The country I want for myself and future Americans is one that’s prosperous, cohesive, harmonious, wealthy in land and resources per capita, nurturing of its skilled citizens, and, most important, protective of its unskilled citizens, who deserve as much any other Americans to live in dignity. This bill threatens to put all of that out of reach, because it fails to control illegal immigration. The problem is not that it provides 11 million people eventual amnesty (I don’t object to that, in theory); the problem is that it sets in motion the next waves of millions.
That is not a fashionable concern, of course. Worrying about illegal immigration today is a lot like worrying about communists in government in 1950. It’s not that the problem isn’t legitimate or serious (there actually were, we now know, a lot of Moscow loyalists working for the U.S. government). It’s that expressing your concurrence links you to a lot of demagogues and bad actors.
Most of America’s college-educated elites are little affected by illegal immigration. In fact, it’s often a benefit to us in terms of childcare, household help, dinners out, and other staples of upper-middle-class life. Many therefore view the problem as akin, in severity, to marijuana use—common but benign, helpful to the immigrants and minimal in its effects on Americans or anyone else. I know, because it used to be my own view.
There’s no short way to argue why I was misguided or explain how my views evolved. Oddly enough, an early important realization came to me in Hong Kong during the SARS crisis of 2003. I thought about how Hong Kong had created a flawed but remarkable city in which even low-skilled laborers such as these men and women, who were wearing masks and wiping down railings, lived far better than similar laborers on the other side of the border. I also realized that only a wall (and I didn’t much like walls) prevented millions of people on the People’s Republic of China side of the border from coming over to take these lowly jobs for a fraction of the current wage. (Hong Kong had no minimum wage at the time.) I knew I wouldn’t want these unskilled street cleaners to lose their adequate standard of living to such unbridled competition.
But if that was how I felt about protecting Hong Kong’s working class, why shouldn’t I feel that way about America’s?