“Value Added: Why National Review Is Wrong” by Ron K. Unz
Immigrants are a net benefit to the nation and a natural Republican constituency—if the party doesn’t blow it
National Review, November 7, 1994
This journal has performed a valuable service by clarifying the immigration debate. Rather than choosing the safe path of attacking only illegal immigration, NR has correctly pointed out that illegal immigration is dwarfed by legal immigration; that legal and illegal immigration share a wide range of important characteristics; and that most of the key arguments against the one apply to the other as well. Just as the debate about NAFTA became a referendum on free trade in general, so the controversy over illegal immigration is a proxy for a critical reappraisal of post-1965 immigration policy.
With the underlying issue clear, reasoned debate should be possible on the pros and cons of immigration. And on those pros and cons I differ sharply with NR. The evidence shows that the immigration of the last thirty years has been a large net benefit for America, as well as an important source of strength for political parties espousing conservative principles.
Anyone walking the streets of our major cities sees that the majority of the shops are owned and operated by immigrant entrepreneurs—Korean grocery stores, Indian newsstands, Chinese restaurants. Most of these shops simply would not exist without immigrant families willing to put in long hours of poorly paid labor to maintain and expand them, in the process improving our cities. In Los Angeles, the vast majority of hotel and restaurant workers are hard-working Hispanic immigrants, most of them here illegally, and anyone who believes that these unpleasant jobs would otherwise be filled by natives (either black or white) is living in a fantasy world.
The same applies to nearly all the traditional lower-rung working-class jobs in Southern California, including the nannies and gardeners whose widespread employment occasionally embarrasses the Zoe Bairds of this world (even as it facilitates their careers). The only means of making a job as a restaurant busboy even remotely attractive to a native American would be to raise the wage to $10 or $12 per hour, at which point the job would cease to exist.
Since most newcomers tend to be on the lower end of the wage scale, and since many have children in the public schools, they do tend to cost local governments more in services than they pay in sales and income taxes. (The same could probably be said for most members of the working class with young children.) This is the basis of California Governor Pete Wilson’s lawsuit over the “costs” to California of illegal immigration. Yet the real culprit is our outrageously inefficient public-school system. Furthermore, because of their age profile, even working-class immigrants generally pay much more in federal taxes (primarily Social Security withholding) than they receive in federal benefits. So we might equally say that immigrants are helping us balance the federal budget.
The Immigrant Edge
Immigrants are crucial not just to industries that rely on cheap, low-skilled labor. Silicon Valley, which is home to my own software company, depends on immigrant professionals to maintain its technological edge. A third of all the engineers and chip designers here are foreign born, and if they left, America’s computer industry would probably go with them. In fact, many of the most important technology companies of the 1980s, in California and elsewhere, were created by immigrants, including Sun Microsystems, AST, ALR, Applied Materials, Everex, and Gupta. Borland International, a software company worth hundreds of millions of dollars, was founded by Philippe Kahn, an illegal immigrant. These immigrant companies have generated hundreds of thousands of good jobs in California for native Americans and have provided billions of dollars in tax revenues. Without a continuing influx of immigrants, America’s tremendous and growing dominance in sunrise industries would rapidly be lost.
If the above list of technology companies seems unfamiliar to NR‘s writers, this highlights an important underlying reason for NR‘s anti-immigrant stance. Most public-policy writers travel in narrow literary, political, or legal circles and have minimal contact with the worlds of science or technology (just as most technologists and entrepreneurs ignore politics). But the money and prestige of Silicon Valley will decisively turn against the Republican Party if it adopts an anti-immigrant stance, just as they would if it decided to oppose free trade.
While several of the most parasitic sectors of the American society—politicians, government bureaucrats, lawyers—are almost entirely filled with native Americans, each year one-third to one-half of the student winners of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search (America’s most prestigious high-school science competition) come from immigrant families, often quite impoverished. Many of America’s elite universities have student bodies that are 20 per cent Asian, with immigrants often accounting for half or more of the science and engineering students. National Review itself is not averse to seeking talent from abroad, notably including its leading anti-immigrant theorist (Peter Brimelow) and its editor (John O’Sullivan), both themselves recent immigrants, albeit from an Anglophone country.
So much for the purely economic side of the immigration ledger. The greater immigration concerns resonating among conservatives today are social and frankly racial: that the post-1965 immigrants, overwhelmingly Asian and Hispanic, contribute disproportionately to crime, welfare dependency, and social decay, and that their non-European origins will exacerbate America’s growing ethnic strife, leading perhaps to separatist ethnic nationalisms.
If this scenario does not come to pass, it will not be for want of trying by the government. State-sponsored affirmative action, bilingual education, and multiculturalism seem designed to promote ethnic conflict, while our welfare system breeds pathological levels of crime and dependency. But America’s ethnic policies and welfare system would doom our future irrespective of immigration, and there is little evidence that the problems have any relation to immigrants, the overwhelming majority of whom are entrepreneurial and assimilationist.
A recent NR editorial made much of the statistic that 20 per cent of California’s prison inmates are immigrants. But this is hardly surprising in a state where 20 percent of the residents are immigrants. Contrast this with the truly alarming fact (unmentioned by NR) that blacks in California are incarcerated at nearly ten times the rate of the non-black population. Similarly, NR‘s emphasis on the welfare dependency rate among non-refugee immigrants (7.8 per cent, versus 7.4 per cent for the general population—hardly a dramatic difference) seems like grasping at straws.
NR ignores the many countervailing indicators of immigrant advancement and assimilation. In California, for example, the ten most common names of recent home buyers include Martinez, Rodriguez, Garcia, Nguyen, Lee, and Wong, with the Nguyens outnumbering the Smiths 2 to 1 in affluent, conservative Orange County. Of California’s Asians and Hispanics who were born in this country, nearly half marry into other ethnic groups, the strongest possible evidence of assimilation. These intermarriage rates are actually far higher than were those of Jews, Italians, or Poles as recently as the 1950s.
Or consider places in America where Peter Brimelow’s deepest fears have already been realized, and white Americans of European origin (“Anglos”) have become a minority of the population. San Jose, California, the 11th largest city in the nation, is one example, having a white population of less than 50 per cent, with the balance consisting mostly of Asian and Hispanic immigrants, including many illegal immigrants. San Jose has a flourishing economy, the lowest murder and robbery rates of any major city in America (less than one-fifth the rates in Dallas, for example), and virtually no significant ethnic conflict.
Similarly, El Paso, Texas, is the most heavily Hispanic (70 per cent) of America’s fifty largest cities, but it also has one of the lowest rates of serious crime, with a robbery rate just half that of Seattle, an overwhelmingly white city of similar size. The American state with the lowest share of whites in the population (about one-third) is Hawaii, hardly notorious as a boiling cauldron of ethnic conflict and racial hostility. And despite its heavy urbanization, Hawaii has among the lowest serious crime rates of any state in the nation.
Along Racial Lines
The sad truth is that both crime and ethnic conflict today are almost entirely correlated with the presence of a black underclass, purely native and generally with American roots far deeper than most of NR‘s staff or subscribers have. Confusing America’s severe racial problems in this area with its comparatively minor immigrant tensions is as dishonest as it is politically unwise.
This dishonesty has been reinforced by the shameful deceit of the media in such matters. For example, the 1991 Mount Pleasant riot in a Hispanic neighborhood of D.C. has often been cited, not least in NR, as an example of Hispanic immigrant volatility, even though on-the-scene observers have pointed out that the rioters were primarily black. Similarly, during the Los Angeles riots the reluctance of the police to arrest black rioters and the attempt by the liberal media to portray the riots as a united multicultural uprising against the “system” blurred the fact that the rioters were almost all black, although Central American immigrants joined in some of the later looting. Heavily Hispanic East Los Angeles was one of the few parts of the city untouched by rioting or looting.
The political danger of an anti-immigrant position for Republicans is a consequence of demographics and voting strength. Today, 30 percent of California’s population is Hispanic and 10 percent is Asian, with the vast majority being first- or second-generation Americans. Add in other immigrant groups classified as white, such as Iranians and Armenians, and the total comes to nearly half of California’s population. Other large states, such as Texas and New York, have similar profiles.
Although immigrant voter registration is currently low—Asians and Hispanics account for just 10 per cent of California’s voters in most elections—this will change. Even if all immigration (both legal and illegal) ended tomorrow, immigrants and their children would soon dominate California politically. Furthermore, the economic success of many Asian immigrants should soon make them a major source of political funding.
This is potentially a very good thing for conservatives. Hispanics are classic blue-collar Reagan Democrats, much like Italians or Slavs, whose strong social conservatism should naturally move them toward the Republican Party. Asians can best be described as being like Jews without liberal guilt, and their small-business background and hostility to affirmative action make them natural Republicans as well.
This analysis is not mere wishful thinking. Although nearly all of California’s prominent Asian and Hispanic political figures are liberal Democrats, ordinary Asians and Hispanics have regularly given the Republicans 40 to 50 per cent of their vote, with Asians often voting more Republican than whites. Nearly every statewide Republican victory of the past decade depended on immigrant votes. So long as the Republican Party does not throw away its opportunity by turning anti-immigrant, these percentages should rise as immigrants grow in affluence and younger Asians and Hispanics rise through the ranks to become Republican leaders.
And since three of the most anti-immigrant constituencies in American society are blacks, union members, and environmentalists, it is likely that the Democratic Party will help push immigrants into the Republican camp. The virulently anti-immigrant leftist Senator Barbara Boxer (D., Calif.) is a notable example of this important trend. For the Republican Party to turn anti-immigrant would be a suicidal blunder.
Mr. Unz, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, received more than a third of the vote in his Republican primary challenge to California Governor Pete Wilson.