Here's the oddest thing about the ongoing—never-ending may be more apt—donnybrook over immigration: Amidst all the finger pointing and fury, all the column inches and congressional speeches dedicated to hammering out the last best hope for keeping foreigners from our shores, the nativists and restrictionists forgot to document what problems immigrants actually pose to these United States.
A good chunk of this issue is given over to our "guide to reality-based reform" (see page 30). The discussion starts with simple facts that undercut the hysteria about invasion by immigrants. As one of our contributors puts it, "Immigration is not the pox neo-Know Nothings make it out to be." Indeed, continues this writer, illegal immigrants, overwhelmingly from Mexico, provide "a helpful prop for sustaining American economic growth and cultural dynamism."
He notes that more than 60 percent of illegals—illegals—pay income tax and two-thirds kick in to Social Security (money they, like many of us, probably will never see again); that Hispanic unemployment is barely above the national average and that Hispanics start their own businesses at three times the national average; that immigrants are "generally less involved in crime than similarly situated groups"; and that crime rates in border towns "are lower than those of comparable nonborder cities."
The writer in question is George W. Bush's new press secretary, Tony Snow, who wrote so glowingly of immigrants in a syndicated column shortly before joining the administration in April. Here's hoping he brings his common-sense perspective to whoever is making policy these days at the White House.
Elsewhere you'll learn that Spanish-speaking households pick up English at the same rate their European counterparts did back in the early 20th century; that the various employer verification programs under discussion will be inefficient, bureaucratic nightmares for native workers and bosses; that even economists favoring restrictionist policies admit low-skilled immigrants are a net plus to the economy; and that many of today's perceived problems are the unintended consequences of previous reforms. You'll also learn how the welfare state allows "demagogues to obsess over precious 'public' resources [being] scarfed up by the invading Other."
If you listened exclusively to immigration opponents such as CNN's Lou Dobbs, you wouldn't encounter most of what's in this issue. Dobbs has ridden his restrictionist impulses to his highest ratings in years; lately, he's taken to condemning that most homegrown of unofficial holidays, St. Patrick's Day, as un-American (he seems unaware that the first St. Paddy's Day parade took place in New York City in 1762). Dobbs and folks like Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), the foremost advocate of building a wall between the U.S. and Mexico, have their anger and their fear. What they don't have is the facts. And that should count for something in a debate whose outcome will affect countless human lives and the very meaning of our country.