Monday, April 14, 2008

On Illegal Immigration

Originally Published on April 14, 2008, Updated on March 11, 2014

So much has been made of the illegal immigration problem in our country but it's a hard issue to understand and easy one to demagogue.

There is no question that securing the borders should be a national priority. It is a concern in this day and age of dirty bombs, suitcase bombs and biological weapons. We should know who is coming into our country and for what purpose and when those persons have exceeded the length of time they are supposed to be here, they should go. But if America is going to remain competitive we are going to have to be more open to immigration. I will borrow from former Senator Fred Thompson (R-TN) who says that “America needs to be a country of tall fences and wide gates.”

Certain nativists, such as Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo, have made names for themselves by espousing a rhetoric that distorts the real motivations of the vast majority of people that come to this country without permission.

Unlike most of the outspoken nativists I come into contact with such immigrants on a regular basis because of my job. I work at an advertising agency that makes Spanish language TV, Radio and Internet ads. It is estimated that there are about 53 million Hispanics living in the U.S. and, as we all know, the estimates are that there about 12-15 million undocumented/illegal foreigners living in our country, the vast majority of them from Latin America.

I believe that beyond border security that there are two principal reasons that the nativists have gained some degree of traction in the nation's discourse. The first is the unfounded fear that American culture will somehow be overrun and destroyed by hordes of mongrel invaders and the second is that such immigrants become an instant audience for liberal ideology and thus the Democrat party. It is my opinion that neither fear is well-founded.

Our country has had to deal with immigrant waves before and always come out of the other end stronger than before. America has had waves of Irish, German, Italian, and other immigrants and the nativists at the time all argued similarly that we risked losing our American identity. One cannot help but wonder what America would be like without a Bratwurst or Polish sausage at the ballgame, or a pizza while watching The Godfather. It would difficult to recognize America without the influence of the waves of European immigrants that came after our nation’s founding.

In a sense, today's nativists ignore the reality that we are a country that has already been influenced by our neighbors south of the border. Florida was a Spanish colony for longer than it has been a U.S. state. Major parts of the American southwest were once Mexico. One cannot drive through those parts of the country with running into people with Spanish surnames that are 5th and 6th generation Americans.

No doubt that one of the biggest barriers to understanding these immigrants is language. Since adult immigrants from Latin America tend to speak only Spanish there is an impression among the nativists that these people do not want to learn English. One need not be a linguist to understand that the younger one attempts to learn a second language the easier that is to accomplish and that the surroundings to which a person is exposed determine the speed at which that second language is learned and mastered.

My grandmother came from Cuba when she was in her 40s. She always worked at home, as a seamstress and raising my sister and I. As a result she never learned English to any degree that would be considered proficient. In contrast, my mother and father came over as much younger adults and settled in Philadelphia. They had to learn English.

Naturally, if you settle in an area where people speak your language there is some disincentive to learning English. Still, most Hispanics I have come into contact with want to learn English and want their kids to be fully bilingual.

Somehow the fallacy that Hispanics do not want to learn English and want to turn the U.S. into a Spanish speaking country has taken root. I offer one fact to refute that notion. For as long as I can remember one of the top spending advertisers in Spanish language media in the U.S. has been Lexicon Marketing. That company is the marketer of an English language course called Ingles sin Barreras (English without Barriers). In 2006 alone Lexicon spent an estimated $175 million on ads in Spanish to sell its English language courses, more than Procter & Gamble, AT&T, General Motors and McDonalds. Needless to say, they spend that money because people buy their product. Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, want to learn English.

It is important to understand that just because some people want to accommodate those folks that only speak Spanish that it is not a surrender of the English language. Today's Spanish dominant immigrant may be fully or at least functionally bilingual tomorrow but there might be a new arrival taking his place that needs a street sign or application to be in Spanish.

I want to address the political implications of giving amnesty to those who are presently living in America illegally. Many of my Republican colleagues take it as a given that Hispanic equals Democrat just like they take for granted that Black equals Democrat. The latter is not necessarily true and the former is certainly not true, at least not yet.

My profession affords me access to syndicated research studies. These are comprehensive surveys of Americans about a wide variety of subjects. We use the results to plan marketing strategies.

I took the liberty of probing one such syndicated study, Experian/Simmons, which is widely used in my industry. I wanted to compare and contrast foreign-born Hispanic registered voters to Non-Hispanic White registered voters. The following is what I discovered in the Fall 2013 release of that study:

In terms of party affiliation 60% of those foreign born Hispanics that answered the question said they were Democrats (down from 65% in 2008, the year I first published this piece) while only 16% said they were Republicans (down from 17%) and 10% said they were independent (holding steady since 2008). Both parties seem to have lost to "other" which is currently at 14%.

These results seem to give credence to the fears I mentioned earlier but when the question was political outlook 44% of those responding said they were conservative (up from 41% in 2008) vs. 32% saying they were "middle of the road" (down from 33%) and only 18% saying they were liberal (down from 22%). It would seem that conservatism is gaining ground at the expense of liberalism among foreign born Hispanics.

There is obviously a dissonance between the party identification statistics and those for political outlook. I chalk this up to a failure of the Republican Party to court Hispanics and articulate the fact that the GOP reflects a lot of the values Hispanics hold dear, like a focus on the family, moral values, and economic freedom.

To put a finer point on it, 63% of foreign born Hispanics agree with the statement "my faith is really important to me" vs. 57% for non-Hispanic whites.

Notably, when asked whether they would like to set up their own business 48% of foreign born Hispanics agreed that they would vs. 28% of non-Hispanic whites.

Another telling response was to whether the respondents agreed with the statement that "on the whole, people generally get what they deserve.  39% Foreign born Hispanics agreed while only 28% of non-Hispanic whites agreed. One would think that a party that stands for personal responsibility instead of victimhood would appeal to such persons.

Some other interesting responses had to do with how American these foreign born Hispanics felt. 67% agreed that they enjoy living the American lifestyle and 79% said they often celebrate U.S. National holidays.

In 1998 George W. Bush carried 49% of the Hispanic vote in the Texas Governor's race. Though it is disputed, some exit polls showed that Bush took 44% of Hispanic votes in his 2004 presidential re-election bid.

The reason it is important for Republicans to understand and court Hispanic voters is simple: the party's future is going to depend on it. It is a clear-cut matter of demographics. The same Simmons study I queried for statistics about political outlook shows that the median age for foreign-born Hispanic adults is 41 while the median age for non-Hispanic white adults is a staggering 50. We are in the midst of a demographic crisis in our country. Our work force is aging, nearing retirement age and has not reproduced enough to replace itself. Is it any wonder that America attracts workers like moths to a flame? This is a good thing. Around the world there are people that want to come to America, be paid a fair wage, and live the American dream.

I understand that it is not all positive. I understand that illegal immigrants create a burden on society. I understand that some of them commit crimes and some of the crimes are heinous. I understand that some will end up on the welfare rolls. But they will be less of burden if we make them legal. They will be less likely to commit crimes if they have a way to make an honest living above the table. Illegal immigrants do not have a monopoly on committing heinous crimes or collecting welfare. In fact the vast majority of criminals and welfare recipients are natural-born American citizens.

I believe that a cogent U.S. policy on illegal immigration must include the following four points:

1. Build the tall fences

2. Obtain for those who came here illegally, and have not committed any serious crimes, a legal path to residency and citizenship.

3. Open the wide gates to allow more legal immigration to meet our economic and demographic needs.

4. Continue establishing free trade agreements with free countries to stop the outward migration pressure at its root.

Our leaders in Washington would be wise to set aside the demagoguery and instead look at this important issue with an open mind. There are many problems in America that seem to have no solution. Illegal immigration does not have to be one of them.


John R. said...

I must say that I whole heartedly agree with numbers three and four of your points. Free trade will bolster nations with weaker economies and thus dampen the need for emigration. A wider door opening will also slow the moment of illegal immigration. However, I'm not too sure about point no. 1 and I wonder if it may contradict with point no. 2. If coming to the US is illegal and yet not a serious crime, then why have the need to build taller fences? It would seem that the need for taller fences is because the immigration situation is serious, and given that the immigration is illegal then it is a crime. Thus, if illegal immigration is both serious and a crime then would point no. 1 automatically dissolve point no. 2? Maybe not?

After several years of working with Mexican immigrants I must say that I think that securing a legal path is necessary for the safety of the immigrant and the security of American jobs. And the surest way to end illegal immigration is to end economically motivated mass emigration. This can only happen when the financial corruption of the emigrant's country of origin is exposed while bringing those politicians that are guilty to justice.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

It's simply a national security issue. You have to draw a proper balance between the economic issue and the security issue. We want people to come, but we want them to be productive members of society not criminals and terrorists.

Morgan said...

The thing that both baffles and bothers me concerning illegal immigration is how to deal with the illegals currently in the country.

I'm not nuts about the idea of mass deportation, but how else could illegals be made legals? There are a number of people wishing to immigrate legally yet have to go through bureaucracies and red tape, all of which takes a long time to accomplish. The only solution I could think of would be to process the honest illegals through the same red tape as the legals themselves.

On the whole, your points are good and plausible, although I don't believe Tom Tancredo has distorted the motivations of those who come here illegally as you wrote in the beginning of the essay. In any case, we still have an uphill battle ahead of us in regards to this issue.

Robert said...


We've discussed this issue several times in the past, and I have to say that this is your best post on the topic to date.

Just as nativists over-emphasize the issue of cultural assimilation (or lack thereof), I believe the same thing occurs on the other side of the spectrum. Anti-illegal immigration people are often labeled as "racists" and "intolerant" when all they want is for people to follow the laws and come into our country legally. I believe this is what the majority of mainstream Americans want, and blowhards like Tancredo and Dobbs are the minority.

Personally, it frustrates me to see the red tape and bureaucracy that those seeking legal status have to go through, while those who come illegally and don't strive for legal status (they do exist) have the nerve to demand that they should stay. Sorry, it just doesn't work that way. I am all in favor of increasing legal immigration. I also favor, as Morgan mentioned above, a process for illegals to seek legal status. In other words, get in line and wait your turn, just as many legals have been doing for years now. It's only fair to demand that.

zeezil said...

After careful review, anyone with a even a modicum of logic can come to no other conclusion: illegal immigration must be halted, illegal immigrants here now must be deported and legal immigration needs decreased from the approx. 2 million allowed in per year currently.

Please review the following report on the FISCAL COST OF IMMIGRATION by economist Edwin Rubenstein just released this past week:

A partial summary of the report:

The Fiscal Impact on 15 Federal Departments surveyed was: $346 billion in fiscal related costs in FY 2007

Each immigrant cost taxpayers more than $9,000 per year.

An immigrant household (2 adults, 2 children) cost taxpayers $36,000 per year.

Legal immigrants were not separated out from illegal immigrants for the fiscal impact study, but if they had been, the fiscal cost per ILLEGAL immigrant would be even more shocking than the figures quoted above.

The most extensive and authoritative study, prior to economist Edwin Rubenstein's "The Fiscal Impact of Immigration" (April 2008) , is the National Research Council (NRC)’s The New Americans: Economic, Demographic and Fiscal Effects of Immigration (1997).

The NRC staff analyzed federal, state, and local government expenditures on programs such as Medicaid, AFDC (now TANF), and SSI, as well as the cost of educating immigrants’ foreign- and native-born children.

NRC found that the average immigrant household receives $13,326 in federal annual expenditures and pays $10,664 in federal taxes—that is, they generate a fiscal deficit of $2,682 (1996 dollars)per household.

In 2007 dollars this is a deficit of $3,408 per immigrant household.

With 9 million households currently headed by immigrants, more than $30 billion ($3,408 x 9 million) of the federal deficit represents money transferred from native taxpayers to immigrants.

Our national immigration policies have to work for the United States. While improving the plight of the world’s poor is a laudable goal, the finite resources we have available to fulfill that goal would be swamped if there wasn’t some orderly and manageable system in place to limit entry into the United States to what this nation can actually support. The more illegal aliens that are permitted to subvert the immigration system, the fewer immigrants we can accommodate who might actually produce a positive benefit for our country.

The more we become a nation of illegal immigrants, the deeper we fall into anarchy.

Granting amnesty to illegal aliens would be repeating the disasterous amnesty decision in the Simpson-Mazolli Immigration Act of 1986. Then, about 3 and a half million illegals were granted amnesty. Look where it got us. Now we have 20-38 million illegals here ilegally taking jobs and many marching in our streets demanding amnesty (again).

Don't let it happen (again)!!!

John R. said...

MIA/NY, your comment was approved and for whatever reason it did not publish. If you wish you may re-submit your comment and we will gladly post it.

Thank you.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

NY/Mia Cuban Said:

This all needs to be documented in a similiar fashion to the way "Roots of Rythm" did a few years back. Andy Garcia and Nat Chediak should be encouraged to produce it for the small screen.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I think I have a modicum of logic and disagree completely with Zeezil. For one thing any analysis of the costs of an immigrant has to take into account the entire lifetime of the immigrant. Certainly someone who establishes themselves and becomes a tax-payer is not a drag on the economy or society.

John R. said...

"anyone with a even a modicum of logic can come to no other conclusion: illegal immigration must be halted, illegal immigrants here now must be deported and legal immigration needs decreased from the approx. 2 million allowed in per year currently."

Zeezil, is it necessarily so that there is no other conclusion? Your point may be a solution, but I only see it as one of many possible solutions. Would you care to expound as to how there is no other logical conclusion?


DH said...

Good job. You present relevant, common sense and hopeful ideas. They deserve a wide hearing.

A particular strength of the essay, I believe, is your advice to Republicans and conservative independents to denounce racial prejudices and avoid nativist irrationalities, instead focusing on the history of the United States and the vast (and ongoing) contributions made to it by immigrant populations.

Then the far-sightedness about such things as language and party affiliation that you appeal for can perhaps lead to an embrace of the salient virtues you describe: the moral and family values of Hispanic immigrants, their desire to learn English, their desire to start businesses, and their natural yearning for freedom and security for their families.

It was an enlightening, helpful piece. Thank you.

John Malek said...

Many good points, but I think that using the argument that "there is an unfounded fear that American culture will somehow be overrun and destroyed by hordes of mongrel invaders" is an unfair piece of hyperbole. Certainly our nation is a nation of immigrants and I wholeheartedly welcome them. As someone who has traveled to other nations, I appreciate the diversity of cultures and the contributions of other cultures to our melting pot. There is, however, a real fear, not unfounded, that our nation will be overrun, not by hordes of mongrel invaders - that is hysteria, but by a nation that does not need to assimilate precisely because we are unable to control our borders. There would be no fear of that if there was control of our borders.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I'm sorry but I think the hyperbole is coming from the nativists and that's why I characterized it that way. It's the same arguments that were made against immigrant groups that we consider very American today, Irish, Italians, Poles, etc.

John Malek said...

That is a broad brush with which to paint anyone who is concerned about the immigration issue. That cuts off dialogue, does not encourage it.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

Have you heard the rhetoric of nativists like Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo? That's a broad brush.

John Malek said...

My point is not that there are not nativists (and you can count Tancredo and Dobbs among them if you like, I am familiar with them but not enough so to argue one way or the other about their approach) but what I am trying to point out is that there are people, myself included, who are very concerned about the current immigration issue who are not anti-immigration or anti-hispanic and are not nativist and do not think that fears of an "invasion" are unfounded. I would not use the term invasion myself.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

That's fine. I never said "all". In fact I start at the top by saying border security is of the utmost importance. But let's say that tomorrow the border was completely closed off so that not a single illegal immigrant could get in anymore. We'd still have 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. What to do about them? If you listen to the anti-amnesty crowd you'd think that they are losing their jobs left and right. The way I see it is if an illegal immigrant with poor education and few language skills beats me (a natural born American citizen) out of job, then perhaps I should be blaming the man in the mirror rather than at the immigrant.

The point is that there's really very few people adversely affected by these undocumented aliens. But the politicians demagogue the issue by exploiting prejudice. I'm as conservative as they come and I hate to see it. On this blog we have posted many times columns and articles by conservatives that disagree with the Tancredos of the world. Yet it's Tancredo's point of view that unfortunately has gained traction among talk radio and the blogosphere. And I think it's to the detriment of the long term health of the conservative movement and the Republican party.

John Malek said...

Fair enough. I appreciate your point of view, racism, nativism is ugly. I want healthy immigration. I think we are strongest when we have people wanting to join the "American Experiment". My paternal (Polish)and maternal (Irish) grandparents, were all four, immigrants.

Good question about the 12M current illegals, but since we have no program to streamline legal immigration and have no will to secure the border we don't really solve anything with amnesty. In a few years down the road we'll be in the same boat. We need a comprehensive program and I don't think amnesty should be a part of that program, especially not the leading edge of that program.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

agree completely. that's why number 1 in my plan as stated in the piece is what it is. I am not advocating open borders or uncontrolled immigration. Quite the opposite. I want a secure border, a process to bring illegals out of the shadows and a healthier long term policy that allows more legal immigrants in than currently. We have one advantage over Europe in facing the same demographic crisis that they are facing and that's that our neighbors to the south are mainly of a Judeo-Christian tradition. We're not going to have to worry about jihad from them.

bookster said...

Hello Henry

I suggest that instead of gates and fences, we get rid of welfare for undocumented aliens, that's what creates the resenment among the natives and those that play by the rules.

We already have laws on the books for guest workers, h1 visas etc.., if we need workers let's make it easier for them to come here with the understanding that once the gig is up and you can't care of yourself you have to go back to where you came from.

Henry Louis Gomez said...

I suggest that instead of gates and fences, we get rid of welfare for undocumented aliens, that's what creates the resenment among the natives and those that play by the rules.

I agree with that sentiment. I'd take it one step further and say get rid of welfare. Leave charity to the charities. We have 50 years worth of evidence that shows that the problems the welfare state is supposed to be curing only get worse because of the dependence created by it.

We do need workers and we need citizens. Once one is a citizen, they should have all the rights, privileges and responsibilities of a citizen.