Immigration is yet another issue which we seem unable to discuss rationally — in part because words have been twisted beyond recognition in political rhetoric.
We can't even call illegal immigrants “illegal immigrants.” The politically correct evasion is “undocumented workers.”
Do American citizens go around carrying documents with them when they work or apply for work? Most Americans are undocumented workers but they are not illegal immigrants. There is a difference.
The Bush administration is pushing a program to legalize “guest workers.” But what is a guest? Someone you have invited. People who force their way into your home without your permission are called gate crashers.
If truth-in-packaging laws applied to politics, the Bush guest worker program would have to be called a “gate-crasher worker” program. The President's proposal would solve the problem of illegal immigration by legalizing it after the fact.
We could solve the problem of all illegal activity anywhere by legalizing it. Why use this approach only with immigration? Why should any of us pay a speeding ticket if immigration scofflaws are legalized after the fact for committing a federal crime?
Most of the arguments for not enforcing our immigration laws are exercises in frivolous rhetoric and slippery sophistry, rather than serious arguments that will stand up under scrutiny.
How often have we heard that illegal immigrants “take jobs that Americans will not do”? What is missing in this argument is what is crucial in any economic argument: price.
Americans will not take many jobs at their current pay levels — and those pay levels will not rise so long as poverty-stricken immigrants are willing to take those jobs.
If Mexican journalists were flooding into the United States and taking jobs as reporters and editors at half the pay being earned by American reporters and editors, maybe people in the media would understand why the argument about “taking jobs that Americans don't want” is such nonsense.
Another variation on the same theme is that we “need” the millions of illegal aliens already in the United States. “Need” is another word that blithely ignores prices.
If jet planes were on sale for a thousand dollars each, I would probably “need” a couple of them — an extra one to fly when the first one needed repair or maintenance. But since these planes cost millions of dollars, I don't even “need” one.
There is no fixed amount of “need,” independently of prices, whether with planes or workers.
None of the rhetoric and sophistry that we hear about immigration deals with the plain and ugly reality: Politicians are afraid of losing the Hispanic vote and businesses want cheap labor.
What millions of other Americans want has been brushed aside, as if they don't count, and they have been soothed with pious words. But now the voters are getting fed up, which is why there are immigration bills in Congress.
The old inevitability ploy is often trotted out in immigration debates: It is not possible to either keep out illegal immigrants or to expel the ones already here.
If you mean stopping every single illegal immigrant from getting in or expelling every single illegal immigrant who is already here, that may well be true. But does the fact that we cannot prevent every single murder cause us to stop enforcing the laws against murder?
Since existing immigration laws are not being enforced, how can anyone say that it would not do any good to try? People who get caught illegally crossing the border into the United States pay no penalty whatever. They are sent back home and can try again.
What if bank robbers who were caught were simply told to give the money back and not do it again? What if murderers who were caught were turned loose and warned not to kill again? Would that be proof that it is futile to take action, when no action was taken?
Let's hope the immigration bills before Congress can at least get an honest debate, instead of the word games we have been hearing for too long.
Thomas Sowell is a Senior Fellow at The Hoover Institution at Stanford University in California. He has published dozens of books on economics, education, race, and other topics. His most recent book is Black Rednecks and White Liberals, in which he argues that "internal" cultural habits of industriousness, thriftiness, family solidarity, and reverence for education often play a greater role in the success of ethnic minorities than do civil-rights laws or majority prejudices.