National Review Online, November 17, 2005
"Their parents' generation was invited to France as laborers who were expected to return home but didn't."
-- "France Beefs Up Response to Riots," Washington Post, November 8, 2005
"This program expects temporary workers to return permanently to their home countries after their period of work in the United States has expired." -- President George W. Bush outlining his worker-importation plan, January 7, 2004
As Muslim insurgents burn France's suburban Occupied Territories, Americans can be forgiven for thinking "Thank God we have Mexicans and not Arabs." Mexicans are Christian and politically passive, and large numbers of them and their children have assimilated thoroughly into the American people. Niall Ferguson made just this point in the Los Angeles Times.
But American supporters of mass immigration might want to postpone the self-congratulation. While it's true that in this area, as in so many others, America's problems are less acute than other nations', the proposals before Congress to massively increase the importation of foreign workers could create two, three, many Clichys-sous-Bois in our future.
There are two reasons for this, one about Mexicans and one not. Regarding Mexicans: If you think we have a lot now, just wait until the president's plan gets passed. The Mexican-immigrant population has been soaring, and all of the "temporary" worker proposals before Congress would supercharge that growth, both through their legal entry mechanisms as well as through the additional illegal immigration they will inevitably stimulate. The total number of Mexicans in the U.S. has grown from less than 800,000 in 1970, to 2.2 million in 1980, 4.3 million in 1990, 7.9 million in 2000, and 10.8 million this year (that's 37-percent growth just in the past five years). Despite ludicrous claims by administration operatives that Mexican immigration will disappear on its own, Mexico's own census agency forecasts between 3.5 and 5 million new immigrants to the U.S. per decade over the next generation, under current U.S. policy. Passage of the president's plan or the McCain/Kennedy proposal -- or even the less-egregious Kyl-Cornyn bill -- would result in even more rapid increases in Mexican immigration, perhaps doubling yet again within a decade.
This is important because numbers matter; a Mexican immigrant population of 20 or 25 million is qualitatively different from today's already-huge 11 million. It would create more of a constituency for the Aztlan irredentism that is already a normal part of political debate on the Left in California; more immediately, it would facilitate the Mexican government's anti-assimilation initiatives (described in detail here by Heather Mac Donald) designed to create a regime of shared Mexican-U.S. sovereignty over much of our population, with Mexico City serving, in effect, as a second federal government that local and state officials would be answerable to. And when we rouse ourselves to reassert our exclusive sovereignty, as the French state tried to do in the no-go zones of its immigrant suburbs, the pushback might well be as intense.
But, of course, the word "Mexico" never appears in any of the worker-importation plans before Congress. The old Bracero Program (that ran for 20 years until the 1960s and sparked the illegal-immigration wave in the first place) was limited to Mexicans -- Mexican men, in fact -- but today's anti-discrimination ethos makes such restrictions impossible. So what happens when American employers eventually realize there are workers abroad willing to accept wages even lower than Mexicans will accept? After all, Mexico is an upper-middle-income country by global standards, with a per-capita GDP in purchasing-power-parity terms of $9,600 -- if you want huge amounts of really cheap labor, go to Indonesia (242 million people, 88 percent Muslim, per capita GDP $3,500) or Pakistan (162 million, 97 percent Muslim, GDP $2,200) or Bangladesh (144 million, 83 percent Muslim, GDP $2,000) or Egypt (77 million, 94 percent Muslim, GDP $4,200). We have been fortunate in that our Muslim population is comparatively small (1 percent of our population, compared with 10 percent in France), well-educated, prosperous, ethnically diverse, and geographically dispersed -- all factors making radicalism and alienation less likely. But a new foreign-worker scheme could undo these benefits, by importing large numbers of poor, uneducated, ghettoized Muslim peasants, who will be expected to go back, but won't.
Instead of risking our security with huge, unmanageable foreign-worker programs, the Senate and president would be wise to adopt the House Republicans' approach of promoting attrition of the illegal population through consistent, across-the-board law enforcement, something we've never tried before. This would facilitate the assimilation of legal immigrants already here, enable the immigration bureaucracy to catch its breath, encourage low-wage industries to modernize, and shrink the sea within which foreign radicals -- of all kinds -- are able to swim.
Neither George Bush nor John McCain -- nor even Ted Kennedy -- want immigrant uprisings in America's cities. But their immigration proposals would move us in that direction. We need to choose a different path.
Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies.