March 25, 2004


An Unlikely Immigration Champion (Tamar Jacoby, March 23, 2004, LA Times)

[E]ven if no bill is passed in the foreseeable future, the Bush initiative still marks a critical step forward in the effort to make our immigration code rational, bringing it more into line with the realities of the global labor market.

For one thing, popular or not, the proposal has already energized a national conversation about immigration — a conversation that would never have taken place otherwise. Despite the glaring failure of current law — a failure acknowledged both by those who want higher immigration ceilings and those who are determined to lower them — no one on either side of the argument had made any headway with the public since 9/11. The Bush initiative changed that overnight.

Second, the Bush proposal has put a floor under the immigration debate: a point beyond which we as a nation can no longer retreat. The analogy is civil unions for gay couples. Just a few months ago, that seemed like a radical idea. Now, in the light of the debate about gay marriage, civil unions are the least-generous option and a plausible fallback position even in some conservative states. So too now with a guest worker program and more realistic immigration ceilings.

Finally, by making clear that the critical question about an immigration overhaul is not if but when, the president's speech created space for advocates to get busy working out the details of a reform package. The Bush proposal is only the roughest outline of the change that's needed. The most glaring gap has to do with enforcement. Congress' last best idea for enforcing the nation's existing immigration code — the employer sanctions at the heart of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act — has proved a total failure, and nobody has come up with a better notion.

For more than a hundred years now, Americans have tolerated — and worse, all but deliberately maintained — a vast underclass of disenfranchised and exploitable foreign laborers. In California, they included Chinese, then Filipinos and then mostly, since the 1920s, Mexicans. Wherever they came from, they've done our dirtiest work, mainly though not only in the fields. But because they came as temporary workers or without papers — though often with a wink from ineffective immigration authorities — they were easily taken advantage of and could be deported at will. They are the last century's dirtiest secret. Yet now, led by, of all people, a conservative Republican president, the nation is moving toward abolishing this shameful institution.

One tries to give the anti-immigrationists the benefit of the doubt, and crediot their disclaimers that they don't just hate Mexicans but value our current culture. Then you get an essay like Steve Sailer's latest, Japanese Substitute Inventiveness for Immigration; NYT Shocked (Steve Sailer, 3/21/04, V-Dare)
Sofia Coppola, who owns a fashion business in Japan, recently captured the best original screenplay Academy Award for the movie Lost in Translation—making her the fourth Oscar-winning member of the Coppola dynasty, after her father Francis, grandfather Carmine, and first cousin Nicolas Cage. Bill Murray stars as a morose and mordant American action movie star who finds himself washed up in a Tokyo Hyatt.

The hotel seems dispiritingly like every other downtown luxury hotel in the world. But its Japanese idiosyncrasies make it subtly disconcerting.

Japan refuses to import millions of Third Worlders, so the Japanese have robotized many service jobs. This takes Murray some getting used to. His drapes fling themselves open in the morning. In a hotel gym devoid of personal trainers, he finds himself in the clutches of an unstoppable and hyperactive exercise machine shouting indecipherable and no doubt deranged commands.

But, of course, it's the puzzling uniqueness of Japanese life that helps make Lost in Translation so entertaining. You leave the theatre thinking that a trip to the Orient would be disappointing if it wasn’t a little disorienting. Isn't travel more fun when other countries are different from your own?

In a lot of small ways, Japan is indeed very different. Consider professional nail care. [...]

The Japanese voters think their islands are crowded enough already without importing human nail polishers. And the Japanese government is mysteriously inclined to enforce the will of its people.

So the Japanese have done something that by our standards is weird, even comical. They've invented yet another kind of vending machine, this one for doing your nails. You stick your finger in, and it gives it back (you hope) with the nail painted to your specifications using inkjet printer technology.

The idea that a complete lack of human contact is preferable to living people who are somewhat different than you is not just anti-immigrant but anti-human. It does though raise a question that few will have any trouble answering: can you have a healthy society in which life is reduced to the completely atomized one led by Bill Murray's character in the film?

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 25, 2004 8:57 AM

And a pretty lousy film, at that.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 25, 2004 9:55 AM

I'm not a fan of John Derbyshire, but at least he openly admits his racism. I like such intellectual honesty from opponents of Hispanic immigration.

Posted by: Casey Abell at March 25, 2004 10:11 AM

I like such intellectual honesty from opponents of Hispanic immigration.

Oh geez. That way you don't have to bother developing sound arguments to back up your case. You can proceed assuming that anyone who opposes mass unskilled immigration is a racist (because, gee, the mass of unskilled immigrants are Hispanic!!), and that's all their is to it.

It's fun being able to cut off debate with an up-front declaration that your opponent is a racist, isn't it? There couldn't be any other reason to look at current immigration policy skeptically.

Well, have it your way. Go ahead and presume I'm a racist, because I think the system needs comprehensive reform, that the current set-up exploits both immigrants and native labor, and that given the nature of today's economy encouraging mass unskilled labor is just plain stupid.

O.J.'s very blithe about it, assuming everything will turn out well, or at least that Hispanics will provide some sort of Magic Christian Antidote to what ails America. I guess I'm too much of a pessimist to believe that.

Posted by: Twn at March 25, 2004 11:09 AM


Have you seen the movie?

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 11:17 AM

O.J.'s very blithe about it, assuming everything will turn out well, or at least that Hispanics will provide some sort of Magic Christian Antidote to what ails America.

Yes, he is positively utopian.

In most contexts, today's conservatives would be praising technological innovation which is driven by economics.

Posted by: Paul Cella at March 25, 2004 12:06 PM


Name a conservative who has favored technological innovation or any social trend driven by mere economics.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 12:12 PM

The Magic Christian?

Never seen it. I always meant to back in the high days of my Beatle fandom, but I never got around to it.

Posted by: Twn at March 25, 2004 12:32 PM

Twn -- Sensitive much?

Obviously, not all opponents of immigration are racist. Well, actually, someone who opposes any immigration is almost certainly racist, but I take it that a total ban is not your position.

But you can't deny that racists are a part of the anti-immigrant (I'm now going to use anti-immigrant to mean those favoring a substantial restriction of the ability of unskilled workers to immigrate and energetic deportation of substantially all existing illegal aliens)coalition just as I can't deny that there are racists in a number of political blocs that I belong to. If the arguments are strong, than the motivations don't matter.

The problem is that the anti-immigration arguments are weak. The two main arguments are:

Today's immigrants are different in number and kind from past immigrants; and

Today's immigrants and their children, unlike past immigrants, are unlikely to be assimilated.

These arguments have been pressed, sincerely, for more than 250 years -- since before the country was founded -- and they have always been wrong. Obviously, that doesn't logically require that they will always be wrong and I'm sure someone will pop up to tell us about why today's immigration pattern is different, or why the welfare state makes a difference, or why the grip of leftists on our schools make a difference, but after 250 years these assertions simply have no force. In fact, there is no reason to believe that Latin Catholics will have any harder a time assimilation in the second or third generation (which is where the bulk of assimilation has always occurred), than Germans, the Irish, Catholics, German Jews, Slavs, eastern European Jews, the Japanese and Chinese, all of whom, it has been argued, are completely different than any group that has come before in their inherent inability to become Americans.

Those arguments aren't dead wrong, they're just dead.

Which brings us to the economic arguments:

Immigrants will hold down wages for natives. This can't even work theorectically (it will never be true practically) unless we also throw up comprehensive tarriff barriers at the borders. The result would be to begger ourselves in the cause of not beggering ourselves. Note, also, that this argument amounts to a plan to make ourselves rich by paying ourselves more.

The welfare costs of supporting immigrants is too high a burden. I have no objection to rejiggering the benefits paid to immigrants, but compared to lots of things the government taxes me to pay for, this is a pretty minor cost. If it makes you feel better, think of these costs as an investment in the future -- we do it for the children. In any event, this argument, too, has been wrong for 200 years and the proof is in the pudding: all American economic activity comes from immigrants and their descendents. As the country has a positive net worth, obviously the cost of immigration is outweighed by the return. (I know that the cost of more recent immigrants is higher, but in terms of GDP, it is miniscule.)

This brings us to the real argument of the anti-immigrationists. Immigrants will change our culture. Here's an argument that's been right for 400 years, unless the Pilgrims were eating bagels, salsa and pad Thai. But for all the reasons set forth above, this change has never been catastrophic since the Indians looked at the Pilgrims and said, "there goes the neighborhood". Although I'm not thrilled with modern culture, I have a hard time blaming immigrants for its excesses. I think its more likely that, without post-WWII immigration, we'd be Europe.

Which brings me to my primary pro-immigration argument. Native birth rates are just under replacement and varies indirectly with assimilation, until little better than European birthrates. The choice is not change with immigration or stasis without; the choice is immigration or death.

We are, you'll be surprised to hear, a nation of immigrants. That is one of the few mainstays of our culture from the colonial era through today. Now, who wants to change our culture?

Posted by: David Cohen at March 25, 2004 12:45 PM

Don't know why I got Twn so upset with an accurate statement of Derbyshire's position. The man has described himself as a racist, in an interview that this site extensively quoted. His opposition to Hispanic (and black) immigration stems from his belief that these ethnic groups are, on average, inferior to whites and East Asians in intelligence, probably for genetic reasons, and thus will "dumb down" and weaken America.

Frankly, I think Sailer opposes Hispanic immigration for exactly the same reason. Only he's not quite as forthright about it as Derbyshire.

Do I think ALL opponents of immigration base their stance on such beliefs? No, because I haven't conducted an in-depth survey of every opponent of Hispanic immigration.

But I don't think I'm being unfair at all in my evaluation of Derbyshire and Sailer, after a pretty thorough reading of their comments on the issue.

Posted by: Casey Abell at March 25, 2004 12:58 PM

America dodged a bullet with the last great
wave and probably does not have the will to do
the same now.

Marxism hardly existed in this country until it
was brought here by immigrants.

The progress of making America publicly atheistic
was also a largely a feat of immigrants.

The argument that we need immigration to make up
for native birthrates is foolish, because lower
birthrates are a natural adjustment in a less
labor intensive economy.

The truth is our current immigration policy
places zero standards upon immigrants whether
it be for

health, education, culture and yes race.

Ignore the race issue at your peril.

Posted by: J.H. at March 25, 2004 1:03 PM

The Naked Sun by Isaac Asimov is a novel that imagines a world inhabited by people who are surrounded by robots and who only meet by television. It was, as I recall, a good read, but pretty creepy.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 25, 2004 1:05 PM

I was outraged by the Best original script prize for Lost in Translation, because I was sure that there was no script. The director went to the scene location and gave the actors a premise and a prompt line and thet improved it from there. Good improv. No Script. No Prize.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 25, 2004 1:10 PM

"Ignore the race issue at your peril."

Truth to tell, some opponents of Hispanic immigration have not ignored the race issue at all. Some have fudged the issue. Some may well wish the issue would go away because they want to base their opposition to Hispanic immigration on hopefully ethnic-neutral grounds, such as economic impact or cultural change. (Though some less charitable folks might argue that ethnic issues are lurking in the arguments about the economy and the culture.)

What I don't like is the reaction by some anti-immigration proponents when the issue of ethnicity is raised at all. Suddenly, they get defensive and accuse whoever mentions the subject of calling them racists in an attempt to squelch debate. The attempt never works, of course, because the debate always rages on.

I don't see any harm in honestly confronting ethnicity as a key issue in the current immigration debate. It's there, everybody knows it's there, and we might as well face it.

Posted by: Casey Abell at March 25, 2004 1:25 PM

America dodged a bullet . . . and probably does not have the will to do the same now.

One of the great conservative arguments, it's always true about every issue.

Marxism hardly existed in this country until it was brought here by immigrants. Jewish immigrants?

The progress of making America publicly atheistic was also a largely a feat of immigrants. Jewish immigrants?

The argument that we need immigration to make up for native birthrates is foolish, because lower birthrates are a natural adjustment in a less labor intensive economy.

Well, Europe, Japan and the US are running the experiment. I'm glad we get to be the control.

The truth is our current immigration policy
places zero standards upon immigrants whether
it be for health, education, culture and yes race.

I have no problem with health standards. Education standards are useless and counterproductive. (Also, though not at all illogical, it is a little creepy to have standards that many natives don't meet.) My whole point is that culture and race issues have always turned out to be irrelevant because everyone becomes American.

Ignore the race issue at your peril. Or what? My grandkids'll be muts? Oops, too late.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 25, 2004 3:01 PM

The above link shows the uniqueness of Mexican immigration. In previous immigration periods there was not one contingent that so overwhelmingly came from a distinct culture. Especially one that we went to war with over alot of land west of the Mississippi.

"In 1983, the distinguished sociologist Morris Janowitz pointed to the strong resistance to acculturation among Spanish-speaking residents in the United States, and argued that Mexicans are unique as an immigrant group in the persistent strength of their communal bonds. As a result, Mexicans, together with other Spanish-speaking populations, are creating a bifurcation in the social-political structure of the United States that approximates nationality divisions.

Other scholars have reiterated these warnings, emphasizing how the size, persistence, and regional concentration of Mexican immigration obstruct assimilation. In 1997, sociologists Richard Alba and Victor Nee pointed out that the four-decade interruption of large-scale immigration after 1924 virtually guaranteed that ethnic communities and cultures would be steadily weakened over time. In contrast, continuation of the current high levels of Latin American immigration will create a fundamentally different ethnic context from that faced by the descendants of European immigrants, for the new ethnic communities are highly likely to remain large, culturally vibrant, and institutionally rich. Under current conditions, sociologist Douglas Massey agrees, the character of ethnicity will be determined relatively more by immigrants and relatively less by later generations, shifting the balance of ethnic identity toward the language, culture, and ways of life of the sending society.

A constant influx of new arrivals, demographers Barry Edmonston and Jeffrey Passel contend, especially in predominantly immigrant neighborhoods, keeps the language alive among immigrants and their children. Finally, American Enterprise Institute scholar Mark Falcoff also observes that because the Spanish-speaking population is being continually replenished by newcomers faster than that population is being assimilated, the widespread use of Spanish in the United States is a reality that cannot be changed, even over the longer term. "

With the media infrastructure of Mexican well in-place in many of these recent-immigrant communities and things such Presidente Vincente Fox saying he is the president of 123 million Mexicans (100 mill there, 23 mill here), it only serves to reinforce bonds to the old country -- one that is not across the Atlantic but a few hours away. All this is to the detriment of assimilation, which is necessary to preserve/transmit the ideals & resulting culture which are the foundations of the uniqueness of the American experiment.

Posted by: Scof at March 25, 2004 3:12 PM

FYI: In case you didn't notice the marked change in style between the author (Sam Huntington) I referenced and myself, the only two paragraphs that are mine are the very last one (With the media...) and the very first one (The above link...)

Posted by: Scof at March 25, 2004 3:16 PM

No, seriously, these arguments have been wrong for 250 years.

Posted by: David Cohen at March 25, 2004 3:24 PM

You are right. Those arguements were wrong because we had cycles in's been high immigration levels since the 60's and my cynicism/pessimism about the effects of all this immigration stems only from the very real prospect that we are going to stay at high levels for the forseeable future. If I could be reasonably assured that the current high levels will be reduced proportionate to how they have been reduced in the past, and that this would be done pretty soon, I'd have no qualms whatsoever.

Posted by: Scof at March 25, 2004 3:51 PM

My only qualm is with illegal immigration, and that's because I'm a stickler about this "legality" thing. I don't care so much about numbers (a little, but only to assure assimilation), I certainly don't care about race, and I'd be a hypocrite to care about education.

Posted by: Chris at March 25, 2004 4:11 PM

J.H. clarifies things nicely be basically arguing we should have kept the Jews (Marxists) out at the turn of the century.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 4:37 PM


It's the same argiument every cycle. The next wave is always the one that's so different that we have to keep them out. In seventy years the Mexican-Americans will be trying to prevent the Nepalese (or whoever) from coming here.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 4:42 PM

Well OJ, I mean, I'm not arguing keep "them" out. I'm just arguing to keep the cycle going, a period of high immigration levels followed by a period of low immigration levels to allow for assimilation. Isn't this the template for an effective immigration policy, one that allows our culture to add some new things from the recent immigrants but retain the essential foundation?

And doesn't your review, OJ*, of Conyer's The Long Truce contain the reasoning why it will be so hard for the current waves of immigrants to assimilate?

"We are arrived then at the paradoxical point where the advocates of tolerance, despite aiming for a reduction of sectarianism and an increase in freedom, have instead delivered a completely atomized social system wherein every man is his own sect and each is totally dependent on the State. It's so perverse, it would be amusing were the condition of society and freedom not so dire today."

"This brings us to Mr. Conyers conclusion, in which he proposes not that we discard toleration altogether, but that we abandon the modern doctrine of toleration, which has served only power, and return to the more traditional practice of toleration, which serves the pursuit of knowledge:"

"What I am distinguishing as the practice of toleration, over against the doctrine that emerges from development of democratic liberalism, is the logical result of a recognition that our imperfections oblige us to listen to the insights of others. We are utterly dependent upon the gifts of society and tradition--even traditions other than our own. It is toleration that recognizes not the implied self-sufficiency of the individual or of various idiosyncratic groups in a supposed pluralistic world but the insufficiency of these limits and the ultimate need for a catholic vision. Even as the doctrine of toleration promotes isolation, the practice of toleration gently nudges us into community. Therefore, authentic toleration serves, and does not hinder, the forming and functional life of groups within society. It does not hinder in that it does not discourage the quest for ultimate meaning that is the inner light and life of any social group of any lasting importance."

...So in the past we practiced toleration which aided in assimilation, but now we have the modern doctrine of toleration which hinders assimilation.

*I hope I'm correct in assuming you wrote it.

Posted by: Scof at March 25, 2004 5:07 PM


No, that's an argument for bringing in Catholic immigrants, who share our values, and driving out secular natives, who don't. I'd support a religious test for immigrants.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 5:17 PM

That's unrealistic though, isn't it?

Posted by: Scof at March 25, 2004 5:58 PM


Yes. But so is all immigration reform. They want to come more than we want to stop them and are willing to do jobs no Anglo will.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 6:12 PM

>> They want to come more than we want to stop them and are willing to do jobs no Anglo will.

Amen to that. Stop Latino immigration, and watch the rotting garbage pile sky-high, the roads develop potholes every 50 feet, the bathrooms spontaneously generate life, and the fast-food customers have to go behind the counters and get their own hamburgers. Not to mention forgoing such delights as pollo a la brasa (the canonical variety, such as can be had in the D.C. area where there are, among others, a whopping 350K Salvadoreans, consists of 1/4 or 1/2 chicken grilled on a genuine rotissiere over a genuine charcoal fire with green salad, French fries or fried yucca, and a VERY fiery guacamole sauce to dip the chicken in. Let's see Burger King try to match that.)

Posted by: Joe at March 25, 2004 6:41 PM

Casey & David:

I was feeling snarky. And Casey's comment struck me as coming from someone who suspects race is the foundation of every argument for immigration reform, whoever advances it, if they would only just 'fess up. I'm sorry if I was wrong about what you meant.

Further snarkiness ensued because contrary to your experience, Casey, usually when I've engaged in (or witnessed) a debate over immigration, the first mention of race (or racism) has almost always been a pretty obvious atempt to shut down the reform proponent's argument, or at least taint it.

And, frankly, I'm tired of talking about it, really, because I don't think the situation's going to change anyway. I think the focus for anyone concerned about the issue ought to be on assimilation itself, in that it should be vigorously encouraged, and the multi-culti types driven from the field.

Posted by: Twn at March 25, 2004 8:08 PM


It is always about race/religion--it was when the WASPs tried stopping the Catholics and Jews and it is now that whites are trying to stop Mexicans. And the claim that pointing that out amounts to an attempt to shut down conversation is just an attempt to dodge the issue. If there were Danes pouring over the border today instead of Mexicans there would be no immigration issue.

Posted by: oj at March 25, 2004 8:15 PM

Orrin, when you say it's a matter of religion as well as race, you hit even closer to the mark than perhaps you realize. In point of fact, a _lot_ of the immigrants from Central America - as I mentioned in my other post on this thread, we've got 350,000 Salvadoreans in the Washington, DC area - are evangelical Protestants, and the rest are Catholics from a region where the Catholic Church is vital. That can't possibly be comforting to the blue-state upper-class white elites.

Posted by: Joe at March 26, 2004 5:37 AM