Jewish World Review July 18, 2001 / 27 Tamuz, 5761

Jonah Goldberg

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Consumer Reports

Illegal motion: Bush amnesty plan faulty -- THE Bush administration is on the verge of making a terrible mistake mostly for the right reasons, and critics are going to wallop him mostly for the wrong reasons.

This week the White House hinted that it wants to offer amnesty to some 3 million Mexicans who are here illegally. The anti-immigration lobby, in unison, passed its morning coffee through its collective nose when it read that tidbit in the newspapers over the weekend. Bush may be backing off the idea a bit, but we won't know until an administration task force releases its recommendations, perhaps this week.

I hope the anti-immigration crowd wins, but I hope their arguments don't. Bush and his advisers recognize that the Republican Party desperately needs to win Hispanics if it can possibly remain the majority party, let alone hold onto the White House in 2004. But trying to buy the political allegiance of an ethnic group by rewarding the illegal practices of 3 million people isn't the way to do it.

Sure, sometimes we should grant special treatment to a specific nationality. We gave preferential treatment to refugees after World War II and the South Vietnamese and the Hmong during and after the Vietnam War. But the Mexicans who are in America illegally aren't here because of oppression at home. They are here because of the semiporous nature of our border and because they believe - rightly, if Bush has his way - that if they can dodge the authorities long enough they'll simply be handed citizenship.

Millions of people around the world wait patiently, playing by the rules, to come to America. If the Bush administration simply grants blanket amnesty to the turnstile jumpers, it will not only be unfair to those waiting in line, it will send the message that America isn't serious about enforcing laws against illegal immigration. In turn, this will teach perfectly rational people in Mexico and elsewhere that if they just show up here, they'll get what they want without filling out all that pesky paperwork.

Moreover, the administration isn't contemplating granting amnesty to all illegal immigrants who've been here working hard and biding their time. No, Bush is only thinking about granting amnesty to Mexicans - as if Mexicans have greater value than, say, Costa Ricans or Chinese or Nigerian illegals. Of course, Mexicans do have greater worth, at least according to the White House's calculus; Mexican-Americans are a vital voting bloc.

The reason I'm against the proposed Bush move is simple. I am a huge supporter of legal immigration, and the only way you can have legal immigration is if you are serious about dealing with illegal immigration. If illegal immigration continues - and it surely will if this measure passes - it will be difficult to argue for immigration of any kind. People will simply say, "I don't care whether they're legal or illegal, we've got enough!"

The arguments used by the anti-immigration crowd exploit such sentiments. They say immigrants are bad for the economy, though that's largely a myth. Immigrants tend to do the jobs other Americans won't do. And because immigrants tend to be young, they bring a lifetime of payments into the Treasury and Social Security coffers, a nice offset to the graying of the American population.

Opponents also say America is already overpopulated and immigration leads to sprawl and species loss. But this is nonsense. As the brilliant economist Walter Williams likes to point out, you could fit the entire world's population into the United States and our population density would still only be about a seventh of New York City's today.

In fact, the Great Plains of the United States have become so depopulated that the Census Bureau has had to use classifications of "frontier" and even "vacant" not used since the 19th century. Indeed, the number of bison roaming free in the heart of America is the highest it's been since the 1870s, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, forestry experts say there are more forests in the United States today than there were in the 1920s.

The best argument against the current wave of immigration is a cultural one, not demographic or economic. Previous immigration booms occurred when the United States had a relatively tiny welfare state and a general sink-or-swim attitude. This resulted in many immigrants going home because they couldn't hack it here, which is fine by me. The ones who stayed made America better.

But today, America has policies that are counterproductive, keeping poor new arrivals from assimilating and teaching them to expect government to solve problems best solved by personal initiative. Bilingual education, for example, is a racket which only helps groups that make money from bilingual education. Affirmative action reinforces the idea that we are members of oppressed groups rather than simply, Americans.

The best way to assure that America gets the benefits of immigration is to make sure that the people who come here respect the law and know that there are no shortcuts to the American dream.

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