A couple of weeks ago, I heard an Hispanic political activist from Fort Worth on the radio. But instead of cheering the virtues she saw in the Democratic Party, she was singing the praises of the Republican Party. She told the reporter interviewing her, "most Hispanics really are Republicans. They just don't know it yet."
She went on to list the reasons why: culturally, Hispanics are extremely family-oriented. And that's the traditional family unit to which they're oriented, which includes multi-generational families - something from which many Anglo Republicans have been straying.
Hispanics are also almost entirely anti-gay-marriage, predominantly pro-life, and reluctant to divorce. Many of them may be on some form of public assistance, but they don't see it as a way of life. Their work ethic is such that laziness is not tolerated. That's why many of them have come illegally to the United States. They'd rather break the law so they can work, than sit idly by and watch their families languish in poverty.
Which, of course, poses the big problem Hispanics have with the Republican Party. And the big problem many Republicans, including myself, have with Hispanics: Illegal immigration.
Control the Dialog, Not the Border
It's been said that if Republicans simply capitulated to advocates for illegal immigration, the party would be flooded with an entirely new, enthusiastic voting bloc. Many Hispanics, we're told, cringe when voting for liberal candidates they know hold such inferior views on morality and bloated government. If it wasn't for the fact that Republicans vilify Hispanics by wanting to deny them their freedoms, the argument goes, they'd much prefer to leave the Democratic Party.
Of course, this narrative has come to dominate the debate over illegal immigration largely because Republicans can't shake the perception that we're anti-minority. And also because liberal Democrats maliciously exaggerate that perception, and frame the debate as a civil rights issue, which automatically triggers fears of segregation and discrimination. Some of these liberal Democrats are Roman Catholics, whose political capital benefits from the legions of illegal immigrants swelling congregations across the United States.
It doesn't help matters that among certain segments of the Republican elite, business owners are making handsome profits on the backs of illegal immigrants. Undocumented workers, after all, can't complain about unsafe working conditions, unfair pay, and a lack of benefits. They know that if they don't do the work and tolerate the conditions imposed by their employer, they can be easily replaced. In a way, it's like those early days of the Industrial Revolution, when the imperiousness of employers eventually led to the creation of unions. And we all know how hard it is to deal with that legacy today.
Adding to the party's intransigence on this subject are conservatives advocating for some sort of mass deportation of illegals. Personally, I don't think it would be immoral of us to conduct such an undertaking, but neither do I think it's logistically possible. Or a wise use of taxpayer funds. So why keep it on the table? Spending time mulling its plausibility will only confirm to Hispanics that we're the insensitive clods liberals claim us to be. Even though President Obama has deported more illegals than his predecessor.
Complicating matters are all of the children who have been brought to the United States illegally by their parents, or who were born here to illegal parents. Personally, I support legislation that would curb the "anchor baby" phenomenon, in which illegals intentionally come to the United States to give birth, so their child can bless its family with all of the benefits of its automatic citizenship here. But I'm willing to concede that supporting such legislation does not help the Republican Party's overtures to the Hispanic community, and isn't worth the healthcare complexities it invites.
Still, shouldn't these concessions contribute significant political capital to this debate concerning illegal immigration? Not that their benefits are automatically obvious. Indeed, several other perspectives on the issue need to be championed so that Hispanics can see that being law-abiding Republicans and supporters of America's grand immigration legacy are not mutually exclusive roles.
Here's what I mean:
- Immigration and illegal immigration are two different things. The distinctions need to be made clear, and kept clear. I don't think anybody today is anti-immigration. Indeed, we need immigrants to enhance the creativity and dynamism that encourage our society's proficiency at innovation. It's illegal immigration that many of us believe to be problematic. Using these terms interchangeably risks confusing the issue, particularly among people groups for whom English is not their primary language.
- Illegal immigration is not just an Hispanic-centric issue. Illegal immigration involves people from across the globe, from China and the Philippines to the African continent, Russia, and the Middle East. Hispanics tend to commandeer the dialog, since theirs is the people group with the easiest and cheapest illegal access to the United States. Republicans, then, need to draw open the curtains on the wider humanitarian concerns at stake here.
- Granting amnesty to illegal immigrants is patently unfair. It's unfair to people who have been born here legally, to people in other countries who are obediently jumping through all of the legal hoops to come here legally, and to people who have stayed behind in their native countries out of respect for our sovereign borders.
- Illegal immigration is discriminatory. It's become an international issue in which Hispanics receive preferential treatment. If neither whites nor blacks nor Asians deserve preferential treatment in this debate, why should Hispanics? Tolerating - and even facilitating - a form of immigration that is biased towards one people group is not sound policy. With this narrative, it's easy to see how illegal immigration makes a mockery of civil rights. An immigration policy that favors any special group is un-American. Period.
- Illegal immigration has been encouraged by American employers who take advantage of an undocumented worker's status. Having illegals working for an employer means that employer doesn't need to keep strict payroll and tax records, or humane working conditions. Many employers who use illegals say they can't get documented workers to perform the required labor, but might that be more because documented workers know their rights, and what their labor is worth on the open market, instead of laziness on their part, as claimed by employers? Maybe it doesn't take a specialized skill to dig a ditch, but are you paying for the skill, or the willingness of your laborer to perform the task? Of course, minimum wage laws complicate things, but that only reinforces the fact that an illegal immigrant's true value to their employer is their illegality. Make them legal, documented workers, and see how long those employers will keep them on the job. (Alternatively, you could try to abolish minimum wage laws, so that there's more legitimacy in an illegal's desire to perform work nobody else will do for such a low wage - and see how far you get with liberal Democrats!)
- Sovereignty is a basic right for any legitimate country to exercise. What does it say about a people group who advocate for their exemption from sovereignty laws, in terms of their willingness to assimilate within the broader society? Does it benefit a country more to welcome people who are willing to jump through the hoops to legally move here, or to welcome people whose first act on our soil is breaking the law? How does it benefit immigrants who come here legally?
- Allowing illegal immigration is short-sighted and ignores broader economic issues. What is the objective of illegal immigrants? Is it the military overthrow of our country? No. Is it the cultural subjugation of our citizens? No. Is it to rape and pillage? No. It's pure economics, isn't it? So wouldn't it behoove us to work on ways we can improve living conditions and access to decent employment in the home countries of people willing to otherwise emigrate here illegally? Wouldn't most of them prefer to receive a living wage in the country of their birth, near their extended families, and ensconced in their own culture? Would it benefit America more to have geopolitical neighbors equipped to be customers for what we produce? Or to tolerate an inflated employment hierarchy where illegal labor jeopardizes the stability of our lower-wage jobs sector?
So, where does all of this leave us legal Americans, and the millions of illegal immigrants in our midst?
First, since a mass deportation of illegals is out of the question, and even a border fence may cause more problems than it solves, Mitt Romney's poorly-communicated suggestion of "self-deportation" actually poses the most viable solution. It doesn't cost taxpayers anything, and in terms of logistics, it's about as organic a process as how illegals got here in the first place. It doesn't make for a prudent sound bite the way Romney put it, but that doesn't mean the concept won't work.
To a certain extent, illegals who can't find jobs during our Great Recession are already voluntarily returning across our sovereign borders to their native countries. It was economics that encouraged them to come here, and now, for better or worse, it's economics forcing them back.
Hopefully, while they've been in America, they've learned some new skills, or maybe some new techniques for performing their old skills, that they can deploy back home. And hopefully, they've learned that just as they needed to take some initiative for finding work and avoiding detection here in America, they should try to reinvest some of that initiative in securing employment and advocating for systemic improvements in their old sociopolitical environments. They can now speak from experience regarding the things they've seen here that can help improve living standards for their families there. And at the end of the day, isn't an improved opportunity for providing for one's family what we're talking about in this discussion?
Meanwhile, changing the narrative from kicking out illegals to equalizing access to employment opportunities for all legal immigrants could solve two vexing problems at the same time.
Let's face it: America can't be the world's employer. We should be taking this opportunity for "organic repatriation," as I'd call it, and extending the vision of economic opportunity down to our neighbors south of our border. If the Western Hemisphere's ability to provide for one's family can only be available in the United States and Canada, how myopic are we being? What kind of neighbors are we being?
That being said, the fact that certain segments of our economy rely almost entirely on seasonal workers means that some form of guest worker visa legislation needs to be maintained. However, the rules governing guest workers need to be designed to primarily benefit citizens and legal long-term immigrants.
One way to combat the proliferation of employers who hire illegal, undocumented workers could be by creating a rigid employment documentation system run by state workforce offices via secure websites. Structuring some sort of verification system, where employers considering hiring somebody run their Social Security Number through a database to at least confirm a job applicant's name and address, could be a start. Increasing penalties for employers who hire undocumented workers could also work. In addition, mandating that official checklists for workplace standards get posted at all check-cashing stores, Western Union offices, and post offices could help educate illegals on what legal workers can expect from their employers. Things like OSHA-approved restraints and equipment. The minimum wage rate (since the minimum wage isn't going away anytime soon). Even whether or not their employer pays into a workers compensation fund. That might sound like nanny-state busywork to some Republicans, but as I regularly preach, it's the abuses perpetrated by free markets that actually coax the nanny-state into existence.
Might all of this employment screw-tightening increase the prices for some goods? Yes, it probably would. But shouldn't free-market advocates be all for that? Prices would more accurately reflect the cost of paying for qualified workers. Or, is capitalism only virtuous when it can be conveniently rigged to keep prices artificially low?
As another worthwhile concession, Republicans could negotiate for a suspension of deportations of non-violent offenders while we let these less incriminating methods of dealing with illegal immigration prove their worth. If "organic repatriation" does what I think it can do, and if Democrats really have the best interests of illegals at heart - instead of simply wanting to manipulate a captive political pawn at Republicans' expense - by 2016, what might the picture look like for everybody from across the globe who has - or wants - a legal right to be here?
After all, being against illegal immigration isn't being anti-Hispanic.
It's being pro-diversity.
Coming Monday: Hope and Change, Part 3: Libertarianism