Part 2 of a 2-Part Series: The Insidious Destruction of What it Means to be a Citizen
By Victor Davis Hanson
The arguments for ignoring illegal immigration are as well-known as the self-interested motives that drive it. Open-borders advocates argue that in a globalized culture, borders are becoming reactionary and artificial constructs. They should not interrupt more natural ebbs and flows of migrant populations.
More concretely, an array of vested interests sees advantage in dismantling the border: employers in hospitality, construction, food processing, and agriculture prefer hard-working low-wage immigrants, whose social needs are often subsidized by the government and who are reluctant to organize for higher wages.
The Democratic Party welcomes in impoverished immigrants from Latin America and Mexico. It hopes to provide generous social welfare assistance and thereby shepherd new arrivals and their offspring into the salad bowl of victimization and identity politics—and thereby change the electoral map of key states from red to blue.
A second pillar of citizenship is the sanctity of the law. What separates Western and Westernized nations from often impoverished and unsecure states is a notion that citizens entrust their elected representatives with the crafting of laws and then show their fealty by obeying the resulting legislation.
The sanctity of the entire legal system in a republic rests on two important corollaries:
First, citizens cannot pick and choose which laws they obey — either on the grounds that some are deemed bothersome and not in their own self-interest, or on the pretext that they are minor and their violation does not impair society at large.
Citizenship instead demands that unpopular or unworkable laws be amended or repealed by the proper legislative and judicial branches of government, not by popular neglect or violation. Once immigration law goes unenforced, there are pernicious ramifications. First, citizens question why all laws are not equally subject to nullification. If the immigrant is excused from obeying immigration law, is the citizen likewise exempt from IRS statutes or simple traffic laws?
Second, the immigrant himself adopts a mindset that obeying the law is unimportant.
Currently among illegal aliens, there is an epidemic of identity theft, forged government affidavits, and the use of fake social security numbers. Open-borders advocates do not disagree that these violations undermine a society, but instead argue that such desperate measures are needed for impoverished illegal aliens to survive in the shadows.
Perhaps, but equally true is that once an illegal resident discovers that some of the laws of the host are not enforced, he then assumes others will not be either.
In truth, illegal aliens lose respect for their hosts, concluding that if Americans do not care to enforce their own laws, foreign nationals need not abide by them either. In reductionist terms, when an immigrant’s first act when entering the United States involves breaking the law, then all subsequent violations become only that much easier.
Besides Secure Borders and respect for the laws, a third tenet of citizenship is the idea of equal applicability of the law.
Citizens in modern Western societies are assured that their laws are applied in the same manner to all citizens regardless of differences in class, gender, race, or religion.
Illegal immigration insidiously erodes such equality under the law. When millions of foreign nationals reside illegally in the United States, a myriad of laws must be enforced unequally to perpetuate the initial transgression. Illegal immigration does not just imply illegal entry, but also continued illegal residence and all that entails on a daily basis.
Sanctuary cities protect illegal aliens from Federal Immigration Agencies in a way that is not true of American citizens who arrive at airports and must go through customs, with no exemption from federal agents examining their passports and personal histories. If crimes or infractions are found, there is no safe space at an airport exempt from federal enforcement.
In California, thousands of illegal aliens have operated automobiles without mandatory insurance, driver’s licenses, and registrations, and, in some municipalities, are not arrested for such violations — even as American citizens who cannot claim such apparent mitigating circumstances are.
In my own vicinity in rural California, there are hundreds of dwellings where multiple families in trailers, sheds, and garages reside, employing illegal water, power, and sewage hookups. Most are more or less left alone by county authorities. The apparent rationale is that such violations are too chronic and widespread to be addressed, or that it simply does not pay for cash-strapped agencies to enforce the law in the case of those who are unable or unwilling to pay substantial fines.
Either way, the nearby citizen who is hounded by county or federal authorities on matters concerning the proper height of his mailbox, or the exact distance between a new leach line and his existing well, feels that the laws are unequally applied and loses confidence in the value of his own citizenship. He often sees it either as no real advantage over mere residency, or perhaps even a disadvantage.
In sum, there are several reasons to put a stop to illegal immigration. But among the most important, and forgotten, is the insidious destruction of what it means to be a citizen.