Even to talk of illegal immigration earns slurs. I can attest to that. It is the most self-censored topic in America today, where we construct artificial worlds of rhetoric that in no way resemble reality (e.g., try to suggest that California’s current problems with 30,000 to 40,000 too many prison inmates, or spiraling entitlement costs, or test scores right below Mississippi’s, or gang-related crime have something to do with the entry over two decades of millions of illegal aliens, and then see whether that proposition is discussed or slurred in ad hominem fashion). The most ardent critic of open discussion is often the most likely to self-select and remove himself from any concrete exposure with the issues he champions at a distance. No one is a better exemplar of the dishonesty than the president who, with large majorities of liberal Democrats in both houses of Congress for two years, deliberately ignored his own “comprehensive immigration reform” agenda — only to demagogue his opponents for now opposing what he would really, after all, at last, but of course, like to do — but only after it is, conveniently, legislatively impossible. So we get “moats and alligators,” a perfect summation of the bankrupt status of the entire hushed debate.
So here it goes: the old matrix of how we were to understand illegal immigration is extinct. The concept of a largely white privileged class exploiting poor immigrants who simply wished to be a part of the American dream is now fossilized — dead and buried by new realities: the sheer millions of those entering the U.S. illegally, the cynicism and connivance of the Mexican government, the outflow of nearly $30-40 billion in remittances to Latin America, the rise of the multicultural salad bowl in lieu of the multiracial melting pot, the illiberal nature of the advocacy for open borders, and the rise of a new tribalism and ethnic solidarity on the part of the immigrant community.
For the last half-century, the subtext of illegal immigration was racial prejudice — how a hard-working minority struggled against a largely white overlord class for social justice, best emblemized by Caesar Chavez and the farmer worker rights movement. Those divides are now largely gone — or at least have become so problematic and complex to have been rendered irrelevant.
So-called whites are now a minority in the state. Integration and intermarriage are commonplace. Racial heritage sometimes evokes the one-drop rule of the old Confederacy. A thriving middle-class third- and fourth-generation Mexican-American community speaks little or no Spanish and has no direct memory or firsthand knowledge of Mexico. If there is Latino “under-representaton” at a UC Berkeley, it is not a “result” of white “over-representation” (whites are proportionally “under-represented” at UCB), but of the superiority in test scores and grades of the Asian community, which enrolls at four times its numbers in the general population.
Blacks and Asians are as opposed to illegal immigration as is the majority of the population, including millions of Mexican-Americans. And more importantly, the entire argument for open borders, both here in the United States and in Mexico, disturbingly, is taking on racial and ethnic overtones —as a recent spectacle attests of thousands of Hispanic residents booing mention of the United States while cheering the Mexican national soccer team at the Rose Bowl.
(These trivial incidents [cf. the recent Morgan Hill, California high school 2010 walkout on Cinco de Mayo] are insignificant in isolation, but in aggregate offer disturbing symbolic evidence of an increasingly Balkanized tension that is the logical wage of multicultural separatism, and furor at the absence of almost instantaneous parity with the host. I note here in passing that in my years of residence in Greece, had I, as an American apartment-dweller in Athens, joined a majority of expatriate Americans in booing the Greek national team and cheering a visiting American team at a match in the national stadium [demanding that the victory ceremony be held in English], I would have had to sprint out the exit for my proverbially dear life.)
The new, vastly changed racial realities thus raise a fundamental question that the proponents of either amnesty or open borders cannot or will not address. What, I wonder, exactly privileges illegal immigration from Mexico — in a way that might not be true, say, of allowing half-a-million aliens to enter the country illegally from China or Africa? Proximity? Race? History? Money? Politics? Power?
Surely what drives Mexican consular officials to demand certain rights for Mexican national expatriates in a way that they would not for other nationals is not the abstract concept of illegal immigration, but only concern that illegal immigration remain mostly a phenomenon from Mexico — or at least by extension Latin America.
The same is true of the La Raza lobbyists — that they have no interest in the notion of illegal immigration as an issue per se, since there are no doubt a few thousand here illegally from Poland, Uganda, and South Korea. Their concern is largely confined only to Mexico and Latin America, and thus is entirely predicated on one or two (or both) notions: first, racial affinity should adjudicate who and who does not need to follow U.S. immigration law, and, second, Mexico has some sort of historical claims on the American Southwest. Is that a logical deduction?
If so, illegal immigration has transmogrified into one of the most illiberal, reactionary phenomena on the current American scene, an ossified concept of racial solidarity and tribalism that attempts to privilege one group, solely on the basis of race or ethnic fides, in its exemption from federal law, and in a manner that would never be extended to other immigrant lobbies, with less numbers, influence, and potential electoral power. We have come full circle back to the 1920s when immigration was likewise largely seen through racial lenses — when one’s race determined how one navigated immigration law.