The Problem That Has No Name
It's the problem that has no name. You can't mention it. You can't debate it. You can't say anything negative about it. It's borderline whether you can even say or write the words:
"Illegal immigration." Oops, I've done it. I've set myself up for a torrent of criticism. The proper term is undocumented immigrants, as if hundreds of thousands of people from Mexico and beyond just happened to have lost their documents somewhere.
Most media sources these days just dispense with any word before "immigrants." They are just immigrants, the same as my neighbors who are full-fledged United States citizens, or who have green cards and are going through the citizenship process the legal way.
On Monday, a reader called me to complain that his friends and neighbors refuse to talk about the problem of illegal immigration, and the impact on our social-service, educational and health-care systems. He lives in a city in which the problem cannot be avoided, yet he is the only person he knows willing to speak out.
He identified himself as an African-American, which he said explains why he had the latitude to complain about illegal immigration. He was understanding of why his white neighbors were mum — they don't want to be called racists — but frustrated by it.
These are the fruits of political correctness. Anglos (the PC term for non-Hispanic whites) have been taught to shut up about any issue regarding race, ethnicity or immigration. It's just not worth the opprobrium to speak about such matters in public.
Yet think about California's many problems — exorbitant social spending, enormous budget deficits, a government completely controlled by leftists, increasing taxes at the local level to fund demand for new schools and infrastructure. There is at least an immigration angle to all of them. The state gained population of approximately 600,000 people alone last year, almost all of them immigrants (legal and illegal) and their children.
The new residents are lower income, and tend to rely heavily on publicly subsidized services. No one can be denied health care at any California emergency room, regardless of the lack of insurance, inability to pay or immigration status. Local public schools must "educate" everyone's children, legal residents or not, and many school districts around here are filled with the children of illegal immigrants.
Meanwhile, many of the state's more affluent residents, who pay most of the taxes because of California's progressive income-tax system, are leaving for elsewhere. These people use few services and pay the tab, and are being replaced by those who use many services and don't pay for them.
Obviously, a system based on property rights would solve most of these problems. Everyone would have to pay their way for their services. There would be few "public" areas, and private property owners could set their own terms for visitors.
But in California's advanced welfare state, anyone has a claim on Other People's Money. The system is bad, but can totter along for a while — until one considers the illegal immigration problem. In essence, California's taxpayers have pledged to provide endless "free" benefits to every resident of every country. Because of the nearby border, we're usually talking about Mexican immigrants.
The Mexican government — PAN President Vicente Fox is as bad or worse than the formerly dominant PRI officials — refuses to implement the free-market reforms that will enable its people to find work at home. One news article a few months ago reported on the ghost towns of Mexico, places where 90 percent of the adult male population is gone, in America working and sending money home.
That's not healthy.
Why not discuss this sort of thing? Why not add up the costs and benefits of illegal immigration? Yet we can't even use the word illegal.
It's not just the liberal politicians and activists who want us to keep quiet about immigration problems. Some conservatives and fellow libertarians promote de facto open borders. Writers even deny the obvious — that unrestricted immigration has paved the way for socialist politicians. One article I read from the Cato Institute argued that massive Mexican immigration has not harmed Republicans. Look at how well the GOP is doing nationwide.
Well, Republicans are doing pretty well politically, but an agenda promoting freedom is hard to find. And they are doing well politically despite immigration, not because of it. Ironically, the analysis never dealt with the California situation. That's a rather large omission, given that this is Ground Zero.
State assemblyman Ray Haynes, a Republican from Riverside County (a more conservative, less affluent area inland from Los Angeles), told me about watching district after district change overnight from solid Republican to solid Democratic in the 1990s. There was a 12-point registration shift in two years, he said, in a district around Pasadena. That's when white conservative voters fled the state en masse, and were replaced mainly by immigrant voters. Although Latino immigrants vote at low levels once they become citizens, they tend to vote overwhelmingly for liberal Democrats. The large illegal population provides the political power for ethnic grievance activists. This is just reality.
Orange County, often vilified inaccurately by San Franciscans and Angelenos as a lily-white John-Birch-loving community, is about to join majority-minority status. The districts that have become increasingly Latino have become increasingly Democratic. Just ask former congressman B-1 Bob Dornan why his old district is run by a left-wing Latina.
Santa Ana, the 80-plus percent Latino county seat, just finished a bruising election battle in which a Spanish First school board member was tossed out of office by residents. That was good news, and proof that Latinos are willing to boot race-baiting scoundrels out of office. And, in fairness, the Latino-majority Santa Ana City Council is remarkably conservative. Still, this is the exception, not the rule. The state's voters are still predominantly non-Latino, but as the demographics change things are likely to become even more Democratic barring a paradigm shift.
Clearly, mass immigration is having an impact on the state, its economy, the political culture. Illegal immigration is a subset of the broader debate. But when one cannot even use that term, what are the chances we can ever debate the entire issue?
I am not against immigration, but problems arise when the numbers of new arrivals go far beyond the ability of the broader society to assimilate them. I still am a softie about rags-to-riches immigration stories. My predominantly Asian neighborhood remains a conservative Republican bastion. Whereas my friends who send their kids to schools in affluent, white beach communities complain about the poor values rampant among the students, I'm always pleased by the natural conservatism and work ethic of my kids' immigrant friends. The church I attend is filled with immigrants from Lebanon, Syria, Russia, Romania and Bulgaria. These people embody the freedom-loving American spirit better than most others I've ever known.
Clearly, I cannot share the views of those who want to shut down the borders.
Nevertheless, the nation, and California especially, deserves an honest, free-wheeling debate about the proper number of immigrants who should be allowed to move here legally each year, and the financial and other impacts citizens must pay to absorb the huge numbers of immigrants who continue to pour across the border in violation of the nation's immigration laws.
There's nothing racist about saying so. But unless more of us are willing to speak out, the problems will never be addressed.
June 4, 2003
Steven Greenhut (send him mail) is a senior editorial writer and columnist for the Orange County Register in Santa Ana, Calif.
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