The "compromise" immigration bill now before the Senate is a complicated piece of work, and nobody is happy with all of it. It may well fail to pass, at least when it reaches the House of Representatives. But it raises the whole question of what to do about illegal aliens in its starkest form, and studying it carefully is the beginning of wisdom on this difficult subject.
On one side is a solid majority of the American people, who have — at last, and probably only temporarily — woken up to the fact that their country has been overrun with about 12 million Spanish-speaking aliens, most of them Mexicans searching for jobs and the many other benefits of living in a generous and compassionate foreign country. The public realizes that this inundation is going to continue unless somebody stops it, and that the upshot will be, in a few more decades, a brand-new United States, with a powerful bloc of Spanish-speaking residents and a culture to match.
On the other side are two powerful groups of Americans who are benefiting from this process. They connived at its inception in the 1960s, but were forced to accept an effort at "reform" in 1986, under which the illegal tide would henceforth be stopped at the border, in return for a legal amnesty for the 3 million or so already here. Then they managed to prevent any serious border enforcement, and the tide flowed on to its present 12 million.
One group is a large number of American businessmen who depend on cheap Mexican labor and frankly don't give a hoot if getting it involves transforming the United States into something unrecognizable after they're dead. The other group is the Democratic Party, which is well aware that a large majority of the illegals will vote Democratic for generations if they get the chance (knowing that it will be the more "compassionate" party in matters of welfare, etc.), and is accordingly all in favor of putting them on a fast track to citizenship.
Between them, the businessmen and the Democrats run the government of the United States, and can easily overwhelm the big majority of Americans (represented, for this purpose, only by a wing of the Republican party not in thrall to business) that wants the illegals stopped. Even if a bill gets passed that appears to have real teeth in it, you can bet that in a year or two, when the public has gone back to sleep, most of those "teeth" will be adroitly pulled by small bits of legislation that escape wide attention. And "border enforcement" will again be as laughable as it has been since the "reform" of 1986.
One of the most prominent features of the bill now before the Senate is the "Z visa," which will be available to any illegal alien now here. It will entitle him or her to "live, work and travel freely" in return for paying a $1,000 fine, pretending to study English, holding a job and renewing the visa every four years. How many illegals, now employed here, do you think are going to go through that rigamarole? Ninety percent of them will simply lie low and see what (if anything) happens to them before the cheap-labor lobbyists and the Democrats manage to gut the legislation.
The bill also purports to modify the present system under which a Mexican with American citizenship can legally bring in his parents, his adult children and all his brothers and sisters — each of whom gets a "green card" entitling him or her to permanent residency here. As a result, every legally Americanized Mexican has potentially been the advance guard for a whole group of his relatives. This insult to the intelligence of the American people is supposed to be sharply reduced. But the Democrats are already weeping over such an affront to "family values," and you can be sure that ending it will be high on the agenda of the Democratic administration, if one is elected next year.
It is fair to ask whether those Americans who say they want to stop illegal immigration are really ready to do without the illegals who currently tend their gardens, clean their toilets and baby-sit their children and their elderly. But they had better answer "no" to that question, or get ready to learn who really runs this country.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy.