question is whether they will have historic effects: Will they alter
the course of public policy?
I remain skeptical.
Organizers make the analogy to the civil rights marches. The difference,
however, is that the defenders of segregation had no real moral high ground
on which to stand.
Immigration restrictionists do. While it may not be practical, supporting
the rule of law and opposing giving benefits to those who have violated the
country's immigration laws certainly constitutes a respectable, comfortable
and defensible moral position.
I suspect that the remarkable numbers being amassed across the country will
actually solidify support for securing the borders more than it will
increase empathy for the plight of those who have taken advantage of
America's lax enforcement of its immigration laws.
Some number of those previously disengaged are likely to see these huge
marches as a wakeup call for the need to enforce the border before it is
According to organizers, these marches mark the awakening of the Latino
community as a political force that will have a larger effect on election
If Arizona is an indication, in the short run this too is doubtful.
According to exit polls, Latinos constituted 12 percent of the Arizona
electoral turnout in 2004. According to the Census Bureau, Latinos
constitute about 25 percent of Arizona's population. So, that would
certainly seem to indicate a large potential for the expansion of the
If the Pew Hispanic Center's numbers are to be believed, however, at least
a third of the Latino population in Arizona is illegal and therefore
ineligible to vote. Moreover, a larger percentage of the Latino population
is underage and also ineligible to vote.
The scrubbed numbers suggest that, at least in the short run, there isn't
really that much of an increase in the Latino vote to be had.
For the foreseeable political future, the Latino vote will be pivotal in
Arizona only in a very close election, and only if it breaks overwhelmingly
in one direction.
The latter is also unlikely, particularly among the subset of Latinos who
vote, and even on immigration issues. According to one exit poll, 47
percent of them voted in favor of Proposition 200, which restricted state
benefits to illegal immigrants and required proof of citizenship to
register to vote.
Immigration restrictionists are concentrating on the wrong thing in their
opposition to some sort of legal status for current illegal immigrants.
There are simply too many poignant stories of lives productively settled
here and family breakups that deportation would cause.
Moreover, the United States has been complicit in its failure to make any
serious attempt to enforce its immigration laws, particularly in the
Yes, current illegal immigrants broke the law. But sometimes the law has to
bend to reflect reality. Hernando de Soto has a chapter in his seminal
book, The Mystery of Capital, that traces the settlement of the western
United States as a series of legal adjustments to the extra-legal
settlements that had already been established.
Instead the focus should be on reducing the pace of future immigration
among the relatively uneducated and unskilled.
That is the real problem with the McCain-Kennedy proposal, and the
compromise that the Senate was prepared to pass.
Currently, it is estimated that approximately 400,000 unskilled workers
enter the country illegally each year. McCain-Kennedy simply makes that
entire number legal, through a guest worker program.
There is no real economic evidence that the American economy needs that
kind of a consistent increase in unskilled labor. In fact, the real wages
of native workers without a high school education are declining and those
of native workers with just a high school education are stagnant,
suggesting there is already an oversupply.
Practical and sensible immigration reform would give legal status to those
already here but try to slow the pace of future unskilled immigration.
There is also elevated unemployment among entry-level native workers.
That's what makes the rhetoric of immigration liberals that immigrants only
take jobs Americans won't do troubling.
That suggests that there are some jobs that are beneath Americans, that
Americans in fact should not be expected to do.
That, in turn, suggests a caste system of sorts for the country, which has
always been an American anathema. It also indicates the development of a
welfare state entitlement attitude among native workers, which leads to the
sort of sluggish economic performance that currently characterizes Western
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