The politics of immigration

Posted: Sep 11, 2001 12:00 AM
The immigration question becomes more politicized than ever before in American history: which is a rotten shame, because if there's anything Americans should avoid, that thing is casting their country's future in terms of how Republicans or Democrats can pick up some votes. Instead of political advantage, the proper topic is the conciliation of two objectives that rub up against each other more and more abrasively. They are cultural coherence and economic freedom. We need both. One doesn't suffice. But the immigration questions highlighted by last week's Vicente Fox visit dress the matter in heavy perplexities. Such as how to handle el presidente's exhortations in behalf of amnesty for three million Mexicans living illegally in the United States. Now clearly Sr. Fox understands the impossibility of what he asks during an economic stall. If we do as he wants, we might as well fling open all doorways into the world's wealthiest nation. Would that be so bad? Wouldn't it help to match up jobs with willing workers, especially as the stall concludes and recovery begins? It might. This is the economic argument for immigration: the need for workers, the inevitability of non-Americans clamoring for jobs that native Americans either can't fill or don't want to. It is a fair argument. Immigrants come here to work; people who like to work are, you might say, natural Americans, whatever their place of origin. Bring 'em on. However, job-filling isn't our only national need; there's also cultural coherence: everybody singing the "Star Spangled Banner" off the same song sheet. Which starts with everyone's being able to read the words as written. It starts, that is to say, with assimilation, more or less, to the same culture, the same ideals, the same objectives. How would we like to become, just for instance, the North American equivalent of Northern Ireland? Or the West Bank? Or Kosovo and Macedonia? That would make for lively times: different cultures jostling for advantage, each asserting its pedigree and, of course, its "rights." It strikes me there is no reason Pakistanis, Chinese and Salvadorans can't become assimilated Americans -- provided they try. Persuading them not to try -- alas! -- is among the great causes of the American left, whose devotion to American norms and ideals it would be easy to exaggerate. Bilingualism -- which means, go on speaking your native tongue, whatever it is, and refusing assimilation -- is one of those ideals by which the left proposes to bring down the old sexist-racist culture we all hate and regret so much. (Don't we?! Eh?) How, then, does Vicente Fox -- a friend, be it noted -- inadvertently aggravate this situation? By initiating a bidding war for the political loyalties of Mexicans in the United States. Just what we need: both parties falling all over themselves in their devotion to Hispanic votes by considering the Fox proposal in that light and that light alone. We can't consider the matter in terms of free markets and cultural coherence? Heavens, no. Only in terms of who gets more votes. When the Republicans -- very properly -- refuse to go along with total amnesty, Democrats will beat up on them as racists. Then, to show their Essential Good Nature, Republicans will look for ways to demonstrate their own devotion to "multiculturalism," cozying up to self-styled ethnic spokesmen with a taste for government favoritism. What fun it would be to see this problem, with its two sides, worked out sanely. It won't be. The politicians have taken charge. In politics, there's just one side that counts -- the one that leads onward to domination and power. On immigration, we seem headed for a thoroughly political outcome: one party kicks the stuffing out of the other; the culture, the economy, take their chances. Que lastima!