What is it that we worry about? Is there room for a supplementary 20 million or 40 million people here? The answer is yes. But of course one means by that, yes, there is room for such an influx, provided it pays its own way. Are the current immigrants doing so? No answer to that question is absolutely reliable. There are many illegals who are working here and paying taxes, which taxes support the welfare system and the schools; there may well be many who are not.
But public-minded Americans go further, asking whether the immigrants' income will rise proportionately over coming years. Here Frum narrows his focus to Mexican immigrants.
In order to integrate successfully, it is necessary to tap into sources of learning and communication. While 82 percent of immigrants who come in from Europe think that all immigrants should be expected to learn English, only a bare majority of Mexican immigrants put equivalent emphasis on the challenge. This leads to derivative points. While 67 percent of non-Mexican immigrants think that public school classes should be taught exclusively in English, only 51 percent of Mexicans think this..
Whether the correlation holds that those who study in English do better than those who do not, it is so that only 54 percent of Hispanic students graduate with their high school classes, this to be compared to 80 percent of their non-Hispanic classmates.
Now the bearing of education on future income has for many years been accepted, but what is happening now is that the difference has increased. For years, a college graduate was earning about double what was earned by a high school graduate. That disparity is growing, and by now is not far from three times.
"In 1970," Frum writes, "only 25.7 percent of immigrants who had lived in the U.S. for 10 to 20 years were poor, compared with 35.1 percent of natives. By 2000, 41.4 percent of long-settled immigrants were poor, compared with 28.8 percent of natives."
The Mexican immigrant population has not been attracted to radical politics, by and large. But bear it always in mind that socialism offers a means of acquiring wealth by political rather than economic exertion. If a minority deems itself stuck under the present system, the temptation is to listen to those who advance the proposition that the poor are served by subtracting from what the rich accumulate, and doling it out to the poor. To do that is to put the machine that generates wealth into progressive atrophy.
Redistribution is marvelously achieved, history records, by common participation in wealth-producing enterprise. But if the huge class of Mexican immigrants believe that, notwithstanding the improvement of their lot over that of their fathers in Mexico, their grandchildren are still fated to mow lawns and wash cars, their ears sharpen to the tunes of the romancers who invite political means of effecting redistribution.
Such a spark as Frum alludes to has certainly been set off in California, if one can judge by the pronouncements of such as Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. It is inconceivable that a politician enunciating the beliefs that twice sent Ronald Reagan to Sacramento would now carry the state. Gov. Schwarzenegger is manifestly aware of the changes, which will travel east and hit heavily wherever there is a heavy concentration of Mexican immigrants.
That view of politics in the future, with Latin Americans feeding the engines of redistributionist politics, has caught the attention, Mr. Frum believes, of such as Karl Rove. Probably it is from some sense of the vector of immigrant political voting that many Republicans want to go slow on legislation that would catapult Mexican workers into citizenship. These are subjects not easily spoken about in polite legislative company, but they explain a great deal. What is not easily explainable is the lack of attention to the arrested progress in improved income among the immigrant poor. If it is as easy as the lack of education, what measures are being taken to induce an improvement in education?
In the state of Arkansas, some years ago, it was proposed to deny a driver's license to any youth who had not completed high school. A driver's license is, for Americans, the single most important document in life, the equivalent of sight, hearing and sex organs. Would such a reform commend itself to those who chew out their depression over the disparity of income?