AMNESTY FOR ILLEGAL ALIENS IS NOT COMPASSIONATE
By Edward J. Erler
Such was the jubilant reaction of Mexico's President Vicente Fox to U.S. President George Bush's January 7, 2004, proposal to grant de facto amnesty to an estimated 8-11 million illegal immigrants working in the United States, more than half of them from Mexico. The amnesty will confer coveted "green cards" for three years on all foreign workers who are illegally in the U.S.A. and will be renewable for three additional years.
The amnesty also provides the future opportunity of applying for American citizenship. It will make green card holders eligible for a variety of welfare and social security benefits, benefits already available in varying degrees to illegal immigrants. In 2002 alone, Los Angeles County, California, spent about $350 million providing health care for illegal immigrants. It is estimated that the State of California spends nearly $6 billion per year on services for illegal aliens. After illegal aliens become legal, under Bush's proposal, they will, of course, have easier access to welfare, education, and other public services.
President Bush believes his plan "will make America a more compassionate, more human, and stronger country." In fact, this amnesty is neither compassionate or just. It is simply a bi-partisan assault on the public good.
President Fox adamantly denies that Mexicans want to become American citizens. These Mexicans crossing the U.S. border and entering the country illegally, according to Fox, simply want the economic opportunities available in the U.S.A.
But Fox did say that merely giving legal status to illegal workers in the U.S.A. didn't go far enough. He wants all immigration barriers removed and open borders established.
The stakes are high for Fox. Illegal immigration into the U.S.A. provides Mexico with a much needed outlet for the desperate and malcontent poor. Illegal aliens send an estimated $12 billion in much needed revenue back to Mexico each year. These remittances, which Fox is desperate to protect -- and increase, if possible -- are Mexico's second largest source of income, behind oil exports. There is now a two-way channel between Mexico and the U.S.A. -- people flowing north, and money going south. An American crack-down on illegal immigration would spell disaster for the Mexican economy.
An expanded amnesty is just the thing Fox needs to cover his failed economic programs and relieve the Mexican government of responsibility for the welfare of many of its citizens.
President Bush says that amnesty is a matter of "simple common sense and fairness." According to Bush, "Our laws should allow willing workers to enter our country and take jobs that Americans are not filling."
Supporters of amnesty argue that illegal aliens provide a much needed source of cheap labor and only compete for jobs that Americans are not willing to take. No one can possibly doubt, however, that the presence of illegal immigrants (or the soon to be lagal immigrants, if Bush and Fox get their way) in the American labor market significantly depresses wages for entry level jobs, the jobs most likely to be available to the American underclass. Without the competition from cheaper illegal alien labor, wages for those jobs would be higher and entry level jobs would be more attractive to those at the bottom rung of the American economy.
Politics always makes strange bedfellows, but this is nowhere more evident than in immigration politics. Throughout American history, pro-immigration -- even pro-illegal immigration -- advocates have been coalitions of Liberals and Conservatives. Public opinion has always been against increased immigration, and especially wary of illegal immigration and calls for amnesty. Immigration policies, however, are, for the most part, the preserve of Washington elites who have little to fear from public opinion. There is no organized constituency, it seems, for curbs on immigration.
Two leading advocates of the new amnesty who will be expected to carry legislation for the President are strange bedfellows indeed. Democratic Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. House Minority Leader and an ultra Liberal, has joined handa with Republican Senator Orin Hatch, the Chairman of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, and a Conservative, to support amnesty.
The alliance between political Left and political Right on the amnesty issue is not really a mystery. Both sides profit. Republicans want cheap and compliant labor for low-level manufacturing jobs, and especially for farm labor. Cheap labor also delays the expense of modernizing factories and farms.
The Democrats, on the other hand, want future voters. This is the reason why some Democrats are critical of Bush's proposal, arguing that amnesty should be tied to early citizenship. Whereas the Republicans seek to exploit the labor of Mexican immigrants, the Democrats seek to exploit them politically by purchasing their loyalty and support with welfare and social security benefits -- in short, by making them the wards of the welfare state. The election of 2000 demonstrated that immigrants, especially Latinos, are solidly in the Democratic camp. Bush believes he can beat the Democrats at their own game. After all, did he not attract a significant Latino vote in Texas? But the Democrats have always been far ahead of the short-sighted -- and largely apolitical -- Republicans.
Consider the Simpson-Mazzoli Amnesty Act of 1986. This too was a bi-partisan effort, a bi-partisan effort by Democratic Congressman Romano Mazzoli and Republican Senator Alan Simpson. The measure was designed to provide a one time amnesty in exchange for tougher border control and employer sanctions. The generous terms extended amnesty to 2.6 million illegal aliens. No one, perhaps with the exception of Simpson and a few other naive Republicans, believed that the provisions regarding border enforcement and employer sanctions were credible. Neither provision was ever seriously enforced.
The most compelling reason to oppose amnesty is connected to the rule of law. Amnesty for illegal aliens is simply a reward for law-breaking. No government depending on a strict regard for the rule of law can treat law-breaking so casually. Amnesty is a reward for law-breaking and should be regarded with deep suspicion, especially since it will be a magnet for further illegal immigration. The greatest incentive for illegal immigration -- Fox's assurances notwithstanding -- is not the economic advantages available in the U.S.A.. Rather, it is the prospect of citizenship for any immigrant children born in the country.
The Los Angeles Times reported last year that an increasing number of affluent Mexican women are crossing the border to give birth to children on American soil, lured here by the prospect of conferring U.S. citizenship rights upon their children.
The world recognizes that American citizenship is a most valuable commodity. The soaring immigration rates -- 1.4 million a year from 2000 through 2002 -- is powerful evidence of this fact.
By an inexplicable understanding of citizenship, the children of illegal immigrants born in the United States are automatically considered citizens of the United States. The Fourteenth Amensment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified in 1868, and one of its principal purposes was to define, for the first time, the basis of American citizenship: "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside." Senator Jacob Howard, the author of the Citizenship Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, noted that the clause "will not, of course, include persons in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers."
It was widely agreed during the debate that the primary purpose of the proposed amendment's language was to extend citizenship to the newly freed slaves, thus overturning by federal constitutional amendment the infamous decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Dred Scott v. Sanford (1857). But it was also agrred -- and stated by its author -- that the amendment would not confer citizenship on Indians, since they owed political allegiance to their tribes and were not "subject to the jurisdiction" of the United States. In 1870, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported that "those who framed the Fourteenth Amendment ... understood that the Indian tribes were not made citizens, but were excluded by the restricting phrase, 'and subject to the jurisdiction,' and that such has been the universal understanding." Indians were obviously born within the geographical limits of the United States, and many were born outside the reservations. Is it reasonable to conclude that the Fourteenth Amendment extends to the children of illegal aliens what it concededly did not extend to Native Americans? Similarly, is it reasonable to think that those who actively defy the laws of the United States by illegal entry have a constitutional right to confer the boon of citizenship upon their children? It is significant that the U.S. Supreme Court has never held that such a right exists.
Mexico itself, however, remains unmoved by appeals to compassion or justice. It is making an extraordinary effort to seal its southern borders with Guatemala and Belize, recognizing the dangers to its internal politics and economy posed by illegal immigratiom from its southern neighbors. What Mexico demands from its neighbor to the north -- open borders -- it refuses to extend to its neighbors to the south.
Mexico also refuses to extradite illegal alien criminals who flee across the border. Mexico -- no doubt as an act of "compassion" -- will not extradite violent criminals who may face the death penalty or life in prison without the possibility of parole. Currently, more than 60 alleged murderers -- including cop killers -- from Los Angeles County alone are in Mexico, and their whereabouts are known to Mexican authorities. While demanding compassion from the U.S.A., Mexico refuses to accord simple justice to Americans. Compassion and justice are not the same thing, although they certainly may be connected. Before we extend compassion to our neighbors from the south, we should first demand simple justice from them. American public opinion is firmly opposed to increased immigration and amnesty for illegal aliens. Republicans would be well advised to stop imitating the Democrats and represent the deeply held opinion that strong measures should be taken to curb illegal immigration and exploitation of undocumented immigrants. The potential increase in the Latino vote from the cynical display of "compassion" is miniscule when compared to the certain response from citizens who refuse to take lightly the dilution of their citizenship and voting power.
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