Politicians ought to start at the border to fix immigration

Maggie Gallagher
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Posted: Apr 04, 2006 7:05 PM
Don't call me anti-immigration. Count me among the 17 percent of Americans in the new Pew poll who say they'd support raising the legal immigration quotas. I'm also vigorously opposed to any law that criminalizes charity for people who need food, clothing or medical care.

But I do want one thing from Congress: Come up with a plan to secure our borders.

What about the 12 million people already here? As far as I can tell, they are not a crisis. Certainly the pro-immigration lobby says these people are good for the economy, so why the urgency about documenting them? If the illegal influx slowed or halted, America would have no trouble assimilating the people already here. It is the sense of endless growth spilling out into new territory that gives the American people the impression that things are out of control, and that people in Washington don't care about their interests: A conspiracy of Democrats who want new voters and Republicans who want more cheap labor is creating paralysis where action is called for.

The open-borders lobby portrays itself as hard-headed realists. New York Times columnist John Tierney put it this way: "Immigrants will cross the border one way or another. ... Whether you welcome more immigrants, as I do, or whether you'd rather see fewer, there's no point in commanding the tide to ebb."

An April 1 Rasmussen poll shows that Americans aren't buying that un-American sort of argument: 68 percent of Americans reject the idea that illegal immigration cannot be slowed.

You want some realism about immigration?

Last August, the Pew Hispanic Center released a nationally representative survey of Mexicans. More than four out of 10 Mexican adults indicated they would move to the United States if they had the means and opportunity. One in five admitted to the pollster they'd move illegally if they could.

The population of Mexico is 106 million. The potential flow of immigrants from Mexico is thus more than 40 million people. More than 20 million adults say they are willing to illegally immigrate here. And Mexico's population is still growing, so each year there are more young adults looking longingly across the border. It's perfectly understandable. But are open borders really tolerable?

The orphans in this public debate are the less skilled workers already here: 16 percent of Americans say they or a family member have lost a job to an immigrant.

Only about four in 10 GOP college grads think immigrants are a burden to society or threaten traditional American values. About six in 10 non-college grads have this view. (The Democratic split is similar, except only 30 percent of Dem college grads see immigrants as a burden.) This may be because college grads are smarter, more economically knowledgeable and more tolerant. It may also be because college grads benefit from and don't compete with illegal immigrants.

The American people are not anti-Latino or xenophobic. Eighty percent told the Pew pollsters that Latino immigrants work hard and have strong family values, a significant increase in positive views from 1997.

But a minority of Americans are in danger of becoming anti-immigrant, and it's because of our government's failure to exercise reasonable control over our own borders. Forty percent in the March 31 Rasmussen poll, when informed that 12 million illegal aliens are already living in the United States, say: Throw them forcibly out.

But a much larger 66 percent of Americans say it doesn't make sense to debate new immigration laws until we can first control our borders and enforce existing laws.

Never underestimate the common sense of the American people.

The people who are here are not the problem. The problem is politicians in both parties intent on doing anything but the one thing American people want.