A Real Debate On Immigration—And Guess Who Won?
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Eight years after California's Proposition 187 tried to end welfare benefits to illegal aliens and more than a year after the attacks of Sept. 11 by aliens who entered legally, the United States still has not had a real debate about mass immigration. Any reduction in immigrant numbers, we're told, would mean "the terrorists win." That kind of flapdoodle is too embarrassing to argue with, but if the government and the country refuse to talk about immigration seriously, last weekend one group of citizens did try.

The group was the American Cause, a forum founded by journalist, TV commentator and perennial (or at least frequent) presidential candidate Pat Buchanan and his sister, Bay Buchanan. The group has hosted a number of conferences since Mr. Buchanan's last crusade at the polls, but this past weekend it sponsored one about immigration itself. Probably not in years or decades has there been as full and free an examination of the immigration issue and its different aspects.

Organized around several panels of two speakers for each of the opposing sides, the conference debated the economics, the cultural impact, the implications for terrorism and national security, and the politics of immigration.

The panel on economics consisted on one side which Harvard economist George Borjas and Peter Brimelow, author of Alien Nation, probably the strongest major polemic against immigration, and now editor of Vdare.com, a website devoted to exploring what Mr. Brimelow calls the "National Question"—which is essentially, can (and should) the nation-state survive mass immigration?

Mr. Borjas and Mr. Brimelow believe that immigration, while perhaps not a major drain on the economy, brings little benefit to most Americans and does drive down wages. The opposing side, consisting of the Cato Institute's Dan Griswold and Alex Tabarrok of the Independence Institute, claimed that immigration is an unmitigated bonanza for everyone except high-school drop-outs. When the pro-immigrationists started claiming that immigration in the last thirty years or so really has not been very large, the audience simply burst out laughing.

What they meant was that compared to earlier waves of immigration, the proportion of immigrants today is not as large a percentage of the native population. That, however, is meaningless, except as a curiosity of arithmetic. What matters is the impact of the immigrants, economically and culturally, and the size of the receiving population has little to do with that. Immigrants will have significant impact on a receiving population and its culture and economy if the receiving society is too weak to absorb them.

The same theme cropped up in the panel on cultural impact. Those arguing for immigration—Linda Chavez, the Republicans' token Hispanic, and California libertarian activist Ron Unz—expressed support for immigration on the condition the immigrants assimilate. Mr. Unz in particular has pushed ballot measures against bilingual education in order to encourage immigrants' children to learn English. He gets a tip of the hat for doing so.

But the brute fact remains, as almost everyone on all sides admitted, that today American culture doesn't enforce assimilation the way it did a hundred years ago. Affirmative action, multiculturalism, bilingualism, and the sheer cowardice of both parties in not insisting on assimilation allow huge alien—and usually Third World and anti-Western—cultural fragments to persist and flourish. If assimilation is the price immigrants ought to pay to come here, they're not being charged at the door. That's why the immigrant numbers as a percentage of current population don't matter as much as what the current population is willing to demand as the price of entry.

The final panel dealt with the politics of immigration, specifically, will mass immigration destroy the Republican Party? The panel included Mr. Buchanan and yours truly on one side (yes, it will kill the GOP) and on the other, libertarian Stephen Moore of the Club for Growth and expert political analyst Michael Barone. If I may say so in all modesty, Mr. Buchanan and I beat the stuffing out of them.

Hispanics are registering Democratic by a two-to-one margin, a new Zogby poll shows, and every attempt of the Republicans to pander to them has flopped. There's no sign the future will be any different.

Mr. Barone and Mr. Moore wound up telling us that, because of mass immigration, most Americans would eventually look like Tiger Woods anyway. Is that the future most Americans today want for their descendants?

There are some signs that some people are catching on to the big lie the Open Borders lobby has been trying to sell Americans about mass immigration that imports terrorists and criminals and undermines our civilization.

If we had a few more debates about immigration like the one the American Cause offered, far more might catch on—and America's future might well look different.


October 10, 2002

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