Our real need: Some plain talk on immigration

August 18, 2005|By Thomas Sowell

IMMIGRATION HAS joined the long list of subjects on which it is taboo to talk sense in plain English. At the heart of much confusion about immigration is the notion that we "need" immigrants - legal or illegal - to do work that Americans won't do.

What we "need" depends on what it costs and what we are willing to pay.

Leaving prices out of the picture is probably the source of more fallacies in economics than any other single misconception. At current wages for low-level jobs and current levels of welfare, there are indeed many jobs that Americans will not take.

That immigrants - especially illegal immigrants - will take those jobs is the reason wages will not rise enough to attract Americans.

It is elementary supply and demand. Yet we continue to hear about the "need" for immigrants to do jobs that Americans will not do - even though these are all jobs that Americans have done for generations before mass illegal immigration became a way of life.

There is more to this issue than economics. The same mindless substitution of rhetoric for thinking that prevails on economic issues also prevails on other aspects of immigration.

Bombings in London, Madrid and 9/11 are all part of the high price being paid today for decades of importing human time bombs from the Arab world. That, in turn, has been the fruit of an unwillingness to filter out people according to the countries they come from.

That squeamishness is still with us today, as shown by all the hand-wringing about "profiling" Middle Eastern airline passengers.

No doubt, most Middle Eastern airline passengers are not carrying any weapons or any bombs - and wouldn't be, even if there were no airport security to go through. But it is also true that most of the time you will not be harmed by playing Russian roulette.

Europeans and Americans have for decades been playing Russian roulette with their loose immigration policies. The intelligentsia has told us that it would be wrong, and even racist, to set limits based on where the immigrants come from.

There are thousands of Americans who might still be alive if we had banned immigration from Saudi Arabia, and perhaps that might be more important than the rhetoric of the intelligentsia.

In that rhetoric, all differences between peoples are magically transformed into mere "stereotypes" and "perceptions."

This blithely ignores data showing, for example, that people who come here from some countries are 10 times more likely to go on welfare than people from some other countries.

The media and the intelligentsia love to say that most immigrants, from whatever group, are good people. But what "most" people from a given country are like is irrelevant.

If 85 percent of group A are fine people and 95 percent of group B are fine people, that means you are going to be importing three times as many undesirables when you let in people from Group A.

Citizen-of-the-world types are resistant to the idea of tightening our borders, and especially resistant to the idea of making a distinction between people from different countries. But the real problem is not their self-righteous fetishes but the fact that they have intimidated so many other people into silence.

In the current climate of political correctness, it is taboo even to mention facts that go against the rosy picture of immigrants. One example: Russia and Nigeria are always listed among the most corrupt countries on earth, and Russian and Nigerian immigrants in the United States have already established patterns of crime well known to law enforcement but kept from the public by the mainstream media.

Self-preservation used to be called the first law of nature. But today, self-preservation has been superseded by a need to preserve the prevailing rhetoric and visions. Immigration is just one of the things we can no longer discuss rationally as a result.

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University. His column appears Thursdays in The Sun.

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