Victor Davis Hanson

Recently, in symbolic fashion, spectators of Mexican ancestry in Pasadena's Rose Bowl did not merely cheer on the Mexican national soccer team in a game against the U.S. national team -- such nostalgia is natural and understandable for recent immigrants -- but went much further and also jeered American players and, indeed, references to the United States.

Which was the home team?

Was America to be appreciated for accepting poor aliens, or resented for not granting them amnesty? Is the idea of the United States to be conveniently booed or opportunistically thanked -- depending on whether you are watching a soccer match or, for example, entering an Los Angeles hospital emergency room with a life-threatening injury?

This otherwise insignificant but Orwellian incident reminds us that illegal immigration in the 21st century is becoming an illiberal enterprise.

Consider the prevailing myth of Mexico as America's "partner." Aside from the violence and drug cartels, an alien from Mars who examined the relationship would instead characterize it as abusive. Close to a million Mexican nationals annually try to cross illegally into the United States, aided and abetted by a cash-strapped Mexico -- in a fashion that the latter would never permit on its southern border with Guatemala. Indeed, if Guatemala had published an illustrated comic book instructing, in picture fashion, its presumed illiterate emigrants how to enter Mexico illegally -- as Mexico actually did -- the Mexican government would have been outraged. So is the surreal logic of Mexico City summed up by something like, "We value our own people so much that we will help them break laws to go elsewhere"?

In the old immigration narrative of the 1960s and 1970s, affluent, profit-minded white American employers often exploited cheap workers from Mexico. But that matrix now is often superseded. So-called whites are no longer a majority in California, where large Asian and African-American populations often object to illegal arrivals from Mexico who cut in front of the legal immigration line or tax social services and raise costs to the detriment of American citizens.

Even the notions of "white" and "Latino" are becoming problematic in today's intermarried and interracial society. Does one-quarter or one-half an ethnic ancestry make one a member of the "minority" or "majority" community -- and, if so, by what logic and under which convenient conditions? For the purposes of hiring or college admission, should we apply one-drop rules from the Old Confederacy to measure our racial purity?

Poverty is no longer so clearly delineated either. In an underground economy where wages are often in cash and tax-free, and entitlements easier than ever to obtain, well over $20 billion a year in remittances are sent southward to Mexico alone, maybe double that sum to Latin America as a whole.

Something here once again has proven illiberal: Does a liberal-sounding but exploitive Mexican government cynically encourage its expatriates to scrimp and save in America only to send huge sums of money back home to help poor relatives, so that Mexico City might not? In turn, do an increasing number of illegal aliens count on help from the American taxpayer for food, housing, legal and education subsidies in order to free up $20 billion to send home?

The paradoxes and confusion never end these days. Do today's immigration activists work to grant amnesty on the basis of legal philosophy and principled support for open borders, or just because of shared ethnic identity? If there were now 11 million East Africans in America illegally, would today's Hispanic immigration lobbyists seek amnesty, bilingual services in Swahili, and yet more illegal immigration from Kenya and Uganda? Would they ever seek racially blind legal immigration into the U.S., based on education and skills rather than point of origin?

The yearly arrival of hundreds of thousands from Latin America, mostly without English-language skills, a high-school diploma and legality, has also challenged old ideas of everything from the assessment of U.S. poverty rates to affirmative action. Once an impoverished resident of Oaxaca crosses the border, does his lack of education and his modest income immediately help cement the charge that the American Latino population has not achieved economic parity?

Or, in the first nanosecond after illegally crossing the border, does a Mexican national or his family in theory become eligible for affirmative action, on the basis of past historical underrepresentation or present-day discrimination or poor treatment in Mexico -- in a way not extended to the Arab-American or Punjabi-American citizen?

Why does the present administration oppose new anti-illegal immigration laws in Arizona and Georgia that are designed to enhance existing federal law -- but not so-called "sanctuary city" statutes that in some municipalities deliberately contravene federal immigration law?

The old liberal ideal of a racially blind, melting-pot society where the law is applied equally across the board has descended into the new postmodern practice of enforcing many laws only selectively -- and based entirely on politics, matters of race, ethnic chauvinism and national origin.

In sum, yesterday's immigration liberals have become today's illiberals.


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.