Frontpage interview’s guest today is Dr. Stephen Steinlight, a Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.
FP: Dr. Stephen Steinlight, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
Steinlight: Thank you, Jamie. As a regular reader who continually gains important insights from writers for FrontPageMagazine, it’s an honor to be here.
FP: Last May, 2008, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) raided the AgriProcessors meat processing plant in Postville, Iowa. Tell us what it was about exactly.
Steinlight: Until an even bigger raid last month, the raid at the AgriProcessors meat processing plant briefly held the dubious distinction of being the largest immigration workplace enforcement action in US history, with 389 arrests of illegal aliens. Like several other large-scale ICE raids, the action in Iowa uncovered grotesque exploitation of illegal workers.
FP: The significance?
Steinlight: Most significant about the Iowa raid is that it has culminated in criminal charges against the owners and managers of the plant, and not solely against their miserable helots. The Attorney General of the State of Iowa has indicted the company, its owners and managers on 9,311 counts of violating state laws against child labor as well as conspiring in hiring illegal aliens, including providing them forged Green Cards and other false documentation. Such scurrilous employers are the magnets and enablers that bring illegal labor to this country and have infinitely more moral agency than their workers. The Attorney General’s action is an all-too-rare example of justice and sound social policy.
FP: What did the raid demonstrate?
Steinlight: The raid demonstrates that massive immigration by the uneducated, unskilled and impoverished to a knowledge-based, largely post-industrial America is joined at the hip to exploitation. If one supports massive immigration – currently at the highest level in all of American history with the immigrants, legal and illegal, comprised predominantly of unskilled, uneducated and impoverished Hispanics – one must be prepared to countenance their exploitation and be complicit, knowingly or unwittingly, in permitting whole sectors of corporate America to return to the moral universe of unfettered capitalism portrayed in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle. Neither wholesale violation of the rule of law by illegal aliens nor their brutal exploitation ought to be matters that divide the Left from the Right in America.
FP: What was the lib-Left’s response to the raid? What did that response reflect?
Steinlight: Predictably, it was righteously indignant but uninformed, “post-American” in its indifference to the well being of the nation and its citizens, selective in its moral outrage, and repugnant in its attack on law enforcement. As a matter of “policy,” the lib-Left’s sole recommendation is legalizing the arrested illegal workers, part of their larger campaign for amnesty for all illegal aliens in America and passage of the legislation that would grant it as well as double legal immigration: “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Every prescription from the lib-Lefts’s open-borders camp (and let us be honest: it has many prominent conservative fellow travelers, among them John McCain, Grover Norquist and most libertarians) is a variant on the mantra about “bringing them out of the shadows.” Policy-savvy advocates recognize it’s a sham solution and mouth the slogan to pander to Hispanic voters while rewarding cronies with cheap labor. They know the poverty that causes illegal aliens to work for ruthless exploiters is the product of their lack of education, not legal status. Fully 62% of Mexicans and Central Americans who reside in the US lack a high school diploma: that’s true of only 8% of American workers.
Perhaps worst of all, the open-borders camp has also determined to make a new PR strategy of vilifying ICE agents; even some members of Congress have engaged in the morally disgusting act of equating ICE agents with the Gestapo.
FP: What did the raid say about the more muscular immigration enforcement we've been witnessing within the last year?
Steinlight: Whatever the administration’s genuine motivations, there has been far more robust internal enforcement of immigration law in the past year than in all George Bush’s presidency. This takes the form of large-scale ICE raids, amending or abandoning statutes hindering cooperation between local police and federal immigration agents in many jurisdictions, and the hundreds of ordinances designed to see the lives of illegal aliens are not regularized and promote their removal adopted by states, counties and municipalities after immigration policy effectively devolved upon them in the wake of the June 28, 2007, defeat of S.1639, the latest incarnation of “comprehensive immigration reform.”
Hard evidence confirms robust enforcement works. An important recent study by my think tank, the Center for Immigration Studies, titled “Homeward Bound: Recent Immigration Enforcement and the Decline in the Illegal Alien Population” provides a wealth of data supporting this claim. After peaking in August 2007, the illegal population has fallen from 12.5 million to 11.2 million, or 11%, through May of 2008. The decline – a product of self-deportation from an increasingly inhospitable environment – exceeds by a factor of 7 the number of illegal aliens deported by the government. While the downturn in the economy, particularly in construction, accounts for a fraction of the departures, significant self-removal began before the onset of the current recession. Over the same period, legal immigration has remained constant. It’s also worth noting that the decline began shortly after the defeat of S.1639, a bill whose victory was widely anticipated and whose progress was closely followed in the immigrant and immigrant-advocacy community. The report concludes that if the present decline were to continue, the illegal population would be cut in half within the next five years.
Such a policy of “attrition” is favored by an overwhelming majority of Americans every time it is offered as an option in public opinion surveys. The only occasions when a majority of Americans indicate support for “a path to citizenship” for illegal aliens is in push polls that offer only two alternatives: amnesty, which most Americans abhor, or wholesale deportation, which conjures images of boxcars headed for Auschwitz. But whenever a third choice is available to respondents in public opinion polls – as is the case in surveys by Rasmussen and Zogby – of incremental removal of the illegal population through strong border enforcement and vigorous internal enforcement of immigration law, between 67% -79% of respondents select it over amnesty. Though every conceivable effort has been made to exclude the American people from participating in the debate on immigration or to disinform them with regard to it, their good sense prevails.
FP: Who are the real victims of mass immigration?
Steinlight: I’m grateful you have used the phrase “victims of mass immigration” because this transformational social engineering has produced and is producing millions of victims. The mass immigration we’re experiencing by the uneducated and unskilled is having a disastrous impact on the most vulnerable of our fellow citizens: the unemployed, partially employed, the elderly still working, African American males, recent legal immigrants, young people entering the job market, and all working-class or lower-middle class Americans with no more than a high school education. These consequences are not debatable: a wealth of data from the most prestigious social science research bodies has established them as fact. Among the most significant literature is the National Research Council of the American Academy of Science’s study New Americans: Economic, Demographic and Fiscal Effects of Immigrants; the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Immigration and African-American Employment; and the Russell Sage and Ford Foundation’s Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality, among other seminal work. The mass of uneducated and unskilled immigrant workers is lowering wages and worsening working conditions for millions of Americans while creating feverish competition for the shrinking stock of low-income urban housing with resultant social conflict, most often between black and brown.
FP: The raid at AgriProcessors can be seen as an American-Jewish story, right? Expand on the significance here in terms of Jewish politics in America etc.
Steinlight: What gives the raid at AgriProcessors added frisson is the fact that this exploitative, corrupt enterprise happens to be the largest producer of kosher meat in America and thus plays an integral role in the religious lives of observant Jews – from the small percentage of Reform Jews that keep kosher to most Conservative Jews to all Orthodox and Ultra-Orthodox. The raid is thus inescapably an American-Jewish story, even in the literary sense. I’ve noted elsewhere that AgriProcessors thuggish “pious owners” could emerge straight from the pages of Michael Chabon and do excellent impersonations of the members of the Shpilman-Rudashevsky criminal consortium in the Yiddish Policeman’s Union. The raid and its aftermath will undoubtedly raise consciousness about illegal immigration among ordinary members of the American-Jewish community. In fact, leaders within the Conservative Movement have called upon rabbis to devote sermons to the subject during the coming High Holidays, at least insofar as it affects Jewish religious practice and values.
In the realm of religious practice, many in the Conservative Movement have called for an additional requirement for meat to be certified as kosher: a hechsher tzedek, a “certification of justice,” meaning the workers who produce it are treated fairly. An official consumer certification would be something new, but the concept is as old as the teaching of the Hebrew prophets who derided religiosity or shows of faithfulness to the letter of Jewish law unaccompanied by allegiance to its spirit: doing justice to one’s fellow human beings, especially to the humble and to one’s workers. There is also a significant body of rabbinical commentary and literature that has historically mocked as “unkosher” meat and such ritual foods such as matzoth produced under inhumane conditions.
But apart from widespread Jewish expressions of abhorrence regarding the exploitative conditions at AgriProcessors, what of the more comprehensive politics of the issue? What of the wholesale violation of the rule of law by illegal immigrants? What of threats to American national security and sovereignty? What about the impact of illegal and impoverished immigrants on the most vulnerable Americans? It’s difficult to predict how the ICE raid at AgriProcessors will ultimately affect the views of ordinary American Jews, but there’s good reason to believe it will provide an opening for greater and fuller consideration of all these issues, issues that are already on the radar screen of a great many ordinary American Jews.
One thing is crystal clear, however: nothing can change the Weltanschauung of the American-Jewish establishment, a body of politically correct Lib-Left agencies (exemption here for robust American military and diplomatic support for Israeli policies as well as a strong US military presence abroad) that monolithically favor open-borders immigration and offer apologias for illegal immigration even while their own institutional policy statements draw a distinction between supporting “generous legal immigration” rather than “illegal immigration.” Their hypocrisy is breathtaking.
The establishment is forever stuck in mythic nostalgia about immigration, wanting to uphold the fairy tale that there was one Great American saga of our Nation of Immigrants of which the Jews were a part, indeed a prototypical example. But just as America is more than a nation of immigrants – it was first a settler society and out of that settler society emerged our Founders and our great, enduring founding documents – Jewish immigrant experience was also sui generis, even during the Great Waves from Europe. Jews were essentially refugees, not immigrants. Like most other immigrants they were poor, but poverty was not the precipitating cause of their departure from their countries of origin. They were the only group that migrated in only one direction: no one returned to the vicious, often lethally anti-Semitic countries they left. The Jewish Establishment draws outrageously false analogies equating legal Jewish immigrants who fled religious persecution and political oppression in East/Central Europe to that of illegal economic immigrants who currently live double lives here and in their countries of origin.
The establishment also fails to note the distinction between their own forbears who whole-heartedly embraced Americanism (my father who fled the Petliura pogroms in Ukraine among them) and who learned English within a few years of arrival – to the current wave of illegal aliens and immigrants most of whom remain transnationals with divided loyalties and identities and evince little enthusiasm about joining the American polity. It is particularly striking that though Mexicans are by far the largest immigrant group, only 17% have chosen to naturalize. Nothing could be further from the attitudes of our parents and grandparents. When confronted with these false analogies, Establishment hacks inevitably fall back on Scripture and engage in “eisegesis” (reading their own policy preferences into the text), wrenching Leviticus 19:33 out of context by failing to note the clear distinction in the Biblical Hebrew between sojourners and permanent residents. It’s also worth mentioning that God has no office on Capitol Hill and doesn’t engage in partisan politics, and Leviticus is not a policy paper on immigration in America in 2008.
While the American-Jewish establishment purports to represent America’s Jews – it gets away with this trick much too often on Capitol Hill – no one elected them to do so, and we should not take them at their word. Their arrogant pretensions are becoming ever more transparent. Its principal organizations have aging, diminishing memberships. When I worked at the American Jewish Committee a standing joke among the staff was that a “young leadership group” meant any body of members not on life-support.
Many Jewish philanthropists prefer to have buildings named for them at their alma maters or donate to elite cultural institutions rather than fund Jewish organizations, and the so-called “defense agencies” seem to have no clear idea what they’re defending Jews against. Some appear more concerned about Mormon conversion of dead Jews than Jihadism. Their anachronistic agendas and secular liberalism fail to resonate with those younger American Jews who are more religious and thus more politically conservative, while their sometimes visceral tribal defensiveness turns off the more assimilated and hip.
It’s also true with regard to the issue of immigration that there’s a large divide between the “elite” and ordinary Jews, as is the case within American society at large. Immigration is indeed the “perfect policy storm,” as was famously said at the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations, one that divides the American people more profoundly from the political and financial elite than any other issue.
CIS has permitted me to make a mission of speaking to and with ordinary American Jews across the country about immigration policy, and I’ve addressed more American Jews on this subject than anyone else. I’ve spoken to thousands of American Jews at scores of synagogues, community centers, local chapters of national Jewish organizations, in retirement communities, etc. I’ve written extensively for the Jewish press. When I speak the audiences are overwhelmingly with me. They are wonderfully teachable, even in old age, prepared to let facts about changing demography, threatened sovereignty, exploding population, and dangers to the environment and our quality of life overcome long-standing ideological preconceptions and commitments.
They are also patriots, not post-Americans. They care deeply about the impact of mass immigration on the country they love. They remember keenly – if the American-Jewish Establishment’s arrogance has caused it to forget – that America is Exceptional, that it has provided them a home like no other in Jewish history. Except for Israel, there is no other country on earth where a Jew is not a more or less tolerated guest in another man’s house. With the exception of a relative handful of “Post Americans” by choice, the great majority of America’s Jews feel fully at home in the United States. They see its interests and theirs as one. It will take time and patient effort, but I am convinced they will ultimately relegate the establishment’s worldview – perhaps its fealty to a politically correct “Post American” view of immigration first – to the dustbin of history.
FP: Dr. Stephen Steinlight, thank you for joining Frontpage Interview.
Steinlight: Thank you.
Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's managing editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. He is also the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left and the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union (McGill-Queens University Press, 2002) and 15 Tips on How to be a Good Leftist. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at [email protected].