As a new study underlines, we need to reform our immigration laws and crackdown on those who are breaking them, but first we need to get past the trash talk.
It’s endless, a torrent of cries that anyone who thinks America ought to heed the plain interests of its citizenry is a racist, nativist, thuggish throwback to those who opposed the coming in the 19th century and later of the Irish, Germans and Italians.
But the talk is aiming at a target that long ago disappeared. It is ad hominem claptrap that assumes foul motives of average Americans noticing more than a little amiss.
What they grasp, and what the study’s statistics confirm, is that legal and illegal immigrants are arriving in such numbers, and so often in impoverished circumstances, that they are pounding communities that already have difficulties enough.
The numbers from the Center for Immigration Studies are astonishing. The immigrant population this year is almost 38 million, the highest level in eight decades. More than 10 million have arrived just since 2000, and half of them have been illegal. Almost one-third of the adult immigrants here now lack a high school diploma, one-third are on welfare and about 17 percent of the families are below the poverty line.
Look at still another study — this one by Robert Rector at The Heritage Foundation — and you begin to get a whiff of the trouble the above statistics breed. While the low-skill immigrants pay taxes of something more than $10,000 a year on average, they get government benefits far in excess of that amount, something like $30,000. He puts the cost to the nation at $89 billion a year.
The argument that we need these immigrants to do the necessary grunge work native Americans won’t do is hugely exaggerated, although it certainly is true that many of the more educated immigrant families do well and that those who start out having it rough often make notable progress over time.
There are answers, one of which is to reduce legal immigration numbers and increasingly to favor those who are best educated and have needed skills for admission. Another is to end the flow of illegal immigrants and to begin to usher the illegal immigrants here now to their lands of origin, chiefly through strict enforcement of highly punitive laws against those who hire them.
Do this right, and it won’t mean chaotic disruption or cruelty. The removal of illegal immigrants can be a gradual process carried out in recognition that the United States does a disservice to the world’s poor when it relieves their native countries of their responsibility for sound economic development. The lawbreakers themselves are accountable for their plight, and sending them back home is hardly draconian.
But face reality this way, and the screeches are inevitable, as if only those mean in spirit could conceivably advocate such policies. If these abominable name-calling tactics carry the day, here’s what to expect: another 15 million legal and illegal immigrants over the next 10 years.
Decades ago, I was a reporter in Albany, N.Y., working for a newspaper at the foot of a hill that could be ascended only with huffing, puffing, knee endangerment and sweat unless you employed a trick.