Daily Archives: April 12, 2006

More on immigration, terrorism, and Michelle Malkin

Michelle Malkin is tirelessly beating the anti-immigrant drums, digging up photos of socialists, anti-Americans, Mexican reconquista zealots, Che Guevara cultists and the like on the fringes of the pro-immigration rally in Washington; making fun of a protest organizer who leads a Pledge of Allegiance rehearsal and says “One nation, undivisible (sic)“; and pointing to the fact that supporters of more open borders include Muslim activists. In this post, she uses the arrest of Department of Homeland Security spokesman Brian J. Doyle on charges of sexually soliciting what he thought was a 14-year-old girl on the Internet to score an anti-immigration point and inveigh against amnesty for illegal aliens. How exactly is that leap of logic accomplished? Well, the Doyle debacle is another example of incompetence and disarray at DHS, and “I don’t let new guests into my house until it’s in order.”

All this prompted me to dig up my 2003 Reason column on anti-immigrant rhetoric on the right, and specifically on attempts to cash in on legitimate concerns about terrorism to stoke anti-immigrant hysteria; it deals in part with Michelle Malkin’s 2002 book, Invasion: How America Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. A few excerpts from that, I believe, are relevant to this discussion.

It’s understandable, of course, that a terrorist act committed by foreign nationals should raise concerns about national security and border control. But that doesn’t mean the problem of terrorism should be conflated with that of illegal immigration.

The 19 hijackers who struck on September 11 all entered the U.S. legally as tourists or business travelers, although three of them had overstayed their visas. At the same time, not one of the millions of illegals who cross the border from Mexico or get smuggled in on cargo vessels from China has been implicated in terrorism. The most Malkin can muster for a terrorist connection is that two illegal immigrants, along with one legal permanent resident from El Salvador, helped four of the hijackers get the phony driver’s licenses they used to get on the airplanes.

“It’s true that the system is broken,” says Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. “But the people who are exploiting these legitimate fears to cut back on immigration are going in the wrong direction. It sounds logical at first, but it’s not realistic, it’s not going to be enforceable, and ultimately it’s not going to give us better security.”

Indeed, a wholesale crackdown on illegal immigration could, by consuming scarce resources, hinder rather than help the effort to keep potential terrorists out of this country. “By some estimates,” says [the Cato Institute’s Dan] Griswold, “we spend $3 billion a year trying to keep Mexican workers out of the United States. I’d much rather spend that money trying to keep out Middle Eastern terrorists.”

Given the realities of the global economy and the U.S. labor market, the flow of migrants into this country will be a fact for the foreseeable future. Making legal entry easier for people who want to better their lot in life is a much more feasible solution than making entry “a fiercely guarded privilege,” as Malkin suggests in Invasion. It is also, of course, far more feasible than the fantasy of deporting the 9 million to 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here.

Besides freeing up resources to target terrorists, such legalization would severely diminish the document fraud and smuggling that can in fact assist terrorists. An amnesty for illegal immigrants would bring people out of the shadows in which terror cells can lurk and make it safe for people with useful information about possible terrorists to cooperate with law enforcement. (Oddly, for all her concern about threats to national security, Malkin deplores Attorney General John Ashcroft’s offer to grant U.S. citizenship to any alien, legal or illegal, who comes forward with tips that aid the investigation into the 9/11 attacks.)

Four years later, more of the same.

As I note in the column, Jacoby, Griswold, and other immigration supporters do not oppose security measures to intercept potential terrorists trying to enter the U.S. (including some degree of ethnic/national profiling). But there’s a far cry from that prudent stance to turning our backs on America’s cherished ideals and embracing the darker aspects of our heritage.

More: Along the same lines: pardon me, but does Mickey Kaus have any idea what he’s talking about?

I can see where the immigration issue is killing Bush. (Which genius decided, when Bush was down to his most loyal 40%, to promote a policy that pisses them off? Why not go for a clean zero and get a good draft pick?) But Bush isn’t running again. And I still don’t see why House Republicans won’t benefit in 2006 from pushing a tough enforcement policy that pleases their base, and that in general is popular. Are they incapable of communicating their views to their constituents? … Plus, it’s highly unpopular for the Democrats to oppose the House approach, no? Robo-pollerr Scott Rasmussen notes that as the immigration debate has proceeded the GOPs have opened up a 6 point lead on this issue, up from one point–entirely because support for the Democrats has declined.

Yet if you follow Kaus’s link to the Rasmussen Report, you will see that things are not that simple at all. Americans are evently divided on immigration, with 41% favoring measures to allow illegal immigrants to move toward legalization and 40% in favor of deporting them. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, three out of five support legalization. And only one in five support the House bill, which makes it a felony to reside in the U.S. illegally and features no guest worker provisions.

34 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

The immigration brouhaha

So immigration reform is stalled in Congress and pro-immigration demonstrators fill the streets again (this time wisely wielding American rather than Mexican flags). Everywhere you look, conservatives are decrying a lack of will to really do something about illegal immigration. Many are outraged over proposals to offer amnesty and legalization to illegal aliens who have lived in this country for some time, claiming that such a measure rewards people for breaking the law.

But most Americans, it seems, do not share that outrage and are deeply conflicted on the issue. The Washington Post reports:

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that three-quarters of Americans think the government is not doing enough to prevent illegal immigration. But three in five said they favor providing illegal immigrants who have lived here for years a way to gain legal status and eventual citizenship. The idea received majority support from Democrats, independents and Republicans. One in five Americans embraced the House bill, which includes no guest-worker program and would make felons out of those in this country illegally.

(See also this post by Nick Gillespie at Hit & Run.)

So what’s going on here? Why don’t more people nod in agreement when the Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys sputter, “But they broke the law!”?

Maybe because they instinctively understand the peculiar nature of the law in this case.

The other day on the morning show Fox & Friends, one of the show’s regular guests, the DJ with the fittingly repulsive nickname “Mancow,” jeered at the rallies in support of illegal immigrants by announcing that he and some friends were organizingly a rally in support of “illegal murders.” Ha, ha. Actually, this dumb joke highlights something important. There is, of course, no such thing as legal murder. Murder is illegal by definition. Immigration is not. The same act — entering the United States — is legal for some people and illegal for others, sometimes depending on something as arbitrary as a lottery.

Let’s say that the government decided that we have too many lawyers and imposed a quota on how many law licenses can be issued each year. Let’s say there were thousands of people who had graduated from law school and passed the bar exam but had to wait for years to get a license to practice law because of the artificial quota (or had to enter a lottery for a license). Would the public be terribly upset if some of them practiced law illegally? Probably not.

Or, for a more realistic example: how many of the same conservatives who are enraged by the idea of amnesty for hardworking, decent, otherwise law-abiding aliens who came here illegally would be in favor of the government jailing — or even putting out of business — a woman who had run an unlicensed day care center out of her home, assuming that the children in her care were safe and well-tended?

How do we get around the fact that many illegal immigrants have made positive contributions to our society? (Check out, for instance, this account posted by Andrew Sullivan.)

Americans feel particularly conflicted on this issue because so many are descended from immigrants in a more or less recent past. Here, the Sean Hannitys will interject: “But they came to this country legally!” And here, I turn over the floor to John Tierney, trapped behind the Times Select wall:

Ángel Espinoza doesn’t understand why Republicans on Capitol Hill are determined to deport Mexicans like him. I don’t get it, either. He makes me think of my Irish grandfather.

They both left farms and went to the South Side of Chicago, arriving with relatively little education. My grandfather took a job in the stockyards and lived in an Irish boardinghouse nearby. Espinoza started as a dishwasher and lived with his brother in a Mexican neighborhood.

Like my grandfather, who became a streetcar motorman and then a police officer, Espinoza moved on to better-paying jobs and a better home of his own. Like my grandfather, Espinoza married an American-born descendant of immigrants from his native country.

But whereas my grandfather became a citizen, Espinoza couldn’t even become a legal resident. Once he married an American, he applied, but was rejected because he’d once been caught at the border and sent home with an order to stay out. Violating that order made him ineligible for a green card and eligible for deportation.

“I had to tell my 4-year-old daughter that one day I might not come home,” he said. “I work hard and pay taxes and don’t want any welfare. Why deport me?”

The official answer, of course, is that he violated the law. My grandfather didn’t. But my grandfather didn’t have to. There weren’t quotas on Europeans or most other immigrants in 1911, even though, relative to the population, there were more immigrants arriving and living here than there are today. If America could absorb my grandfather, why keep out Espinoza?

Italics added.

In my case, of course, I relate to the issue even more personally than John Tierney. I am a legal immigrant myself. As many of you know, I came here with my family in 1980 from the Soviet Union; at the time, we automatically received refugee status on the grounds that we feared persecution in our native country. (Which, actually, was not even technically accurate: the Soviet Jews coming here at the time had to fear persecution only if they wanted to openly practice Judaism — which, for my non-religious family, was not an issue — or if they were political dissidents.) And that is something I tremendously appreciate, but I am also aware of the fact that I got a special break due to Cold War politics, and that a lot of people around the world who had as good a claim to fleeing oppression or persecution did not get the same break. So my reaction is not “but I came here legally!” but more like, “There but for the grace of God…”

I understand that we need more effective border control, particularly in the age when terrorism is a real concern. I know there are other concerns about the economic and social impact of uncontrolled immigration (though I haven’t studied the issue enough to have a strong opinion on how justified those concern are). But I also know that anti-immigrant panic has been, again and agian, responsible for ungenerous and sometimes downright inhumane policies unworthy of America. Like when, after the “immigration reform” of 1996, people who were brought to this country as children and never went through the process of getting citizenship were suddenly subject to deportation to native countries they barely remembered because of a minor brush with the law that suddenly made them “deportable” (even though it wasn’t at the time of the misdemeanor). Or when people adjudged by immigration agents to be attempting to enter the country illegally, often because of a glitch in the paperwork, have been barred from reapplying to enter this country for the next five years — even if they were married to an American. Or when people suspected of minor and technical immigration violations have handcuffed for hours and sometimes kept from going to the bathroom.

Frankly, I find that far more outrageous, and far more damaging to America, than someone living here illegally and earning an honest living.

23 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized