The following is excerpted from a speech delivered by Heather McDonald, an attorney with the Manhattan Institute, at a Hillsdale College Leadership Seminar.
“The lesson from the last 20 years of immigration policy is that lawlessness breeds more lawlessness. Once a people or a government decides to normalize one form of lawbreaking, other forms of lawlessness will follow until finally the rule of law itself is in profound jeopardy. President Obama has decided that because Congress has not granted amnesty to millions of illegal aliens living in the U.S., he will do so himself.
“Article 2, Section 3, of the Constitution mandates that the president `shall take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.’ This provision assumes that there is a law for the president to execute. But in this case, the `problem’ that Obama is purporting to fix is the absence of a law granting amnesty to millions of illegal aliens. Rather than executing a law, Obama is making one up—arrogating to himself a function that the Constitution explicitly allocates to Congress. Should this unconstitutional power grab stand, we will have moved very far in the direction of rule by dictator.
“There has been no amnesty statute to date because the political will for such an amnesty is lacking.
“In February, U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen halted President Obama’s illegal amnesty with a temporary injunction. The proposed amnesty program, Judge Hanen found, went far beyond mere prosecutorial discretion not to enforce the law against individuals. Instead, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) proposed to confer on illegal aliens a new legal status known as `legal presence.’ But Congress has not granted DHS the power to create and bestow legal status. The amnesty program represented a `complete abdication’ of DHS’s responsibility to enforce the law, Judge Hanen declared. Indeed, DHS was actively thwarting the express will of Congress.
“The administration will likely fight the ruling through the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals and, if necessary, all the way to the Supreme Court. Democrats should hope that the administration loses. They are assiduously pretending that Obama’s executive amnesty is merely an innocuous exercise of prosecutorial discretion. But if Obama’s power grab is upheld, they will rule the day that they acceded to this travesty when a Republican president decides, say, to privatize Social Security because Congress has failed to do so.
“Obama’s executive amnesty is the most public and egregious example of immigration lawlessness to date. But beneath the radar screen has been an equally telling saga of cascading lawlessness that is arguably as consequential; the ongoing proliferation of the Secure Communities program and on deportation more generally.
“The erosion of the rule of law is bad enough. But the social consequences of mass illegal immigration are equally troubling. We are importing poverty and educational failure. If you want to see America’s future, look no further than my home state of California, which is a generation ahead of the rest of the country in experiencing the effects of unchecked low-skilled immigration,
“Nearly 50 percent of all California births are now Hispanic. The consequences of this demographic shift have been profound. In the 1950s and ‘60s, California led in educational achievement. Today, with a majority Hispanic K-12 population and the largest concentration of English language learners in the country, California is at the bottom of the educational heap. Over a third of California eighth graders lack even the most rudimentary math skills; 28 percent are equally deficient in reading. The mathematics performance gap between Hispanic and white eighth-graders has not budged since 1990; the reading gap has narrowed only slightly since 1998.
“California is at the epicenter of the disturbing phenomenon of ‘long-term English learners.’ You would think that an English learner would be someone who grew up in a foreign country speaking a foreign language, and who came to the U.S. only later in life. In fact, the vast majority of English learners are born here, but their cognitive and language skills are so low that they are deemed non-native English speakers. Nationally, 30 percent of all English learner students are third-generation Americans.
“In 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown pushed through a controversial law to try to close the achievement gap between California’s growing Hispanic population and its Anglo and Asian populations. That law redistributes tax dollars from successful schools to those with high proportions of English learners and low-income students. It remains to be seen whether this latest effort to raise the education outcomes of the children of low-skilled immigrants will prove more effective than its predecessors. Working against that possibility is Hispanics’ high dropout rate—the highest in the state and the nation—and their equally unmatched teen pregnancy rate.
“To be sure, many illegal Hispanic aliens possess an admirable work ethic and have stabilized some moribund inner-city areas like South Central Los Angeles. But thanks to their lack of social capital, many of their children and grandchildren are getting sucked into underclass culture. The Hispanic out-of-wedlock birth rate in California and the U.S. is 53 percent. The incarceration rate of Mexican-Americans in California shoots up eight-fold between the first and second generations, to equal the black incarceration rate. Gang involvement is endemic in barrio schools, giving rise to a vast taxpayer-supported army of anti-gang counselors serving the children of single mothers.
“This social service bureaucracy in barrio schools is just the tip of the iceberg. Welfare use among immigrants and their progeny is stubbornly high, because their poverty rates are stubbornly high. Hispanics are the biggest users of government health care and the biggest supporters of Obamacare. They favor big government and the higher taxes necessary to pay for it. The claim that low-skilled immigration is an economic boon to the country as a whole is false. It fails to take into account the government services consumed by low-skilled immigrants and their children, such as schools, hospitals, and prisons, to normalize illegal immigration with our huge array of sanctuary policies. Liberals appear indifferent to the erosion of law, and even too many conservatives who are willing to excuse immigration law-breaking in order to placate what they imagine to be a conservative voting bloc in waiting. But let us hope the rule of law is not lost.
“I would not at present offer amnesty to those who have voluntarily chosen to violate the law, since every amnesty, both in the U.S. and Europe, has had one effect and one effect only: more illegal immigration. People who come into the country illegally or overstay their visas do so knowingly. They assume the risk of illegal status; it is not our moral responsibility to wipe it away. Their children, if they are born here, are already American citizens, thanks to the misguided policy of birthright citizenship. The illegal status of their parents is a problem that will eventually fade away as that first generation dies out. The Obama amnesty, however, actually incentivizes the use of birthright citizenship, since it rewards with legal status illegal aliens who have American citizen children.
“I would also radically reorient our legal immigration system towards high skilled immigrants like the parents of Google’s founder, Sergey Brin. Canada, Australia, and other countries are already benefitting from placing a priority on skilled immigrants.
“Immigration policy should be forged with one consideration in mind: America’s economic self-interest. Immigration is not a service we provide to the rest of the world. Yes, we are a nation of immigrants and will continue to be one. No other country welcomes as many newcomers. But rewarding illegal immigration does an injustice to the many legal immigrants who played by the rules to get here. We owe it to them and to ourselves to adhere to the law.”