Research on my paternal ancestors, about whom I knew nothing, showed they came to America from Germany, Switzerland, France and Denmark over the course of many years, from before the Revolutionary War to the 1879 arrival of my German Grandfather, who was naturalized in 1885.
Next month my family will welcome a new immigrant as my son Anthony brings his Thai wife, Pat, to America. Immigration as a share of American population growth has been rising steadily since World War II, reaching 37% in 2002, but it has slowed since 9/11. Anthony and Pat have complied with all the requirements for her to enter America legally, which is the same way all our previous family members came, as far as I know.
Historically, the vast majority of immigrants begin life in their new country as cheap labor, or as unpaid labor in the case of the more than 10 million kidnaped slaves from Africa. Immigration has traditionally been encouraged by business interests and other promoters of economic growth and is still seen by economists as essential for growth of the American economy.
Hispanics have made up about one-third of legal immigrants during the late 1900s. Poor living conditions, proximity to the US and ease of access through Mexico make immigration from Latin America, both legal and illegal, very appealing. Immigrant friendly communities and employers welcome these new arrivals with few questions asked. False papers can be readily purchased if necessary and eager employers will not challenge their authenticity, as CBS recently showed on 60 Minutes II.
Traditional opposition to immigration has come from xenophobes and low level workers fearing job loss. Politicians have played both sides of the issue and the resulting laws and enforcement have vacillated throughout our history, with 20th Century policy being built on quotas largely racial in nature. Vigilante groups have been organized to patrol borders for illegal immigrants. Unconstitutional voter measures have been passed to target illegal aliens. But the vigilantes are hopelessly outnumbered and the Courts have properly upheld Constitutional rights.
The Hispanic immigration tide continues with no sign of ebbing. Adequate border enforcement to stop Hispanics is not something for which taxpayers are willing to pay. Individuals who contribute significant money to politicians are not likely to make stopping illegal Hispanic immigration a top issue. Business interests and farmers who make political contributions do not want the tide stemmed. Hispanics vote in large enough numbers to far outweigh vigilante voters, and their voting patterns are close enough to those of non-Hispanic voters to avoid identifying them predominantly with either political party.
How do you tell a legal from an illegal? Not by anything other than paperwork. In fact, if quotas and processing costs were eliminated, these people could all be legal. Why don’t we let them in? There are proposals for a limited amnesty and for more temporary worker permits. Our low birth rate has caused concerns for the future of Social Security. More legal Hispanic immigrants might assure young Sense readers of an old age with a decent Social Security income. Efforts to deport long time illegal residents and taint their descendants are ridiculously wasteful and on dubious legal ground.
The flood has occurred and continues. Fingers in the dike cannot stop it. We need to consider and adopt a national policy on Hispanic immigration, with components of amnesty, temporary permits and increased quotas, and if that is still not enough to stop the flood of illegal Hispanic immigrants, then we need to spend the money for adequate border enforcement. This is what we need to do, but I do not think it is very high on the agenda of the American people, so I think we will see the status quo continue for several more years.