Victor Davis Hanson

The collapse last week of a comprehensive immigration bill in Congress that called for a huge guest-worker program, fast-track visas and a sort of earned citizenship for illegal aliens has unleashed a backlash against those opponents of it who prefer to close the border first and legislate the details of illegal immigration later.

Washington pundits and Beltway politicians are furious at various critics of the bill, from radio talk show hosts and writers for conservative magazines to frontline congressional representatives and Republican presidential candidates like Rudy Giuliani, Mitt Romney and Fred Thompson.

These critics are dubbed cynical nativists - or racists - who have demagogued the issue and scapegoated hardworking illegal aliens. Even President Bush got into the fray when he alleged that conservative obstructionists were somehow not working in America's best interests.

But who's really being cynical when it comes to illegal immigration?

The government?

Of course.

It has caved to pressure groups for over a quarter-century. The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ensured neither reform nor control. Instead, the law simply resulted in millions entering the United States through blanket amnesty and de facto open borders.

In many cities, current municipal laws bar police officers from turning arrested illegal aliens over to immigration officials. So why should the public believe that the proposed new law, with hundreds of pages of rules and regulations, would trump local obstructionism or effect any real change?

Had the bill passed, could we really have expected that the first impoverished alien unable to pay the fee or fine under its provisions would have been sent summarily home? More likely, he would have appeared on the 6 o'clock news as a victim of American mean-spiritedness and racism - and thereby instead won a reprieve or an outright apology.

Congressional supporters of the present legislation are themselves often engaging in politics of the most cynical kind. Rare "bipartisan" cooperation on the bill, which brought Sen. Trent Lott from Mississippi to the side of Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, is hardly statesmanship or a sudden outbreak of civic virtue. Rather, it is a new public face to the old alliance between profit-minded employers (and those who represent their interests) and demographically obsessed liberal and ethnic activists.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.