Q&A Friday #40: Why Has Illegal Immigration Become Such A Hot Issue?

Last night, via email, I spoke to Jon Henke from QandO and he wanted to know what I thought about a piece he wrote for Tech Central Station called Immigration’s Fifteen Minutes: Why Now?. So, in the spirit of Q&A Friday, I thought I’d do a post answering the main question of the column.

Here’s an excerpt from Henke’s work that I think gives you the general thrust of the piece:

So why this, why now? Why has an army of restrictionists spontaneously arisen demanding more government when the previous immigration paradigm was, perhaps flawed, but not exactly destroying the country?

Maybe it’s simply angst about threats to our “way of life”. The influx and dispersion into almost every community of people who appear somehow different, whose language is unfamiliar and whose national and ideological loyalties are in question is…unsettling. Conservative America feels threatened, has reached a boiling point, and has allowed itself to admit it.

…The economic arguments are understandable from the standpoint of some laborers, but many studies indicate that the wage effect is relatively minor even for low-income workers and a net positive for the overall economy.

…That leaves the security issue, which — considering how consistently the restrictionists are applying it to the Canadian and Coastal borders — mostly appears to be a red herring.

To begin with, this issue didn’t spring to life spontaneously, like Athena from the head of Zeus. It has been building for a long time. For example, back on November 9, 2004, I wrote:

But if you Republicans in Washington want to keep the base happy through 2006, three things are going to have to change.

1) You’re going to have to get spending under control.
2) You need to stop increasing the size of government.
3) You better get a handle on illegal immigration.

Incidentally, none of those 3 things have happened; hence, an approval rating for Bush in the low thirties and a rating for Republicans in Congress that has been hovering in the mid-to-low twenties.

Initially, I think the illegal immigration issue was driven by the fact that Americans place a very high value on assimilation and, unfortunately, the illegals who are coming here very noticeably aren’t assimilating. When you dial into a business, and it says, “Press 1 for Spanish and 2 for English,” that’s an indication that we have a problem. When you drive down one of the busiest roads in a city like Charlotte, which is far from the borders, and you see multiple businesses that have up signage that is entirely in Spanish, that’s an indication of a problem. When you hear about hospitals going out of business because so many illegals are pouring over the borders and not paying their bills, that’s an indication of a problem. It’s an indication that instead of our changing the people that are coming here, they’re changing us, and that’s a bad thing.

Furthermore, let me add that I disagree with Henke’s assertion that illegal immigrants are a net positive for the overall economy and that the security issue is a “red herring.”

The security issue, in particular, is grating because of the way we’ve handled the airports and the ports. In this country, we have incredibly intrusive security procedures that Americans have to go through to get on an airplane. When it looked like a company from the UAE was going to take over our ports, Americans flew off the handle. Meanwhile, we could have terrorists pouring over either of our borders right now and we’d have no idea it was going on. Even before 9/11, we should have had adequate security on our borders to stop the illegal aliens and drug runners. But after 9/11, leaving our borders unguarded seems particularly foolish.

But, that’s not the whole of it. Backtracking a bit, you have to consider the fact that many Americans have been gravely disappointed, for one reason or another, in the performance of the Bush administration since 9/11. Iraq has gone much better than the media has given Bush credit for, but it still hasn’t gone as well as everyone hoped it would at first. Gas prices have been high and then there was the Bush administration’s Katrina response (I think they got a raw deal, but still…). We also can’t forget the pork barrel spending, the Dubai Ports Deal, and Harriet Miers. What it all comes down to is that a lot of Americans, Republicans included, have simply lost confidence in George Bush’s judgement, especially on domestic issues. Moreover, because Bush has made some incredibly amateurish political errors that have rubbed conservatives the wrong way, particularly on the Harriet Miers nomination and the Dubai Ports Deal, Republicans have become much more willing to speak up when they don’t agree with him. Because of this, the political climate was getting poisonous even before the illegal immigration debate became a hot issue.

But then came the illegal immigration debate and look at how things have played out:

— Mexico has been arrogantly & loudly protesting any and all security measures we’re taking on our own borders. It’s as if they look at us as their own personal employment agency and feel that we have no right to control who enters our country.

— The illegal aliens themselves have also exacerbated the situation. Remember, we’re talking about people who have no right to be in this country at all and are supposed to be deported if they’re caught. Yet, hundreds of thousands of them were out in the streets, waving foreign flags, chanting in Spanish, and demanding the right to be treated as if they’re above the law.

— Then, worst of all, George Bush and the Senate have behaved with the sort of arrogance that one normally associates with 18th century French noblemen. Not only have they insulted ordinary Americans by calling them lazy (“jobs Americans won’t do”), some of them have called Americans nativists, racists, & vigilantes simply for having the audacity to suggest that we actually enforce the laws that are already on the books.

On top of all that, not only have the pols in the Senate and Bush largely ignored what Americans say that they want on illegal immigration (A security first crackdown on illegals), they’ve come up with a program that is, in many ways, even worse than anything people could have imagined a year ago (citizenship for illegals, staggering increases in legal immigration, a guest worker program, giving illegal aliens social security) with no real assurances that the border will be secured.

The real surprise isn’t that this has become such a huge issue, it’s that so many clueless Republicans in Washington don’t seem to understand how huge of an issue this has actually become.

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