No Amnesty For the Wall

On the nightstand beside my father’s bed there used to be a clipping from the local paper, a column that featured a photograph of a few small smiling children in a row holding awards. Among them was my older sister, who had won a small-town spelling bee.

Though my father never learned to command the English language with proficiency, his children came closer than he ever could have hoped. But that fragment of the American identity, to comprehend the language of our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, is fast becoming an unreality.

Today, more people speak a single non-English language than ever before in American history. Most of them live in California and speak Spanish. In fact, there is not a single county in the state of California where a majority of Latino students are proficient in English.

It’s a dirty little secret of the California school system that children who are not proficient in English are often labeled as having a “learning disability.” So, while they find themselves absurdly grouped with children with autism and Down syndrome, their parents—who may or may not be legal residents of the United States—receive resources from the state to help them get by with an “afflicted” child, that would otherwise go toward helping children with actual disabilities.

I left the insanity of California behind recently for the colder climes of the Midwest. I am happy to find that when I leave my home, I am not expected to speak Spanish, as is becoming increasingly common in California, and no one regards me as “Mexican-American,” but simply American.

I was happy to leave because mass immigration has ruined the Golden State in a very real way.

To start, California has the highest rate of child poverty, most of which is attributed to the single largest immigrant group, Latinos. California, in fact, has the highest rate of poverty for any state in the Union, fully 80 percent of which is among Latino households headed by a noncitizen. In other words, California’s largest ethnic group, Latinos, also account for the greatest number of poor.

Worse, California’s cities have experienced what the left-wing Southern Poverty Law Center describes as tantamount to the “ethnic cleansing” of blacks from their neighborhoods by Latinos. Needless to say, this creates tensions with far-reaching consequences. Though the state may appear and laud itself as “diverse,” it is fragmented along clear ethnic and racial lines.

But who is to blame? Some will zero in on immigrants. Certainly, immigrants bear some of the blame. Denying that means infantilizing them with the rankest form of paternalism. On the other hand, to blame them singularly means to blame a symptom, and not necessarily the cause.

If I had to pick one person to blame, and this will scandalize some readers, it’s Ronald Reagan. If I had to pick one party, it’s the Republican Party. For all their chest-beating over immigration woes, Republicans have proven time and again how meaningless their rhetoric really is.

Yet now, as it was during the Reagan era, Republicans are calling for amnesty in exchange for squaring up the border. Where have we heard this before?

Reagan’s amnesty, too, was packaged with the promise of tougher border controls, physical and bureaucratic infrastructure to prevent the unlawful trespass of foreigners into the United States, and sold against the clarion calls of so-called “ultras” who saw amnesty for what it was: a sell out.

California will never see a genuine Republican Party come to power again. Certainly not in my lifetime. That is the legacy of amnesty, although it was, at least implicitly, meant to be reciprocal.

Señor Reagan awards you amnesty, so you and your compañeros should be good to the Republican Party. And yet it had the opposite, and predictable, effect. It indicated weakness. It suggested that amnesty could be leveraged again by mass lawbreaking. Millions of Central Americans watching people slip through our border illegally want to know: Were they wrong?

Republicans who argue for some form of amnesty (or whatever euphemism they prefer to use) point to a raft of polling data that appears to support their position. Many Americans, according to the polls, would take amnesty in exchange for a wall and border security. Those polls need to be qualified. If Reagan’s legacy tells us anything about how amnesty plays out in real life, Americans would be trading certain demographic change for the illusion of security.

I’m not so sure that extending amnesty to millions of people who on balance prefer bigger government, more gun control, and greater restrictions on “hate speech” would be a “win” for America.

If the Right can agree that most Americans, native- and foreign-born alike, have been fed a dishonest line on immigration by academics, libertarian and liberal think tanks, and the media, then isn’t our task to show them that they’ve been misled, and not to concede to bad policies built on lies?

If polls showed that the majority of Americans wanted to adopt a national policy of “abortions-at-any-time,” like New York just did, it wouldn’t make such a policy any less horrific. (Latinos, for what it’s worth, have the second highest rate of abortion for any demographic.)

Moreover, if polls showed that most Americans wanted to live under Communism, I would expend my last breath warning them against it rather than concede an inch to their caprice. Incidentally, “AMLO the hope of Mexico” bumper stickers started appearing on cars just before I left California. AMLO is the nickname of  Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, whose favorite “social, political fighter” is Fidel Castro.

But if the polls are correct that the only way forward is Reaganesque amnesty, then there is no reason to believe that the results will be different this time. In all likelihood, things will get a great deal worse. California will turn an even deeper shade of blue and many other states will follow suit.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Why was my father so proud of the fact that his children could speak, read, and write English well? These things, like sovereignty, identity, and the salience of citizenship, cannot be meaningfully quantified by polls, and yet they form the very fabric of our society, that mythical “electric cord” Abraham Lincoln spoke of, the stuff that binds us together.

Our task, then, is not to settle for what is “possible,” when what is right, which is never what is easy, can no longer wait. Amnesty did not work in the 1980s for Reagan, and it will not work for us now. Build that wall, Mr. President.

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