The Immigration Debate

by Rebecca Bynum (Aug. 2008)

The New Case Against Immigration: Both Legal and Illegal
by Mark Krikorian
2008 (Sentinel Press, New York) 294 pp.

 In February 2006, New York Times columnist Tamar Jacoby spoke at a function in Phoenix at which time she grew increasingly exasperated at what she apparently thought was a lack of gratitude toward the tens of millions of Mexican immigrants on the part of ordinary conference goers. “Our entire economy is being built on the backs of these people!” she exclaimed, and seemingly could not understand how that could possibly be the very point of objection. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I truly doubt Americans want our economy to be built on the backs of anyone, let alone an army of foreign labor used in conditions of near slavery. Judging by opinion polls and the level of our chosen birthrates, Americans would rather have a stable population that will cherish and preserve our historic and natural heritage, reduce pollution, control urban sprawl, and strengthen our social fabric while maintaining social mobility. Our federal policy of mass immigration undermines all that, usurping the collective long-term decisions of American society in favor of a few short-term business interests.

American agricultural concerns, for example, by now would have automated most of the back-breaking manual work now being done by their seemingly endless supply of disposable Mexicans. Agribusiness and some of the service and construction industries that employ the majority of these people, bear virtually no responsibility for them beyond that day’s starvation-level wages, usually paid in cash. These workers receive no benefits, no security, and no help in times of need from their employers whatsoever. At this point, it must be acknowledged that even in the antebellum South, slave owners had a stake in the health and well-being of their slaves and recognized a responsibility to care for them in sickness and old age. Modern business interests accept little or no responsibility for the mass of their often illegal, under-the-table employees. Human beings are being treated like mass disposable commodities and the amazing thing is, those who oppose this unconscionable exploitation are often called labeled racists and xenophobes.

However, we are generally compassionate as a society, and cannot allow people to suffer such cruelty, but because Congress and the President refuse of hold big business to account, the responsibility for a living wage, health care, education and so forth, falls to the taxpayer who picks up the slack in terms of welfare and other benefits. This is not the fault of the immigrants, since they cannot live in America on the wages being offered, they have no choice but to turn to public assistance and they do so in overwhelming numbers, as Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies writes:

“Nearly half of immigrant households – 45 percent – were in or near poverty…Mexicans – the largest and least-educated immigrant group – are also the poorest, with nearly two thirds living in or near poverty and more than one in four actually below the poverty line.

The result of this widespread poverty is widespread immigrant welfare use. Among households headed by native-born Americans, 18 percent use at least one major welfare program. That’s already quite high, of course, but among immigrant-headed households, the rate is half again as high, at almost 29 percent…

These welfare programs combined cost the federal taxpayers some $500 billion a year, most of which is for Medicaid. This is significant because it is in Medicaid – the biggest and most expensive welfare program – where the gap between immigrants and native born is the biggest, (used by 37 percent of Mexican immigrant households).” (pages 170-171)

Heritage Foundation scholar Robert Rector has calculated that in 2004, low skill immigrant households (those headed by an immigrant with less than a high-school education), paid more than $10,000 in all taxes (federal, state, and local) but received in services more than $30,000…Rector calculated the total tax burden created by such households at more than $89 billion per year, Furthermore, the average lifetime cost to the taxpayer for each low-skilled immigrant household is $1.2 million. (pages 178-179)



Krikorian’s book is filled with statistics like this, which makes it very hard to take issue with his conclusions. The main thrust of his argument is not that the immigrants to America have changed (though they have, coming mainly from Mexico and Asia now, rather than from Great Britain and Europe), but Krikorian leaves that aside and argues that it is America itself that has changed most radically since the last great wave of immigration in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. At that time, Krikorian argues, America was essentially still mainly rural, a largely agricultural country taking immigrants from other similar countries. The cultural gap between immigrants and natives was not nearly as great as between a modern native born American and an immigrant from, say, Muslim Somalia who has to be taught not to build a fire on the floor of his apartment, that he musn’t slit the throats of lambs or goats in the streets during Eid al-Adha and that he cannot marry multiple wives or mutilate his daughters’ genitals.


The main thrust of Krikorian’s argument however, rests on the differences in America then and now and he argues quite persuasively that while America was in its adolescence and filled with self-confidence, mass immigration was a good thing promoting industrialization and modernization, but now that America is a mature nation, there are numerous forces (post-modernism, multiculturalism, political correctness) which work to dissolve the bonds of nationhood and this has begun the dispersion of our culture, which, unless it can be stopped, will not end until both our nation and our culture lie in fragments. Mass immigration at this stage of our history simply accelerates the process of societal disintegration.

University elites as well as executives of large corporations, religious leaders and journalists overwhelmingly see themselves as “citizens of the world” and view mass immigration as good for business and the economy and thus as a general good.


Consumer activist Ralph Nader pulled a stunt a few years ago that highlighted the post-Americanism of the nation’s business leaders. On the occasion of Flag Day in 1996, Nader sent letters to the CEO’s of the one hundred largest Fortune 500 corporations, asking that they open the next shareholders’ meeting by reciting the Pledge of Allegiance on behalf of the corporation, which is chartered, subsidized, and protected by the people of the United States. All but one of the companies that responded rejected the idea out of hand: One called it “a grim reminder of the loyalty oaths of the 1950’s,” while another denounced it as “someone else’s imposed litmus test regarding our corporation’s allegiance to the United States of America.” And especially ironic, in light of Henry Ford’s Americanizing efforts, was the response of the Ford Motor Company: “We do not believe that the concept of ‘corporate allegiance’ is possible.” (pages 26-27)


Another especially troubling aspect of mass immigration from Mexico in particular is that fact that Mexico appears to be attempting, in ways not always noticed, to extend its sovereignty onto American soil through an extensive network of consulates which serve to protect Mexicans from American law while they are in America. In 1997, President Ernesto Zedillo, speaking to the National Council of La Raza in Chicago said, “I have proudly affirmed that the Mexican nation extends beyond the territory enclosed by its borders and that Mexican migrants are an important, a very important part of it.” Lest you think this is merely rhetoric, Krikorian amply documents the intimate involvement of the Mexican government both with the drafting of legislation and with our legal system in general. Add to that the fact that both Mexico and America allow dual citizenship and you begin to understand how the reconquista is occurring under our noses. Mexican loyalty to Mexico remains strong.

Political scientist Peter Skerry mentions the same phenomenon in his book Mexican Americans: The Ambivalent Minority: “Similarly vivid in my mind are the countless conversations that I have had with Mexican Americans of varied background and political orientation. Seldom in the course of such exchanges have my interlocutors failed to remind me that ‘We were here first,’ or ‘This was our land and you stole it from us.’” (page 61)

In the past, assimilation into American culture was a more realistic proposition because our immigrants were more diverse (coming from many different countries and speaking many different languages) so that English was common ground. Since most of our immigrants today come from one culturally and linguistically homogenous country, Mexico, and in such large numbers, and with so many services set up bilingually today, Mexicans are often able to avoid speaking English altogether which has traditionally been the first stepping stone to broader assimilation. We make it possible for Spanish-speaking immigrants to live their entire lives and never be forced to become proficient in English and therefore to be forever divided from the majority culture, to be a culture within a culture. And though these immigrants do not cause low wages themselves (their employers pay as little as they can get away with), their presence in large numbers has severely depressed wages at the low skill level and this has exacerbated income inequality nationwide, effectively creating a large and ever-growing underclass.

America has always prided itself as being a classless society, but current population pressures are changing that. Due to the intense competition for the elite spots in society, the best schools, the highest paying jobs, parents are under extreme pressure to secure these spots for their children and those children are actively encouraged to think of themselves as privileged (see William Deresiewicz, “The Disadvantages of an Elite Education” in The American Scholar, Summer 2008). The cultural gulf between the highly educated professional and the average working class American is growing.

Of course it is easy to oversimplify, but it is an inescapable truth that the land/man ratio underlies all civilization. Where human beings are sparsely settled, each man is more highly valued and where human beings are overcrowded, life is cheapened because each man is easily replaced. Caste systems develop under conditions of overcrowding due to simple competition and it cannot be denied that our once largely agrarian, small town, egalitarian America is evolving into something very different – something fragmented and hierarchical. The class structure we have sneered at throughout our history is undeniably now becoming part of American life.

Americans concerned about quality of life issues, especially preserving the environment and our historical heritage while limiting urban sprawl, must also eventually come to terms with the immigration issue, although the most impassioned environmentalists seem to be avoiding it like the plague. Imagine an America if our current round of mass immigration (since 1965), hadn’t happened. It is an America with 100 million fewer people. Imagine how many fewer cars would be on the roads, how many fewer acres would have been paved over, how many less landfills would be required and how much less air and water pollution would be lowering our quality of life and changing our landscape forever. Our overall economy would not be as large nor growing as swiftly and our tax base would be less, but our carbon footprint as a nation would be much less. More of our national historic spaces (battlefields and historic buildings) would be better preserved, our schools would be much less crowded and our cities would be smaller and more livable.

Krikorian soberly sets out the irrefutable and grim statistics that build the case for curtailing immigration (both legal and illegal) to the point of net emigration. H then forsees that gradually the pressures of our current mass immigration crisis would lift, which sounds very sensible to me.

The weakest part of his book deals with Muslim immigration, or rather, doesn’t deal with it as a unique problem or set of problems. He does point out, after presenting exhaustive evidence about how our immigration departments are overwhelmed by the current numbers, that with lower overall levels of immigration, immigration officials will be better able to screen and then to keep track of those allowed in. Unbelievably, there are still policies in place that reward immigration officials for the shear volume of cases they clear rather than for the thoroughness and diligence of their work.

Nor does Krikorian deal with the problems of refugees, which is surprising since his Center for Immigration studies has produced excellent, especially by Don Barnett, in that area. Perhaps he believes this important topic deserves a book of its own. As Krikorian clearly states, “The backwardness of the Third World is not a matter to be addressed through American immigration policy.” Indeed. That isn’t stopping a myriad of Church groups and other volunteer agencies from making a net profit on every Third World “refugee” they settle in America at a lifetime cost to the taxpayer under our current system.

Nevertheless, within the narrow scope of this book, Krikorian manages to shift the debate away from the immigrants and onto the changing nature of American society. This is where the focus should be, for American immigration policy is our responsibility not that of the immigrants. Too many politicians make the mistake of focusing only on illegal immigration, because that is the most pressing issue of the day. But our immigration policy as a whole needs to be overhauled and I, for one, would support a moratorium on all immigration and refugees across the board, while we calmly and deliberately decide whom we should allow to settle within our shores and whom we should exclude. The destiny of the United States is at stake and all factors, including the unique problems and dangers posed Muslim immigrants, which are posed by no others, must be addressed. No doubt there are many today in Great Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Denmark and The Netherlands who wish they would have taken time to learn a bit more about this thing called Islam before allowing millions of Muslims to immigrate to within their borders. 

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Rebecca Bynum contributes regularly to The Iconoclast, our Community Blog. Click here to see all her contributions, on which comments are welcome.


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