Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Immigration Again

Alvaro Varga Llosa writes a sensible piece: Immigration—The Wages of Fear

WASHINGTON—I have been called a “Spanish conquistador” in Peru, a “sudaca” (South American scum) in Spain, and a “wog” in Britain—and I am profiled as a Hispanic in the U.S. (which actually means “ancient Roman” since Hispania was the Iberian province of Rome). The first time I went to London, I was asked if there were any cars in Peru. I explained that they prefer flying saucers to avoid rush-hour congestion.

I may be forgiven for drawing attention to the abyss that separates perception from reality in today’s debate on immigration in the U.S. The fact that President Bush should feel compelled to send the National Guard to the border with Mexico in order to win support for his proposal to legalize millions of Hispanics is an indication of where perceptions stand.

Whenever there is a major disconnect between the law and reality, trying to force reality to fit the law only brings more misery. Forcing millions of real people to adjust to fiction—as the bill approved by the House of Representatives that triggered the recent protests by immigrants intends to do—is the stuff of totalitarianism.

Much of the Hispanic contribution has little connection to low-skilled jobs. According to Geoscape International, a third of Hispanic households earn over $50,000 a year. The Pew Hispanic Center puts the net worth of Hispanic households at more than $700 billion. HispanTelligence, a research division of Hispanic Business magazine, says the rate of growth of the purchasing power of Hispanics in the last 10 years is three times the national average. In 2010, Hispanics will own 3.2 million businesses. Clearly, these immigrants are expanding the national pie.

I expect Mr. Llosa has picked positive indicators and some terms are a bit vague -- what precisely does it mean to "speak English" -- but a short article can't be comprehensive and filled with footnotes. I found the optimistic view put forth a bracing corrective to the gnashers of teeth and criers of doom. As we say around here, read the whole thing. HT: NoLeftTurns.


Anonymous said...

I can't comment on the veracity of his statistics, but certainly there is considerable assimilation and entrepreneurship within the Hispanic community. There is enthusiasm toward forming small businesses in particular. There is, broadly speaking, much patriotic sentiment and pride in joining the Armed Forces. There is Christianity, in many cases Protestant Christianity, such that the cultural gulf between Hispanic immigrants and the dominant society is much narrower than that existing between the Swedes, say, and their Moslem immigrants.

So in that sense, this wave of newcomers to America is in some ways broadly similar to that from 19th Century Europe. Perhaps the best analogy of Latin migration to the Southwest may be to the wave of Sicilian and Spanish immigrants who came to the industrializing France of the late 19th Century. A couple of nativist French hiccups, but these cultures were sufficiently similar that they could all become French. If you have an Italian last name in France, you are considered French. Unlike if your grandfather came from Morocco.

But there are at least three important differences, too, which Vargas Llosa elides. First, we now have an intellectual and academic elite that resists assimilation and sees only benefits to Balkanizing the country in order to weaken its dominant culture, which is its ultimate objective. That is new. And while the strong Hispanic work ethic is unquestionable, the cultural commitment to education is often less strong, at precisely the moment in our history when we need all the educated workers we can possibly get. Again, the public schools are failures in inculcating this commitment. That is new, too. There is also the thankfully still latent irredentism of a few to to somehow reclaim the Southwest, fantastical though it may be. That is new, too. Finally, while 19th Century Europe had its problems, these were not failed states, in the sense that large portions of Mexico and Central America are failed states. You never want to stick around in a failed state - you always want to leave. So the emigrant faucet will never turn off, unless those states change in some fundamental way. And that situation is new, too.

Again my point. If we were still living in the assimilationist America of Ellis Island, and were not next door to a overpopulated dysfunctional oligarchy, we might not need half the things we are contemplating to secure our borders - but we aren't in that long ago world, so we do. Even more importantly, we have to teach the value of America to each of these newcomers, and we don't do a very good job of that, either.

Chennaul said...

The Weimar Republic created a failed state -Germany. The Balkans and Eastern Europe were failed states. Ireland during the dispora was most certainly economically a failed state.

In fact I would hazard more so....

As for Mexico being overpopulated are you speaking in terms of density or generationally. Just as we had our baby boomers so does Mexico but with a now greater use of birth control that is expected to curb down the road.

I think we are also seeing a new variant of the Lace Curtain Irish and that might explain Lopez et al.

Some things that seem consistent; if the immigrant group is Catholic the fear of being "overproduced' is latent. They said it about the Irish, the Italians and the Croatians.

Also there is the phrase "uneducated socialists....who will vote democratic" or some such pre-amble.

Well uneducated does not always correlate to stupid. There is a phrase in history and it is called "voting with your feet". Most people that fall into this category have learned the hard way that the country they just left they do not want to vote for any semblage of that. Eastern Europeans who escaped socialist regimes they knew from firsthand experience what some professors with multiple degrees from Boulder, Berkeley or Princeton fail to comprehend and that is that socialism because it gives power to a few who decide how the many can serve the good of the whole it is inherently a corrupt system.

That is something that the best education did not bestow upon the likes of Juan Cole, Chomsky and Ward Churchill. I've probably left out plenty more.

Unknown said...

I also do not think that the importance of the academic elite is as great as some people think. I have a friend who works as an executive assistant to a University President and she says enrollment is beginning to fall off. I suppose this depends on where you are but it just might be that as tuition goes up more and more parents are thinking they do not want to pay for their children to learn to despise them.

It is sad that a hispanic feels the need to reassure people that hispanics can and do contribute to the country and the economy.

I think that if Irish and Italian Catholics and Chinese laborers could assimilate in this country [back in the day of overt hostility the likes of which most of us can not even imagine] then so can hispanics today. They have been doing it for centuries.

I have a client whose husband and brother fought on opposite sides in WW2, one for the US and one for Italy. This is our past.

Anonymous said...

I mention Protestantism (about 15%) among Latin immigrants only to emphasize the relative closeness of their culture with that of the American Southwest. And I may be wrong, but I don't think that there is much difference between US Protestant and Catholic family sizes today.

Also there is the phrase "uneducated socialists....who will vote democratic" or some such pre-amble.

No. Uneducated people may or may not vote Democratic. I don't think there is any correlation at all. And I know from personal experience that the Hispanics that I know are in no rush to recreate what they have left behind. But it is also true that most immigrant Hispanics have very little education. That is not to say that they won't work hard to lift themselves up, just that the lack of education makes it harder for them and by extension for us. When my great grandfather's family emigrated to North America with their 8th grade schooling, all you needed was a sod house on the prairie and a very strong constitution. But that no longer suffices. As another commenter said in another thread, bilingual education and cultural isolation at the expense of a rigorous English education condemns you to a lifetime of only busing tables.

Yes, the Weimar Republic was a failed state. As have been others in Europe. There is no geographic monopoly on failed statedom. But Latin America has failed much more deeply and in many more ways than has western Europe. Over centuries. That means that unless those societies change in fundamental ways, the extreme pressure to emigrate will always be there, whether our unemployment rate is low or high, whether we feel threatened from without or not. Imagine an Irish Potato Famine that never ends. And as our own economic situation changes, so will our attitudes toward those who come here. Unfortunate, but true.

Plus. A Mexican should not have to abandon his family in Michoacan to come north and live clandestinely for years in near poverty, sending all his money home. He should be commuting to work every day at the local Ford pickup plant, building them better than the gringos do, getting promoted to supervisor, buying one of the trucks he made on the assembly line and sending his kids to a good school. Maybe put some money down on a nice place in exotic Colorado where it snows in the winter. If he lived in a society like that he wouldn't have to condemn himself and his kids to a lifetime in Gringolandia, washing dishes.

Thus my call for a fence and a Marshall Plan for Mexico. Not one without the other.

Unknown said...


I undertand what you are saying but I think the American people would not support a Marshall Plan. They have no more faith in the Mexicans getting it together than they do in the Palestinians seeing the light or fundamentalist Muslims becomin open minded. Once these prejudices become this deep seated, they do not change. I can hear it now, "They have oil why do they need our money and help? They will just screw things up again."

Maybe we should annex Mexico.

MeaninglessHotAir said...

the rate of growth of the purchasing power of Hispanics in the last 10 years is three times the national average. In 2010, Hispanics will own 3.2 million businesses. Clearly, these immigrants are expanding the national pie.

Exactly why we're the greatest country in the world. This is the country I love living in. Unlike, er, um, France.

Anonymous said...

Earlier I said:

And while the strong Hispanic work ethic is unquestionable, the cultural commitment to education is often less strong

I have heard from more than one old time Seattleite that in the late 19th Century the German immigrants were generally encouraged by their families to go to school, while the Swedes were encouraged by their families to abandon education and just get to work in the sawmills. I have no idea how true this is, but the fact that I've heard it from several sources is interesting. It seems this stuff has been with us for a while.

And I agree with you Terrye that there would be absolutely no enthusiasm for a Marshall Plan for Mexico.

chuck said...


And while the strong Hispanic work ethic is unquestionable, the cultural commitment to education is often less strong

I rented an apartment in Salt Lake from a Hispanic who had worked in the fields with his family as a boy. He went on to college, got a business degree, and at the time I met him was buying up apartment buildings around Salt Lake. Even so, he said he was the exception and the rest of his family had no particular ambition or desire for education. I have no idea what the statistics are, but this is anecdotal evidence that supports what you wrote.

Anonymous said...

Maybe we should annex Mexico.

En verdad, posiblemente seria una buena idea.

Sonora, Chihuahua,Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas I can see. By the time you get to Jalisco they might start getting touchy.

True story. In Chihuahua, they have a modern shopping mall that rivals anything in the States. Supposedly the coyotes drop off the poor Central Americans, tell them they are now in the US, and leave.

Barry Dauphin said...

My quibble with the article is that word Hispanic is not the same as illegal Hispanic immigrant. I wonder if that's where the statistics cited might be questionable. That is not clear in the article. I respect the sentiments expressed and certainly believe that the Hispanic immigrants and those who are US citizens by birth contribute great things to the country. But the debate is about handling the borders as well as the 11 million illegal immigrants in the country, not about race per se. Yes, those boundaries can get blurred amidst the vitriol, but we want to acknowledge the difference for many reasons.

Unknown said...


Those bastards.

My Grandmother had a man named Raoul come and help her out after my uncle died. He did a little bit of everything, but mostly he took care of the yard and garden. She was very picky. He often brought his wife and kids. My mother said he was so proud the day he told them that his son would be going to college. He himself did not go to school past the age of 10 when he went to work in a sawmill where he lost his arm while still a boy.

And he was happy, happy to be here.

Unknown said...


I agree the debate should be about just about illegal immigration, but I have also heard people say that hispanics want to take over the country by 2050 and all manner of crazy stuff. And of course people respond to that. I think that is the danger here, that the debate becomes more about race and culture than securing borders.

Barry Dauphin said...


Yes, I agree. That's why I thought the writer should have been more careful. He was inadvertently blurring the distinction.

Anonymous said...

barry dauphin:

It is certainly true that the US is held to an entirely different standard. Mexico and other Latin American countries can arrest, hold and deport their illegals with nary a whimper from the US media. There are Guatemalan farm workers in places like Chiapas who are little more than slaves. The sovereignity of Mexico is unchallenged. It is the US that somehow shouldn't - can't - be allowed to control its own borders.

Meanwhile, the Israelis offer some advice.

Luther said...

Terrye and Chuck

"the debate becomes more about race and culture" and as to the topic, "economic contributions."

Being the husband of a Hispanic two generations removed from Mexico, I am not concerned about race.

I am also not so concerned about economic contributions, though living in a border city which suffers the brunt of this situation I may be a tad biased in the information cited. I don't see it here.

I am concerned about culture. In ways so small you would laugh at them. But, to me at least, they matter.

All I want is a secure border and "controlled" immigration. Should we do the same on our "Northern" border, so as to assuage the racist charges, fine.

I just want to know who comes into this country, and how many at a time. Is that so unreasonable?

Anonymous said...

Luther LcLeod:

I just want to know who comes into this country, and how many at a time. Is that so unreasonable?

In the eyes of much of Latin America and the BBC, yes, it is unreasonable.

If ever we do build an effective fence, the howls from the Mexicans, the UN, the European media and all the rest will be deafening and the charges of "racism" will be thrown in our faces for generations. So be it. We had better get used to it.

Luther said...


Your first comment was well said, and pretty well sums up the situation. I harbor no ill will toward anyone seeking a better life. But I would say everyone here recognizes that there are limits to the grandest generosity. Can we put our foot down before those limits are reached? It would behoove all were we able to do so.

"We had better get used to it."

Do we have the will and/or gumption to do this anymore. I wonder.

Anonymous said...

Luther McLeod:

Do we have the will and/or gumption to do this anymore. I wonder.

Hard to say. I think for the politicans, this uncertainty about our national will is what makes a so-called "virtual fence" so attractive, since they can shift with the winds of the moment and control the permeability of the fence however they want.

The last comment in the Haaretz article I linked to above is something I've been thinking about for some time. That is the possibility of corruption at the entry points if the wall proves difficult to get through. And the more US agencies are involved, the greater the likelihood of that corruption becoming more entrenched. For example, there are reports of low level corruption among US border employees that surface from time to time. If you drag in the National Guard, say, and put them on the border for a period of years, will they become targets of corruption, too?

I had a discussion a few months back with a friend who travels to Europe quite a bit and who has friends in Belgium and Austria and elsewhere. We had a discussion about the Moslem immigrants in Europe and the Mexican immigrants in the US. While we agreed that the Moslems pose a far, far greater existential threat, we differed in our assessment of which society, America or Europe, would come to grips with the problem first.

I took the position that the Euros were a hopeless case. But my friend maintained that the Euros would get a handle on their immigration problem more quickly than we will - if we ever do. Now I think he may be right.

For example, I'm pretty sure that at least one German state (maybe more) has now made German language proficiency a prerequisite for residency. And in the past few weeks, France and Spain have begun clamping down on immigration as well. We can argue if it is too little, too late, but the fact is that the Euros are doing stuff that we have yet to do.

Can you imagine the uproar if every US green card applicant had to pass 12th grade English?

The interesting thing is that the Euros can do this draconian stuff and have it buried on page D37 of the Sunday New York Times - if it is reported at all - while any similar action by the US would be prima facie evidence of "racism" and be shouted about from the rooftops for years to come. I think also that the traditional Europhilia of our media elites has something to do with this too. After all, over there they smoke Gitanes at little sidewalk cafes and discuss Sartre and how they hate America. They have socialized medicine. They drive to their doctors appointments in Citroen 2CVs. How could they be in any way bad? The only crimes are American crimes. In such a world, the Euros can get away with quite a bit.

J... said...

5 or 10 years from now we all be overwhelmed by Mexicans immigration. Who said that there are jobs that American people won’t do? Pay them and they will do it. Anyway How a President of United States can even say that. “There are jobs that American people won’t do”. It must be something wrong with him then. I just can’t swallow that part.

If we are talking about amnesty for illegal immigration, then what will happen if they all get it? Is that mean, that college grads will have to do masters in order to support them self? My friend is a Collage grad and has trouble finding a job. And here is comes, amnesty for illegal immigrant? Where she will find a good job? Harvesting corps, so illegal immigrant can do here job? What is going on?