Liberals might be surprised by the observations on immigration from former Sen. Eugene McCarthy. Known as the “liberal conscience of America” for his civil rights advocacy and his opposition to the Vietnam War, McCarthy was instrumental in the passage of the Immigration Act of 1965, the law that shapes our immigration policy today. What is not generally known is that McCarthy regretted the unforeseen consequences of that legislation and spent the last years of his life working to undo the changes it wrought.
The bill based immigration on the seemingly harmless concept of family reunification. Under this concept, a legal immigrant could sponsor the immigration of multiple extended family members (including adult siblings, parents and in-laws) who could then sponsor other family members, and so on. Each family member brought in would create even more “divided families” and more relatives to be reunited. The folly of this bill is mind boggling. Because all humans are connected through family ties, with enough time, eventually everyone in the world would be entitled to American citizenship under this law. And there is no way that passing another amnesty or increasing immigration visas will solve the “divided families” problem. It only gets bigger.
McCarthy writes in his 1992 memoir, “A Colony of the World: The United States Today,” “In l965 Congress believed that it could institute immigration policies that gave hundreds of millions of people all over the world the hope of coming to America and still maintain control of the numbers.” We couldn’t control the numbers. Immigration numbers have nearly quadrupled, and millions of others bypassed bloated waiting lists to enter illegally.
McCarthy concludes: “Immigration policy is now a vehicle by which people bring relatives to this country, rather than one by which the government decides who, among the millions of people who would like to come here, gets that chance. For the ethnic interest groups that have benefited politically from the current arrangement, U.S. immigration policy has become a virtual entitlement to be defended at all costs.” The tail is now wagging the dog.
And yet, rather than moderating this exponential growth, Congress has passed a series of amnesties for those people who arrived illegally and is slated to consider yet another. It is not only the ethnic interest groups who are to blame, but also the power of big business. McCarthy writes that in the l960s American businesses got used to a constant abundance of workers (as boomers entered the work force), which “gave them the upper hand in setting wages and working conditions.” Consequently, “real wages have declined since the early ’70s,” and “the business success stories were companies like McDonald’s that learned how to ‘pan for gold in the low wage pool.’” Hugely expanding the low wage labor pool has been the most striking and unintended consequence of the Immigration Act of l965. And even though we constantly hear that America needs an educated work force, we continue to import millions of unskilled workers.
One might think that my fellow liberals, with whom I agree on many subjects, would be deeply concerned about immigration policy. After all, liberals have traditionally championed the cause of blue-collar workers, minorities and the working poor, whose labor markets have been swamped with cheap labor. But with few exceptions, liberal politicians have been the great champions of mass immigration, partnering with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable to increase immigration numbers and emasculate immigration law enforcement. And most recently, it was Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi who made certain that E-Verify, the electronic system created by Congress to help employers determine whether their employees were legal, was removed from the final stimulus bill. In other words, the old “wink and nod” system hasn’t changed one iota.
Congress could reduce social service costs, increase wages for the poor, including many recent immigrants, and create millions of American jobs by simply enforcing our immigration laws at the work site, like every other nation does. And it wouldn’t require mass deportations nor would it cost the taxpayers $1 billion. But unfortunately, President Obama’s thinking on immigration has been shaped by cheap labor business donors, immigrant advocates and ethnic lobbies in the Democratic Party. And even the media has failed to raise the obvious questions: Does our national interest really lie in an unregulated immigration system?
How many more, and how much longer?
Jonette Christian of Holden is a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy.