Those of us who want real immigration reform had better reconcile ourselves to the fact that it just isn't going to happen. We are at least 20 years too late.
The trouble began, as so many of America's troubles have, with a proposal by Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass. -- specifically, his 1965 immigration reform bill. That bill, which duly passed, opened the floodgates for Asian and Latin American immigration, and they have never closed since. But at least the newcomers were legal immigrants. Thereafter, the appetite of American employers for cheap labor, combined with the desire of impoverished Mexicans to provide it, simply overwhelmed the laws and the Mexican border. The Simpson-Mazzoli Act of 1986 tried to stop the flood by granting amnesty to the 5 million or so illegal aliens already in the country, while tightening border controls. But the government, pressured by American business, simply failed to enforce the law. Today, it is estimated that there are at least 11 million illegal aliens (mostly Mexican) working in the United States at low-paying jobs that U.S. citizens are reluctant to do at those wages.
This enables defenders of the status quo to argue (correctly) that the U.S. economy simply couldn't sustain the arrest and repatriation of those illegal aliens, even if they could be identified. Many U.S. businesses, large and small, that are dependent on cheap illegal immigrant labor would simply go under. And the many millions of Americans who are dependent on such workers would discover that there was now no one to tend their gardens, pick their crops and do other menial jobs for anywhere near the same low pay.
Finally, the issue of illegal immigration having at last been forced to the forefront of the public consciousness by a few vocal critics like Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., and become a really hot controversy, American business has bestirred itself and successfully pressured President Bush and the Republican Congress to resist real reform. Appallingly, the Democrats, who are also more vulnerable to business pressures than they like to pretend, have gone along with the charade, calculating that they will get the votes of most of the aliens when they finally become citizens, even though the illegal immigrants are a deadly economic threat to the Democrats' traditional allies in the labor unions and the black community.
The result is that there will be no serious immigration reform. Either the two parties will kick the gong around for a few more months and end up doing nothing, or (more likely) some bill along the lines of the one currently being debated in the Senate will be passed, beefing up the border patrols, but leaving the 11 million illegals still in the country, perhaps subject to some largely unenforceable penalties, but headed for legal residency and, ultimately, citizenship.
Will this matter? What harm, after all (their defenders argue) have the illegals done? It would be wonderful if, in the long run, they and their children were to assimilate to the American culture, as so many other waves of immigrants have done. But, as Victor Davis Hanson has pointed out, Mexican immigrants, unlike those from Europe or Asia, don't come from a distant land: their homeland is just a yard away, across a largely undefended border. They can return to Mexico at will, and many intend to -- though they rarely do. Instead, they become permanent residents of the lowest rung of the American economic ladder, and are acutely bitter over their status. Moreover, there are so many of them that millions cling to their Hispanic language and culture, refusing assimilation and living in politicized ghettoes.
That is the meaning of those Mexican flags waving so prominently in the hands of many of the half million Hispanics who demonstrated in Los Angeles recently against immigration reform. America is not just being invaded by an eager horde of willing workers. It is being taken over, gradually but inexorably, by millions upon millions of Spanish-speakers who, without yet even having the vote, are already a political force the American public cannot generate the will to resist. Our two major parties have already sold out to them; American business is happily profiting by the labor they perform so cheaply; and the 11 million illegals already here will look like a drop in the bucket by 2030.