Arguments for "legalizing" the millions of Mexicans illegally in this country abound in economic references to the "shortfall" of low-wage workers legally available. They also invoke certain mantras favorably comparing the Mexicans with the millions of Irish, Italians, Bohemians, and others who arrived legally during the immigration waves of the early twentieth century.
Both of these approaches are off the mark. They amount to "argument by assertion," and they ignore fundamental, unavoidable, and indelible realities. Putting aside the romanticism of the mythical saga of our immigrant forefathers, and the reductionist approach addressing only homo economicus, certain central elements emerge that we cannot ignore. They distinguish the Mexican immigration from its European counterparts, and put the economic arguments into proper – and uncomfortable – perspective.
Briefly stated, the legalization of this illegal alien population amounts to American cultural suicide (because it is done intentionally, rather than by accident) and a political disaster. Both of these elements deserve more than a passing glance; they deserve a depth of analysis commensurate with the gravity of their impact.
Both dimensions are inextricably intertwined, and their consequences are profound. "Legalization's' disastrous consequences will not be visited so much on one party, or one ideological faction, rather than another. The damage is deeper, far more abiding, and irreversible by any future election or other invocation of the political process. It will powerfully contribute to the ruin of our free society and rule of law.
Every society before Aristotle recognized and underscored the importance of good habits to social survival and prosperity. Aristotle gave these habits names – virtues. He delineated certain virtues required of a polis, virtues known to us all, because they have remained virtually unchanged for the past two millennia.
The Christian era brought to the formula the indispensable and unprecedented truth that government must be limited – not merely an "improvement" on Aristotle, but a radical "leap" (to use Voegelin's insightful term) that could not be reversed. Augustine most thoroughly articulated the Christian concept of the limited state in the City of God, basing it on metaphysics (the hierarchy of being – God above all else), and the hierarchy and end (telos) of the human psyche (the soul's highest purpose, its eternal destiny in heaven or hell, could not be achieved by politics, and so the individual must be allowed the freedom to save his soul, and all the purposes of the state are subordinate to that goal, which is beyond politics).
These preambles to politics, based on a goal of man that is beyond politics, are imbedded deep in the Western psyche, and are fundamental to America's founding. They are indispensable to the history, the institutions, and the rationale of freedom.
Mexico, I am afraid, does not have them. Zip. Zero. Nada. Eighty years ago, these values were hatefully scorned, abandoned, and persecuted by the PRI – the "Instituitonal Revolutionary Party" – the very name is a parody, hilarious and sick, a cynical invocation of Hegelian "movement of the concept" that Mao only later celebrated in his classic On Contradiction.
Personal disclaimer: I have lived on both sides of the border. I worked on the first hearings on U.S.-Mexican relations in years in the U.S. Senate (1986), much to the chagrin and rage of the PRI, which spent millions to stop them. Those hearings, and the change that they forced in the abysmal policy of the U.S. State Department towards Mexico, caused an eventual eruption in Mexico itself.
The PRI did not go quietly. They killed presidential candidates. They killed Roman Catholic cardinals. They relied increasingly on their long-existing allies, the huge "criminal" drug gangs, to perpetuate their iron-fisted rule.
To this day, I cannot travel to Mexico, which fact raises an interesting point about another preamble to politics, the rule of law.
Mexico doesn't have one.
Ask any friend, business associate, or investor who has a stake in Mexico: "What do you do if you have a difference of opinion with the union, with the local authorities that govern property ownership, with the treasury police?"
Not one of them will tell you, "Why, you go to court, if you have to."
Not one. No, they will say, "You do everything in your power to work it out without resorting to the courts or to the police."
"How do you do that," you might inquire.
Mordida, the life's blood of Mexican life. Corruption, so thorough that it is reflected in the paltry salaries made by public employees because they are expected to make up the difference in the bribes that they exact from the poor slobs whose lives rely on their administrative decisions.
"Hagamos una cosa," shouted the man who had caused a fender-bender near my Mexico City apartment one night, as the police arrived (and the staccato tak tak tak of his young female companion's high-heels disappeared into the dark night).
"Let's make a deal."
Mexicans never travel without an appreciable amount of money, because they must always be prepared to pay bribes at a moment's notice. The alternative could be jail without end, without trial, without any justification. If, later, you can afford a lawyer good enough to extricate you from such a situation (with bribes, of course), you can certainly afford the up-front bribes that would prevent it – and the sum total required would be appreciably smaller.
Mexicans – even the good, hard-working, moral, Catholic family men and women that every American employer hopes to hire — have been taught that government, and even an appreciable chunk of social life, is run on the mordida, the payoff.
The illustrations, analysis, and documentation could fill a vast series of scholarly books. I have often wondered why they have not been written. Businessmen and Mexican nationals documented hundreds of horror stories to me personally – as long as they remained secret. Their businesses, even their lives, depended on it.
Even the financial press has avoided the issue (and the Wall Street Journal even invited a former Mexican president to join its parent company's board. Is that why Bob Bartley keeps beating the drum for evisceration of the border?) For years the prestige press has avoided even the discussion of constant seizures of Mexican property held by Americans, of commercial kidnappings (they'll laugh at you in Mexico City if you wear a suit and hail an unknown cab on the street), of blackmail by union thugs who plague the maquilladoras, the thousands of American-owned enterprises near the U.S. border in northern Mexico.
The reader can draw his own conclusions. Whatever scholars and journalists decide to do, let us asses what the average Mexican coming "illegally" into the U.S. will do.
First of all, we must underscore the fact that, as far as the illegal Mexican is concerned, he is here "legally." That is, he has paid all his bribes, to the coyote who spirited him across the border, to the petty official in his hometown who would otherwise plague his family, and to the contact in the U.S. who will supply him with a false ID and bogus Social Security number. He has done all this according to the only legal code he knows: playing the system, and bribes. He is as legal as he knows how to be.
And nobody here bothers to "upgrade" his conception of the rule of law.
So we see our newly-arrived neighbor and see an "illegal"; but what does he see, as he surveys his new home?
Diversity. Multiculturalism. No demand, no suggestion, not even a mention of the desirability of learning about, and adopting, the cultural preambles of the politics of freedom – as foreign to him as Urdu is to you and me — that form the building-blocks of the basic institutions in his newly-adopted "land of the free."
Instead, he finds entire industries (agriculture, hospitality, construction come to mind) geared towards acquiring his services at low cost, teaching him, in fact, how to "play the system" endlessly. He learns to "disappear" just before the thirtieth day on the job, that being the day he would be required to show a green card (he plays tag-team with others in the same situation); he learns to borrow identities, to "max out" on public and private social services, to play the system any way he can. His wife comes in (illegal, bribes paid all around) just in time to have her child born, at U.S. taxpayer expense, at Loma Linda hospital, one of the finest in the world. And now they are the proud parents of – A U.S. citizen!
There are thousands of vendors of lottery tickets walking the streets of the Distrito Federal, known to us as Mexico City. But it is our illegal friends, and their "legal" offspring, who have won the lottery.
We can only observe with arched eyebrows how "the system" has responded to this abuse (from our point of view; remember, they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams). Instead of acting to curtail it, American institutions have abdicated. They even encourage it.
Brevity being a virtue, I can mention only a few examples: The University of California system suddenly raises the importance of the College Board Achievement Tests, as opposed to the SAT's; this is a raw and cynical move to defy the voters of California, who resoundingly rejected affirmative action. Now, certain immigrants who would not otherwise qualify for admission, ace the "achievement" test in their native language, notably Spanish, and, bingo gringo, they're in. An American-born, English-as-first-language applicant (and applicants whose languages are not included in those tests) are bounced for the one who knows how to play the system.
American courts (for another example) rule that illegal aliens have all the rights of American citizens before American courts, and cannot thus be summarily deported because of their criminal records – domestic or foreign.
American private enterprises – entire industries, mind you – actually lobby Congress for the right to hire these "illegals" without changing (legalizing) their status. These enterprises will be in for a rude surprise when they discover that the employee who harasses, discriminates, or doesn't wash his hands, can make them liable for millions of dollars in a class–action suit, while he immediately becomes eligible for all the rights accorded to an American citizen in his defense – and legal aid societies, unions, and professional race-advocates suddenly emerge from the woodwork.
The politically-correct "cultural diversity" encountered by the newly-arrived neighbor is designed never to be penetrated by any element of the religious, individualist, even (by today's standards) libertarian culture that greeted my grandfather when he got off the boat from Ireland. While the Feds pretend that is the case, trotting out the symbols and myths of the old rituals, these artifacts have actually been emptied of all content. It's reminds me of the cynicism of Notre Dame, my alma mater, sending us old alums reams of nostalgia-filled propaganda posing as a representation of today's university, all as an adornment for fundraising appeals. In fact, hundreds (thousands?) of universities like Notre Dame have now become dependent on government largesse.
Similarly, millions of newly-arrived immigrants have become dependent on government largesse, from the day they arrive. The last vestige of "law and order" is the agent on the border. Get past him (and try enough, and you will – but you'll dearly pay a new coyote every time), and you're home free.
This impression is reinforced by President Bush's amnesty-and-more plan. In fact (but hardly noticed), changing foreigners (who perpetrated over three million "illegal" acts) into "legal" aliens on the road to citizenship constitutes the greatest application of the Presidential Pardon power in U.S. history.
By making such a fundamental crime, millions of times over, "legal" with the wave of a presidential pen, Bush 43 typifies the Mexicanization of the U.S. political system. This is the way the PRI did things for eighty years. That is the way of life – social, economic, cultural, and political – that the Mexicans grew up under for five generations. The rule of law is a decoration, an adornment on the Christmas tree that our policy towards Mexico has become.
Mexicans, by the way, call it the "Pin~ata."
So here is the "contradiction," to return to Mao's phrase: Our once-Mexican, now newly arrived neighbor, considers himself legal because he has done everything "by the book" – that book being the thoroughly rotten, corrupt, hypocritical, arrogant, anti-American, anti-Catholic (but that's another story) government and culture that he grew up in – the only book he knows.
He might be puzzled, momentarily, that the U.S. has no institution, book, or representative to tell him, "that's all behind you now. We do things differently here. Now, let me give you the basics of a free society, a government of the people, rulers who are not above the law…." But his momentary puzzlement, brought on by the innate "desire to know" that Aristotle discovered and described at the beginning of the Metaphysics, succumbs quickly to the practical challenges of everyday life.
So our new neighbor goes forward, unawares that he, and perhaps five, ten, even twenty million others, have so successfully and thoroughly retained the marks of the culture that bore them, that the culture receiving them has abdicated without firing a shot.
(Christopher Manion, a small businessman and former staff director of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, often volunteers as a translator for the sheriff, game warden, and state police when they conduct sweeps on the riverfront adjacent to his home in the Shenandoah Valley).
July 19, 2001