Disassembling Mexifornia

Immigration debate and policy is shifting under our noses


Last week's Census news that Latinos have overtaken blacks as the largest minority group in the United States was hailed with the usual mix of news stories: state-of-the-ethnic-group addresses, cautious denials of any budding black-Latino feuds, and some hot pictures of J.Lo.

Meanwhile, far off the front page, the simmering public debate and governmental policy shifts regarding northbound immigration continued to reach levels of intensity and velocity not seen since the glory days of Pete Wilson.

The anti-illegal-immigrant movement received an intellectual boost this month with the publication of Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, by hawkish war historian and longtime California farmer Victor Davis Hanson. (Here's the preface, plus a recent Hanson article on the topic, a National Review Q&A, and the original City Journal article from which the book derives.)

Mexifornia comes hot on the heels of Michelle Malkin's subtle-as-a-bludgeon Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores, and Michael Savage's The Savage Nation: Saving America from the Liberal Assault on Our Borders, Language and Culture.

Each author, like their fellow travelers at VDare, American Patrol and scores of similar sites, believes that illegal immigration across the Mexican border threatens nothing less than the American way of life. Each points the blame directly, and with great enthusiasm, at "the cult of multiculturalism." (Malkin kicked off a recent speech by saying: "The voice of New Americans who reject political correctness and the cult of multiculturalism has been sorely missing from the debate on immigration policy"; Kathryn Jean Lopez' first question to Hanson was: "What has multiculturalism and mass immigration wrought in Selma, California, your hometown?")

And most have strained to draw a link between Mexican immigration and Islamist terrorism. "Our southern borders remain open channels not only for illegal aliens and smugglers, but for terrorists," Malkin warns.

On this point, the new Buchananites have a powerful ally: The Department of Homeland Security. Since the Immigration and Naturalization Service was disbanded on March 1, all oversight of the border and immigration has fallen under the single new bureaucracy, which has been busy enforcing a series of rules the INS had long let lapse, all in the name of preventing terrorism.

Border guards used to waive journalists from 27 friendly countries right on through, using the same right as any of their countrymen to visit for "business or pleasure." No more—in early May a handful of European journalists were sent back home from LAX, after failing to produce the technically required but rarely asked "journalist visas."

At American embassies and consulates abroad, new, more expensive and complicated visa-processing systems are being rolled out, driving away some decidedly non-terrorist tourists.

Crucially, the 10 million or so illegal aliens living in the United States are being put on notice that if their names show up on any readable list, the DHS is coming to get them. Last fall, Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo (R-Littleton), hero to the protect-our-borders movement, read about the honors-student child of an illegal immigrant family in the Denver Post, and promptly called the INS to have the whole lot thrown out of the country. The kid's parents have gone into hiding.

They won't be the only ones whose lives are changed by allowing a newspaper to print their real names. Where the INS maintained a sort of don't ask, don't tell policy with news organizations who write about illegals, the DHS will happily use the information to deport people. At a recent meeting with journalists I attended, Public Affairs Director Dennis Murphy of the Border and Transportation Security Directorate described the new policy this way:

"If somebody robbed a bank, and hadn't been caught yet, and you write a story about the bank robbers, [who say] 'Hey, I robbed the first Wells Fargo Bank,'" … just because you reported on it does that mean that, oh, we shouldn't arrest him for robbing a bank? I mean… you're reporting on someone's admitting they've violated the law."

This news should cheer immigration-reformers who have been repeating the mantra "but they broke the law!" for years. (Presumably, these people have never jaywalked or written the wrong date on a check, and were among the loudest critics of President George Bush for appointing convicted felon Elliot Abrams to the office of the National Security Council.)

But ignored laws, suddenly enforced, will do more than weed out criminals and terrorists. It will drive people—including good, hard-working people—into the deepest of the black markets, never to interact with a government agency except maybe in the emergency room, or at the local jail.

In Chicago, undocumented Latino workers are being rounded up and deported. In Colorado, Tancredo keeps trying to get the DHS to start arresting people outside the Mexican Consulate. In Florida, where new post-Sept. 11 requirements forced drivers license renewals to include proof of legal residency, 35-year resident Ramon Saul Sanchez was immediately slapped with a deportation hearing. He came from Communist Cuba at age 13.

It is hard to imagine that the current climate will produce much more voluntary cooperation with law enforcement. On June 6, immigration officials reported that a whopping 13,000 of 82,000 immigrant Arabs who had voluntarily registered themselves to local authorities are now being kicked out of the country. Immigration violations have become to fighting terrorism what tax evasion and RICO laws were for busting up the mafia.

Is that such a bad thing? Only if you believe that the laws themselves are bad, and ripe for abuse by zealous prosecutors. Given the secrecy and comparative lack of due process in immigration-related proceedings, it's not hard to find reasons to worry. There is no doubt that the INS needed a drastic overhaul, and with a National Security focus, but the consequences of such rapid change are worth tracking.

Meanwhile, state and local legislatures are going in the exact opposite direction of the federal government, passing laws that would make the most pro-immigration lobbyist smile. "In recent months," the L.A. Times reported the other day, "at least 39 states have considered more than 100 bills that affect immigrants' access to driver's licenses. According to the National Immigration Law Center, 18 states have taken up proposals to make it easier for the children of illegal immigrants to pursue college educations."

It is a dynamic moment for immigration policy and politics. California may have a heated gubernatorial election in the fall. Bush, who came to political prominence as a Latino-wooing anti-Pete Wilson, has been largely silent on the issue. He'll soon be plumping for a second term, and the Golden State is shaping up to be a key battleground. Stay tuned.