Newt Gingrich is facing criticism from other Republican candidates for his proposals to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants in America, revealing the deep-seated frustration of conservatives at the failure of the federal government to control America’s borders. On a gut level, the issue of amnesty for illegals reflects the unease of Americans at a legal immigration policy which is skewed toward admitting less-skilled workers into the U.S., even as entry-level opportunities dry up for less-skilled native-born American workers. While we continue to outsource manufacturing jobs to countries like China, and customer service jobs to India, it does seem strange that our legal immigration policy favors bringing in still more competitors for the shrinking pool of jobs that might still be open to high school dropouts, the academically uninclined, and young men either striving to get off public assistance or emerging from incarceration for non-violent drug offenses.
The victims of massive unskilled immigration are disproportionately poor Americans, which means that non-white U.S. citizens will suffer more than others. Ironically, our very laws make sure to spread the damage: Affirmative action programs, rightly designed to aid the descendants of slaves and Jim Crow survivors, equally benefit willing migrants from Latin America and other countries, who never suffered discrimination in pre-Civil Rights America. That means that a white male veteran returning from Iraq or Afghanistan can legally be discriminated against in favor of… one of the beneficiaries of the 1986 immigrant amnesty, which Newt Gingrich favored. (So did Ronald Reagan, to be fair.) The hegemony of multiculturalism ensures that public institutions such as schools will not be used to assimilate migrants to America, but rather to adjust America to the reality of a polyglot, balkanized nation full of less-skilled migrants chasing vanishing jobs, tussling for the power to vote their own groups new government benefits. In other words, we are trading melting-pot America for post-Communist Yugoslavia… and doing it all to benefit the large corporations that seek cheap labor, and the political party that seeks cheap votes.
Ironically, Gingrich is taking hits from other (in most ways, better) candidates such as Michelle Bachmann for policy proposals that really aren’t half-bad. The “path to legality” that Gingrich proposes entails local boards of citizens determining which immigrants are allowed to stay, and crucially does not include an offer of voting citizenship. Instead, Gingrich proposes that, even as America secures her borders, our government offer otherwise law-abiding illegals the right to remain in the U.S. and work legally, but never attain full citizenship (which of course, their U.S.-born children already have). Such a policy respects their human dignity, while holding them responsible for their actions. It shows a truly Catholic awareness of the difference between human rights and political privileges. This moderate, humane proposal might sound familiar to Crisis readers; I made it at this site in May 2011.
People who have come here illegally should never attain full citizenship. To offer that is to demean the honest efforts of the millions who waited their turn and followed our laws. Americans know that, and feel in their bones that distributing the right to vote as a prize for hiding from the cops amounts to counterfeiting citizenship—which is more unjust (and renders less unto Caesar) than simply counterfeiting currency. That patriotic instinct on the part of Americans is not evidence of xenophobia or racism; it is a healthy regard for the rights of the community. If immigration reformers show that they recognize this fact, and evince a decent respect for the feelings of U.S. citizens (including legal immigrants) of every race, it may in fact prove politically possible to regularize the working and living status of those who reside here illegally. Offering them a middle ground between deportation, and full citizenship with claims on affirmative action, is in fact the prudent and reasonable thing to do. Few Americans actually want to see massive roundups and deportations of peaceable, often hard-working people. But they are outraged at the cavalier disregard of the political classes for the costs imposed by mass, unskilled immigration on America’s less fortunate, including the working and middle classes.
I write as a native of wildly ethnic, delightfully diverse Queens, New York. I remember at one point in college realizing that not one of my close friends had two parents who spoke English as a first language. Those parents came here legally, and many of them worked for decades without even applying for citizenship—some because they couldn’t learn the language. (So they worked in all-Italian factories, or Spanish grocery stores.) I am proud to have known those good people, and the honest, patriotic Americans they raised. I also write as a son of the working class, and the first member of my family ever to go to college. I wonder what kind of prospects I would have faced if my father had been unable to find a job, with nothing more than a high school diploma and an honorable discharge from the U.S. Army in 1948. How will the children of less-educated U.S. veterans fare today, with the constant influx of workers eager to do the same work for less? How can we even think of attaining the Church’s goal of a “living wage” when our policies constantly increase the supply of low-skill labor, thus driving down its price?
What is more, we face crucial battles in the next few years over the sanctity of life, the definition of marriage, and even religious liberty. Sadly, even Catholic immigrants have shown a heavy preference for the political party which opposes the Natural Law and the rights of the Church. Gingrich’s proposal, alone among those of immigration “reformers,” would not flood the ranks of the Party of Death with millions of new voters, swinging key elections and (for instance) making the Senate unwilling to confirm pro-life nominees in our lifetime. So I hope that Republicans look seriously at Gingrich’s proposal, and make sure that it really does secure the borders, that it really won’t reward law-breaking with the same privileges of citizenship that my grandfather only earned by joining the U.S. Merchant Marines in time of war, and sailing American ships in U-boat infested waters.
For another view, see this column by Roy Beck.