Huddled Masses Overload

Is Dole right to attack immigration?

By Lori Leibovich

Published October 18, 1996 4:54PM (EDT)

at long last, so-called "wedge" issues like immigration and affirmative action are being raised in the presidential campaign. In a red-meat speech yesterday in Riverside, Calif., Bob Dole accused President Clinton of caving to "militant special interests" and failing to "guard this nation's borders." Last month Congress passed a $400 billion appropriations bill that would double the size of the Border Patrol, build a new U.S.-Mexico border fence and make it easier to expel foreigners and those seeking political asylum. In addition, the controversial welfare reform bill signed by Clinton cuts off most benefits from legal immigrants. The American Civil Liberties Union and other advocacy groups have filed suit to block enforcement of some of the bill's provisions.

How hot is the immigration issue, and why? We talked with Roy Beck, Washington editor of The Social Contract magazine and author of "The Case Against Immigration: The Moral, Economic, Social and Environmental Reasons for Reducing U.S.Immigration Back to Traditional Levels," recently published by W.W. Norton.

Why is there such a strong political backlash against America's immigrants, both legal and illegal?

Because immigration is out of control. The numbers have quadrupled since the 1960s, from about 250,000 a year to about 1 million today, making natives turn on immigrants. In American history, whenever elites have brought in immigrants, Americans have risen in protest and turned against them. It's unfortunate that the immigrants get the hostility, because it's the people in Washington who deserve it.


Because it is Washington that allows 1 million legal immigrants to come into
the country each year, filling the labor market with foreign laborers which allows
companies to lower wages by hiring them. Once one company does it, the rest follow. It's Washington that has flooded the labor market and driven wages down.

If this is such a problem, shouldn't employers and corporations also be held responsible?

I can't blame employers for hiring legal immigrants. And I'm not a nativist. I don't think that the government or an employer should discriminate against legal immigrants.
By the way, I don't think it's fair to say that Americans as a whole are
hostile towards immigrants. But you get mad at whoever is near you. You see the immigrants — if you still have a job — next to you at work and you see your real wages drop.

But look at Proposition 187 in California, which denies basic benefits even to children of illegal immigrants. A lot of people think that was a hostile,
anti-immigrant bill. And it is being held up by litigation.

Proposition 187 was a desperation measure. The people of California have
experienced, in effect, an invasion and the federal government has taken
no interest at all. When the leaders — the elite of the country — refuse to
deal with things in a rational way, then you get radical measures like 187.

You think they should be denied public education?

Our responsibility to any child that is here legally is to provide them
with the kind of opportunity that we would want for our own kids. But there is no question, it costs a lot more to educate immigrants because of the language barrier.
I do believe that by providing education and other public resources to
illegal immigrants, we lure people to this country. I think if you cut off
resources, there will be some families that would go back home and some
families that would decide not to move here in the first place.

The Clinton administration is putting more emphasis on beefed-up border controls and fences. Will they help?

Yes. But there are major drawbacks with the law: it did not create a mandatory verification system for immigrants. Right now it's still possible for
immigrants to come up with fake documents.

Farmers have long depended on illegal immigrants, especially at harvest time. So do restaurants. Wouldn't some states, like California, Texas and Florida, be hit hard without illegal immigrants?

Immigrants are not a plus to the economy. Overall they are, but not to the
per capita economy. Because of immigration, California has gone from being
one of the most egalitarian economies, where the largest percent of the
population was in the middle class, to the sixth worst in terms of
the disparity between rich and poor. I know when people see an immigrant in certain jobs they say, "If an immigrant wasn't doing it then no one would." But it's not true. There would be an American to do that job.

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) said the new law did not do enough to punish the
"unscrupulous employers" who exploit immigrant workers.

The responsibility of employers is to not hire illegal immigrants.
If they don't obey the law they should be punished. We have
not slapped enough fines on business. But business is in a bad situation
because we have not come up with a good verification system, so the
employers can't be sure who is legal and who is not.

You say that legal immigrants deserve equal treatment. Some would say that is not what they got in the welfare reform bill.

Congress had to find a lot of savings. And cutting off aid to legal
immigrants was a convenient way to do that. It was a budget-driven issue.
There is no question that legal immigrants are a drain on welfare. It's not
that they come here for welfare, but they end up on welfare 50 percent more
than other people because they have lower skills. It has nothing to do with
their character, it's just that they make a convenient target.

Forgetting for a moment that we are supposed to be a "nation of immigrants," won't these measures against legal and illegal immigration merely drive the problem underground? That rather than lessening their numbers, it will increase their exploitation?

I'm pro-immigrant but I am anti-immigration. History tells us that an increase in legal immigrants results in an increase in illegal immigrants. The legal immigrants write letters home and build up a sense of excitement and expectation about the U.S. Legal
immigrants also provide the networks and the protection for illegal
immigrants when they get here. We need to drastically reduce the flow so this cycle will break.

Quote of the day

Friday the 13th

"I was praying for the hatchet man. Soccer moms don't like hatchet men."

— Paul Begala, a Clinton strategist, on Dole's decision to pursue the "character" issue. (From "Rival Camps in Final Debate Faced Subtle and Basic Aims," in Friday's

New York Times

Lori Leibovich

Lori Leibovich is a contributing editor at Salon and the former editor of the Life section.

MORE FROM Lori Leibovich

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