Mark Krikorian, Executive Director, Center for Immigration Studies
Victor Davis Hanson, California State University, Fresno
Joseph Perkins, San Diego Union-Tribune
Steven Camarota, Director of Research, Center for Immigration Studies
MARK KRIKORIAN: Good morning. My name is Mark Krikorian. I am executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a think tank here in Washington that examines and critiques the impact of immigration in the United States. For those of you interested, all of our work is online at cis.org, including the transcript of this panel discussion, hopefully next week.
California is in the midst of an unprecedented, tumultuous recall campaign to recall the sitting governor and select a new one. The state labors under a deficit of at least $35 billion, and as the Census Bureau recently reported, more Americans are leaving the state now than are moving in; a reversal of the image, of the myth of California. And yet the chief cause of the state’s malaise is almost completely absent from the recall election debate: immigration. Whether you’re talking about schools, healthcare, or other issues that are of consequence in California, there is very little discussion of immigration among serious candidates.
Now, we had considered inviting Gary Coleman to discuss immigration and its effect on California, but instead we found a much more qualified scholar to inject discussion of our dysfunctional immigration system into the silence over this critical issue. Victor Davis Hanson is a professor of classics at California State University, Fresno, the author of numerous books on military history, and a fifth-generation family farmer in California’s Central Valley. He observed the workings of the earlier immigration paradigm while growing up in a largely Mexican-American community where young people were inculcated into America’s history and heroes, and he’s seen that model of assimilation veer off the tracks over the past 30 years or so.
Professor Hanson’s book that he’s going to discuss today – Mexifornia – grew out of an article in City Journal last year and has – to borrow from the title of Professor Hanson’s upcoming book, Ripples of Battle – had ripples far beyond the book and the magazine article itself. Professor Hanson has brought real legitimacy to discussion of this issue. Not only is he a serious scholar of classics, his writing since 9/11 is muscular commentary, I could only describe it as, in National Review Online and The Weekly Standard and elsewhere, has made him, frankly, something of a celebrity on non-immigration-related issues, and also his empathy for immigrants that you see in the book. It’s very clear and very direct – he grew up with Mexican-Americans, went to school with them, has relatives who are Mexican-Americans, and fits actually very well with the center’s approach to this issue, which is to try to make the case for a pro-immigrant policy of lower immigration.
Before Professor Hanson starts, I’d just like to address one little issue. In The Washington Times today he hinted that he had gotten somewhat tired of the hypocrisy and the slander that pervades discussion of the immigration issue. And I sympathize. It reminds me of Fred Thompson’s remark. Senator Thompson, when he was first elected, having been an actor, and came to Washington and after a few weeks said he yearned for the honesty and sincerity of Hollywood, after having spent a few weeks in Washington. And apparently he never got used to it because he left and is now starring in “Law and Order.”
I would only say to Professor Hanson, I want you to persevere in this issue. We need more voices like his; more voices that have genuine empathy for what newcomers go through in the United States, but at the same time are not shy about addressing the real concerns and the problems that we’ve seen as a result of our broken immigration system.
After Professor Hanson talks we’ll have two respondents of sorts, or two people who will elaborate a little further on this issue. First, Joseph Perkins will speak. Joe is a syndicated columnist at the San Diego Union Tribune. His articles appear in more than 200 papers nationwide. Before that he worked on the White House staff for Vice President Dan Quayle, and before that he was an editorial writer for The Wall Street Journal, where he actually wrote many of the open borders editorials. The Wall Street Journal, as you may be familiar, has repeatedly called for the abolition of America’s borders. Joe actually contributed to some degree to that and I guess has been doing penance ever since, because he then went to Southern California and realized it wasn’t at all like what he was told it was supposed to be like and has very much changed his take on that and will tell us a little bit about that.
And then finally, Steve Camarota, the Director of Research at the Center for Immigration Studies, has become one of the top students of the impact of immigration on the United States, and is the author of a report that we did – that’s outside – on the characteristics of Mexican immigrants, and will give us some statistical context to think about the issue of Mexican immigration to the United States in general and California in particular.
VICTOR DAVIS HANSON: Thank you. I’m very happy to be here. I didn’t want to write the book, actually, as Peter Collier of Encounter [Books] called me up and said, basically, this is an 800-pound gorilla that’s in the living room that nobody wants – this issue nobody wants to touch. I think there’s some truth to this. The conservative right either believes that it’s essential to have an unassimilated and undocumented pool of workers who are very industrious, audacious, brave, wonderful people who don’t have avenues of legality and will work at a wage that’s not commensurate with U.S. citizens, and they will allege that they need to compete in a global economy, or that agricultural prices are depressed or construction costs must be kept low, and they can’t get that quality of worker at that price if these citizens were in fewer numbers – if these people were in fewer numbers or legal. And then many people on the left, although only a fringe, will talk of the Reconquista, or La Raza – I think they’re not relevant to the discussion, but most of the people on the left do, I think, believe that an unassimilated constituency will require group rather than individual representation – i.e., people like themselves.
So between those two extremes, the discussion is sort of curtailed. Nobody wants to be called a racist by the latter or a protectionist by the former. In between it’s the California suburban average citizen who likes the idea of cheap food, going to a restaurant pretty cheap, and has developed the lifestyle of the 19th century aristocrat in some ways. Whoever thought that a Californian who was middle class, perhaps with a combined income of $100,000, could have somebody from Mexico here illegally to cut his lawn, clean his home, watch his children? And then at the same time that’s happening, he’s upset that if he goes and he looks at certain statistics of poverty, incarceration, education, that some of these groups who come from Mexico are represented in proportions that are higher than their representation in the population. So there’s all of this strange political mix, and the result in California, which we’re always a therapeutic society, is simply not to talk about it.
I got interested in the issue because I’m a fifth-generation farmer and I’ve watched changes in my community. The local school that I used to go to, which was about 60 percent Mexican or Mexican-American, [featured] assimilation, no ideology of “the border crossed us, we didn’t cross the borders”; no bilingual education, Chicano history, just simple assimilation. Those products of that school are quite successful; they run our hometown now. However, just before I came I looked at the rates of schools that are meeting California achievement levels, and in that same school – it’s a mile and a half – it’s 100 percent Mexican, and 9 percent met the minimum level of reading competency, and about 7 percent in mathematics, so something radical has happened.
As an employer who used to farm full time and owns property that I rent out, I noticed another thing, that gradually – there had been a right of passage when I was growing up that everybody of all different races and nationalities – actually we were delayed school for two weeks while we went out and picked grapes or picked peaches. That has been exclusively almost always a labor pool of people who are here undocumented from Mexico, and despite the legality of Social Security numbers and I-9s on file with the employers, everybody knows that those documents are not legitimate.
As a historian, someone who writes about the history of culture, I know that it’s a fact, whether we want to admit it or not in these politically correct times, that most people migrate from non-Western countries to Western countries simply because the menu or the combination of capitalism, private property, open markets, consensual government, the chauvinism of the middle class, secularism, all of these things combine to make a dynamic society, whether it’s ancient Athens or Rome or Europe or America, and that it works very well because of all cultures in the world, the Western culture puts a greater primacy on multiracialism. That is, it can accept – the sins of mankind are always with us – racism, sexism – but in the West there is this self-critique that allows, say, a person from the United States who may be of Chinese ancestry to be a real American in a way that any of us who went to China would find it difficult to assume Chinese citizenship and be accepted.
But the key to it all in history is that the people who join this society must do it in numbers or in a fashion that allows them to be fully integrated and assimilated. Helots in Sparta didn’t work. Metics in Athens didn’t work. Resident aliens in Rome didn’t work, but people in the Empire who were given citizenship did work, and when they were assimilated with Italian culture, it worked.
And finally, in addition, I’m a professor and most of my students are Mexican-American – are actually illegal aliens. I just had a student who was an illegal alien who is now at Princeton’s graduate school in history, and I realized that if we could reach people in numbers that gave us a chance to give them full attention to master the English language, do things like learn Latin, German, understand the history rather than put them in the social sciences en masse, then the same patterns of assimilation were no different at all. And yet when I look at the California State University system where I teach, 63 percent of all Hispanic students of any legal status – illegal or not – are failing the entry requirement to take college courses. So the whole first year is spent in remedial classes – 63 percent. And these are the cream of the crop because these are people who go on to university.
One way I wanted to write the book, then, is to say, how did this system perpetuate and will it continue and who benefits and who loses? So I looked at each different group. Ostensibly, a person who comes from Mexico and makes $10 an hour in cash feels that he’s reached a bonanza compared to $10 a week, let’s say, in Oaxaca, and it looks great. But I’ve noticed a tragic life cycle: that we and the Mexican government almost traffic in human capital. While it looks good in the beginning, somebody typically – and again, I’m generalizing, but I’ve seen empirically, over my lifetime – people will come from Mexico at 18, 20, usually single males predominantly, they’ll work very, very hard, they’ll be delighted that they’ve had more money in their life, they can send money back and become almost heroic in their village for doing so. But if you follow that work in concrete, hotels, restaurants, landscaping, agriculture, that’s not a rite-of-passage job for people who are here illegally and who don’t know English. It becomes a permanent position, and human nature being what it is, your body cannot withstand that type of work.
So ultimately, at the age of 40 or 50, that dream has sometimes turned into a nightmare because a person may have a bad back, a bad shoulder, and then the employer who either paid cash or low wages or didn’t have a health plan says, well, go to the neighborhood clinic, workman’s comp, Section 8 housing, and the entitlement industry then picks up that added cost. Meanwhile, the children of that immigrant, whose father or mother may not know English and may not be documented, then develops a very different idea. Often he has not, or she has not, been to Mexico. She doesn’t speak Spanish in the same fluency as her parents did, doesn’t read Spanish necessarily, doesn’t know English to the same degree that people that he or she will have to compete with, and has a very different view of America. Often rates of incarceration or gang activity are higher commensurately with the population. But more importantly is the reaction to the employer, and they will tell you, don’t bring anybody onto the cement crew who speaks English because the second generation will not work like the people from Oaxaca. This is the standard – and so then we just renew the cycle and traffic in human capital.
I also looked at it from the view of the Mexican government. We don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of people cross the border without legal documentation, but it does seem to me that there is a policy in Mexico that some of the critical problems that challenge the Mexican government – the inability to house, feed and clothe millions of people and the need to open up the economy, to reinforce property rights, to guarantee investment, to root out corruption, to have a transparent society, to formalize a truly democratic society – haven’t evolved yet. And one of the symptoms of that is that a very, very wealthy country with rich minerals, oils, weather, tourism, and agriculture depends on sending a lot of people northward; not southward to Brazil or Argentina, but they vote with their feet to come to California or to Arizona or Texas. That seems to me to prolong the ability to face real reform as long as you have a safety valve.
And then you have a strange psychological transformation. Whereas the Mexican consul in Fresno will be very upset if an undocumented worker, as he should be or she should be, is roughed up in the Tulare County jail, but that same attention doesn’t always extend to people when they’re in Mexico, in Chiapas, for example. So we have this schizophrenia.
If we look at another group besides the employer, besides the Mexican government, we look at agribusiness or industry in California, they will tell you that they can’t compete globally when agriculture prices are depressed over a 20-year period unless they pay cheap wages: $8 to $10, often in cash. The problem with that is that it also has ramifications – we have statewide a 7 to 9 percent unemployment rate – in Fresno County we have up to 15 percent. And it’s almost the more you talk to employers – and I am a former employer – you almost get the ideology that somewhere around 1970 the free market simply ceased to work; the old idea was that if you raised wages you would attract workers. So they will say, teenagers won’t work, people at the mall won’t work, kids won’t work anymore, but at some golden opportunity, at $11 perhaps, $12, you can draw that workforce back into agriculture or construction if you’re willing to pay enough.
And it seems to me not just a business or an economic question, but a morality question when you go to towns in Central California or you go to Central Los Angeles and you see people who are Mexican-American citizens, or you see people who are African-American or poor white, or whatever group you’re talking about, it’s almost as if the society has cast them off and said, you’re not part of this society; we don’t have a job for you, even though the unemployment rate is over 10 percent, but we do have a job for people who are more industrious who are here illegally. And that seems to be an indictment of our entire society, once we accept that.
If you look at the situation from the question of the law, one of the hallmarks of Western culture has been this respect and supremacy of legality. It starts with Plato’s “Crito,” and says, “Socrates, you may not like the laws but you’re a member of a consensual society and you have to respect them and obey them, and they convicted you so you have to pay the penalty.” It’s a fundamental Western tenet, but what we’re doing in response to this, because both the left and the right politically have vested interests, we’re creating an alternate legal universe that we’ve never done before in the United States, and this is new ground. For example, our legislature has passed a bill giving drivers licenses to people who are here illegally, undocumented, whatever term we want to use. There’s a great euphemism in terms we use. If you say “illegal alien,” people get very angry now in California because they say it’s not right – they’re not aliens and they’re not illegal; they’re workers and they happen to be undocumented. But nevertheless, if you look at the driver’s license – and the governor probably, in extremis, in this political climate, will sign that – suddenly you raise a whole host of problems that we’re just now learning about. People from Argentina, people from Nicaragua, are they allowed to get driver’s licenses?
I had a friend who’s running my farm– from India. Will his relatives get to have drivers license that are here on Green Cards? Will the mother who goes into the DMV and rifles through her purse trying to find this strange thing that we’re all supposed to have but never really do carry with us, a birth certificate, will citizens have to have birth certificates to prove that they’re 15 and people who are not only not citizens but here illegally, will they not have to have that documentation?
And this whole illegal universe ripples in very strange places. For example, when I'm teaching a class in the humanities, a student will come to me, often Mexican, of Mexican heritage, who’s a citizen, or a person from any heritage, from Nevada, Arizona, and say, why do I have to pay $5,000 for tuition when somebody who’s here illegally from California pays two thousand? And I usually use the standard argument, well, perhaps their parents – well, no, no, he’s only been here five years, or he doesn’t pay California State income tax. And often they’ll say, well, should I go down to Mexico and come in illegally and then perhaps I’ll get a discount?
Now, these seem absurd, but they point out the dangers when you go down that path of tampering with the primacy of the law. I’ll give you one final example.
We have – contrary to popular belief – we have a great multiracial society that has a lot of things that make it work. Intermarriage is one, popular culture. Any society that’s been able to have as popular icons the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, Jennifer Lopez shows you that race is becoming increasingly insignificant, but what we have in California are numbers of groups – Koreans, Punjabis, Chinese, Filipinos – who are desperately wanting to come to California, and what we’re sending the message is, if you do it legally – and most do – you can wait up to five years and we will punish you. If you come illegally from Mexico – and essentially we don’t use that word – we will reward you. And so we bring up these strange ideas of amnesty. Well, we’ve already done amnesty once, and the idea is amnesty without conditions – I think all Californians would accept amnesty as long as it comes with the idea that we’re going to change the system. Otherwise it’s just rolling amnesty, perpetual amnesty.
Finally, what should we do? Well, I think most people support immigration, so we want immigration. It always enriches the culture. But we want it, I think in California, under legal auspices and in numbers as it was before 1975, where we can use the traditional powers of American assimilation – again, popular culture, educational system, intermarriage – to turn Mexican people who do want to become Americans – and that’s why they’re here or they wouldn’t have come here, as I said, they would have gone to Central America – and turn them into Americans. And that would require, I think, legal legality-measured immigration, and this big question that nobody wants to address: some attention paid to the borders, because you can’t have two systems where you say, we’re going to let people come in at 250,000, 300,000 per year under legal auspices and then not do something to the border.
Will things get better or worse? I think probably worse, and we’re seeing it in California with apartheid societies. Where I live there are towns such as Orange Cove, Mendota, Parlier, that are 100 percent either composed of people of first generation from Mexico, or illegal aliens, or second generation, where its third- and fourth-generation Mexican citizens have left, where basic services don’t work at the level of surrounding communities, and they’re almost test tube cases of what not to do when you reject American integration and diversity and you allow apartheid societies of people who basically serve more affluent people and are in a shadow community without legality.
So I would predict, for what it’s worth, that this campaign – this issue eventually, whether we like it or not, is going to be raised and it’s going to be demagogued in a way that’s going to be quite infamous.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Professor. Now Joe Perkins and then Steve. Joe?
JOSEPH PERKINS: Thank you, Mark. Mark mentioned earlier that I began my career at The Wall Street Journal on the editorial page, and the page was, when I started, and continues to this day, to be a strong advocate for what could be described as a de facto open borders policy. And as Mark mentioned, I wrote more than a few editorials, essentially advancing the same position. And this changed for me. It changed for me when I moved to California, to San Diego, which shares a border with Tijuana. San Diego also boasts the world’s busiest land crossing at San Isidro.
So the point is that immigration and open borders was a theoretical concept for me, writing from our lovely offices in New York, far from the maddening crowd, but it came home when I actually moved to San Diego, California, and saw, day by day, the consequences of our essentially unchecked immigration from Mexico into California.
Now, Professor Hanson attributes The Journal’s advocacy of open borders, I think, to its fealty with the corporate right, and there’s something to be said for that; there is some truth to that. It’s one of the ironies of this whole immigration debate that there are as many staunch advocates of open border policy on the right as there are on the left, but for entirely different reasons. But The Journal’s advocacy, and I think the advocacy of many people in this country for this de facto open borders policy, I think, is attributable to a real simple explanation, and that is that most of the folks have not actually seen the consequences of that policy. They have not actually visited the border region more than, say, the occasional trip to see what the consequences are. Otherwise, if they had, I think that they might be a little bit more circumspect in terms of their views.
The fact is that California, the nation’s most populous state, has been transformed by immigration, particularly illegal immigration. I would venture to say that if my friends in New York, who continue to advocate open borders, were to have 100,000, say, Chinese immigrants sail into New York Harbor year by year and suddenly becoming part of New York State’s population, and of course most of them would probably end up in New York City, that they might feel differently. The same with my friends in Washington, D.C. When I lived and worked here at the White House in the former Bush administration on former Vice President Dan Quayle’s staff, I had a similar position that I had at The Wall Street Journal, that immigration, legal immigration, was a good thing, and even illegal immigration ought to be winked at; that we ought to figure out a way to regularize those who come into our country illegally. But I would venture to say that if, say, 10,000 – not 100,000, but if 10,000, say – Haitian refugees were somehow to end up at the border of Washington, D.C., that lawmakers here in this city might feel a little bit different.
And this is the way that people feel in California. You know, California has been very much in the news this year, particularly this summer with our upcoming recall election, and many of the maladies that afflict the state have been laid at the feet of the governor, Gray Davis, and some of them he is responsible for but many others are just the consequences of an immigration system that’s out of whack; in other words, the budget deficit that California is straining under, the fact that there are six to seven million individuals lacking health insurance in this state, prison overcrowding that is near the worst in the country, not to mention the failing public school systems where our fourth graders, eight graders, and the high school graduates are under-performing compared to the rest of the country. All this has to do with essentially trying to bring hundreds of thousands of new entrants into the system and not being able to absorb them all.
And what makes the problem even worse is that many of the new entrants really haven’t the same desire as previous immigrant populations to assimilate and to assimilate American culture. There is something that – the professor refers to it as a separatist kind of ideology that I think is advanced mainly by the multiculturalist left, as he described them, that suggests that, well, there is really no difference between cultures, that Western culture is not superior to any other, and that unspoken weight encourages that separatism: maintain your roots, remember your previous culture, do not subordinate that culture to Western culture, do not Americanize, essentially.
So what happens is that kids get into school and they segregate themselves. I mean, it’s a phenomenon that we’ve noticed with other ethnicities, other nationalities, but not nearly to the extent that it occurs in the Mexican population in California today. And, you know, even saying that can raise, I think, accusations of xenophobia or even racism. But it’s not. It’s just a fact of life that California has become almost, in the words of Kerner, “two societies…separate and unequal,” in many respects because the fact of the matter is, I think, because far too many recent Mexican immigrants to California are ambivalent at best and hostile at worst to assimilating, fully assimilating to American culture. It has the consequence of creating, I think, a permanent underclass.
As the professor mentioned, previous waves of Mexican immigration to California included – I think most of those who arrived were industrious, hardworking, and that is kind of the image that is put forth about immigrants, like previous waves of immigration to our country. But it’s a little bit different now; the ethic is a little bit different. Yes, there is some hard work, et cetera, but now there’s also a sense of entitlement, and what does that entitlement include? Well, that entitlement means that no matter how you arrived in this country, whether it’s legal or illegal, you should have a right to public charity, essentially; you should have not only free education for your children, but you should have access to social services, paid for by the taxpayers of California; you should have access to healthcare, if not paid for by the taxpayers, then by businesses in the state. And one could say, well, they are, as the professor mentioned, landscaping your homes, they are doing your laundry in hotels, they are an integral part of the economy, and therefore one ought to do that; we ought to be more than willing to provide these kinds of benefits. But I think that what it does, if anything, is foment a sense of resentment and hostility by the native population that doesn’t work to the advantage or in the interests of recent arrivals from Mexico.
I might also say that I really believe that it is a disservice and really, frankly, an insult to immigrants in California, not just Mexicans but other immigrant populations, including those who hail from Asia, from other nations, and Latin America, who’ve done things the right way, who have queued up on line to immigrate to this country, who had waited years in some cases to be granted citizenship, when 100,000 or more every year can just essentially steal across the border and jump to the front of the line. They see that we have a governor, we have a legislature that says, let’s bestow drivers licenses upon those who are undocumented, let’s grant them in-state tuition, let’s guarantee them health coverage regardless, and it is a mockery to those who’ve done it the right way. As a matter of fact, the greatest resentment that I’ve seen of this comes from immigrants.
And you know, here’s another mythology about it. There are some who suggest that, well, all those who oppose granting amnesty or regularizing those who come to this country illegally are somehow, again, racists or xenophobic. But it’s interesting that the generation that the professor alluded to, those who did come here from Mexico years and years ago, two decades, three decades ago, have a different perspective than the recent arrivals. They too believe, like the rest of Californians, that we ought to make a clear distinction; we ought to clearly delineate differences between legal immigration and illegal immigration. If you come to the country legally, then we are willing to confer upon you certain benefits, but if you come illegally, then you have no right, no entitlement to benefits. That’s why for all you’ve read about the supposedly anti-immigration ballot initiative that the voters of California passed back in 1994, not only did a majority of whites endorse that initiative, but many non-whites as well, including one-third of California’s Latino population. It’s the same thing with the English-only or the English immersion initiative that passed the ballot some years ago.
So, the point is that even the Hispanic population of California recognizes that there is a real problem with unchecked illegal immigration. And the professor is half optimistic about the future when he says, well, he doesn’t believe that it is a definite that California will become essentially a de facto colony of Mexico. Unfortunately, I think things are trending the other way. I really believe that what we’re going to see, if our policies from Washington and from the state capital of California, Sacramento, don’t change in the next five years, 10 years, that we’re going to see the kind of Balkanization, the kind of apartheid, as the professor describes it, in California that we have seen in other troubled parts of the world. It will be a new phenomenon here in America, and it’s something that troubles me profoundly.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Joe. Steve Camarota.
Those of us who can’t write as well as the other two panelists – and that’s myself – tend to then gravitate elsewhere, towards mathematics or numbers. And so my presentation will be a little bit different; not as eloquent, but hopefully will provide a somewhat different perspective than Mr. Hanson’s and Mr. Perkins as well.
You can turn on the overhead.
Let me talk about what I – the first thing that I like so much about this book is that it understands an important fact: that immigrants are not things, they are not simply factors in production. You hear talk about a guest-worker program, for example, as if people are just something you can bring in and throw out when you don’t need them, as if they were a cheap plastic part from China. There is this confusion of immigration and trade as being roughly similar, and there are similarities. If a person in another country makes something and then we bring that product – a TV set, a car – to the United States, we are, in effect, importing the fruits of that person’s labor. And in a similar fashion, instead of importing the fruits of their labor, we can actually import that labor if the person comes. But this similarity leads to a misperception that somehow the two are roughly equivalent. They are not.
Immigration has enormous implications outside the field of economics, for example, in terms of population size. It has impacts on public schools and public coffers. It impacts politics and culture. These things may be costs and benefits, but the point is it makes them fundamentally different than trade. And we need to understand that, and what I think Professor Hanson has done in his book “Mexifornia” is help us understand just how different immigration is from trade, even though there are some theoretical similarities.
Let me start off by looking very briefly at California’s immigrant population. In figure one – put figure 1 up there – what we see here is the size of California’s immigrant population. These things are in your handout, which will be distributed now.
Anyway, what we see here is just an enormous growth in the Mexican immigrant population – these are only foreign-born persons from Mexico – from around 400,000 in 1970 to over 4 million, based on the 2002 March current population survey collected by the Census Bureau. In that time, we have seen, if you will, a Mexicanization of California’s immigrant population. In 1970, only about 24 percent of California’s immigrants were from Mexico; today it’s 45, 46 percent, close to half – so a very significant increase. Nationally the Mexican immigrant population has gone from about 800,000 in 1970 to about 10 million today – so well over a 10-fold increase over the last 30 years, really dramatic growth.
One of the things I also like about Professor Hanson’s book is he emphasizes the illegal nature of Mexican immigration, which makes it somewhat unique. Of the roughly 10 million Mexican immigrants or foreign-born people from Mexico in the United States, INS has estimated that about 5 million of them are here illegally, about an additional 2 million are beneficiaries of the amnesty that we had back in 1986, so they were formerly illegal. So that’s at least seven (million) of the 10 million are illegal, and probably one (million) to two million additional of the 10 million are people who were illegal but were allowed to adjust status in the United States; that is, get a Green Card and now become permanent residents. So of that 10 million, it might be 90 percent are people who are either here currently illegally or former illegal aliens, and in California the story would be similar.
Now, one of the most important stories about Mexican immigration in the United States you’ll see in figure 2. This shows the educational attainment of Mexican immigrants in the United States, what education levels they have. And the important point, the thing that stands out so much from figure 2 is that about two-thirds of the Mexican-born population in the United States lacks even a high school education. That has enormous implications because there is no single-better predictor of how you will do in the modern American economy than your education levels. So what this tells us is that a very large share of Mexican immigrants will have a great deal of difficulty competing in the United States, regardless of legal status, regardless of their language skills. The American economy offers very few opportunities for people with this kind of skill profile. Only 4 percent of Mexican immigrants in the United States have a college degree or more. The corresponding figure for natives is over 30 percent. Roughly a third of natives have a college degree or more.
Now, when we look at the impact on California’s economy – figure 3 – one way to think about that is, what kind of labor is Mexican immigration giving us? What we see from figure 3 is a very dramatic increase in the supply of people who have less than a high school education. The way this figure reads is 56 percent of all persons in California who work and have less than a high school degree – these are adults – were born in Mexico. That means that any impact on the Californian economy, or the national economy for that matter, will be by increasing the supply of unskilled labor, increasing the supply of high school dropouts.
Now, what’s interesting about this is that although the numbers are big for Mexico and very big at the bottom in the labor market, the impact on the U.S. economy is actually very small, and here’s why: unskilled workers only account for a tiny fraction of total economic output. If you take what high school dropouts account for in the United States and add it all up, it’s about 3.7 percent of total economic output. Thus, even if Mexican immigration gives us cheap labor, it’s giving us cheap labor affecting a tiny share of the labor market.
Now, nationally, in the 1990s, Mexican immigration increased the supply of high school dropouts by about 15 percent. So if that 15 percent were to lower wages for high school dropouts, for construction workers, nannies, people who do agricultural work, by 5 or 10 percent, the impact on prices in the United States must be miniscule, because mathematically, if you reduce something that only accounts for 4 percent by 5 percent, you’re still only at one-, two-, three-tenths of 1 percent. It can’t come out any other way.
So the idea that Mexican immigration is vital to the U.S. economy is simply false. It cannot be so, given the kind of labor it provides. And the reason is simple: we don’t pay unskilled workers very much to begin with, so increasing the supply of them doesn’t give us a big economic boost. It can’t. It’s just doesn’t. And this kind of modeling is – you know, the National Academy of Sciences has done this and it all pretty much comes out the same. The impact of Mexican immigration on the United States is very tiny, though it may mean a lot for some employers and it’s understandable that they would want to hold onto it.
Now, of course, as Professor Hanson constantly emphasizes, Mexican immigrants are not just things; they’re not just factors in production. If we go on to figure 4, what we see is use of some major welfare programs in California by households headed by Mexican immigrants. About half the households are probably headed by people in the country illegally, and yet what we see – and this is from the March 2002 Current Population Survey, so this is well after welfare reform – we find in just every program that we look at, people from Mexico make much more extensive use of public services in California. In some cases the differences are dramatic. Food stamp use among Mexican households is about four times what it is among native households. Medicaid use is of course dramatic. And why Medicaid is so important and why Mexican immigration is almost certainly – and immigration generally has played a big role in California’s budget crisis – is that Medicaid is paid for – a large share of it – roughly a third to a quarter in most states – by the local, by the state government. And so, use of Medicaid by immigrants is a very significant issue for the state government because it’s a very large share of their expenditures.
Now, of course, immigrants and Mexican immigrants do pay taxes. Illegal aliens sometimes pay taxes; sometimes they work on the books, sometimes – and they pay taxes through sales tax, or if they own a home or if they rent, they might pay, directly or indirectly, real estate tax. Let me just look at some straight calculations here in figure 5. This shows the average tax liability – now, whether people actually pay all this – (chuckles) – you have to decide – for federal and state income tax in California for natives versus Mexican immigrant families or households. And what we see is that the average California household has a state income tax liability – that is, if they paid everything they should – of $5,600. But unfortunately, for Mexican immigrants, it’s only about $1,500; so roughly a quarter or less.
Well, a very big difference between the – what Mexican immigrants are supposed to pay and what natives are supposed to pay. This fact, coupled with the very high use of public services, means that there is a very high cost to cheap labor. It must create a very large deficit, and the reason it does, again, is that Mexican immigrants are overwhelmingly unskilled. Unskilled people don’t make much money. They are eligible for a whole host of services, and yet they don’t pay much in taxes. That’s the way our system is supposed to work. The problem is, if you – if you will, if you transfer the rural poverty of Mexico to the United States, it has enormous implications for fiscal coffers.
Let me give you another example where it has a big impact. About 13 percent or so of California’s population is comprised of people born in Mexico, but 25 percent of the kids in public school – at least, probably more like 30 percent – are the children of Mexican immigrants. A very large increase in school enrollment is what Mexican immigration does to California, but the problem is, it doesn’t create a corresponding increase in the local tax base.
Let’s just move on very briefly to table six. This figure just shows how longtime residents from Mexico do in the United States versus all Mexican immigrants. And one of the things that Professor Hanson makes the point is that people from Mexico who have lived in these United States for many years – and in this chart, what you see is people who have been here for more than 20 years, and that is the light-colored column – don’t close the gap with natives; they don’t do that well. Their welfare use rates, their lack of health insurance, the share living in or near poverty is dramatically higher in California. So that – what we would hope is, although immigrants come poor, they do better over time. What we see here, in that last column, is 54 percent of Mexican immigrants still live in or near poverty; more than double the rate of natives, even though these are people who have been here for more than 20 years. Welfare use, health insurance, same thing, and if we would have looked at a host of measures – home ownership – Mexican immigrants do not close the gap with natives. And of course, if we remember, with two-thirds of Mexican immigrants in the United States arriving without a high school education, how could it be otherwise? There is just no way.
And finally, this last figure, figure 7, shows things generationally. Professor Hanson’s book talks about generationally, and I think there are reasons for concern, and he suggests some. Let me just look at some data very quickly. It’s a complicated table. The first bar, where it says 9 percent, is for natives. This is national. Everything else we have been looking at is California. I did not have a chance to recreate this for just California. But this looks at things nationally for Mexican immigrants, and what we see is 65 percent of Mexican immigrants, again, lack a high school education. In the second generation, it’s 25 percent: much better. That is clear progress, but it doesn’t come close to natives, 9 percent who lack a high school education, and in the third generation – that’s the dark column – high school drop rates are just as high as they are in the second generation.
Now, college graduation rates look a little better through the generations. Again, the 29 percent is for natives, the other three columns are for first generation, second generation, and third generation. There you see again, very big differences between American natives and all other third generation Mexican – people of Mexican ancestry. Welfare use: no progress over time. Third generation Mexican-Americans use welfare at exactly the same rates as immigrants, and the share in or near poverty – we actually see not only no progress by the third generation, but things actually slip back. So this table, although complicated, suggests a very difficult course. Let me suggest one reason why that is.
The single best predictor in the United States of whether you will go to college or how far in school you will go is how far your parents went. When you have a situation in which such a large share of Mexican immigrants come with such little education, it is likely to take generation after generation to close that gap, and what we see here in figure 7 is precisely that.
With that, I will leave it to Mark.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve. We have some time. We have left a good deal of time for questions. So please identify yourself as well as your affiliation, and keep the questions short, and make sure there is a question mark at the end of it, and, you know, make clear who it is the question is addressed to. Can you identify yourself and your affiliation?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Oh, well, just for the general numbers, it’s just census data. They ask everyone your citizenship status; you know, where you were born, what country you were born in, and what year you arrived, and then they go on in Current Population Survey and there are some other surveys. The government does very large surveys, over 200,000 people. Then they go and they ask people, you know, do you use welfare, how much education you have. The Census Bureau has a budget of something like $7 billion, and that’s what they do with it: they go out and they just constantly conduct a whole series of surveys. This is, for example, where we get our unemployment data from. You want to know what the unemployment rate in the United States, it comes from the same data.
Is the data perfect? No. In general, though, what we think is that it understates welfare use, but probably for natives as well because people are a little reluctant to say that they are on welfare. But, in general, in most cases, when we try to match it up with administrative data – because we know, say, for example, how many people are on Medicaid, roughly speaking. We keep track of that and then we match it up with the surveys. It comes out okay; it’s not exact, but it’s very close. So that’s how we can do that. Is there some number of Mexican illegals who are missed in this data? Yes, there probably are.
Now, this data was everyone, including legals and illegals, because I and others – the Census Bureau, the former INS, and others do try to pick out the illegal aliens based on certain characteristics like educational attainment, year of arrival, citizenship status, but I didn’t do that here. I just gave you the straight numbers. If I pull the illegal aliens out and just look at the legal immigrants, the welfare stuff looks much worse because the illegals sign their kids up for Medicaid, but they don’t use as much in the other services. On the other hand, they pay much less in taxes, not only because they work under the table, but they’re also much poorer, and the way the system works is if you don’t make much money, you don’t pay much in taxes.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes, Bill?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
PROFESSOR HANSON: Well, the problem is that we have done almost everything. The current – the past reform acts – when I grew up, we had sort of a brutal system. First of all, we had the braceros system, and I remember – everybody says now, let’s bring back the guest worker program, but what I remember as a child was this heart-wrenching scene of these very hardworking people who came from Mexico, were put in sort of isolated compounds, worked very hard. There were always stories that their deductions were being confiscated by the Mexican government; we were worried about that. But then they didn’t – most of them did not want to leave: they saw the medical care, the standard of living in America. And then we would sort of forcibly repatriate them, and so it was a reform from that movement that led to the next stage of my early adolescence, where we had these immigration vans that went everywhere. And they would just pull people off the street, put them in the van, took them to Fresno, they were on a bus or a plane, and they were back in Mexico. And it was an effective since – because it inculcated fear; "la migra" (ph) is everywhere.
So then we said, we’re not going to do that anymore; that’s also a relic of our barbaric past. So we’re going to put the onus on the employer. We will just have a centralized employer databank, where each employer will have to keep I-9s, Social Security, and then we can audit temporarily or at – sporadically, whatever term these employers. Well, the fact quickly became that every employer had I-9s and Social Security numbers, and most of them were fraudulent. And then the employers said, well, I have all my documentation – (chuckles) – but I’m not an FBI agent, so I’m not responsible.
So we go to the next – and ultimately, I think the only answer, to be quite frank, is to apply the same standards we do to other immigrants, with the qualifier that, because we have a 2,000-mile border with Mexico, that requires some border enforcement. Not some – that’s a euphemism – a lot, because you can’t make a two-tier system where you say we’re going to let in 250, 300,000 legal immigrants as we did in the past, and let the powers of American assimilation work, but then we’re not going to enforce the border, or we will have two systems working at once.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Yes – (inaudible)?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. HANSON: I will just say, first of all, that I think that – I may be under a misapprehension, but I think these figures that he used are for the United States as a whole.
MR. CAMAROTA: The last one.
MR. HANSON: Yeah, the last one.
MR. CAMAROTA: The – just last one. Mm-hmm.
MR. HANSON: The rest are for just –
MR. CAMAROTA: -- California, mm-hmm.
MR. HANSON: Was the last one about the contribution to GNP for the United States – (cross talk, inaudible)?
MR. CAMAROTA: Oh, that was, I think -- in terms of figure 3, I was just looking at the supply of labor. Actually, in this report, Immigration from Mexico, I try to estimate the impact on the GDP of the United States.
MR. HANSON: Yeah. I think that’s the key issue that, while you could say that, because of low wages, that 3.7 contribution to GNP is not impressive. But in a localized place like California or Arizona, I would think that, if we had a contribution on GNP in that economy, it might be as high as eight to 10 percent; and in some areas, such as agriculture, it’s probably 50 percent. So I think the problem is, we look at the United States as a whole, perhaps the problem can be looked at one way. But if you look at areas where you have these high concentrations of people here from Mexico, then they – then economically, even though they make low wages, that their contribution is much more important. And again, this data I don’t think includes money that’s off the books, but my experience is that, every time that I talk to people in concrete/roofing, a larger percentage of employers’ compensation to workers is in cash, and it’s never reported.
So I have a – my gut reaction is, in places like California, the economic impact is much higher. And you make a good point: if it wasn’t, then people either wouldn’t come and employers wouldn’t think it would be relevant.
MR. CAMAROTA: On the other hand, I guess you could – I mean, here’s the thing, it is – Professor Hanson is exactly right: it’s obviously bigger in California than it is in Michigan or Pennsylvania, where immigrant – or Mexican immigrant, here we’re talking about Mexican immigrant labor – is very small. But we do know – I mean, as I say, the government spends billions collecting surveys to try to figure out roughly what people earn and economists – whole forests have been sacrificed to books on what are the various inputs of the U.S. economy, capital versus labor, skilled labor versus unskilled labor, and it’s a pretty close consensus that unskilled labor only accounts for a tiny fraction of total economic output.
Let me give you an example. Even in the price of produce, apparently – I’m not an agricultural economist, but apparently the price of produce is determined by the price of land, fertilizer, water, transportation, and packaging, and what people make who pick it in the field or off the tree is a tiny fraction of total cost of when you see it in the bag on – in the produce counter. So even if wages rose a lot for people who picked produce, it wouldn’t have a big effect on the price of the head of lettuce. Phil Martin, an economist at UC Davis and one of the nation’s leading agricultural economists, suggests that, even if wages were to double for people who picked lettuce, it could only have an impact of pennies – one, two cents – on the price of a head of lettuce.
Even more important than that, I would point out that there is also the substitution of capital: there are machines that do it. Australia has a vibrant agricultural sector, but for raisin farming, they use dried-on-the-vine agriculture rather than getting a bunch of illegal aliens in the field to pick the grapes that are – (unintelligible) – raisins at a particular time. And they avoid the huge fiscal costs of bringing in unskilled workers and their workers make more. And there are lots of substitutions in construction; there’s prefabricated materials and so forth. In landscaping, you could just buy a little backhoe instead of five guys with shovels. So the impact on prices in the long run would probably be very, very small, but even in the short run, it has still got to be very modest because it doesn’t count for much in terms of economic output, assuming all the government statistics are right.
MR. PERKINS: I would like to add something to that. You know, I think one of the biggest arguments for countenancing illegal immigration from Mexico is that it has – it’s a great advantage to California employers, that it is the engine that drives the California economy. I disagree. As a matter of fact, I don’t think that California will quietly perish without illegal immigration labor; I just don’t. And even if it did cost more for produce, for other food products in the state, I think most Californians have gotten to the point where they are willing to pay an additional premium. And I think the reason is is that we have reached the tipping point in California, where the costs of illegal immigration exceed the benefits, and it’s tangible if you visit, say, the downtown jail in San Diego; if you go to one of the local schools that is underperforming, where a disproportionate number of the kids are offspring of illegal immigrants.
Having said that, let me – let me be sure to say that this is not an argument against Mexicans, Mexican immigrants, and especially not Mexican-Americans, but the reality is that California has done a bad job of absorbing as many immigrants as it has in the past 10 years, 20 years, particularly those that hail from south of the border, who are less well educated, who are impoverished. And the point is that, if I could make – wave a magic wand to make things better, there would be a moratorium on immigration of any kind for the next five years, and there would be no illegal immigration until we have had time to deal with the illegal immigration and immigrant population that we already have in California. But to suggest that is something that is lesion in the state of California, but it’s precisely what needs to happen.
Immigration is a good thing when it’s regulated, when there are reasonable numbers that are brought in at a given time. But what we have now is completely de-controlled, unchecked immigration to the nation’s most populous state, and that’s why it finds itself in the calamitous condition it’s in now.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Another question? Yes, sir?
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, obviously, there is a lot of different opinion in the United States. My research, and I think Professor Hanson’s book makes clear on a different front, that the United States would be probably better served by a whole lot less immigration from Mexico. Unskilled immigration is very problematic, and Mexican immigration has some unique features, which he discussed. So I would argue that’s America’s national interest. But Mexico has a different national interest, particularly its elite, which does seem to have, as Professor Hanson forthrightly points out, a strong incentive to send people north as an escape valve, to forestall meaningful reform, and to – transformation of Mexican society to be more transparent and democratic; it gets rid of the malcontents, if you will.
So Mexican elite, in particular, has a different set of incentives, and then the United States is deeply divided on the issue. Elite opinion in the United States – the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations has done a lot of interesting work on this – shows that, when you ask business leaders, church leaders, and union groups, and leaders of both political parties, they tend to feel that illegal immigration isn’t really a problem. In one poll they did, only 22 percent of the elite in the United States thought it was a problem. But when you ask the American people whether it’s a problem, you usually get – three-fourths say it’s a very serious problem, we don’t want illegal immigration. And so, that makes it very hard. Our interest may be one way, but our country is divided politically.
What really is I think more likely to happen is someone’s going to come along and tap into that public discontent in the United States that people aren’t talking about: a politician. And I think – so that makes it difficult, but -- it’s hard to say, but my guess is, right now it’s off the table because of 9/11, some of the people involved in 9/11 were here illegally, we have actually granted amnesty to terrorists in the past. So I think that it’s politically unlikely, especially given deep public dissatisfaction with the idea of illegal immigration.
MR. PERKINS: Can I add something to that? Then I will let Professor Hanson speak to it. Professor Hanson notes in his book that California has 40 percent of the nation’s new immigrants; it’s the destination of choice. And, while many are Mexican, many are non-Mexican, and really there is a feeling, among the non-Mexican immigrant population in the state of California at least, that it is unfair to have that two-tier society that the professor mentioned. Those that came to America, who filled out the paperwork, who agreed that they would not become public charges, who were sponsored by families who said that they would take care of them, wonder: how can you talk about granting amnesty to people who came illegally and we can’t even get a driver’s license? We’re not eligible to pay in-state tuition. We aren’t being offered the variety of benefits you are offering to those who did not come legally.
Moreover, I might also mention, back when I was at the Journal, I was among those who favored granting amnesty to those who were here illegally. We thought that this would be the way to improve the system. Had we known then what we know now – that, as the professor mentioned in his book, that those who were here in 1982, that by 1997, only 20 percent would actually take the time and trouble to become U.S. citizens – what it says it that 80 percent have not assimilated. And so, if we knew that if we bestowed amnesty on the who knows how many millions that was being floated out there before September 11, 2001, that we would see a real reform in our immigration policies -- and not just the immigration policies here in the United States, but also in Mexico City, that they would do something to check the flight of immigrants across the border – then maybe that might be something we should talk about. But we haven’t seen anything in the past that would suggest that granting amnesty would do anything more than encourage further illegal immigration down the road.
MR. HANSON: States act in their self-interest, and it would have to be proven that it would not be in the self-interest of Mexico to allow hundreds of thousands of its citizens to come to the United States. But it was pointed out, and I mention in the book, that it provides a classic safety valve of avoiding social and domestic reform. Number two, there’s over $10 billion, we estimate, that are sent back in monies from illegal aliens that help the Mexican economy. And then there is this more insidious, and I don’t know how important it is, but among the elite in California – not the fringe elite – there is an ideology of the reconquest or the separatism or el norte that suggests that perhaps this is the natural situation of demography, that California is reverting back to a Mexican past. Some polls in Mexico City are reported to report that 56 percent of Mexican citizens believe that California ultimately will be rejoined to Mexico, even though we know from historical facts that, when Americans came to California, what was absolutely shocking by historical standards, there was hardly anybody in it: perhaps less than 10,000 Californians, most of whom were large landowners who had more allegiance to Spain than the new nation of Mexico, and had indentured native American helots really working for them. So it wasn’t an idealistic situation.
And then one last thing is that the political matrix is so contaminated that one of the big spokesmen for this movement, La Raza – I mean, look at the nomenclature. If you had, in the Washington – you people in Washington, would you tolerate das Volk – (laughter) – a terminology that defined a people’s movement by racial characteristics? We’re not talking about Mexican-American political association, we’re not talking about the National Hispanic – we’re talking about “La Raza,” a term that I think, in Spanish, it goes back, as a classicist, to rotings (ph) in Latin that suggest that there is a particular racial purity or a particular group of people who define themselves by their racial characteristics, which, in 2003, is supposed to be outside the realm of political dialogue. But we tolerate that in a way that we would never tolerate das Volk, and I think that’s a symptom of how far we have lapsed in addressing the issue.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let me just have one last quick comment from me on this amnesty issue, and then we will move on. It seems to me that the issue of amnesty, whatever you think of it, is the end point, is the final policy measure, that, even if it were advisable, would be taken; in other words, it’s the measure that you take after the system has been entirely fixed, that for years it has operated properly and order has been restored to the immigration system. Only then is it appropriate even to discuss the issue of amnesty as a way of, in a sense, sort of tying up loose ends. I don’t think it’s a good idea, but it doesn’t even belong on the table until the system has been completely fixed, reformed, and demonstrated its ability to work the way we want it, and only then should it even come up as a policy issue.
QUESTION: (Off mike.)
MR. HANSON: Let me address your first question. I have done about 60 interviews, and some of the most frightening questions, if we have call in, come from – somebody on the left will call up and say: get used to it, the borders crossed us, we didn’t cross the borders, this is a chain. But even more disturbing is somebody on the right who calls up and says – and this is even more common – you missed the boat in your call for integration/assimilation; this is a contamination of the white race. So you have these two groups that are each at the extremes, and the reason that they function and are increasing is because the middle is not talking about the issue; because out of politeness or scare – so, unless we bring this into mainstream political conversation in the United States, you’re going to have these two groups that are appealing to everybody’s fears and status and honor and all of these old, age-old things that make people go to war. So I think I’m very worried about that.
As far as – I think you make a very good point, because we can talk – and I use this term that really is meaningless: legal measured immigration. What does that mean when you have a 2,000-mile open border? It means nothing if people are still going to – and we see somewhat disturbing characteristics. People are coming younger and younger, children. So, unless we’re willing to close the border – and that’s a euphemism because closing border either means to do two things. As a military historian, I can tell you that borders throughout 2500 years of Western history are closed in two ways: you either fortify, as we see in Israel, or they’re patrolled. And if you’re not willing to do one of those things and people want to come across, then you will have to do it.
I will just finish with a moral question, and that is: is it more moral to fortify or patrol the border and force Mexico to make the changes that might people at home and keep people from walking across the desert, or to say that we’re a human society, we have an open border, and then accept people dying in the desert, because that’s what we’re doing now?
MR. KRIKORIAN: Let’s take one final question. You, sir.
QUESTION: Steve Brown – (off mike). We have touched upon in these last couple of questions, but I was wondering if you could discuss – is there anything feasible if you think about reform, given the cultural divide in the country right now? We saw the red and the blue map in the last president’s election. (Off mike) – see that divide even wider than it is today. How is this going to play out vis-à-vis immigration reform?
MR. HANSON: I just mentioned that the funny thing about this issue is it seems to be not explicable in terms of the last election, for example. For example, I have talked to people in Sierra Club who are very liberal, and their idea of a Californiatopia runs something like the following: 1.1 children, a Volvo, backpacking, and zero population growth. And suddenly, they come down to Fresno to visit me and they say, my God, you’re tearing up all these vineyards, you’re building HUD houses, your immigrants have three children, they have – they don’t have fuel-efficient cars, they’re not practicing family planning, like – and so they get upset. And then I will have – I just talked to a contractor, very far-right person, staunch Republican who has told me that he would never vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger, who said that we had to – he’s a contractor – he said we had to have open borders because he couldn’t get anybody, he said, to work for him. So you have the whole political – and the initial statements that were made that, when you have the Council of La Raza and The Wall Street Journal agreeing on an issue, in support of it, and you had the people that were environmentalists, zero-population people agreeing with Pat Buchanan, I mean, the whole political thing is so scattered that we can’t sort it out, and it’s not explicable in terms of liberal and conservative.
I don’t know if that suggests to you pessimism or optimism. I don’t have an answer for that, but I know that I can’t predict what a person is going to say on this particular issue based on his political affiliation.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Joe, you lined up some last comments – (inaudible).
MR. PERKINS: Sure. You know, what I think we need is what I might call smart growth on immigration. I think most Americans agree that immigration has been a boon for this country since its founding, but in more recent years, our uncontrolled, unregulated immigration has produced deleterious consequences. So I think what needs to happen is there has to be that full and open debate that Professor Hanson mentions in his book, without name calling on either side, where we determine what is the best policy for all parties involved.
Now, I think it involves something to the extent of maintaining legal immigration, perhaps in lower numbers year by year, while really controlling illegal immigration. I don’t believe that, in this post-9-1-1 era, we can afford to have borders that are unsecure as those that we have between the United States and Mexico. And it’s not just any fear of unchecked illegal immigration, but also the dangers that this nation will face by others who are non-Mexican, who might steal in this country for purposes of doing the people of not just California, but the people of Washington, D.C., New York City, and other cities throughout this country some harm.
MR. CAMAROTA: Well, I agree that one has to keep in mind that, if a Mexican day laborer can cross the U.S. border with little difficulty, so can an al Qaeda terrorist. The fact that 8 million people, according to the United States government, live here illegally means that – and obviously, most of them aren’t terrorists, but any terrorist who wished to do so obviously faces few obstacles.
I think that we could enforce our law. We don’t have to deport everyone. What would happen is most people would just go on home on their own if we cut off the supply of jobs, went after the employers who hired illegals, stopped giving illegals drivers licenses, and stop letting them open bank accounts, and giving them in-state college tuition, and there are many other things. We send a message that you can sneak across our border and risk your life, and once you’re here, though, you’re scot free. If we worked our interior enforcement, I think a lot of people would just go home on their own. And we have actually seen that with Pakistanis, a modest effort at enforcing the law on a not insubstantial illegal alien population from Pakistan has actually resulted in a much larger return migration, and that’s almost certainly what would happen.
But the fact remains, there would still be millions of legal Mexican immigrants in the United States, and that’s a real challenge. But I think the United States could be up to that challenge, provided we engage a robust notion of assimilation and we cut off future immigration or dramatically reduce legal and illegal immigration. I think we’re up to that task, and we better be because this is an enormous population. Post-1970 immigrants and their children now are as large, by some measures, as the entire baby boom generation.
So how those folks do in the United States and their descendants is already quite important, and we need to be thinking about ways – public education and so forth – to improve their economic assimilation to the United States, but also, profoundly, what one author has called the patriotic assimilation of immigrants; that is, to come to strongly identify with the United States. I think there is an innate desire for immigrants to do that in many cases, but the numbers are just overwhelming: we now have about 34 million immigrants in the United States, almost triple the number in 1910, which was the last peak. So less immigration would help the immigrants integrate into American society, and I hope that things lead in that direction.
MR. KRIKORIAN: Thank you, Steve. Thank you, Joe. And thanks most especially to Professor Hanson, author of “Mexifornia.” It’s now on Amazon.com and at your local bookstore, and for a shorter version, the issue of National Review that’s out now has a clever cover of the California flag, perhaps, in 50 years. It has a kind of summary version as well as the backgrounder that we published; it’s in your packets, excerpted from Professor Hanson’s book. Thank you, professor, and thank all of you for coming.