Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Unmentionable Realities in the Immigration Debate

As the US Senate continues to steer the US on a course toward demographic disaster – at the constant urging of President Bush – Robert Samuelson, one of the nation’s most respected economists, tries vainly to inject some reason into the public debate. Samuelson dares to point out the simple – but politically unmentionable – truth that not all immigrants are of equal value to the US. And that admitting massive numbers of uneducated, unskilled, non-English speaking aliens, from populations that show no inclination toward assimilating, or producing highly productive offspring, can only be a recipe for long-term disaster and economic ruin.

Hardly anyone is discussing these issues candidly. It is politically inexpedient to do so. We can be a lawful society and a welcoming society simultaneously, to use the president's phrase, but we cannot be a welcoming society for limitless numbers of Latin America's poor without seriously compromising our own future -- and, indeed, the future of many of the Latinos already here. Yet, that is precisely what the president and many senators (Democratic and Republican) support by endorsing large "guest worker" programs and an expansion of today's system of legal visas. In practice these proposals would result in substantial increases of low-skilled immigrants.

How fast can they assimilate? We cannot know, but we can consult history. It is sobering. In 1972 Hispanics were 5 percent of the U.S. population and their median household income was 74 percent of that of non-Hispanic white households. In 2004 Hispanics were 14 percent of the population, and their median household income was 70 percent of the level of non-Hispanic whites. These numbers suggest that rapid immigration of low-skilled workers and rapid assimilation are at odds. Some immigrant families make huge advances, but many don't and newcomers represent a constant drag.:

Samuelson notes that the tens of millions of low and unskilled Latinos that President Bush and the GOP leadership in Congress seem hell bent on admitting permanently to the US will pay less in taxes that what the cost in government-funded social services, from housing to public schools to healthcare. Samuelson’s analysis doesn’t even touch on the pressing issue of affirmative action programs, which these immigrants would instantly qualify for as Latinos, and the ethnic strife that will cause with native-born blacks and other minorities. Nor does Samuelson point out that the supposed work ethic of these Latino immigrants – now so ardently praised by President Bush and his open borders cadre – will almost certainly collapse once they find themselves on the receiving end of so much government largesse.

Samuelson also sees an escalating clash between the tens of millions of low-skilled, unassimilated aliens and America’s aging baby-boomers as the both groups try to draw benefits out of an overdrawn government treasury.

There are striking parallels between how we've treated immigration and aging. In both cases, the facts are hiding in plain view. But we've chosen to ignore them because candor seems insensitive and politically awkward. Who wants to offend the elderly or Latinos? The result is to make our choices worse by postponing them. A sensible society would long ago have begun adapting to longer life expectancies, better health and greater wealth by making careful cuts in Social Security and Medicare. We've done little.

Unfortunately, the two problems intersect. Just coincidentally, the Census Bureau projects both the 65-and-over population and the Hispanic population to be about a fifth of the total by 2030 (the elderly population is now about 12 percent). The tax increases that will be required to pay for existing federal commitments to the elderly are on the order of 30 to 40 percent. People who don't think there will be conflicts between older beneficiaries and younger taxpayers -- Hispanic or not -- are deluding themselves. People who imagine there won't be more conflicts between growing numbers of poor Latinos and poor African Americans for jobs and political power are also deluding themselves.

Unfortunately, its politically incorrect to think in ethnic terms, or to imagine (perish the thought!) that minority groups don’t get along. The multiculturalist nonsense, cold hunger for power and brazen corruption that holds the minds of Washington politicians in thrall refuses to be tainted by any whiff of reality.


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