Victor Davis Hanson

Solving the illegal immigration problem should not be hard. No one knows how many foreign nationals are residing illegally in the United States -- estimates range from 11 million to 20 million. But everyone understands that it is an untenable situation that must be addressed.

The two extreme positions of the Left and Right probably have little public support -- on the one hand, blanket amnesties and open borders, and on the other, deportation of all foreign nationals who reside here without legal authorization.

Polls show that most Americans want something in between.

Close the border. Allow entry only to those who have legal permission. Ensure that employers hire only those foreign nationals who have valid green cards. Permit those who have resided here for a while, who are without criminal records and are employed, to apply inside the U.S. for either a pathway to citizenship or legal residence.

Require that those residing here unlawfully pay a fine for breaking the law and wait in line until immigrants who followed the law are first processed. Reform legal immigration to make it ethnically blind and predicated on skill sets and education rather than on proximity to our borders or on family connections to those residing here unlawfully.

Most would agree with those sensible reforms, but I doubt that we will see any such grand bargain. The trouble is not, as the Democratic and Republican establishments allege, because of xenophobic and nativist bigots. Only a minority now favor sending every undocumented immigrant home without a chance for the hard-working and law-abiding to stay here while they apply for citizenship.

The problem instead is that the establishments of both parties talk in high-minded fashion but in fact act selfishly. Unfortunately, identity-politics elites and Democratic Party activists, along with employers of undocumented workers, do not support such a grand bargain.

Why not? Because Democrats and the members of the identity-politics industry believe that they have gained millions of new constituents. The more slowly huge surges of undocumented immigrants assimilate, the more they are likely to remain bloc constituents for particular causes and politics.

Some employers have profited from employing some of the millions of inexpensive, unskilled workers without legal documentation. The desperation of millions of undocumented workers drives down costs for manual labor, both legal and not.

Other employers do not necessarily want future legal immigrants to be selected mostly on the meritocratic basis of skill sets, or for those already here to integrate quickly into American society and move beyond low-wage jobs.


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.