The revelation that Gov. Pete Wilson, leading scourge of the
undocumented, had himself employed an illegal immigrant housekeeper will
certainly deepen our political cynicism. Wilson joins the sorry band of
hypocrites Dianne Feinstein and Michael Huffington, both of whom made the
crusade against illegal immigration the centerpiece of their senatorial
campaigns and were then revealed as having entrusted the sanctity of
their homes to undocumented employees.
Aside from reinforcing the popular stereotype of politicians as liars
and hypocrites, there is a deeper lesson to this story. Based on the
examples of Wilson, Feinstein and Huffington, not to mention those of my
own relatives and acquaintances, I would guess that most middle- and
upper-middle-class families in California have at least occasionally
employed a gardener, nanny, cleaning woman or handyman whose legal
documentation would not stand scrutiny. Laws that are routinely violated
by most of the population are laws that breed disrespect for the rule of
law. This was the enduring lesson of he Prohibition Era of the 1920s,
during which America’s political elite denounced bootleggers by day and
drank themselves silly in speak-easies by night, certainly one of the
sorriest periods in our national history.
California has always had large numbers of illegal immigrants from
south of the border, often at far higher levels than today. Two million
illegal California residents applied for amnesty in 1986 under the
Immigration Reform Act of that year, while unknown numbers of others
remained underground. Today, the Immigration and Naturalization Service
estimates the number of illegals in the state at 1.5 million or so, with
an additional net inflow of 150,000 per year–less than one-half of one
percent of the state’s population–and a sizable fraction of these are
well-educated Canadian and European visa over-stayers, who arouse little
fear or media attention.
Several of California’s most important industries, including
agriculture and tourism, rely heavily on undocumented labor. What if that
pool suddenly became unavailable? Persuading unemployed aerospace
engineers to pick tomatoes or clean hotel toilets for a living is
unlikely to succeed, and forcing California’s huge long-term welfare
underclass to take these jobs is even less plausible. How many business
executives would feel comfortable if they knew that their offices were
cleaned each night by native-born Americans with a long history of drug
addiction and imprisonment, the only segment of the population likely to
accept such work?
The illegal immigration “solutions” proposed by grandstanding
politicians are often worse than the problem. Democrats have regularly
proposed dangerous big-government schemes, such as a national identity
card, a federal computer database to continually track the activities of
all American citizens, or even asset forfeiture–confiscating without
trial the property of those who employ undocumented workers. Having the
federal government seize ownership of several million private homes in
California would hardly boost sagging real-estate values. Foolish
Republican proposals like Proposition 187 have leaned more toward
punishing illegal immigrants through imprisonment, thus salvaging our
state budget by turning minimum-wage nannies into $23,000-per-year wards
of the state.
For a state facing so many real crises–a disastrous welfare system
and the urban degradation it has fostered, horrifying levels of crime, an
outrageously expensive system of civil litigation, and hatemongering
racial preference programs–to focus political attention on janitors and
farm workers seems the height of irresponsibility.
All sovereign nations must control their borders, and reducing illegal
immigration through a larger border patrol seems a reasonable approach to
the problem. But hysteria is unwarranted. The confident, prosperous
California of the 1980s certainly never viewed gardeners and housekeepers
as a mortal threat to our survival, and restoring such confidence and
prosperity should be the primary goal of our elected officials.
California faces larger problems than Michael Huffington’s beloved nanny.