Nary a night passes on CNN that Lou Dobbs, the cable network’s advocate for the frightened middle-class masses, doesn’t let go with a blast against the “illegal-alien invasion.” He is not alone in his opinions.
Liberals suffering from political neuropathy may cringe, but many a head nods in agreement when he tells his viewers “an obscene alliance of corporate supremacists, desperate labor unions, certain ethnocentric Latino activist organizations and a majority of our elected officials in Washington works diligently to keep our borders open, wages suppressed and the American people all but helpless to resist the crushing financial and economic burden created by the millions of illegal aliens who crash our borders each year.”
The only reason Mr. Dobbs doesn’t have a far wider following is that he is confined to CNN, a cable network that may never gain a large audience as long as it keeps people like Wolf Blitzer, the yapping wart of broadcast journalism, on the air for hours every day.
There are many others who are torn. Anyone who has had an unpleasant encounter with illegal immigrants will listen to Mr. Dobbs with favor. People having a hard time making ends meet seethe when they hear about the welfare, medical and education costs imputed to immigrants, and there is the middle-aged, childless woman I met recently who told me that she might take the Dobbs position but for her fear that there will be no one available to take care of her if and when she must enter a nursing home.
No other public issue evokes quite the same crisscross of emotions and interests as this one. The same people who don’t particularly like foreigners and their ways, and who would be delighted to see fewer of them around, also wonder who, absent these convenient and lower-cost illegals, will pluck the chickens, wait tables, harvest the food, weed the garden, nanny the children, and clean the washrooms and offices of the nation.
Behind that there is the American Kulturkampf, the struggle to maintain a democracy and an economic system built on an Anglo-Saxon social base and the behavioral and ideological precepts of Protestant Christianity. The American Kulturkampf is almost as old as the Republic itself, as any New Yorker who knows his city’s history can explain. The Astor Place Riot of 1849, which took the lives of 20 people, was detonated by the clash between American nativism and foreign influences.
The old saying that when in Rome, do as the Romans do is disputed by the advocates of diversity and those who remind us that “America is a nation of immigrants,” as though that were the full story. Some of American immigrant history has had little to do with idealism and lots to do with money. Without denying the enormous contributions made by wave after wave of the new arrivals, past immigration was also fostered by steamship companies, railroads, industrial strike-breakers and land speculators, much as today it’s pushed by corporate agriculture and other business interests who couldn’t care less about the lady lifting her lamp beside the golden door.
However beneficial immigrants may have been and may still be, should immigration be allowed to continue? The population of the United States is approaching one third of a billion people. If we continue to live as we do now, this nation, with another 50 or 60 million inhabitants, could be turned into a very ugly place, ecologically and aesthetically. Another 40 million after that and some American cities might begin to look like Calcutta or Cairo, or some planet whose atmosphere is mostly sulfuric vapor.
Thanks to the triumph of a reactionary individualism, public controls over private property are being kicked over one after another. Given the takeover of the courts by judges representing property interests, restraints governing erosion, water, wildlife and so forth are vanishing. That is bad enough at present population levels, but the imagination is aghast at what America the Unbeautiful will look like with another 10 or 15 percent jump in present population levels.
Unless we want to turn the United States into some kind of modern living hell as the population reaches 400 million, we will have to change the way we live and our rules for living. Two- and three-car families are causing every kind of mayhem now. With another 75 million people and the same ratio of humans to cars, the place may become almost uninhabitable.
It would be profoundly non-American for the country to say that it looks forward to a population of 400 million but also understands that preparations must be made to accommodate that many people in advance. We are a society that cannot plan ahead effectively enough to educate enough technicians to hold onto our position in advanced science and manufacture. If we cannot plan for now, how can we bring ourselves to plan for the future?
If we were to stop immigration—at least illegal immigration—what would that entail? First off, we would have to bring ourselves to do it, and it’s doubtful that we can. Yet, assuming for the sake of argument that immigration can be closed down and controlled, what would be the effects, immediate and long term? Would some work just go undone? Would we have a permanent labor shortage? Would, as has happened in the past, the high cost of labor stimulate the invention of machines and organizations to do the same work with fewer people? Would wages go up enough so that the educated middle class, which now cannot afford to have children, would at least have enough of them to replenish itself?
By and large, Americans practice planned parenthood on a family level. On a national level, the idea, if broached, would be denounced as some form of elitist “-ism.” In our private lives, we are constantly lectured to plan ahead for our retirement, for our children’s education, for medical expenses, to build a home. Plan, plan, plan, we are told. Do not leave things to chance, because chance will not be good to you. The same holds true on a national level—but when it comes to our collective future, it’s come what may and let those still living deal with it.