All this prompted me to dig up my 2003 Reason column on anti-immigrant rhetoric on the right, and specifically on attempts to cash in on legitimate concerns about terrorism to stoke anti-immigrant hysteria; it deals in part with Michelle Malkin's 2002 book, Invasion: How America Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals, and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. A few excerpts from that, I believe, are relevant to this discussion.
It’s understandable, of course, that a terrorist act committed by foreign nationals should raise concerns about national security and border control. But that doesn’t mean the problem of terrorism should be conflated with that of illegal immigration.
The 19 hijackers who struck on September 11 all entered the U.S. legally as tourists or business travelers, although three of them had overstayed their visas. At the same time, not one of the millions of illegals who cross the border from Mexico or get smuggled in on cargo vessels from China has been implicated in terrorism. The most Malkin can muster for a terrorist connection is that two illegal immigrants, along with one legal permanent resident from El Salvador, helped four of the hijackers get the phony driver’s licenses they used to get on the airplanes.
"It’s true that the system is broken," says Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute. "But the people who are exploiting these legitimate fears to cut back on immigration are going in the wrong direction. It sounds logical at first, but it’s not realistic, it’s not going to be enforceable, and ultimately it’s not going to give us better security."
Indeed, a wholesale crackdown on illegal immigration could, by consuming scarce resources, hinder rather than help the effort to keep potential terrorists out of this country. "By some estimates," says [the Cato Institute's Dan] Griswold, "we spend $3 billion a year trying to keep Mexican workers out of the United States. I’d much rather spend that money trying to keep out Middle Eastern terrorists."
Given the realities of the global economy and the U.S. labor market, the flow of migrants into this country will be a fact for the foreseeable future. Making legal entry easier for people who want to better their lot in life is a much more feasible solution than making entry "a fiercely guarded privilege," as Malkin suggests in Invasion. It is also, of course, far more feasible than the fantasy of deporting the 9 million to 11 million illegal immigrants who are already here.
Besides freeing up resources to target terrorists, such legalization would severely diminish the document fraud and smuggling that can in fact assist terrorists. An amnesty for illegal immigrants would bring people out of the shadows in which terror cells can lurk and make it safe for people with useful information about possible terrorists to cooperate with law enforcement. (Oddly, for all her concern about threats to national security, Malkin deplores Attorney General John Ashcroft’s offer to grant U.S. citizenship to any alien, legal or illegal, who comes forward with tips that aid the investigation into the 9/11 attacks.)
Four years later, more of the same.
As I note in the column, Jacoby, Griswold, and other immigration supporters do not oppose security measures to intercept potential terrorists trying to enter the U.S. (including some degree of ethnic/national profiling). But there's a far cry from that prudent stance to turning our backs on America's cherished ideals and embracing the darker aspects of our heritage.
More: Along the same lines: pardon me, but does Mickey Kaus have any idea what he's talking about?
I can see where the immigration issue is killing Bush. (Which genius decided, when Bush was down to his most loyal 40%, to promote a policy that pisses them off? Why not go for a clean zero and get a good draft pick?) But Bush isn't running again. And I still don't see why House Republicans won't benefit in 2006 from pushing a tough enforcement policy that pleases their base, and that in general is popular. Are they incapable of communicating their views to their constituents? ... Plus, it's highly unpopular for the Democrats to oppose the House approach, no? Robo-pollerr Scott Rasmussen notes that as the immigration debate has proceeded the GOPs have opened up a 6 point lead on this issue, up from one point--entirely because support for the Democrats has declined.
Yet if you follow Kaus's link to the Rasmussen Report, you will see that things are not that simple at all. Americans are evently divided on immigration, with 41% favoring measures to allow illegal immigrants to move toward legalization and 40% in favor of deporting them. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, three out of five support legalization. And only one in five support the House bill, which makes it a felony to reside in the U.S. illegally and features no guest worker provisions.