Victor Davis Hanson

To the extent Democratic candidates ignore illegal immigration, or demonize those who worry over hundreds of thousands of new illegal aliens each year, or talk of guest workers and amnesty before they mention closing the borders, it is a losing issue that could alienate millions of voters.

Democratic candidates can’t really claim that redneck racists are rushing to the border to clash with poor campesinos just crossing to better their lives, because many poor Democrats also resent how illegal labor drives down their own wages. It is mostly the American poor and middle class who worry about the sudden influx of thousands who don’t speak English and often need public assistance.

But the Republican candidates have to watch it, too. If blanket amnesty is a losing issue, so also is mass deportation — the practicality and morality of which are rarely considered by those rightly calling for an end to illegal immigration. Busing every illegal alien back to Mexico right now might resemble the past messy partition of India and Pakistan, and reopen the issue in a way that Democrats can legitimately exploit.

What then might an astute candidate advocate?

Close the border now through fencing, more agents, employer sanctions, enforcement of the law and verifiable identification. Restore faith in the melting pot by insisting that new legal arrivals learn English and the customs and protocols of the United States.

Explain to the Mexican and Central American governments that using the United States to avoid addressing internal problems — while making easy dollars off the backs of their own expatriate laborers — is over.

Finally, deport aliens who have broken the law, are not working or have just arrived. Some illegal aliens will not like the new atmosphere of tough enforcement and will voluntarily go back home. Others may have criminal records or no history of employment and should leave as well.

But many millions of law-abiding, employed illegal aliens of long residence will wish to stay. We should allow these to remain in the United States while they apply for citizenship — if they are willing to learn promptly our language and customs.

Republican candidates must risk angering their base by ruling out mass deportation. Democrats should support closing the border tightly and quickly — and not cave in to open-borders pressure groups.

Making these tough choices now is what most voters want. The candidates of both parties in the next few months will either adjust accordingly or lose elections.


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.