Millions of Hispanics, mostly poor and uneducated, have immigrated to America illegally since the early 1990s. Most are Mexicans and most of them are high school dropouts. Compared to what they might have had in a slum or impoverished rural area of Mexico or Central America, these immigrants have done well here.
It has been different story for their neighbors -- middle-class Americans. For them, illegal immigration has often meant a deterioration of their neighborhoods, public schools, and their quality of life -- especially across America's Southwest.
Some have watched their culture erode: It's not uncommon to see Mexican flags flying in Spanish-speaking enclaves in towns and cities from Texas to California. This includes "sanctuary cities" like Austin, the Texas state capital, where until recently I'd lived for the past few years.
Most middle-class Americans are fed up with illegal immigration. They get no sympathy from liberal elites, however, including the open-borders elites at that lofty bastion of American journalism, the agenda-setting New York Times.
There is some amusing liberal hypocrisy going on here when you consider where top editorial staffers and executives at the Times and many of their affluent readers live. It's in trendy parts of New York City: places like gentrified Brooklyn and SoHo and Manhattan's posh Upper East Side. You definitely won't find any Mexicans crowding into low-rent apartments in those areas, creating Spanish-speaking enclaves resembling shabby parts of Mexico.
Some Times readers and top staffers don't live in the city but in the suburbs -- in pleasant "bedroom communities" boasting first-rate public schools, safe neighborhoods, and a high quality of life. In exclusive towns like Westport, Connecticut (pop. 27,000), a place I'm familiar with. It's composed almost entirely of very expensive single-family houses. Oh, and something else about Westport: It's overwhelmingly white. Stroll down Westport's boutique-lined Main Street, and you'll see mostly well-to-do white folks and maybe a few Asians. There are plenty of Mercedes and BMWs on Main Street. But you won't see any pick-ups racing about with an illegal alien at the wheel, driving without a license and liability insurance -- a common problem in Texas. In Westport, homes have not become flop houses for large numbers of illegal immigrants. There are no menacing Hispanic gangs. In Austin, which prides itself on being inclusive, multicultural and diverse, gang activity is surging, say police. However, Austin's politically correct media tiptoes around the Hispanic character of gang violence.
It's not as if Connecticut has no illegal immigrants; it does. The working-class city of Danbury just north of Westport -- a 40-minute drive away -- is home to thousands of illegal immigrants from Ecuador and Brazil. They comprise an estimated 20 percent of the 80,000 population.
Angry residents blame the invasion for straining the city's schools and social services and lowering its quality of life. Above all, homeowners are outraged at seeing their property values decline. "They're blue-collar workers and their whole life savings is tied up in their house and they're seeing their neighborhood being destroyed," homeowner Peter Gadiel told Fox News.
Zoning Wall of Exclusion
So why has nothing like this happened in Westport? It's thanks to draconian zoning rules. In Westport, apartments are all but prohibited; there are only a handful of them. Overwhelmingly, Westport consists of very expensive single-family houses; the medium sale price is $1.2 million. Accordingly, housing is too expensive for middle-class Americans to buy or rent and it's too expensive for unskilled immigrants, too. This prevents them from gaining a foothold in Westport. Instead, they go to working-class and inclusive places like Danbury or to "sanctuary cities" like New Haven, Conn., home to Yale University.
Back in the mid-1980s, before illegal immigration was a problem, critics of Westport's zoning policies accused the town of creating a "zoning wall of exclusion." As a consequence, middle-class people working in one of Westport's many office complexes couldn't afford to live in town; they had to commute from less affluent towns and cities in the region. Westport's homes also were too expensive for policemen and firemen, school teachers, and social workers.
Yet that's exactly what Westporters wanted: exclusivity. Accordingly, they created a Planning & Zoning Commission, hired a town planner, and elected fellow Westporters to that body to enforce their will: maintain the town's character, property values, and resist calls to allow "affordable" apartments and even condominiums.
In other affluent bedroom communities in the northeast's blue states, that's how they do things. "Nobody has the right to live anywhere. They have a right to earn the right to live anywhere," an influential member of Westport's powerful Planning & Zoning Commission, a Democrat, told me in June, 1985.
I was a young journalist at the time, writing a freelance piece about Westport's lack of "affordable" housing for the Connecticut section of the Sunday New York Times. I was a Democrat back then, and affordable housing seemed like a darn good idea to me, one everybody would surely rally behind.
Yet at spirited town meetings, I was shocked to see red-faced Westporters shout and hiss at proposals to allow affordable housing and even rent-controlled condos. Now, I think I understand: People change a lot when they get married, buy houses, and put down stakes in their communities. Some Democrats even become Republicans. I've known at least two Times staffers who lived in Westport.
In the suburbs outside New York City, there are lots of towns like Westport, situated within an hour's train ride from the heart of New York City. They're popular abodes for well-to-do liberals, people who earn six figure salaries in business and finance, and even in big-time journalism. This is not to say that there are not some open-borders Republican elites living in these places, too.
Memories of Westport and its affluent and civic-minded residents drifted back to me while reading an article in the New York Times: "Texas Mayor Caught in Deportation Furor." The article was part of the Times' ongoing "Remade in America" series on immigration, and it focused on efforts in Irving, a Dallas suburb, to crack down on illegal immigration.
Spinning its story around an open-borders agenda, the Times portrays Irving's residents (its white residents) as narrow-minded hicks. Yet even the Times cannot ignore some of the changes that have happened in Irving due to illegal immigration, primarily from Mexico. Residents of Danbury should pay close attention.
Back in 1970, Irving had a population of 100,000; 95 percent of its residents were white. Now, whites are a minority, as they are in Texas. Hispanics comprise 45 percent or more of the population of 200,000 - and according to city officials, 20 percent of them may be illegal immigrants, noted the Times. Hispanic birthrates have been explosive in Irving and across the nation. Many of these children are the offspring from millions of illegal immigrants whom Congress allowed to stay under an amnesty in the 1990s. Today, Irving's future may be found in its public schools: 70 percent of kids enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade are Hispanic, notes the Times. More than a few experts on immigration have expressed concern that the sons and daughters of these immigrants tend to do poorly in school, and dropout up until the fourth generation. Indeed, compared to other immigrant groups, the children of Hispanic immigrant groups have the highest dropout rates, say experts. All of which underscores that culture is a powerful thing: It does not change easily, especially in sanctuary cities where "diversity" and "multiculturalism" are presumed to be virtues. "The people who come here illegally across the border are not educated people. They don't have any culture or any respect for ours," Sue Richardson, vice president of the Greater Irving Republican Club, tells the Times.
America is experiencing massive levels of immigration that are unprecedented in scale and fact that many of the newcomers are from the Third World, not Europe as in the past. The impact of this flood of immigrants is the subject of the Times series "Remade in America." Its underlying theme is that America is remaking the immigrants. But that's certainly not the case in Irving, parts of which now have the shabby look of Mexico.
Residents Fight Back
Two years ago, Irving's residents decided enough was enough; they demanded that America's immigration laws be upheld. Naturally, the Times is outraged.
So what did all those rubes in Irving do that was so shocking? Did they give the KKK a permit to march through town or ban people who look Hispanic from sitting at lunch counters? Have the city's rednecks and "white trash" been racing around in pick-ups? Shouting lewd insults at hapless Mexican women? Roughing up shabby-looking Mexicans? Or torching Mexican-American business?
No, it's much worse.
Irving Mayor Herbert A. Gears -- a well-known supporter of Hispanic groups and causes in the past -- did something truly despicable in what the Times calls a "once welcoming" city. The formerly "immigrant friendly Democrat" ordered Irving's police to start running "immigration checks" on everybody whom they arrested and tossed into Irving's lockup. Suspects found to be in the country illegally were turned over to immigration authorities and deported.
What's the upshot of all this? Last year, Irving's crime last dropped to a record-low level. And illegal immigrants appear to be steering clear of Irving. Following the immigration checks, Mexico's council in Dallas issued a warning advising its citizens to avoid Irving.
Yet to Irving's "Hispanic leaders" and open-borders defenders with whom the Times sympathizes, the immigration checks are unconscionable. Irving has abrogated a federal responsibility, they complain. Even worse, the deportations are "breaking up families." It's an argument the Times highlights by focusing sympathetically on the plight of a hapless 35-year-old Mexican, Oscar Urbina.
Last summer, Urbina's life as an allegedly model citizen unraveled when he ran into what the Times called "paperwork" problems when buying a Dodge Ram pickup. Urbina, it turns outs, had been using a false Social Security number since immigrating illegally to America in 1993. Until then, he'd been a "portrait of domestic stability" -- a man "with a nice home, a thriving family and a steady contracting job," the Times claims.
Now, he faces deportation.
Ah yes, "breaking up families:" It's a familiar complaint among open-borders liberals. Yet oddly, they never seem to decry anti-family polices in places like Castro's Cuba. It's a regime that's broken up countless families -- either by tossing family members in jail for political reasons, or by even killing them on occasion.
The Times belittles Irving's lower crime statistics, suggesting immigration checks and deportations are mostly rounding up illegals guilty of minor offenses such as identify theft. A closer look at those statistics reveals much about the Times biases and values. As the Times itself notes:
As of early March, of the 4,074 people whose arrest led to their being handed over to immigration officials, 129 had been charged with violent crimes or illegal possession of weapons, and 714 with other types of serious felonies. In addition, 579 had been charged with driving while intoxicated. The other 2,625 had been arrested for lesser offenses; the largest categories were public intoxication and not having a driver's license or insurance.
All in all, the immigration checks are producing some terrific results. Yet the Times portrays Mayor Gears as being a conflicted man for having imposed such a morally problematic policy as immigration checks. "I'm the hero of every redneck in America," the Times quotes him as saying, while noting he speaks only "scant Spanish." It's interesting that the Times used that "redneck" quote in what must have been a lengthy and wide-ranging interview, one filled with lots of good quotes.
You have to wonder how liberal elites at the Times would feel if such problems suddenly visited their neighborhoods -- drunken illegal aliens stumbling about in the street. Driving without a license and insurance. Or contemplating their next violent crime?
Interestingly, the Times notes that many of Irving's "Hispanics" don't vote. Well, so much for their civic engagement values, a hallmark of Americans whose self-reliant European ancestors immigrated to America, learned English and reinvented themselves as Americans. Today, these folks are not hyphenated Americans, as are the Hispanic-Americans to which the Times refers; they're just Americans.
Along similar lines, it's interesting that the Times does not interview one group of Texans in Irving -- Americans of Mexican ancestry whose roots go back for generations in Texas; people who are members of the solid middle-class and who do not reflexively think of themselves as hyphenated Americans. There are plenty of people like that in Texas.
Social Class -- not race
Why do liberal elites at the New York Times find it so much easier to identify with illegal immigrants than with middle-class Americans? Two things obsess them: race and ethnicity; so that's how they define the immigration debate. Accordingly, ordinary Americans upset over illegal Hispanic immigrants must be "racist" and "xenophobic." Indeed, that's how former Mexico president Vincente Fox, during a visit to this country, described Americans opposing illegal immigration from Mexico. Fox got away with that remark until he went head-to-head with Fox's Bill O'Reilly on the national airwaves.
What in fact upsets residents in Irving and other communities are issues revolving around social class, bad behavior, and quality-of-life considerations. Like most Americans, they expect the law to be obeyed. Illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America would be a non-issue if it consisted of an orderly flow of immigrants with middle-class backgrounds; people settling in the country legally and learning to speak English. Asian immigrants have this sort of background, and there is no backlash against them -- and no wonder. Their children do well in school. They Anglicize their names and learn English.
President Obama, for his part, seems determined to give 11 million illegal immigrants, mostly poor and uneducated Hispanics, a path to citizenship. No doubt, he believes this will again demonstrate America's "moral authority" to an audience whose opinions matter to him: anti-Americans elites in Mexico, Europe, and the Third World. And no matter if his immigration plan changes the nation's culture for the worse for ordinary Americans; or at least for ordinary Americans who don't holler and applaud at Sunday church services when their minister yells, "God damn America!"
On his recent visit to Mexico, President Obama spent much time hobnobbing with that country's elites. He also should talk with ordinary middle-class people in Latin America, outside of Mexico, to get their opinion on illegal immigration. Most have no sympathy for gate-crashing Mexicans and other illegal Hispanic immigrants.
The President will have no trouble finding these folks who are solidly middle-class. They form long lines starting early in the morning outside the gates of U.S. Embassies across Latin America. They're eyes are pensive as they clutch carefully prepared applications for visas and work permits. They wait patently in the hot sun. Most will be disappointed by the decision of the Embassy official behind the glass window. But those whom I've met vow to try their luck again some other day.
To them, America is about more than economic opportunities and social programs. They admire America's culture: believe it's a place with a rule of law that applies to everybody, whether you're Kenneth Lay or Martha Stewart. And they believe it's a place in which ordinary people obey little social courtesies, like going to the back of a line at a bank, rather than bribing a security guard to let them go to the front; that's how it's done in parts of Latin America I've visited.
In America, you stop your car at a red light, even when no cops are around; that's the sort of civic culture that foreigners admire who are from dysfunctional countries without a civic culture. Accordingly, gate-crashing Mexicans who are deported get little sympathy from them.
The impact of uncontrolled immigration, especially from Mexico, promoted the late Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington to pose a troubling question:
"Will the United States remain a country with a single national language and a core Anglo-Protestant culture? By ignoring this question, Americans acquiesce to their eventual transformation into two peoples with two cultures (Anglo and Hispanic) and two languages (English and Spanish)."