[This is the question and answer session following the speech posted January 6, 2007: "Is Immigration a Problem? Are the Minute Men the Answer?", by Peter Brimelow. We've cleaned up the text a bit.]
[Multimedia Available Here]
Questioner #1: You might have a moratorium on immigration, but then how do you control the immigrants' high birthrate, which will certainly shift the ethnic balance, even if you were to stop immigration entirely?
Brimelow: It's certainly true that the higher birthrates will continue to shift the ethnic balance. It's actually a technical question you're asking, what are the numbers, what do the numbers suggest? And we spend a certain amount of time thinking about that question. The evidence seems to be that, over time, all American ethnic groups get their birthrates down surprisingly quickly, so these high birthrates may not persist as long as we think.
The other point I guess I'd make: there's somewhere between ten and twenty million illegals in this country right now. Maybe they should just go home. Maybe that would resolve the problem. And, their children, when they're born right here now, are American citizens, because of a perverse, because of the Birthright Citizenship interpretation of the 14th amendment. Maybe that should be solved. Maybe that should be changed one way or another, by litigation or legislation. And then they could take their children with them.
I have a dream! [laughter]
Questioner #2: I'm delighted that you're here and speaking out on this issue, which, as you said, most Americans are avoiding, for fear of offending people. I don't know if you ever see Lou Dobbs on CNN, but he's the one news reporter that I'm aware of who deals with this nightly. He's not a ranting raving lunatic, the man has statistics. If I were living in some of the conditions that these illegals live in Mexico, I would do exactly what they're doing. I'm not angry at them. I'm angry at the people at the top—George Bush, all through Congress—who are allowing this to happen. They are doing us wrong. If I were invited to the buffet of the United States and all I had was corn tortillas, yes, I would do everything to help my family. Directing our anger, if you will, must be at our politicians, not at these immigrants.
George Gilliam, Director of the Miller Center Forum, moderator: I would ask that you could put that in the form of a question. [laughter]
Questioner #2: I would like to know what you feel about our congressional people, why they do not see this, what is causing it—is it votes, is it money, I don't know!
Brimelow: Of course, you're quite right. There are 6 billion people in the world—6 billion people in the world—so there's a limit to the amount of people who can reasonably expect to have their lives improved by coming here, although they're doing their best to get here.
Why Congress is the way it is? I think there are a number of reasons.
I think immigration is one of these classic political science problems that disadvantages a large number of people a little and benefits a small number of people a lot. That means you get donors, and that's very influential.
I genuinely think that a lot of the difficulty is that immigration is a new problem. Most people don't have new ideas after they're 21. The current generation of politicians and pundits came to maturity when immigration simply wasn't an issue. It wasn't an issue until about 1968 when the 1965 Act kicked in. I mean, I remember 1968 very clearly! [laughter].
It's like academic life—George, I'm sure you'll confirm this! It isn't true in academic life that one school of thought refutes another school of thought, and convinces it of its position. What happens is the older guys die off, and they're replaced by younger people. And so there's a generational effect. And I think we will see a generational effect as politicians come forward who are younger, basically, and are prepared to meet the new generation of problems.
And finally, in Alien Nation I opened it up by saying there's a sense in which this can be viewed as Hitler's revenge. The American political class was so traumatized by the fight against Nazism that it simply cannot handle any discussion of race. And that's why the immigration enthusiasts, as I call them, are so quick to accuse everybody in sight of racism whenever the issue is raised—because it works for them, it frightens people away.
Unless of course, you're an insensitive immigrant like me! Thank you.
Questioner #3: We used to have a quota system in this country, I believe until the fifties and sixties of last century. Why was it abolished, what happened to it, and couldn't it be reintroduced?
Brimelow: You mean the National Origins system.
Questioner #3: Yes. Yes, indeed.
Brimelow: That was the principle behind the legislation of the 1920s. They wanted to stop what they saw as the rapid shift of the American population, and to do it they decided they were going to allow immigration primarily from the traditional founding groups. And that was undone in the 1960s . The rationale was that it was discriminatory.
Of course, it was discriminatory. Immigration policies are inherently discriminatory. Even if you let everybody in, the ones who are closest to the southern border are going to be getting in faster than the others. You know, you've got to choose in immigration policy.
That was really the rationale—that it was part of the Civil Rights revolution and "discrimination" was Wrong.
Of course, any law produces individual hardship cases, and there were certainly individual hardship cases under the National Origins system. But they could have been rectified by minor changes.
One of the things that abolishing the National Origins system has done, however, has been to create a great social science experiment. It's shown us that national origins do matter—exactly as the people who put through the legislation in the 1920 argued. Generally speaking, immigrants from Europe go onto welfare at a rate that's about a tenth of immigrants from the Third World. In other words, welfare participation by Third World immigrants in ten times that of European immigrants.
And there are a bunch of reasons for that. One of which is that functioning in a sophisticated society requires some sophistication, and it may be that people from First World societies understand that better. But there's no doubt, based on the evidence of the last forty years, that national origins do matter. And they matter for a very long time—they matter for the second, third and fourth generation.
And that's why the current flow is so disturbing. Because these people who are coming in and going on welfare and going into the underclass—they're not going to get out of that quickly. It takes three or four generations before people assimilate economically—if they ever do.
Questioner #4: There's an estimated 34 million immigrants, approximately 1/3 are illegal. Our national population is 294 million of which Hispanics make up 41 million. That Harvard study that you alluded to—Borjas-Katz–[PDF] put out the word that in the men's labor force, one out of 20 are Mexican laborers—illegals—and that in 1970 it was less that 1 out of 100. For today's Mexican immigrants, whether legal or illegal, their closest competitors for jobs are tomorrow's Mexican immigrants, either legal or illegal. The more who arrive, the harder it will be for them follow low-skilled Mexican laborers already in the work force. So what do you think about Bush's immigration legislation that he's proposing to resolve this dilemma?
Brimelow: What do I think about Bush's immigration proposals? I think they're nuts. I think they're extraordinary.
For one thing, in effect there's an amnesty for the illegals already here. They deny this, but it's just Orwellian use of language, there is clearly an amnesty.
But the thing that amazes me even more is that apparently Bush wants to match "willing workers" with "willing employers". That is to say, if an American employer can't find a worker, he can go and get immigrants in, as temporary worker, from overseas. Now, there's no mention of price in this. In other words, employers can say they'll pay 5 cents an hour and when they don't get any Americans, they can find somebody—and they will be able to find people—who are willing to work for five cents an hour. It's a profoundly uneconomic way of looking at immigration, in spite of the free market rhetoric that surrounds the proposal.
Plus, of course, Bush is apparently prepared to allow these "temporary workers" to bring in their families. Well, of course, right there that destroys any macroeconomic benefit—because the transfer costs to their families are substantial.
So you can only view this, frankly, as a way of benefiting employer groups. The employer groups are in a situation where they get to privatize the profits of immigration—the work of the immigrant—and they socialize the costs. Because education, healthcare and so on, and even things like mortgages, are handled by the public purse.
So my answer to your question is—it's one of the wildest things I've ever seen. I don't think people realize how crazy it is, frankly.
Now, that doesn't mean it's not going to go through, by the way, because they are very determined on this question, the President is extremely determined. He's beyond the reach of reason. So there's going to be a big fight over it.
Questioner #5: What do you think the Mexican government could do to give incentive to its citizens to stay in Mexico, and, given that, do you think that President Fox or whoever the new President will be, do you think they will actually follow up on those? Do you think they think they have anything to gain by giving incentive for their citizens to stay?
Brimelow: Well that's actually a great question. And it's particularly a disturbing question because, you know, Fox, when he was elected, was greeted with great Hosannas by the Republicans because they thought they had a free-market president elected and that things were going to change.
I'm very much afraid there is no solution in Mexico. It's obviously a profoundly corrupt society. The unspoken issue there is drug money, which is very substantial, and must corrupt the entire political class.
They have no incentive whatever to change. The Americans are putting no pressure on them to change. No, there's going to be no solution coming from Mexico short of actually invading it and ruling it as a colony, in which case you probably would get economic growth and the Mexicans would stay there.
Mexico is going to blow up. It's obvious to everybody that Mexico is unstable. Sooner or later it's going to blow up and we're going to have to bring those troops home from Iraq and try and restore order in Mexico. Maybe that's would be the ultimate solution.
Questioner #6: Is there any other country in the world that has an immigration policy that's as wide open as ours?
Brimelow: Well, immigration a problem throughout the First World, and particularly in what we call the Anglosphere, the English-speaking countries. Actually just in terms of numbers, the Canadians get more immigrants relative to population than the Americans do. They get about 200,000 legal immigrants a year, and their population is about a tenth of the U.S. population, so if you multiply it by ten you're looking at 2 million legal immigrants a year here. And they are changing their society very rapidly as a result of that.
The difference is, though, that the Canadians actually have an interesting system which actually does discriminate among immigrants on the basis of skill level. You get points for a bunch of things if you want to immigrate to Canada: skill levels and whether or not you speak the national languages. It's a very logical thing, actually, when you think about it. I mean wouldn't you prefer to have immigrants who speak English? Then you wouldn't have all these problems with bilingualism and so on. And there are a lot of people in the world who speak English. There are forty or fifty million Indians who speak English in their homes. So it's not a racially-based policy. But right now, because American immigration policy is frozen by statute, we can't do it.
So the answer is, immigration is a problem throughout the English-speaking world, and the First World. It's a problem throughout Europe. They're reacting to it more violently because they're less used to it, and that's why you see the rise of these third parties, like in Denmark and so on.
But, you know, the Americans matter most. Because this is Rome in the time of the Twelve Caesars. Everybody in the world looks to the U.S. I can't exaggerate how important the example Americans set is worldwide. It's a unipolar world right now. The whole world is dependent on the U.S. So if the Americans have problems, the world has problems. The U.S. is where it really matters.
Questioner #7: Just a quick background before I get to my question. I was born, raised and went to school in South Texas, and in my lifetime I have seen places change in south Texas so that I wasn't sure which side of the border I was on.
But there seems to be a difference between the immigrants that I grew up with and what's coming in now—in that they don't want to become part of America. There's some different thought process in the immigrants that are coming through now. I'm not sure what it is, but it's changed dramatically from San Antonio south. What is the difference?
Brimelow: That's very interesting, and it's a comment often made by Texans. The Tejanos are a fairly historic community. They're not totally historic, because Texas was absolutely empty when the Anglos got control of it, but they stem basically out of the immigration that came out of the Mexican revolution. They did seem to assimilate better. You can think of a bunch of reasons. One of them is just simply a question of numbers. I mean, the flow from Mexico after the revolution stopped, and the assimilative process got to work. And right now we don't see any stopping of the flow. And the result of that is that assimilation is actually going to reverse. There are people who used to speak the language who are now speaking Spanish. It's just a function of numbers.
The second reason, I think, is that the political class is much less willing now to tell people that they ought to assimilate and speak English than it used to be. Profoundly less. If you go to Ellis Island, you'll see all these displays about the "Americanization" programs, how people were expected to learn to become Americans and so on. There is nothing like that now. If you become an American citizen, you know, you are supposed to "abjure foreign potentates" but there's no attempt to enforce that.
When I became a citizen, I was with a group of about 300 people who were openly discussing the fact that they were intending to keep their own passports. One woman said, of course if there was a war she would send her children back to—well, she was a Central American—immediately. Officers of the courts were standing around! And they can hear all this! But they don't do anything. And why would they? There's simply no attempt made to require people to assimilate now in the way that there was 50-60 years ago.
Question #8: I lived in Switzerland for a year, in Geneva, a few years ago, and I was always impressed by the control the Swiss have over their small country. They speak four different languages, maybe more. They have a huge control over immigration. They bring a lot of workers in, and if there is any unemployment or economic stress, they send them home. In other words, they traffic people. And I thought in a way it was awful. And yet, there was peace and quiet, it was an idyllic country. Everybody wants to go there and get to the mountains, have a great time. They haven't had a war in hundreds of years. I'd like your view on that kind of a society and what we can do? I realize it's a small country and there are many, many differences from a huge country like ours.
Brimelow: You know, actually, through the 30s through the 50s there was a system in place, the bracero system, which brought in temporary workers into the U.S. And I've always liked the idea of temporary workers, guest workers. People who are interested in immigration reform typically don't like temporary workers because they do have a tendency to stay. And, of course, under current U.S. law, their children are citizens, so then they never leave. So that's why it's so important to get rid of this birthright citizenship interpretation of the 14th amendment.
But in general, I'm sympathetic to the idea of guest workers. One of the reasons, quite frankly, is that it gets the business lobbies out of the debate. They're just totally committed right now to mass immigration. They're prepared to have a million unskilled immigrants, as long as they can get 15,000 computer programmers. They don't look at the interests of society in general. So maybe if we can get them those computer programmers as guest workers—I don't think they need them, actually, but that's a different argument—they would go away and stop bothering us and let us get this problem solved.
Questioner #9: You've presented your views to make them look very objective, and based on statistics. And I was wondering, if that's the case, why you give so much space and exposure on your VDARE.COM website to people like Sam Francis, Jared Taylor and Kevin MacDonald, who can only be classified as white supremacists and anti-Semites, and maybe white nationalists. So I wonder what difference you see between yourself and some of those people.
Brimelow: Well, I think that what I say speaks for itself. If it is logical and factual, then the insinuation that you're making is clearly unfounded.
As far as VDARE.COM goes, it is true that we ran Sam Francis, who recently died, and Taylor, and who was the other one? Kevin MacDonald. None of these people I would regard as white supremacists. Sam was a white nationalist. He was a Southerner and he wanted to articulate and defend the interests of whites. In a multiracial society, you've got to accept that whites have interests, and they can speak up for them in the same way that blacks do and the same way that Hispanics do.
It may not be something that you want to accept—because of course, because it shatters the myth that the multicultural society is harmonious. Multiracial and multicultural societies are not harmonious—they are intensely competitive. And it's in that respect that I think Sam, and also Jared Taylor, are the wave of the future. If we have this kind of immigration, we are going to have those kinds of politics.
Let me just say, on VDARE.COM we publish stuff that is not going to appear in National Review or The Wall Street Journal. Our object there is to push the envelope, to get issues discussed that are not going to be discussed otherwise. Because that is how this immigration problem has gotten so bad. Because people are afraid to discuss it.
So our mission is to discuss it. And we do take risks. We are prepared to say things and to get into subjects which no timeserving journalist is prepared to get into. I don't say it is going to be good for our careers. But our defense is truth: truth is an absolute defense.
Questioner #9: Thank you for coming out this evening and speaking. As an editor of National Vanguard and one of those evil white nationalists, I'm curious as to what, in your opinion, is behind the immigration debate—why racial identity or consciousness is encouraged among ethnic minorities, and the destruction of racial consciousness among white Americans? Who's behind that? Is it ourselves? Do we do this as white American, in the sense that we're on a guilt trip. Or are there other forces at work to prevent us from thinking collectively? Every other minority group thinks in terms of group dynamics, and we're encouraged to think as individuals.
Brimelow: You know, I have had until recently two small children in the public schools in New England, in Connecticut—an area that is a hundred percent white. And they raised a regiment of Connecticut farm boys, the 2nd Connecticut heavy artillery, which was shot to pieces at Cold Harbor. They were all ardent abolitionists. Notwithstanding this, my little boy has, from kindergarten, has been exposed to stuff about Martin Luther King and the evils of segregation.
Now, there never was segregation in Connecticut. They were opposed to slavery. And this is an area where—well, America is more stable than people think if they live in New York. There are a lot of blue-collar workers in my area who are colonial stock, whose families bought the land from the Indians. The woman who cuts my hair, the fellow who delivers my mail, has ancestors who died or were injured with the 2nd Connecticut Heavy artillery at Cold Harbor. But I've never heard a public school teacher who knows anything at all about this. But it would support the message—that's the interesting, the fascinating thing about this—it would support the message that slavery is evil and all this kind of thing, to tell the children that their ancestors fought in this war to abolish it. But you never see it.
Which speaks to several things. First, it's the nationalization of American education, which is not such a good thing because of the divorce from local communities. And secondly, I have to say that the object is simply not to teach kids about segregation or anything like that—it is to inculcate white guilt, it is to make them feel bad. You know, Alexander has done these exercises where everybody who has blue eyes is discriminated against and all that kind of thing. There is something pretty weird going on. Thank you.
Questioner #10: My question addresses the issue of law. We talked about illegal immigrants. I think if they're illegal, that means they're breaking the law. And the question is one of enforcement. What do you suggest be done to ensure that laws we have on the books—we don't have enact a lot more—are followed through. And I think one of the key matters would be to require individuals to carry ID. And a case of falsified ID would certainly be sufficient cause for deportation.
Brimelow: Yes, there are a ton of things that could be done. We have a chap who writes for us called Ed Rubenstein who is a number hound, he does a statistical column for us. He used to do The Right Data for National Review. He recently did an article on interior, workplace enforcement—how many times do the feds go into a workplace and arrest people, how many people are deported as a result of this, how many employers have been fined? And these are laws that are on the books, it's a question of how they're being enforced.
The answer is, they're not being enforced. Workplace enforcement has collapsed since 2000. It's fallen by a factor of more than 97%. You're right, the laws are on the books. Apparently, it's just not a priority of either Congress or the Administration to enforce them.
This creates what economists call a "moral hazard". Because we've got people here who are here illegally and got here illegally. What do they think about the rest of the country's laws? How much do they respect the society that did this? It's a profound problem.
Questioner #11: I admire your intentions in addressing the issue for the children—since I'm one of them who will be around in 2050, hopefully. But I have to say that your views on what the problem is and how to fix it seem a little simplistic. It seems like it's putting a Band-Aid on a broken neck. Have you looked into why people are coming from Latin American into the U.S.? Like, what conditions are in their countries and what is our responsibility in that? First off, by overthrowing their governments…also that the problem with immigration seems like you're kicking the little people when they're down for something that's not their fault. I mean, Mexican immigrants are born into these conditions and they come to the United States because they have no other options in their life if they want to survive, and they want their children to see another day. But it is American corporations and American gluttony that is allowing this to happen. The inability of America to observe itself and to acknowledge the fact that it's not the great country that it thinks it is, and secondly that it's actually quite hypocritical and fairly close to a fascist state [VDARE.com note: This is true—it is close, right there across the Rio Grande!] [muttering from audience] Uh? You're white, you guys can say that it's not—So, I feel like you're targeting the wrong people and—I can hear you over there, just so you know. [laughter]
I do respect your work a lot, and I admire your intentions, and this is not like a personal attack or anything because I realize that that's fruitless–
Brimelow: That's OK, I'm used to personal attacks!
Questioner #11: [laughing] I know, I saw the Firing Line debate with you and Ira Glasser!
However, it just seems naïve and simplistic. You're just running in place and you're not getting anything done by not focusing on the true culprits—like American imperialism.
Brimelow: Well, as I said, you know, I do think this is a situation that is susceptible to a very simple Marxist analysis. It benefits the upper classes and disadvantages the working classes. The American little people are really being hurt by this policy. Doesn't that make you feel good? [laughter]
I mean, that's exactly what you think, isn't it? That it's a class-based policy? I completely agree that the behavior of the American corporations is irresponsible in this area. It was in the 1920s too, but what happened in the 1920s was there was a point at which they became so disturbed by the societal unrest and the anarchist bombings and so on, that they became convinced that the society itself was being threatened. And if you talk to individual business men, you'll find they're aware of this. They live in these cities; their children go to these schools, so they are aware of the problem. So I don't think that the business lobbies are set in stone. But right now they are a problem; they just won't think about this question.
As far as the American responsibility to the situation in the rest of the world, you know, short of actually conquering the rest of the world and ruling it, I don't see how Americans can really assume responsibility for what goes on there. [applause]
Questioner #11: [inaudible]
Brimelow: No, I'm not kidding, no. What else can you do? You know, I was born in the year that India became independent. When was that? [laughs] It's not that long ago, actually, that the British did control a lot of the world and they took responsibility for it. But Americans can't do that. I don't think they can even stay in Iraq forever. And if you don't have the power, you don't have the responsibility for the rest of the world. So the question is not why these people come here, but why they're let in. Why aren't they stopped at the border? And that is the responsibility of the American ruling class. And it's not meeting that responsibility right now.
Questioner #12: On the policing of the southern border, it seems to me that the tradeoff is between the desire to keep illegal immigrants out, and the standards of ordinary civil rights. Do you think that our standards for civil rights are obsolete?
Brimelow: I don't think there is a civil right to immigrate. It doesn't seem to me to be a civil rights issue. You simply don't let them in, that's all it comes down to. And it's not a difficult thing to do.
Gilliam: This has been and interesting and provocative discussion of an interesting and contentious idea. I thank all of you for being here, and I especially thank Peter Brimelow for presenting his argument.
Peter Brimelow is editor of VDARE.COM and author of the much-denounced Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster (Random House - 1995) and The Worm in the Apple (HarperCollins - 2003)