Untying the immigration knot
"It would end the U.S. as we currently know it."
That's Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation, speaking of what
would happen if an immigration proposal by Sens. Mel Martinez
(R-Fla.) and Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) becomes law. Their plan would
grant amnesty to 9 million to 10 million illegal immigrants and put
those immigrants on a path to citizenship.
Moreover, the Martinez-Hagel plan would pave the way for an
estimated 103 million persons to
legally immigrate to the U.S. over the next 20 years -- fully
one-third of the current population of the United States. Current
law allows 19 million legal immigrants over the next 20 years. The
Martinez-Hagel plan would add an extra 84 million legal immigrants
to that number.
"Effectively, within 20 years, a quarter of the U.S. population
will be foreign born" under Martinez-Hagel, Rector says. He calls
the prospect of such a huge influx "utterly unprecedented."
If Martinez-Hagel becomes law, Rector says, we can expect "the largest expansion of
the welfare state in 35 years."
Why? Consider a few facts Mr. Rector has exposed:
- Half of all adult illegal immigrants lack a high-school degree.
Among Latin American and Mexican immigrants, 60 percent lack a
high-school degree and only 7 percent have a college degree. By
contrast, among native-born U.S. workers, only 6 percent have
failed to complete high school and nearly a third have a college
- Immigrant households are about 50 percent more likely to use
welfare than native-born households.
- Immigrants without a high-school degree (both lawful and
unlawful) are two-and-a-half times more likely to use welfare than
T hen there's the problem of out-of-wedlock childbearing, which a)
correlates strongly with welfare use and b) is more prevalent among
foreign-born Hispanics than among non-Hispanic whites (42.3 percent
vs. 23.4 percent). "Children born and raised outside of marriage
are seven times more likely to live in poverty than children born
and raised by married couples," Rector writes. "Children born
out-of-wedlock are also more likely to be on welfare, to have lower
educational achievement, to have emotional problems, to abuse drugs
and alcohol, and to become involved in crime."
Beyond the economic concerns of immigration are security problems.
Mixed in with those who simply want to make a better life for their
families are some dangerous people. When immigration laws are
flouted routinely, terrorists and drug traffickers find it easier
to engage in criminal activities. What's needed, James Carafano
suggests in another Heritage paper on
, is for policymakers to enforce laws that bar
employers from hiring illegal aliens.
"Research by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the SSA
Inspector General suggests an alarming degree of collusion between
illegal workers and employers who intentionally turn a blind eye to
hiring individuals who are unlawfully present in the United
States," Carafano writes. "This collusion helps to fuel a
burgeoning population of undocumented workers and encourages
unprecedented levels of illegal border crossings."
To reduce those crossings, we need a smarter way to secure our
borders, Carafano says in a separate Heritage
. We need "enhanced and secured infrastructure,
appropriate screening, inspection of high-risk cargo and people,
persistent surveillance, actionable intelligence and responsive
interdiction," he writes. "Combining these instruments into
effective border security requires not just integrating assets at
the border, but also linking them to all activities involved in
cross-border travel and transport, from issuing visas, passports,
and overseas purchase orders to internal investigations and the
detention and removal of unlawful persons."
Do these concerns mean that Americans should shun immigrants?
Certainly not. Ours is a country born of immigrants. But
immigration reform is long overdue and must emphasize work
incentives, not welfare incentives; keep current US citizens safe
from terrorists and thugs who enter under the dark of night; and
include measures to make sure those legally entering our country
are willing to contribute to society and become U.S. citizens.
Patriotic assimilation is crucial, as Matt Spalding explains in a paper for Heritage's
First Principles Series
. "The American theory of citizenship
necessitates that the words immigration and assimilation be linked
in our political lexicon and closely connected in terms of public
policy: Where there is one, there must be the other." Spalding
points out that assimilation must include an emphasis on acquiring
English, learning about our history, political principles, civic
culture and establishing primary allegiance to the United
If we do not enact wise reform measures that protect our American
way of life, there may one day be no recognizable American way of
life left to protect.
Hagelin is a vice president of The Heritage Foundation
and the author of Home Invasion: Protecting Your Family in a
Culture that's Gone Stark Raving Mad.