If you are a German and fancy Pegida, or a Brit and fancy UKIP, or a Frenchman and enjoy marching with the National Front, it’s a reasonable guess that you don’t like immigrants. If you’re an American, the story is different. There is a lady in the harbor to welcome the legal ones and a man in the White House to roll out the welcome mat for millions of illegal ones. And there is a society that by and large until now has been successful in assimilating wave after wave of new arrivals.
Front and center next week will be efforts by Senate Republican leaders to round up the votes needed to tie to the funding of the Department of Homeland Security a provision effectively rescinding Obama’s quasi-amnesty that shields millions of illegal immigrants from deportation. If at least six Democrats have a sense of humor they might provide the Republicans with the votes they need to add to their own to get this bill passed. Then the president can veto it, forcing Republicans to choose between surrendering, or closing down the department that is charged with protecting us from terror attacks. Such a shut-down would be unthinkable in any circumstances, never mind during the current period of nervousness after the slaughter in Paris. It isn’t often that a party can voluntarily retread a path that has been the route to disaster in the past.
America has in the past attracted those willing to take the risk of leaving home, which often means those willing to take the risk of starting small businesses. A just-released study by the non-partisan Fiscal Policy Institute finds that immigrants make up one-out-of-three owners of neighborhood service establishments such as dry cleaners, beauty salons and food shops. These small businesses, almost half owned by Asians, “play a big role in neighborhood revitalization” as they are often located in low-rent, somewhat blighted areas.
The bad news is that the newer wave -- the millions who sneak across the porous Southern border -- crowds the schools to which the middle class (but not the political class) sends its children, puts heavy burdens on the emergency rooms of hospitals around the country, and no longer needs to learn English or to assimilate. In multicultural, multilingual America the pressures to assimilate that drove previous waves to adopt the country that was adopting them are no longer present. Also, according to George Borjas, the Harvard professor known as “America’s leading immigration economist,” the new immigrants lower the wages of American workers, including blacks and U.S.-born Hispanics.
This mixture of costs and benefits makes for strange political bedfellows.
· The leftish president favors devising some path to citizenship for illegals, and until that path can be charted allowing them to “come out of the shadows” and obtain drivers’ licenses and other documents that make their lives here easier. The rightish soon-to-be candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, Jeb Bush, more or less agrees with the president that the illegals must be given a way to live decently, as does Arizona Republican senator John McCain, who told a woman at a policy meeting in our house that her desire to deport eleven million immigrants is infeasible: “We don’t have eleven million pairs of handcuffs in America.”
· Left-leaning trade union leaders disagree with left-leaning Obama and want immigrants denied benefits, while right-leaning exiting Texas governor and presidential wannabe, Rick Perry, granted illegal immigrants the benefit of paying university tuition at the same preferential rate available to legal Texas residents, but not to citizens from other states, arguing that Texas is best served by well-educated immigrants, legal or not.
· Some trade unions, mostly in the health care and hospitality sectors, are important supporters of the Democratic party and favor more immigration, a new source of members. Employers, generally supporters of the Republican party also want more immigrants, having been taught in the nation’s prestigious business schools that, other things being equal, an increase in supply lowers prices, in this case the price of labor, more commonly known as wages.