One way to look at the immigration debate is whether members of Congress focus on the good actors among immigrants or the bad actors.
It could be said that those who support the Senate’s approach of a restricted guest-worker program concentrate on immigration’s success stories — the archetype of the hardworking agricultural laborer who moves to America for a better life, obeys the law, maintains his self-sufficiency and strives toward citizenship.
Many members of the House, on the other hand, see immigrants as despoilers of the land who tax the medical and educational systems, fill our prisons, depress American wages, dilute its culture and, in the worst cases, aid and abet terrorists.
That isn’t to say they view every immigrant through this gloomy lens. Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) says, for instance, that “as a son of immigrants, I welcome and support immigration.” He believes, however, that the larger problem of immigration can’t be divorced from the most dangerous and least self-sufficient among those who settle here.
It’s this case that the firebrand congressman and possible presidential candidate seeks to make in his book In Mortal Danger, due out next week.
Just in time for the House-Senate conference, Tancredo seeks to buoy this hard-line approach with three appeals to Americans: to their desire for economic prosperity, to their sense of shared identity (or what’s left of it) and to their plea for security and safety in an age of terrorism.
His argument on economics is by far the strongest. He takes the old refrain that immigrants do the jobs Americans won’t do and turns it on its head, saying that Americans are shunning not menial work but its low wages and that “those jobs are paying bottom-of-the-barrel wages because they are going to low-skilled workers who are willing to do them for far less than an American worker needs to live. …
“The fact is, we have a supply and demand problem. The supply problem is coming across the border. The demand side is the job magnet created by U.S. employers providing jobs for people who enter the country illegally.”
It’s when Tancredo discusses multiculturalism that he loads his rhetorical guns with the biggest ammo. “We are committing cultural suicide,” he writes. “Worse, by the time many of us recognize it, our country may itself be so weakened by these destructive influences that the barbarians at the gate will only need to give a slight push, and the emaciated body of Western civilization will collapse in a heap.”
As evidence for such strong conclusions, he peppers the book with anecdotes and evidence of America-hating students, biased textbooks, museums that have been rendered irrelevant by their changing communities and an entire chapter on the fight over converting the Denver Public Library into a multilingual facility.
Anyone with a conservative bone in his body will nod his head in agreement at Tancredo’s condemnations of multiculturalism, but they come across more as arguments against, well, multiculturalism than against immigration per se. His issue here is with divisive academics and ethnic separatists more so than with a single illegal migrant.
Tancredo’s argument also is strained when he attempts to tether immigration to homeland security. Of course no one wants al Qaeda traipsing across the southwestern border. And in fact he raises the possibility that the MS-13 gang may be willing and able to help Islamic terrorists enter the United States.
Yet the congressman also points to a nuclear facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where illegal construction workers were improperly permitted access. He calls the site “compromised.” He mentions the seizure of a large cache of explosives in 2003 by New York City police, an illegal alien working at the White House and the disappearance of two computer drives at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. All of these may present compelling arguments for something, but closed borders isn’t one of them.
Undoubtedly, Tancredo’s book is most revealing when he discusses the political realities surrounding immigration and the internal politics of the Republican Conference. He says former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) “once called me into his office to tell me I had ‘no career’ in Congress. He was pretty specific about the possible problems I faced if I didn’t change my tactics.”
He says being called “Mr. Chairman” would be a “heady trip,” as would being called into the White House for policy chats. But thanks to the careerism in Congress, he has no illusions of it ever happening. “Once they decide which office they want, they then construct the belief system and rhetoric they believe they need to get it,” he writes of many of his colleagues.
He’s right of course. Tancredo’s book might be imperfect, as are many of his arguments on the immigration question, but perhaps Congress’s approval ratings wouldn’t be in the 20s if more members approached policy with the intellectual honesty of Tancredo.
ABOUT THE BOOK
In Mortal Danger: The Battle for America’s Border and Security
By Rep. Tom Tancredo
WND Books, 2006
224 pages, $24.95