The arguments surrounding illegal immigration have polarized into two general categories of belief. One view, typified by the political right, is that this is simply a crime that must be stopped, and in fact, reversed by sending these illegal immigrants home as soon as possible. On the left, you will hear a more humane argument that the vast majority of these folks are simply coming from horrible poverty to take jobs that most Americans simply won't do.
I was sort of in between these two arguments for many years. I really could not support the notion that anyone could enter our country illegally and be allowed to stay. However, I also could understand why a person trying to earn enough money to help his family survive would take the risk.
That all changed for me four years ago when I met a gentleman by chance while in the Palm Springs area of California on a golfing vacation. I went to a resort golf course alone and was paired up with three fellows from the East Coast. The gentleman I was in the same golf cart with was in his early 70s and appeared to be quite well educated and well spoken. This fellow turned out to be a rather prominent economist who had taught at a couple of Ivy League schools and had been a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers for both President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush. For some reason -- I don't remember why -- the topic of illegal immigration came up. This fellow asked me what I thought about the issue. Of course, I immediately launched into my arguments against it. I complained about jobs being taken from Americans, the fact that many of these folks were paid under the table and thus both they and their employers were avoiding taxes. I added my concerns about the huge public expense being absorbed by the rest of us for education and health care for them and their children.
This gentleman turned to me and told me very directly that I needed a re-education on the topic. So I told him to go ahead and educate me. I fully expected rhetoric about the need for empathy and humanity, but instead, he asked me an interesting question: "Do you really believe that if the United States government, with the most powerful military in the world, really didn't want these folks coming in that we couldn't stop them?" He added that Canada sure didn't have any problems stopping them.
He then told me that he had been involved in many discussions with many of the highest leaders in our country from both major political parties for the past three decades, during which the policy of allowing these folks in was openly and broadly supported.
I was quite surprised and frankly more than a small bit disbelieving. I asked him why our leaders would do such a thing. His answer surprised me and changed my attitude on this subject. He said that the birthrate in the United States had been so low over the past few decades that we no longer had a population of young workers coming of age in the next several decades to allow enough money to be collected in taxes to support all the necessary public programs to pay for our ever-growing older population's needs. He also said that in purely economic terms no civilization with a long-term birthrate below 2 per female had ever survived. The United States has been hovering in the 1.7 to 1.8 rate for decades. He said that our leaders knew what was coming and had elected to allow the illegal immigration because it was the least expensive and most expedient solution. He went on to explain that almost every developed nation was in the exact same situation and most were taking similar steps, though most had legalized them as guest-worker programs. He also mentioned that the country in the most trouble in terms of sustainability was Japan because its birthrate was even below ours, and they absolutely will not allow immigration.
His final comments were that we all should be focused on making sure that these illegal immigrants become citizens as soon as possible (thus maximizing tax revenues), and that our own children and those of the illegal immigrants get the best education possible in order to improve their overall earning capacity -- and the taxes that can then be collected. He also said that we were fortunate because most of our illegal immigrants are Hispanic and are generally Christians with a deep love of family. My final question to him was why haven't our leaders just leveled with the American people if this is all true? He said that it is sad, but our leaders think the average citizen is just not smart enough to understand.
I guess we should all ask ourselves the same question: Why would our government allow this ongoing illegal immigration to occur for all these decades? If this fellow is correct, and there is a logical reason, maybe we all better rethink our positions. Certainly the current public debate among our leaders is disingenuous at best since none of our elected federal leaders will even think about acknowledging their own roles in creating the problem in the first place.