The Cato panels, with a strong representation of Hispanics, were very much a celebration of post-1965 immigration, with repeated calls for “comprehensive immigration reform.” Congressman Reuben Gallego of Arizona evoked his immigrant parents and grandparents, and waxed almost spiritual: “When I meet other immigrants and hear their stories of entrepreneurial spirit, I see how they have the capacity to truly change this country.” He denounced Arizona’s SB 1070, passed in 2010, as “a gross violation of the civil rights of individual human beings,” but did not explain why it is wrong to make a federal misdemeanor crime also a state misdemeanor. He also complained that any proposal that would give illegals permanent status but bar them from citizenship “feels extremely un-American.”
For the congressman, immigration is a “civil right,” implying that anyone who sneaks in from Mexico has a right to citizenship. Without immigration, he concluded, America would have a declining population and a shrinking economy. He was the first of many to criticize Donald Trump, who he says stirs up “xenophobia.”
Mark Hugo Lopez, Director of Hispanic Research at the Pew Research Center, presented findings from a recent Pew report about the demographic consequences the 1965 act. He argued that even without post-1965 immigration, there would have been a decline in the percentage of whites because of differential fertility, but instead of dropping from 85 percent to 62 percent by 2015, it would have dropped to 75 percent. By 2065, he predicted that whites will be only 46 percent of the population, with Hispanics at 24 percent, Asians 14 percent, and blacks 13 percent. These projections assume that immigration will be increasingly Asian rather than Hispanic, and that there will be a steady stream of white immigrants.
Former Virginia governor Jim Gilmore made a campaign stop in his hopeless run for the Republican nomination for president. Although he is polling at about 1 percent, he must have said “when I’m president” at least half a dozen times. As for immigration, he said that the problem with illegals has been left to fester for so long that it has become virtually unsolvable. He would secure the borders and let illegals apply for legal status, but bar them from citizenship.
Mr. Gilmore denounced Mr. Obama’s executive amnesties, and said that the president’s “open borders policies” have encouraged a surge of illegals. He opposes Mr. Trump’s plans to deport them, saying it would “turn America into a police state.” He strongly opposed ending birthright citizenship, and seemed to equate it with stripping people of citizenship. “Who would be deprived of citizenship next?” he asked. He said that questioning birthright citizenship is the same as “attacking Latinos and saying they are unworthy of citizenship, and makes it impossible to win in 2016.”
In reply to a question about Syrian refugees, Mr. Gilmore said we should not admit any–but only because the economy is faltering. If the economy perks up he would let them in.
Immigration lawyer Matthew Kolken said he specialized in “deportation defense,” which is his way of combining humanitarian and professional interests. He did not say much, but he was unconstrained by fact. He said that every “path to citizenship” ever proposed has been so onerous, it should be called “a Bataan death march to citizenship.” He said that unaccompanied minor illegals are held in “internment camps” and that President Obama “has slandered the immigrant community.” He said Mr. Obama pretends to sympathize with illegals, but has kicked out more than two million, many of whom were guilty of nothing more than “driving while brown.” Mr. Obama, he explained “has a false narrative that fuels all the anti-immigrant hate.”
Maria Gabriela Pacheco, who goes by the name “Gabby,” is herself an illegal immigrant from Ecuador who has made a career out of fighting for Hispanics. She has pushed for in-state tuition for illegals, and is program director for TheDream.US, which gives scholarships to formerly illegal “dreamers.” Although she was an advertized speaker at the Cato event and calls herself “the first undocumented Latina to testify in front of Congress,” she spoke about the importance of legalization so that illegals “can come out of the shadows.”
In answer to a question from AR staff as to why it is fine for Hispanics to celebrate their increasing numbers but it is “hate” if whites resist dispossession, she said many whites seem to think that their race is being “wiped out and not moving forward.” If whites are declining in numbers, she said, “You need to start having more sex.” She conceded that “our cultures are different” but that there was little chance of Spanish prevailing over English. “I don’t really see a difference between myself and a white person,” she said, claiming that it is consciousness of differences of that kind that starts wars.
The keynote speaker was former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, who considers himself Hispanic. He noted that he is a citizen only because his mother came to the United States as a birth tourist. He denounced the 1924 national quotas as “an embarrassment” and made the strange claim that ending the “racial bias” in immigration policy greatly stimulated the economy.
Mr. Richardson wants many more H-1B visas, claiming that tech companies are desperate to hire engineers. He also admires illegals who, he says, do work Americans won’t. He called them “hard-working, ideal Americans.” Of all the Republican presidential candidates, he likes Jeb Bush best because “he has a Mexican wife, and his kids have a Latino heritage.” He said the Syrian refugees were a “European problem” but says he would be happy to take in 100,000 or so.
Mr. Richardson complained that Donald Trump “has had a hideous effect on the immigration issue: Instead of talking about comprehensive reform now we’re talking about deportation.” Fortunately, he said, Mr. Trump represents only 20 percent of Republican voters, and can never win the 40 percent of Hispanics he says Republicans need to win the White House. Mr. Richard railed against “the rhetorical idiocies of Trump, but the media love it.” “A wall is idiotic,” he said; “deportation is idiotic.”
The panel sponsored by the Center for Immigration studies was much more sensible, but the 1924 act still came in for a beating. Jerry Kammer, who is a researcher at the center, denounced its “unjust restrictions based on racist and bigoted criteria,” but also pointed out that many people who voted for the bill also wanted to keep out Bolsheviks. Mr. Kammer highlighted Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Celler’s role in pushing the ’65 act. Celler had voted against the 1924 act, which he thought was anti-Semitic, and worked tirelessly for the next 40 years to repeal it. The new law became known as the Hart-Celler Act.
Mr. Kammer noted that like other supporters of the ’65 act, Celler either did not know what the eventual consequences of passage would be or was less than honest about them. Along with Lyndon Johnson and the Kennedy brothers, he insisted that there would not be a significant rise in immigration–then running at about 300,000 a year–and that the ethnic balance of the country would not change. The supporters of the new law appear to have been mainly driven by a desire to “correct a historical wrong,” and were willing to say whatever it took to win support.
Mr. Kammer warned that although no one talks about it, immigration policy is population policy. An endless supply of people want to come to the United States, but no one seems to wonder whether adding another hundred million people by 2060 is a good idea.
AR staff wanted to know what was wrong with national origins quotas. Mexico’s immigration law forbids any change to “the equilibrium of the national demographics,” and Israel uses immigration policy to stay Jewish. African and Asian countries would never let their populations be replaced. Mr. Kammer replied that he believed the “equilibrium” portion of the Mexican immigration law has been repealed, precisely because it was so hypocritical. As for the US, he said that “non-discrimination on the basis of national origin has become part of our civic life–discrimination contradicts something about our national character.”
Mr. Kammer did note that the ethnic question is an emotional one, and that emotion certainly drove Emanuel Celler. He mentioned that Lyndon Johnson’s secretary of state Dean Rusk did not want to testify in favor of the ’65 act, saying, “After all we are an Anglo-Saxon country.” However, he followed Johnson’s orders and testified eloquently for passage.
Peggy Orchowski, Washington Bureau Chief for Hispanic Outlook, explained why immigration is handled by the House Judiciary Committee rather than the Labor Committee which had been its home. In 1947, Congress passed the Congressional Committee Reorganization Act, and Emanuel Celler succeeded in having immigration transferred to Judiciary–where he was chairman. This made immigration reform–incorrectly in Miss Orchowski’s view–a matter of social justice rather than workforce development. She added that the 1960s were a very susceptible time for repealing national origins quotas because the country felt guilty about black civil rights and about having refused to take in Jews fleeing the Nazis.
Miss Orchowski noted that John Kennedy called immigration a “civil right” but she says he was wrong. The United Nations says every person has the right to leave his own country, but there is no reciprocal right to be admitted wherever you would like to go. All nations, she said, have the right to turn people away, and warned that the term “immigrant rights” is always a smokescreen for rights for illegals, because any immigrant who is admitted legally has all the rights he needs.
Philip Martin, a labor economist at UC Davis, corrected some illusions about the bracero program, under which Mexican workers were brought in for temporary agricultural work. Some 4.5 million Mexicans entered as braceros (manual laborers) from 1942 until the program ended in 1964. It is commonly assumed that that’s when illegal immigration began because legal access for farm workers had ended. Prof. Martin says no: The program was winding down in the 1960s, and illegal immigration did not start in earnest until the mid-1970s. In the 10 or so intervening years–not coincidentally–farm wages rose rapidly.
Prof. Martin noted that no country has such a generous family reunification policy as the United States. In most countries, legal immigrants cannot sponsor parents or adult siblings. Many countries are also wary of letting immigrants sponsor minor children over a certain age, because they have been educated in a foreign system that may not have prepared them for their new country.
Prof. Martin said that immigration law always seems to have unintended consequences: “There is nothing so permanent as a temporary visa.” He also pointed out that the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) was supposed to solve the problem of illegal immigrants but now we have 11 or 12 million of them. The best way to predict the consequences of legislation, he concluded, is to read its purpose and then assume the opposite will happen.
Any public discussion of immigration assumes that the 1924 act was immoral, and any suggestion to the contrary provokes astonishment. At the CIS panel, a television crew from Venezuela’s Telesur interviewed AR staff to learn why at least some American whites want their country to stay European. At the Cato meeting, a white audience member approached AR staff to state his amazement and disapproval–though another later expressed his appreciation. It never hurts to plant the idea that whites have legitimate rights, too.