Americas Policy Program

Boom Times on the Border as Homeland Security State Grows

The river runs slow and shallow through the Chihuahuan desert as it flows 1,200 miles from El Paso/Juarez to the Gulf of Mexico. Bearing two names, the Rio Grande/Rio Bravo forms the natural divide between the United States and Mexico.

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Legal Immigrants Next Target of Anti-Immigration Hardliners

The leading anti-immigration groups don't specially target illegal immigrants. For the restrictionist groups Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies, and NumbersUSA, the country's 11-12 million illegal immigrants are simply low-hanging fruit. Their long-range goal is to rid the nation of most all immigrants—both illegal and legal.

While many of the grassroots restrictionist groups that have sprung up in the last decade say upfront that they aren't against all immigrants, just the illegal ones, the country's most influential restrictionist institutes have long advocated shutting out all immigrants. For restrictionists, it's the sheer number of immigrants, most of them coming from Mexico and Central America, that is the issue.

In their view, illegal immigrants are particularly threatening since, as the restrictionists routinely assert, they undermine the "rule of law" in the United States by their illegal presence. They charge that all immigrants, whether legal or illegal, are a threat to the country's economic, cultural, and social stability.

Having suffered major setbacks at the hands of restrictionists, immigration advocates are attempting to regroup and plot new strategies to advance liberal immigration reform in the next administration.

America's Voice and National Council of La Raza, as well as some unions, are attempting to discredit the restrictionist institutes by citing their connections with nativist and white supremacist groups and individuals, including John Tanton, considered the godfather of restrictionism. Many immigration advocates call FAIR a "hate group," following the lead of the Southern Poverty Law Center. As part of its "We Can Stop the Hate" campaign, National Council of La Raza is calling the directors of FAIR and NumbersUSA—Dan Stein and Roy Beck—"suspect spokespeople," grouping them with the leaders of the Minuteman movement.

While Senator Barack Obama and other Democratic Party leaders variously promise that they will push comprehensive immigration reform within the first year or first term of the new administration, the prospects for a liberal immigration reform that would include legalization are not auspicious. With an economy in a tailspin, restrictionist attempts to link an immigration crackdown with a populist economic message have more traction. And even those who reject the anti-immigrant campaign are less likely to stand behind a pro-immigration agenda or protest immigration raids when their own economic future is in jeopardy.

Meanwhile, the divisions within the pro-immigrant camp over such issues as border security, temporary worker programs, and the enforcement campaign of the Department of Homeland Security are still present. While the anti-immigration forces are united around "attrition through enforcement" and the government's ambitious "border security initiative," immigration advocates are still split, dispirited, and worn down by the unrelenting crackdown. Even the probable change of political parties in the White House is not likely to substantially change the political equation, as more Democrats in Congress have adopted the "rule of law" and "border security" policy frameworks of the restrictionists.

Restrictionists on a Roll

In contrast, immigration restrictionists left the mid-2007 immigration showdown triumphant. But in the wake of their victory in blocking immigration reform, the leading restrictionist voices haven't been triumphalist. Instead of sitting back, they have kept hammering.

Strengthened by a large jump in memberships and new media attention over the past few years, they kept pushing their anti-immigration agenda. When Democrats attempted to slip through a small immigration reform bill called the Dream Act, they again successfully mobilized their legions of anti-immigration stalwarts around the country.

And when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) attempted to respond to agribusiness pressure for an agricultural guestworker program in late 2007, the restrictionists mobilized again, persuading the bill sponsors to drop the proposed Ag Jobs bill.

Already the restrictionists are anticipating that some in Congress may lose enthusiasm for the "attrition through enforcement" approach as its emotional and financial toll adds up. They are set to oppose any initiative by the new administration to legalize unauthorized immigration while at the same time have united around their own enforcement-only bill, the SAVE Act.

"The stepped-up enforcement of the past year may peel off some enforcement-first voters and congressmen who are willing to be persuaded that the enforcement is now happening, and is adequate, to move ahead with the amnesty," observed Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Center for Immigration Studies, which promotes enforcement-first policies. The Bush White House, he added, "sees this enforcement push as building credibility for the next administration to have an amnesty."

Restrictionists are determined to defend their gains against any attempt to reintroduce legalization legislation or to rein in the ongoing crackdown on immigrants. At the same time, the restrictionists are reaching out to new constituencies and expanding their policy agenda to include a new emphasis on slashing legal immigration.

Modern America Has No Room for Immigrants

Krikorian's new book, The Case Against Immigration—Both Legal and Illegal , is a timely reminder that the restrictionists have a grand agenda that extends far beyond the immigrant crackdown. The book not only espouses the same type of immigration reform supported by the three DC-based institutes, it also makes a startling new case against immigrants.

In a recent interview with National Review online, CIS' Krikorian said, "It's a mistake to think of legal and illegal immigration as distinct phenomena. They come from the same places through the same means, often in the same families, and even the same people (shifting back and forth between being legal and illegal), and have the same impact on society." Krikorian does, however, say that the illegal immigrants, unlike legal immigrants, "remain morally culpable for their misdeeds."

Referring to the "rule of law" position of the restrictionists, Krikorian noted: "Obviously, any effort to reform immigration policy has to start with enforcing the rules, because without that, it doesn't really matter what the rules are. But in addition, you have to consider whether the rules themselves should be changed. And apart from the, admittedly grave, question of legal status, all the other problems caused by illegal immigration are also caused by legal immigration."

Legal immigrants, particularly educated ones, represent a special threat to U.S. society since what he calls "patriotic assimilation" is less likely to occur. "The growth of a deep emotional attachment to America is less likely to occur," says Krikorian, "among educated immigrants. This is both because they have the resources to live a transnational life, flitting back and forth across borders, and because they are likely to have already developed a fully formed national identity before they get here."

Krikorian told the National Review that "we now have a knowledge-based post-industrial economy, a large tax-supported government sector (welfare, of course, but also schools, roads, healthcare, etc.), an elite loss of the cultural self-confidence needed to enforce assimilation and sovereignty, and modern technology that completely changes the conditions for assimilation and security."

"And in all these cases, all these conflicts between mass immigration and modern society, it is we who have changed, not the immigrants. That doesn't mean we're broken or dysfunctional, just grown up."

In his book, Krikorian couches his case against immigration to the United States in social science, arguing that immigration no longer serves U.S. interests. "Despite the different effects that different kinds [legal and illegal] of immigrants may have, the common thread remains," writes Krikorian. "Modern America has outgrown mass immigration."

"The problem is not that America has become decadent or weak and is thus unable to take full advantage of the blessings of mass immigration as it once did," he explains. "Rather, a policy that served America's interests during our national adolescence no longer serves those interests now, during our national maturity."

In his view, the evolution of American society has undermined its capacity to absorb and assimilate immigrants, whether legal or illegal. Among the factors he cites are: cheaper international travel (thereby facilitating immigrant connections with homeland), trend toward smaller families (thereby increasing the proportion of immigrant families), and the "spread of cosmopolitanism or post-Americanism among our elites" (thereby undermining sense of common identity).

Given the proven success of CIS and other restrictionist groups in advancing their policy goals over the past several years, it's worth laying out Krikorian's recommendations to stem both illegal and legal immigration. As part of his self-identified "attrition through enforcement" strategy for unauthorized immigration, Krikorian recommends seven policy initiatives:

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