I get all that. I do. Yet this still does not make me favor the goals of those who marched in Los Angeles this past week.
Generally, I'm a pro-immigration, pro-assimilation, pro-melting pot kind of chap. Every successful immigrant group in America has added to, not detracted from, our culture and economy, long-term. I want everyone who wants to come here and join our reindeer games to be permitted to do so, regardless of color, creed, or language, provided they agree to the following, non-negotiable Rules of the House:
1. Learn to speak English well enough to communicate with most people who live here, at least when in public.
2. Put your prime loyalty to This Our Republic, above any other foreign commitments (sending money to your grandmother in the Old Sod is jolly fine, sending money to organizations that demonize and seek to damage the U.S. is not)
3. There is no 3. You may now pay taxes and vote like the rest of us.
The Mexican Immigration problem is in nature different from any of the other ones we have previously dealt with (in truth, each one is as different as the countries from which they stream here). The difference lies not in the culture of Mexico, nor in a particular defect of Mexican immigrants, but in the past.
The border with Mexico has always been porous. For 19th Century Outlaws, Mexico was Safe at Home, Olly-Olly-Oxen-Free. Banditry and paramilitary troublemaking along the border is nothing new: Pancho Villa's raid into Texas prompted President Wilson to send the U.S. Army deep into Mexico after him (they came up empty). The border is desert for Washington's sake, desert and a river whose banks will shift if it rains hard enough (as they did in 1941, moving 5 miles to the north and creating a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court, which was obliged to rule in favor of Mexico because the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo established the river as the border).
Then there's the fact that the U.S.-Mexican border is the result of the last international war on the North American Continent. In 1848 one-third of Mexico became the southwest United States, as provided for in the aforementioned Treaty of Guadelupe-Hidalgo which ended the war. Mexicans who thus claim that they are standing on their "homeland" make a statement that many are inclined to credit, especially given the ambiguity with which the U.S.-Mexican War has been viewed by Americans, from the 1840's forward. Republicans like Lincoln and Grant regarded it as a "war of conquest" pushed by proto-Confederates to create land for more slave states, but this did not prompt them to return the lands to Mexico. The problem has been with us ever since.
None of this, however, means that we can any longer afford to tolerate the situation; to call a problem old is not to accept its continuance. In the first place, while the Mexican War may not have been the most morally shining moment in our history, neither is it the Malevolent Rape of Innocent Mexico that our history books seem to suggest. The Mexican Government is at least as responsible as the U.S. Government for the War's Outbreak: their stubborn refusal to accept the Texas Republic and their short-sighted attempts to dispute the border gave the U.S. the cause that it needed: regardless of the oft-repeated "Manifest Destiny", it is hard to see how a war could have come about, even under President Polk, had not Mexico believed they could regain what they had lost, and attempted to do so.
Moreover, in victory the United States government was generous: the Mexican Cession was given not as conquered to conqueror but in return for $15 million (equal to what Jefferson paid for Louisiana), plus another $3.25 million of debt to Mexican citizens living north of the new border that the U.S. agreed to assume responsibility for. These same Mexicans were guarunteed citizenship and full property rights. No indemnities were paid, no massacres committed. This is hardly history's cruelest conquest.
Second, the United States is under no obligation to accept any immigrants from anywhere; our past notwithstanding, we are the third most populous nation on earth (a distant third, granted, behind China and India, but double the size of the next one on the list); we have no shortage of people, nor any real need for more. A government's first obligation is to its citizens, not to those who may become citizens, if they feel like it.
While I don't know how I feel about a "guest-worker" program, philosophically, there isn't too much daylight between myself and George Will. I likewise believe that an intelligent immigration reform package should include the following:
If we can do this, we'll have the means for turning all these Mexicans into Mexican-Americans, and eventually just plain the latter. Enough of guilt, enough of malaise, enough of flagellation for the degree to which America is not Eden. It never will be, and if we can forgive ourselves for that, we can discover again a people worth keeping.