More Thoughts on Immigration

Shaun Kenney

offers what he calls a “conservative” response to House Speaker William Howell’s legislative package targeting illegal aliens. Here’s the core of Kenney’s argument:

Will these policies of shooing out illegal immigrants of workhouses, denying them in-state tuition, sanctioning businesses who hire illegal immigrants, etc. cure the problem? Or are we yet again treating the symptoms? … What then will Virginia’s illegal immigrants do? Will they work? Will they stay at home? How will they earn a living?

The underlying problem, he contends, is the strain that illegals put upon “socialized safety net of food stamps, medical care, and public schools.” Should the electorate, he asks, blame the illegals for the failure of these institutions? We should not deflect blame for the country’s institutional failure on powerless outsiders, Kenney argues. Read his full treatment here.

Kenney make some worthwhile theoretical points, but the fact is, Virginia has a social safety net and it has public schools. These institutions may be buckling and cracking, but there is no momentum whatsoever for changing them in any meaningful way. While it’s worthwhile for conservatives to question the underlying assumptions of our statist society, we are, as a practical matter, stuck with the welfare state and must work to make it functional. Consequently, we cannot ignore the implications of illegal immigration. If we can’t afford to educate and support our own citizens properly, we certainly can’t afford to educate and support non-citizens as well.

The blogger known as Scott offers an entirely different perspective — from the Green Party point of view. Several of his 11 key points seem entirely reasonable, a number are controversial, and one stands out as radical:

The Green Party calls for permanent border passes to all citizens of Mexico and Canada whose identity can be traced and verified. Work permits for citizens of Mexico and Canada must be easily obtainable, thereby decriminalizing the act of gainful employment. This action would help eliminate exploitation of undocumented persons by criminals engaged in human contraband (coyotes) and unethical employers. It would also help ensure that taxes will be paid in each corresponding nation per its laws. These measures will also help temporary residents from Mexico and Canada to secure driving privileges and liability insurance.

In effect, the Green Party would allow anyone from Mexico or Canada to work in the United States without fear of sanction. The Canadian standard of living is close enough to that of the U.S. that I’m not worried about an migratory flood from the Great White North, but such an open borders policy would unleash a flood of many millions more unskilled Mexicans searching for employment.

Scott wraps up his platform with this comment, “We oppose those who seek to divide us for political gain by raising ethnic and racial hatreds, and by blaming immigrants for social and economic problems. ” (You can read Scott’s complete remarks here ; scroll down to the fourth comment.)

I guess that last point is supposed to inoculate the Green Party from the negative impact that an influx of unskilled labor from Mexico would have on the wages and living standards of American citizens at the bottom of the skills-and-income ladder. The Green Party platform doesn’t acknowledge what its policy would do to the living standards of poor and working class Americans. Rather, it deftly turns the tables. By even mentioning the negative impact, I’m “raising ethnic and racial hatreds,” pitting working-class white and African-American citizens against the Mexicans. Pretty clever. And given the proclivity for many Democrats to shut down debate by crying “racism! racism! racism!” it just may work.

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11 responses to “More Thoughts on Immigration”

  1. Jim, thank you for discussing the Green Party policy. I really appreciate the notice.

  2. Shaun Kenney Avatar
    Shaun Kenney


    Don’t you think the problem is one that ultimately is resolved at the federal level?

    Having the state march in and implement a host of alternatives doesn’t fix the problem in the long run. It’s akin to the state putting up stop signs at an federal intersection where the traffic lights are malfunctioning.

    If anything, we should be placing pressure on our Virginia delegation to do something about the federal problem. Otherwise, by “fixing” the problem at the state level, aren’t we just allowing the feds to pass the buck? Squeaky wheels get the grease, IMHO.

  3. Avatar

    Jim, I’m sure that there are many people like you who have legitimate issues with our immigration problems that have nothing to do with race, ethnicity or the like. What we need is an open and honest exploration of the full range of issues raised by legal and illegal immigration, and no group or people should be spared discomfort. I do believe that the the GOP is using this issue to spike interest among the “angry white males” that make up a core constituency (called them NASCAR dads or whatever), just as I believe that such ads will produce the peripheral benefit of raising interest among some elements of the black community which are openly xenophobic and take issue with being the 2nd-largest minority to the growing Latino population. For example, when I was in NC, I was explicitly told by average Joes and intellectuals alike that the politics of illegal immigration and the Latinization of the South will do more to foster better black-white racial relations in the South because it will unify poor-middle class blacks and whites around their common cultural links – language, religion, food, etc. This is a MAJOR issue for many of the national thinkers in the Dem. party.

    At the same time, this issue highlights the problems with our social safety net system of education, health and social services. But, the thinking that folks are coming here because of the good benefits is a bit overdone – they’re coming here for work. The jobs are here because the business owners want to drive down labor costs and can pay these folks less than minimum wage, or in some case, pay them nothing at all with impunity (they have no recourse and this happens more often than not). The reality is that many poor whites and blacks are simply not interested in doing the kind of backbreaking labor under the same conditions as Latinos escaping desperate poverty in Mexico and Central America. Additionally, the “gaming the welfare system” is not really being done by the illegal immigrants due to all kinds of regulations in the post-9/11 environment. It is true that legal immigrant have access to those benefits and in the event that they are cash payments (Food Stamps, TANF, etc), that money may well be going to support undocumented relatives. But, again, this is a small portion of the system.

    I would surmise that the larger issue of Latinization is driving the backlash. The Latino community in the Southwest and California is actually heavily native and non-immigrant – they “became” Americans due to US conquests of Mexico in the last centuries. Latin American culture is very vibrant and many Latino organizations make no bones about their ethnic pride and growing share of the US. By the same token, for the first time in US history, we are dealing with an immigrant population that is not buying into the assimilationist rubric (or myth). No one expected native-born Americans of the 1800’s to learn Gaelic, Yiddish or German to accomodate new immigrants, and in the 1900’s, no one expected native-born Americans to learn Italian or Hebrew. However, our current culture is increasing bilingual, and that makes people very uncomfortable.

    I don’t have an answer for the larger problems, but one thing I know is that all of the issues need to be on the table.

    — Conaway

  4. Shaun Kenney Avatar
    Shaun Kenney

    Just to piggyback on that, it is a worthwhile question to ask whether or not “illegal immigration” would be such an issue if those illegals we were discussing were not more “American” so to speak.

    I still submit that in many people’s minds, “illegal immigrant” is still code for “Latin American”, and there is an element of racism involved (for some) when it is used as a political issue.

    That having been said, there are real policy issues that should be resolved regarding illegal immigration have nothing to do with racism.

    So the racism charge, while somewhat valid from a political opportunist perspective, should have very little bearing on this policy discussion, one I beleive Jim is trying to foster.

  5. Salt Lick Avatar

    …they “became” Americans due to US conquests of Mexico in the last centuries.

    Oh yeah, my Mexican roommate in college said he didn’t mind that the U.S. had stolen half his country, but it made him mad we took the half with all the good roads.

    … we are dealing with an immigrant population that is not buying into the assimilationist rubric…

    And for the last eight days, France has seen the results of ignoring a similar problem. Policy lessons, anyone?

  6. Jim Bacon Avatar

    What stereotype is evoked by the phrase “Mexican illegal immigrant”? I’m not interested in what stereotypes you think others may have, but what stereotypes you, gentle reader, might have. I know that Mexicans in California and Texas have had to deal with negative stereotypes over the ages, but most Virginians have had very little exposure to them and, therefore, never embraced them. Here’s what I hear over and over: “Those Mexicans are really hard workers. … Those Mexicans really have a work ethic, not like lazy Americans. We’ve really lost our edge.”

    I hear the charge repeated on this blog over and over again that Virginians — or, at least, the unenlightened ones — are prejudiced against “brown skinned people.” I don’t say that ethnic prejudice against Hispanics is non-existent, but I will say that I’ve never witnessed it.

    Once again, I come back to my argument that in certain quarters, there is a holier-than-thou presumption of racism. I know Claire Guthrie Gastanaga has had negative experiences, so I’m not so naive as to say it’s non-existent. But I personally have never seen it on display, and I dispute the idea that anti-Hispanic prejudice is widespread in Virginia. What is prevalent is the idea that a significant number of whites are unrepentant racists.

    By contrast, I have seen what I call “nativism” on display. I’ll never forget standing in line at a grocery store on the Outer Banks. The girl behind the cash register was a blonde, pale-skinned Pole. She struggled with her English, and the guy in front of me — who might have been drunk — spoke loudly enough for everyone around him to hear that it was a damn shame so many jobs were being taken up by foreigners.

    One more example: What stereotype is evoked by the phrase “Russian illegal immigrant”? Organized crime leaps to my mind — does it to yours? Russians are white, but I don’t want any of their illegal immigrants coming here!

    Sorry, but I don’t buy into the proposition that lamenting the perceived loss of jobs or an increase in crime associated with certain ethnic groups not racist.

  7. Avatar


    I would seriously caution you that there can be no real policy discussion or debate on any issue without factoring in racial and ethnic elements. That’s a key lesson from Katrina that Republicans and conservatives should take away, if for no other reason that to not be caught off guard when specious racial issues come up from the Left. Once the Right can get over the hump of racial issues intersecting with policy (I’m saying don’t fear race – deal with it upfront and move past it), they’ll be able to see their ideas win out when they are good (as many of Howell’s, yours’ and Jim’s are).

    You especially can’t extract race from any discussion of immigration as the history of US immigration policy is ripe with racialist thinking. It’s only recently that public discourse on illegal/legal immigration has been able to happen in race-neutral setting as for much of our nation’s history, we established limits on which groups could come here based solely on racial preferences.

    I think that Jim’s definitely on the right track by generating thought on this, and you’ve obviously spent quite a bit of time parsing out the petty politics from the serious policy. What that shows is that, in the absence of federal resolve to do something proactive and innovative, states must fend for themselves and come up with solutions that work for them.

    — Conaway

  8. Avatar

    Jim, it’s only “racist” if somehow one feels that the jobs or crime issue is somehow an inate charachteristic seared into some ethnic group’s makeup. If the US was adjacent to China and there were Chinese immigrants teeming over the border for work, then we’d be hearing cries about anti-yellow-skinned bias.

    The backlash against Latinos is more complex than just racism (see prior comments). There are legitimate issues at play – stresses on public systems, native-born job opportunities, national security, etc – that would apply to any group regardless of color.

    One though is that if we take the same tact with illegal immigration as we do with terrorism (fight the issue “over there”) by working to improve S. Amer/Mexico’s economies and politics, we’d stem the tide. For Virginia this means beefing up trade programs with those nations and working to get our businesses into those markets. Look at what Bank of America has done in terms of getting unbanked Mexicans in the US and Mexico tied into mainstream financial systems, or how Sears has capitalized off it is south of the border brand equity.

    — Conaway

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    I can’t buy in to the “if you oppose illegal immigration, you’re a racist” argument. We control immigration for good reasons, including:

    1. Number one for me – terror – if we have porous borders and welcome undocumented entry, we may as well give up DC and NYC right now. We screen people coming in to this country for very good reasons. The Pentagon is in Virginia – we’ve actually had a major terrorist attack in this state. Complacency is foolhardy.

    2. Public health – immigrants are screened for communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis, that are rare in the US but are common in the 3rd world.

    I personally liked the president’s idea of making it easier to work here legally, but really cracking down on illegal entry. There’s nothing racist about wanting to know who is coming in to your country when you KNOW the northern part of your state is a high risk terror target, or about wanting to screen and treat immigrants for highly infectious diseases.

    I also have not heard much racism from Virginians re Latinos (and most of the Virginians I know are rural Republicans.) Painting rural Southern males as reactionary racists is just as much bigotry as any other stereotype.

  10. Anonymous Avatar

    On the Outer Banks, most of those young people from former Soviet Bloc and Asian countries like Thailand and the Philippines are here legally under a temporary work exchange program. They are polite, they speak English, they are educated and they respect our laws. They also don’t steal our identities and tax dollars for social services they don’t deserve. Does it matter what color they are?

    Any blacks who try to stand up to the Dems against illegal immigration are accused of being “lap dogs, Oreo cookies and Uncle Toms.” I think we know what is going on here. Dems are the racists, support corruption in business, and are trying to turn our civilization into an anarchy, out of their own greed and lust for power. I used to vote for them, never again!!

    It also might interest you to know that some construction businesses who were hiring illegals are no longer doing so and the ones around here are mostly crews out of Virginia.

    I have also not seen any racist behavior toward illegals, people are very polite to them around here and we are blaming the politicians whose job it is to stop this.

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    I would like to add that this devious tactic of accusing anyone who expects this country to enforce its laws rather turning into an anarchy and destroying our society, in favor of corrupt businesses and individuals who want house cleaners but don’t want to pay a decent wage, is dishonest, it is slander, it is bearing false witness against your neighbor and IT WILL NOT WORK. Park it.

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