»  National Review Online

June 11th, 2007

  R.I.P. (to the Senate Immigration Bill)


Well, all right, the beast is not definitively dead yet. Given the unswerving determination of our president — a quality I have admired, under different circumstances — we may see another effort at "comprehensive immigration reform" before the 110th Congress packs its bags in January '09.

Even if the president can't be deterred, though, the congressfolk can. They've been getting an earful from their constituents. I don't know what they've been hearing, but it can't be too different from what all the radio and TV talk-show hosts say they have been hearing: "Enforce the law!"

This past couple of weeks has been wonderfully educative. Tens of millions of Americans now understand the core issue here, which is, that we have all the laws we need on all the topics in this bill (we already have, for instance, five different temporary-worker programs, with a sixth visa category for the families of these temporary workers), that our current problems arise from the failure of the executive to enforce these current laws, and that until the executive shows some sincere intent to enforce current laws, there is little point in passing new ones. Repeat: sincere intent — not the clumsy propaganda show of this past few months.

We can reasonably hope, therefore, that we have heard the last of "comprehensive immigration reform" for a while. Personally, I'm going to relax, sit back, and indulge myself in some stress-free contemplation of a few random immigration topics.

•  Killer Acronyms.  There are a couple of killer four-letter acronyms that haven't shown up much in the recent discussions, but which really should be on everybody's mind when talking immigration.

Here they are: (1) EOIR, (2) AILA.

EOIR is the Executive Office of Immigration Review. It is a branch of the Justice Department, containing 54 immigration courts scattered around the nation, with over 200 judges on the rolls. It also includes the 11-member Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).

The key thing to understand here is that it is very hard to deport an immigrant, even an illegal immigrant, who does not want to be deported.

You will sometimes read encouraging numbers for deportations. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) boasts of 186,600 deportations for fiscal year 2006. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), quoted in the May 1st New York Times here, gave a higher number: 221,664 "over the last year." Perhaps DHS and ICE are using different metrics, or perhaps this is illustration #92,142,863 of our government's left hand not knowing what its right hand is doing, but either number is comforting at a first glance.

What those deportation numbers don't tell you is that they cover mainly people who were willing to be deported, or who didn't put up much of a legal fight. For any deportee who does want to put up a legal fight, the EOIR and BIA bureaucracies are there to help him. Behind them stand the federal circuit courts, to which an immigrant can appeal if all else fails. It takes years, of course; and, as Michelle Malkin has noted somewhere, it ain't over until the immigrant wins.

The second killer acronym is "AILA." That is the American Immigration Lawyers Association. You've probably never heard of AILA, but they are a mighty force in the land, probably more responsible for shaping the future demographics of the U.S.A. than any other body of people — certainly more responsible than our elected representatives, most of whom probably believe that "demographics" is a synonym for "racism."

Do EOIR and AILA talk to each other? Oh yeah. They are in fact, as the Chinese say, "as close as lips and teeth." Try reading through a few of these PDF files, for example. A cozy relationship? I would say.

•  Devil's Advocate.  With a contentious issue like immigration, it's always a good idea to take one of the opposition's stronger points and see if you can argue for it — set aside your own convictions for a moment and play devil's advocate.

Take the Bushite slogan about "jobs Americans won't do," for example. Many people think this whole notion of "jobs Americans won't do" was exploded after the ICE raids on the Swift meat-packing company in Colorado earlier this year. Illegal immigrant workers were removed, and within days the plant was being flooded with job applications from citizens.

Is that always going to be the case, though? Meat-packing work isn't that unpleasant. There are plenty of more arduous jobs. In front-end agriculture, especially — and most especially in parts of the country where it can get really hot outdoors — there is grueling work that, I can easily imagine, it might be hard to get citizens to do. (Victor Davis Hanson, a farmer himself, writes convincingly about this in Mexifornia.)

The stock answer here is an appeal to pure economic theory. "There are no such things as shortages, only clearing prices," etc. There is some wage level at which you or I would put in 10-hour days stooped over under a hot sun (says the theory); there is some wage level at which Warren Buffett could be persuaded to gut hogs.

I don't know about that. We are a very advanced nation, and our citizens have high expectations of life. They also, of course, have a welfare state to help them if things get rough. I'm not, in any case, a big fan of abstract economic theories.

I hate to say it, but I think the Bushites have a point here. There probably are some jobs Americans won't do at any wage level anyone is actually willing to offer.

I would still say: Well, then, let those jobs go hang. If you can't, for love or money, find any citizens or legal residents to pick your apples, at wage levels not so high that consumers refuse to buy the apples, well, let the apples rot. That's hard on you, I understand. You'll have to find some other way to make a living. That happens to people, though — it's happened to me a couple of times. And the U.S.A. won't fold for want of apples.

(What in fact will happen is that someone will come up with a reliable apple-picking machine. That's no consolation to you. You went out of business waiting for this gadget to attain mass production … Unless you just opened your orchards to the public, advertised as a "pick your own fruit" venture, which is what most of the fruit farms in my county seem to have done.)

•  On Hating MexicansLinda Chavez put el gato among las palomas the other day by dismissing opponents of the Senate immigration bill as people who "don't like Mexicans."

I'll confess I don't know much about Mexicans myself. I'd like to be able to say that some of my best friends are Mexican, but it's not true. Not only do I not have any Mexicans among my friends, I don't have any among my neighbors or colleagues, either. I simply don't know any Mexicans. My data on Mexicans is all second hand. Fred Reed speaks well of them, and I've generally found Fred to be a reliable observer of humanity, except when he's giving me verbal noogies.

I do think, though, that Linda and Fred should pause to consider the possibility that there are people who do like Mexicans, and also people like me who have no opinion about Mexicans in the grand collectivity at all, but who, in both cases, think it's a really bad idea to let the 40 percent of Mexicans who want to come live here, come live here. That would be 43 million people. Ask yourselves, Linda, Fred:

Then ask yourself if a person who poses these questions out loud must ipso facto be a person who "hates Mexicans."

Surely it is possible to be a person who does not hate Mexicans, yet who at the same time believes that Mexican immigration to the U.S.A. should be held down to some level well below what it currently is.

•  Is Hispanic the New Black?  Linda's piece did, though, at least bring the r-word into the discussion. In some offline conversations I've been having, and on some websites I'll leave you to search out by yourself, the opinion has been expressed that some portion of America's white elites welcome Hispanic immigration as a way of sticking it to American blacks. That portion, it is suggested, would prefer to have its lawns mowed by small, polite, brown people, rather than large, surly black ones, even if the price is the same in both cases.

I think there is something in that, but more than I have yet heard discussed.

Here's a story. Last night, around 11pm, I was in Manhattan, walking with my daughter from Lincoln Center (where we had just seen the ABT's new production of The Sleeping Beauty) to Penn Station for our ride back out to the burbs. At Columbus Circle we were followed for a while by one of the new pedicabs that are now allowed to ply for business in the city.

This pedicab seated two, so my daughter and I were prospective customers. The proprietor of the thing was a young black guy. Three or four times he called out to us, in a very friendly way, to take advantage of the service he was offering. He seemed like a cheerful and enterprising young man. He was on a loser with us though, as my daughter still finds it thrilling to just walk the streets of the city, and wanted to go on doing so. Off we walked, leaving him behind.

A hundred yards ahead I looked back. There he still was at the Circle, trying to get someone to ride in his pedicab. It shouldn't have been difficult; the streets were pretty crowded; yet when at last I lost sight of him, he still hadn't got a customer.

He'd got me noticing pedicabs, though. There seemed to be quite a lot of them, mostly occupied, mostly with young white guys pedaling. It occurred to me to wonder whether it's harder for a black pedicabbie (?) to pick up passengers than for a white one. Not because people are scared to be pedaled by a black man — this was midtown Manhattan, for heaven's sake, on a busy Spring evening — but because white Americans just aren't comfortable in such an obvious service relationship with a black American doing muscle work on their behalf.

Similarly, there are probably a lot of black American women who wouldn't mind working as maids in prosperous white households, as used to be commonplace. I'm willing to bet, though, that there are large numbers of white people who would much rather not have a black maid. Not, again, because they fear a black maid would harm them, or be lazy or dishonest, but just because they would not feel comfortable in a master-servant relationship with a black person, after all the guilt-trip propaganda of the past forty years.

What's more, I think I'm one of those white people. Another story: Back in 1990 or 1991, living in London, I was walking across the interior space of Victoria Station, a major rail terminus. There was a shoeshine stand there in the middle of the concourse, operated by a lone black man who looked as if he could use some business. My shoes needed shining, I had five minutes to spare, so I negotiated a price, mounted his chair, and he started polishing.

And I started sweating. I felt really uncomfortable. It was irrational, I know, but I'm telling how it was. I got looks from people walking by, too — not friendly looks.  See that black guy toiling away at the white man's feet! Those were the looks — or, just as revealing, if in a different way, that was how I imagined them. I suspect that shoeshine guy didn't get much business.

The shoeshine parlor at Manhattan's Penn Station, which I visit frequently, is staffed entirely by Hispanics. As the current catch-phrase goes:  I'm just sayin'.