Jewish World Review March 23, 2004 / 1 Nissan, 5764

Marty Nemko

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The overwhelming of America | I don't fit the profile of someone who worries about uncontrolled immigration. My parents are immigrants, I know that immigrants of all races have contributed mightily to America, and I'm no American flag waver. I am ashamed, for example, of America's international hubris, environmental callousness, obscene materialism, declining ethical standards, and unconscionable disparity between rich and poor.

So, I never was particularly concerned about uncontrolled immigration. I was additionally reassured because the media was reporting research that found illegal immigration to be a net plus for the US.

But occasionally, I saw some contradictory research and heard inside stories from my wife, Dr. Barbara Nemko, the Napa County Superintendent of Schools, about how challenging it is to meet the immigrant children's learning and health needs while not shortchanging the other kids.

So I decided to more thoroughly review the evidence on uncontrolled immigration's effects. As a result, I have had to change my mind. I have come to the conclusion that the greatest threat to America is not terrorism, but uncontrolled immigration.

Heretofore, those effects have not been readily apparent to many of us in the middle class, but that will almost assuredly change.

The number of illegal immigrants in the US has more than doubled in the past decade to at least 9,000,000, the population of Massachusetts and Connecticut combined, and the rate is accelerating.

There's a large difference between earlier waves of immigrants and this one: This wave is uncontrolled. As a result, not only are the numbers overwhelming, but because so many in this wave have chosen to flout US immigration laws, they, as a group, are more likely to commit crimes. The crime rate among illegals is extraordinary. And the financial and human cost of providing for this wave is dramatically greater than any previous one. Help to earlier waves of immigrants consisted mainlyof providing them with night school to learn English and minimum-wage and working-condition laws. Today, the costs are many times greater: free health care, free education K-12, subsidized higher education, easy-to-illegally-obtain social security, welfare, unemployment, housing subsidies, etc, plus the terrible financial and human costs of their high crime rate. Our schools, our health care system, and criminal justice system will likely soon be overwhelmed. In addition, salaries are being driven down, forcing ever more formerly middle-class US residents into poverty.

Uncontrolled immigration and its devastating effects would be dramatically worsened further by President Bush's Guest Worker proposal, described later. All Guest Workers' spouses, children, parents, and siblings would receive legal status. And the chain would extend far further: the Guest Worker or spouse could "sponsor" his or her parents and brothers and sisters, and relatives, which means they can come to America legally. In turn, those relatives could sponsor their relatives, ad infinitum. Bush's Guest Worker program is a dagger in the US middle class's heart.

Here is the evidence.

Cindy and Ed Kolb used to run a construction service in Hereford, Arizona. On CNN, she said, "We could never win a bid because we paid Americans a living wage. Other firms hire illegals and pay them below minimum wage." The Kolbs have had to close their business.

Of course, the problem also affects employees. The owner of a Bay Area construction company who insisted on anonymity bragged that he used to have to pay carpenters $20 an hour plus benefits but now gets them for $12, no benefits, because of the ready supply of illegal immigrants.

The Center for Immigration Studies has calculated that illegals have already cost American workers $133 billion in salary cuts and job losses. According to a study by the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, illegal immigration combined with the rampant offshoring of US jobs promises to significantly shrink the middle and working class, forcing ever more people into poverty.

Legally residing young adults without college degrees — an already vulnerable group — are being hit particularly hard. Last year, the employment rate for teens reached a record low, down nine percentage points just since 2000.

President Bush, pandering to Corporate America's thirst for cheap labor, is proposing a so-called Guest Worker program that would greatly increase the number of illegal workers. It would provide legal residency for three years (renewable) to all illegals holding US jobs, to their families, and even to those with just a letter stating that an employer promises a job.

The only restriction would be that the employer must first have tried to hire a legal resident. That restriction is practically unenforceable. The cost of investigating each of millions of hiring decisions would be prohibitive. No doubt, as in the 1986 amnesty program for agriculture workers, Bush's Guest Worker program would rely on employers' self-serving attestations. Even that amnesty program's sponsor, Charles Schumer (D-NY) admitted that in that program, fraud occurred in 2/3 of the hires.

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According to Rosemary Jenks, director of government relations for Numbers USA, a nonpartisan nonprofit that collects immigration statistics, "When that 1986 law was passed, it was support to be a one-time never-to-be repeated action. Since then, however, Congress has passed seven amnesties rewarding more than six million illegal aliens with legal residence and putting them and their relatives on the path of US citizenship." Why have you not heard about this? Aware that the public opposes amnesty for illegal aliens, politicians disguise amnesty programs by giving them obfuscating labels such as "earned regularization," or Bush's term, "Guest Worker."

I wonder what Bush would say to that carpenter whose income has dropped to $12 an hour, no benefits. "Sorry. We wanted to be sure corporations can get cheap labor."?

Bush claims that Guest Workers do work that legal Americans won't. If that were true, then in the 35 states with few illegals (87 percent of illegals reside in just 15 states), lawns wouldn't get mowed, hotel rooms wouldn't get cleaned, buildings wouldn't get built, and crops wouldn't get picked. In those states, employers simply have to pay a living wage and provide decent working conditions to get people to do that work.

  • GUTTED UNIONS. Unions protect workers against exploitation. Flooding the job market with illegals erodes unions' power to negotiate. Bush's Guest Worker proposal, which would add millions of non-unionized workers, would, of course, exacerbate the problem.

  • WORSE PUBLIC SCHOOLS. America's public schools already suffer under severe budget constraints, causing large class sizes, textbook shortages, and leaky ceilings. Yet, US law requires that all illegals receive free public education K-12. The Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates that this costs $7.4 billion dollars each year.

The birthrate among illegals is double that of legal US residents. The Pew Hispanic Center calculates that within seven years, the children of immigrants, legal and illegal, will account for one in nine school-age children in the US. The Urban Institute estimates that already, 15% of all school children in California are illegals, many of whom speak little English. These students are usually mainstreamed in classes with native English speakers. This means that teachers must slow down instruction, denying native English speakers their right to an appropriate-level education.

The challenge is even greater because not all those students' native language is Spanish: For example, in my nearest major school district, San Francisco, it would not be unusual to find a class that had native speakers of Chinese, Russian, Tagalog, Spanish, and English. Imagine the challenge of trying to educate them all. If your child were in that class, would you be confident that he or she would receive a quality education?

Immigrant children pose less obvious challenges to the schools. Barbara Nemko, the Napa County Superintendent of Schools, points out examples: "Unless she speaks Spanish, we have a hard time justifying hiring an even an excellent teacher… So much of our staff development time must now be allocated to dealing with the needs of 'English Language Learners.',,, Our immigrant kids come to school with serious health problems that we must address. For example, dentists now visit our high-immigrant schools providing dental services at no cost to the student."

Immigrant advocacy groups such as the Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund (MALDEF) and La Raza have additionally burdened the public schools by demanding that schools provide special controversial programs such as bilingual education, in which students are taught in Spanish for much of the day. Bilingual education programs exist throughout California even after longitudinal research has not demonstrated their effectiveness and after a voter-approved ban on those programs. MALDEF and La Raza also pushed through legislation that allows, in 19 states, illegal immigrants to not only attend any public university in those states, but to pay in-state tuition, while legal residents of neighboring states must pay the out-of-state rate which is three to eight times more. It's quite an injustice, for example, that a legal resident can be denied admission to taxpayer-supported Berkeley and must attend community college so an illegal foreign national can attend Berkeley — at in-state rates!

MALDEF's and La Raza's lobbying and legal power is remarkable.

  • WORSE HEALTH CARE. US law states that all illegals and their families are entitled to free emergency health care, and many jurisdictions provide non-emergency care.

    Our health care system is already overwhelmed. For example, thousands of Americans die each year because of lack of adequate nursing and other medical care. Illegal immigrants, coming from poor countries, have great health care needs. And in addition to common diseases, illegals bring challenges not normally faced in the US, for example, 7,000 new cases of leprosy in the past three years came in from Mexico, India, and Brazil, 16,000 new cases of multiple-drug-resistant, incurable, and communicable(!) tuberculosis. The Centers for Disease Control reports that illegal immigrants account for over 65 percent of communicable diseases (TB, hepatitis, leprosy, AIDS, etc.,) in the US. Immigration officials are supposed to screen out immigrants who are carrying diseases, but there is no health screening for illegal immigrants.

    Illegals' further burden the health care system because they disproportionately do heavy physical work, which causes their bodies to fall apart faster, and because the violent crime rate among illegals is staggering (See below).

    The burden of providing health care to illegals extends beyond disease and saving crime victims. For example, because of illegals' high birthrate, in Colorado, which has a mere (?) 100,000 illegal immigrants, taxpayers in 2003 alone paid for 6,000 illegals to have their babies. That's 40% of the births Medicaid paid for in the state. To get immediate care, the illegal only must say "I am undocumented."

    The Washington Times reported that dozens of hospitals in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California have either closed their doors or face bankruptcy because of losses caused by uncompensated care given to illegal immigrants.

    Brenda Walker, in the same publication writes, "More than 40 million American citizens do not have health insurance while they pay in their tax bills for free medical care for Mexican nationals, many of whom are illegally working at American jobs - a double-dip rip off. Furthermore, hospitals closing and emergency rooms crowded with illegal aliens mean that an American needing speedy treatment may have to wait far longer to receive it. Such delays can mean the difference between life and death."

    US House of Representatives member Mark Foley has persuaded the General Accounting Office to study the financial costs that illegals impose on hospitals. He says "we need to remedy this problem before we can no longer afford to take care of Americans."

    The impact of adding millions of Guest Workers, their spouses, and children, to our already creaking health care system would be devastating.

    I wonder what President Bush would say to a legal resident whose family member died because of an overwhelmed health care system: "Sorry, we allow the illegals because it enables corporations to avoid raising wages."?

  • MORE DISHONESTY. The Guest Worker program would give legal status to millions of people whose first act in this country was to commit a crime — sneaking into the US to evade immigration laws — and who soon committed a second crime — applying for a job when only legal residents are allowed to. Countless illegals soon go on to commit yet another crime: obtain false documents so they can, from US taxpayers, steal (that is the correct albeit unvarnished word) food stamps, housing subsidies, unemployment insurance, Medicare, and other government benefits intended for legal residents.

    Obtaining false documents couldn't be easier. A fake identity package including birth certificate, Social Security card, passport, green card, and driver's license is widely available on the street for $50 to $70. For a similar price, illegals can borrow the real thing. Legal immigrants simply rent their IDs to illegals who want to apply for a job, welfare, or Social Security.

    Can we ask legal residents to be honest — for example, to pay their income taxes — while, per the Guest Worker program, we reward lawbreaking illegals with legal status, an array of services for themselves and their families, plus full US citizenship for all subsequent offspring? In officially welcoming millions of acknowledged at-least two-time lawbreakers into the US, we would exacerbate America's already declining honesty.

    And the impacts of a dishonest society are profound. Already, we hear of endless examples of rampant dishonesty from corporate malfeasance to welfare fraud, from student cheating to elder scams. A viable society requires that we able to trust what people say and do.

  • More violent crime. The violent crime rate among illegals is horrific. I wish I could present the most germane statistic: the violent crime rate for legal versus illegal residents, but for reasons I can't understand, most law enforcement agencies are prohibited from collecting those data. Nevertheless, related statistics are available.

    According to the US Transportation Department, nearly half of California's drunk driving arrests in 2001 were Latino men. (Data for later years is not yet available.)

    An article in City Journal reports, "In Los Angeles, up to two-thirds of all fugitive felony warrants (17,000) are for illegal immigrants. A confidential California Department of Justice study reported in 1995 that 60 percent of the 20,000-strong 18th Street Gang in southern California is illegal; police officers say the proportion is actually much greater. The bloody gang collaborates with the Mexican Mafia, the dominant force in California prisons, on complex drug-distribution schemes, extortion, and drive-by assassinations, and commits an assault or robbery every day in L.A. County."

    One in seven inmates in California state prisons are illegal immigrants, serving time for crimes other than being in the US illegally. California taxpayers alone spend $500 million a year on incarcerating illegals.

    Astonishingly, because of so-called sanctuary laws, police in illegal-saturated cities such as L.A., San Diego, Houston, Austin, Chicago, and New York are prohibited from reporting even felons' immigration violations to federal authorities.

    Even an illegal alien who has committed murder rarely gets deported! According to statistics from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 80,000 illegals who have served prison time for felonies including murder, rape, drug smuggling, and armed robberies, are roaming our streets. This is frightening indeed because, according to Bureau of Justice statistics, within three years of prison release, 62% commit another crime.

    I wonder what President Bush would say to the family of a person who was murdered by an illegal.

    And if the Guest Worker proposal is enacted, the violent crime rate among illegals will worsen further. Because most Guest Workers would have physically demanding jobs, when they reach their 40s, their bodies are typically no longer capable of doing that work. At that point, with no experience other than in manual labor, most of these people will not be able to earn a living wage, and hopeless people (or their children) disproportionately turn to crime. So, as time goes on, the already devastating crime rate among illegals will rise further.

  • Endangered national security. All 19 of the 9/11 terrorists were in the US illegally. Peyton Knight, Director of Legislative Affairs for the American Policy Center, a Virginia think tank, writes, "At a time when America is under attack by Islamist holy warriors, the Census Bureau estimates that as many as 115,000 illegal immigrants from Middle Eastern countries are living in the United States.

  • HIGHER TAXES. Many illegals are paid off-the-books. Most others earn low salaries and therefore pay little or no tax. Yet illegals are heavy users of tax-dollar funded programs: education, health care, and the criminal justice system, for example. According to US Census data, immigrants are 75% more likely to use food stamps, medical benefits, and housing assistance at a cost of $68 billion per year. (Compare this with the estimated $84 billion one-time cost of the war in Iraq.)

    Some argue that illegals contribute to our economy through their spending. In fact, because illegals' salaries are low, they have little to spend. In addition, while American-born workers spend most or all of their earnings here in the US, creating more jobs and in turn, more tax revenues, illegals send much of their earnings back to relatives in their native country. For example, according to a study by the Pew Hispanic Center and Inter-American Development Bank, Latino immigrants in 2002, despite the soft economy, sent a record $23 billion to relatives and others in their home countries.

    California is already almost bankrupt. The Guest Worker programs' adding millions more illegals would likely push California over the edge. Other states with large numbers of illegals would likely soon follow, causing illegals to move to states that still had money to provide them with services. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV) called the Bush plan, "lunacy."

  • Ever more illegal border crossing. If I were a poor citizen of a poor country and learned that the US government is not deporting illegal aliens but instead, providing them with free health care and education, and that with easy-to-obtain fake ID, I could get many additional services, my family and I would be ever more tempted to sneak into the US.

    And a majority of Mexicans, with whom the US shares a 1,000-mile border, believe there's nothing wrong with doing so. According to a Zogby poll, 57 percent believe "Mexicans should have the right to enter the US without US permission" and 58 percent agreed that "the territory of the U.S.' southwest rightfully belongs to Mexico."

Many Mexican leaders also hold these beliefs. Co-founder of MALDEF, Mario Obledo, to whom President Clinton awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom, boasted, "California is going to be a Hispanic state. Anyone who doesn't like it should leave." He added: "Every constitutional office in California is going to be held by Hispanics in the next 20 years." Jose Pescador Osuna, former Mexican Consul General in Los Angeles, said, "Even though I'm saying this part serious and part joking, I believe we are practicing 'La Reconquista' in California." Past Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo, in 1997, speaking before the national council of La Raza, was not half-joking when he said: "I have proudly affirmed that the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders and that Mexican migrants are an important - a very important - part of this." And Mexico's current president, Vicente Fox has marched La Reconquista forward by having convinced President Bush to provide legal status for millions of illegals.

As I mentioned earlier, I am far from an American flag-waver. But despite its flaws, America has, heretofore, been a land of exceptional opportunity and innovation. As I get older, I especially appreciate that America has spawned more life-saving medical advances and quality-of-life improvements than any country in the world. America has also provided trillions in foreign aid, and is the only country in the world with a worldwide Peace Corps, a tremendous service to the people of the developing world.

However, uncontrolled immigration promises to destroy all that. Of course, many illegal immigrants do valuable work, but their net impact, as I have demonstrated, is already very negative, and promises to decimate America.

Yet, in fear of not sufficiently celebrating diversity, and in pandering to Corporate America's thirst for cheap, compliant labor, both Democrats and Republicans are not only failing to defend against the overwhelming invasion by illegals but encouraging it.

As a result, every year, America is dying faster. President Bush's Guest Worker proposal and the similar bills working their way through Congress would accelerate America's death, a dagger in the middle class's heart.

And what about the millions of people worldwide who have patiently waited so they can immigrate to the US legally? Can we expect they'll continue to wait? Or will they just come on in, accelerating the overwhelming of America.

This is sad, not only for America, but for the world. For example, developing nations benefit from a US government and a Corporate America wealthy enough to invest in those countries. For example, when US corporations establish operations in developing nations, they pay employees much more than the country's prevailing wages and offer far better working conditions. So, a dying America contributes to declining standard of living to people around the globe.

By having de facto suspended our immigration laws, we will soon be just another of the world's countries struggling just to cope with its own residents' poverty.

For both humanitarian and practical reasons, the US should not round up and deport illegal immigrants.

Instead, the US should impose and enforce severe penalties on employers who hire illegals. If an employer cannot find a legal worker, it must improve salaries and working conditions until a legal resident will take the position. The government must also eliminate incentives for foreigners to sneak into the US: no benefits to illegals and their families except for emergency health care.

Also, we should do more to make citizens of other countries less eager to leave their homeland.

Such efforts should focus on Mexico because it is the source of the majority of illegal immigrants. What could be done? Mexico is home to half of Latin America's billionaires. Mexico should more heavily tax its wealthy to provide higher-quality education and health care for all its citizens. US banks and non-profits, perhaps with a government subsidy, should provide microloans to help Mexican citizens start their own local businesses. For 25 years, microloans have helped millions of poor people to raise their standard of living, even in the most poverty-wracked countries. In addition, the Mexican government needs to take some responsibility for its people's poverty. For example, its government is notoriously corrupt, creating a gap between rich and poor that dwarfs the disparity we so decry in the US. If President Fox is to expect the US to assist Mexico, he needs to make all efforts to clean up the corruption.

If you believe that uncontrolled immigration is damaging to America and indirectly to the world, seek out candidates willing to control immigration. Trouble is, I can't find one.

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04/10/03: Career advice I'd give my child
03/04/03: Under the radar: The One-Week Job Search
02/11/03: The World's Shortest Course on Managing Diversity
02/03/03: The Good Employer
01/29/03: What do you want to be when you grow up?
01/15/03: Passion Finder
12/18/02: Curing procrastination
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12/05/02: Men as Beasts of Burden
11/21/02: Beware of going back to school

© 2003, Dr. Marty Nemko