As Congress mounts yet another attempt to grant amnesty to millions of illegal aliens -- as Mexican President Fox demands and President Bush insists -- the new face of America is taking shape.
Sifting through Census data from Year 2000, three writers at the Los Angeles Times have seen the new America in their own vast sprawling county. What kind of country will our grandkids live in? If immigration is not brought under control, tomorrow's America will resemble Los Angeles today -- a multicultural, polyglot nation, most of whose people trace their ancestry to the Third World, and a country where the extremes of wealth and poverty mirror the Third World.
While native-born Americans just completed two of the most prosperous decades in our history, Los Angeles is becoming a separate nation.
-- In the 1990s, poverty in Los Angeles County did not decline, it rose 28 percent. Some 1.6 million people there now live beneath the poverty line. In Orange County, south of Los Angeles, once the bastion of Goldwater Republicanism, the poverty rate soared 44 percent. East of Los Angeles, in the Inland Empire counties of San Bernardino and Riverside, on the road to Palm Desert and Nevada, poverty soared by 51 percent and 63 percent.
-- In the Reagan Decade, median income in Los Angeles County rose a smart 21.5 percent. But in the Clinton decade, median income sank 8 percent from $45,600 to $42,200. In the city of Los Angeles, it fell even further. And the new poverty is mirrored in the dramatic population shift.
-- During the 1990s, the Latino population of Los Angeles County soared 27 percent to 4.2 million. The Asian population rose by 26 percent. But the African American population fell 3.6 percent and the "Anglo" population shrank 18 percent. More than 3 million people of Mexican ancestry now call Los Angeles County home.
White folks are fleeing California at a rate of 100,000 a year. Black folks are following. La Reconquista is at hand. Well over half of Los Angeles County residents -- 54 percent -- now speak a language other than English in their homes, up from 45 percent in 1990.
What has happened to Los Angeles and Orange counties is happening now to the Inland Empire. According to the Times, in the '90s, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura countries experienced increases of 36 percent to 70 percent in the number of foreign-born.
We are ceasing to be one nation and one people.
And disparities in income are growing. While the total number of all Californians earning $150,000 or more tripled to 642,000, the share of California's people mired in poverty rose 30 percent.
High among the reasons for the decline in incomes is the death of manufacturing. In Los Angeles County the number of manufacturing jobs -- those high-paying jobs that were the yellow brick road of working America into the middle class -- fell 32 percent, from 861,000 to 587,000.
Ruth Milkman, director of the UCLA Institute for Labor and Employment, says Los Angeles County, whose 9.5 million people rivals the population of many U.N. member states, is "beginning to resemble much more a Third World society where a class of people are stuck at the bottom."
And as the poor flood into California from Mexico and Central America, and middle-class Americans move out and the median income falls, California's state budget sinks into a sea of red ink.
Gov. Gray Davis faces a deficit of $23.6 billion, one-third of his entire state budget. This means higher taxes and slashed services, as taxpayers flee the Golden State for the Mountain States and millions of tax consumers pour in from Latin America.
Is Los Angeles today America's tomorrow? How can it not be, when, yearly, 1.5 million legal and illegal immigrants arrive, 90 percent of them from Third World nations where poverty is pandemic?
In our styles and standard of living, we are fast becoming two nations -- and, in our allegiances, loves and loyalties, many nations.
When more than half the people of Los Angeles County do not speak English in their homes, do not listen to the same radio and TV programs, do not read the same newspapers, magazines or books, do not share the same heroes, history or holidays, can we really say we Americans are still one people? What do we have in common with these folks that makes us one nation?
Growing up in America in the 1950s, one felt part of a family. Even the racial conflicts of the 1960s seemed like angry arguments -- inside our national family. Without doubt, all those foreign folks living in Los Angeles have come here for the same reasons our ancestors did. But are they Americans? Or are they strangers whose hearts and true homes are somewhere else?