Judicial fiats, socialist blood coursing through the veins of INS officials, and hoity-toity journalists keep the steady stream of human traffic coming across the U.S./Mexico border. Illegal immigrants (pardon, "undocumented aliens") inundate the border states.
Let's recap. Government mandates on hospitals have them absorbing costs of "emergency" care for illegals who use ER rooms as their primary-care physicians. Los Angeles County spent $350 million for illegals' care at hospitals and free clinics last year. I have entertained myself on many a graveyard stint in the ER by telling my compadres that my employer is INS. I can clear the room in 35 seconds.
Public schools officials cannot ask, tell or daydream of parents' status. Despite voter referenda, schools continue instruction in Spanish. Arizona House Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, a fiscal conscience on illegal immigration, who endures charges of racism despite his Mexican national father, estimates that Arizona spends about $2 billion on their health and education.
Courts have slapped the wrists of cities and their police officers who question Latino men standing on the street corners at 5 a.m., oh, just down from agricultural fields, because the assumption that some undocumented aliens might be among them is race-based and, ergo, unconstitutional. So, Arizona police stop Hans and other chaps in lederhosen to see if perhaps some coyotes are conning Swedes in Nogales for a sneak across the border.
President Vicente Fox visited Arizona and demanded that we make immigration easier. As Jay Leno says, "How? By installing moving walkways?" Former Gov. Gray Davis issued an edict giving drivers' licenses to everyone. Now President Bush has proposed a crackerjack amnesty plan for illegal immigrants and a "guest worker" plan. Granting amnesty to those who have tiptoed across the border may not be the get-tough signal our free-service-Nirvana needs. Save us the suspense, decades of debate and budgetary surprises. Let's just annex Mexico.
The debate on illegal immigration remains wholly unsatisfying because those who are most vocal know very little of the reality of living in a border state. The Wall Street Journal's pro-immigration posture springs from its vision of immigrant programmers and engineers from India and China who give us Intel inside. The strange bedfellows with the Journal in this debate are compassionate conservatives who now offer Mexicans "jobs Americans don't want."
Americans don't want the jobs because, with skills and education, they earn wages that afford them an above-poverty living. The recent Wal-Mart raids for its use of illegal workers in its janitorial services subcontractors show that our low prices on Cheeto's do come with social costs. Immigrants, not required to learn the language by "compassionate" courts and schools, are sentenced to a Wal-Mart-wages-life in the underclass. They are segregated into barrios, shielded from assimilation. They re-create the very society they tried to escape: classes and a caste system in which they could not get ahead.
This life of poverty does not just drain our health and government systems; it breeds crime. The crime rates in the barrios are so high that Arizona's prison population is 10-20 percent "guest workers," documented and otherwise. Poverty creates a multigenerational assimilation problem. Four of every 10 Hispanics in the United States do not finish high school. Economist Milton Friedman's warning for three decades remains unheeded: Open immigration cannot work in a welfare state. The wave of immigration at the turn of the 20th century was different. Among the many questions immigrants faced at Ellis Island (after the health screenings) were: How much money do you have? Do you have a job? If not, do you have a sponsor?
Bush places great faith in present-day INS screening to curb the problem. How will the same folks who granted visa renewals to two of the dead Sept. 11 hijackers police this program for 15 million people?
Economic screening in a pre-New Deal had inherent veracity because there was no fallback position for those who lied about work or sponsors. Those immigrants were left to survive on their own from their moment of entry. Harsh? Following the Ellis Island wave of immigration, just one generation passed before children of those immigrants were fully integrated into American society. They spoke the language and headed to college. By World War II, they were mainstreamed.
The welfare state assuages liberal guilt with a helping hand to underachiever nations. Good intentions have negative consequences. Despite belief in the American dream, generations of Latino immigrants still live substandard lives in a welfare state that tempts and protects them, tragically and ironically undercutting the work ethic that brought them here.
Bush touts national security concerns. He promises to document who is here so that we can then focus on real threats. Right. Is this not the wrong border? Jorge bin Laden? Folks named Santos and Manuel are not hijacking American Airlines' jets. Bush insults our intelligence. Worse, he insults the noble people of Mexico. In pandering for votes veiled with national security promises, he ensures their dependence on a welfare state. Finish it all in one fell swoop, never to worry about the borders again.
Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org