Here’s an interesting take from the Ivory Tower on the current controversy over illegal immigration: “Undocumented may be the most decent word that’s available to us, but something was lost in that translation too,” Stanford professor Geoffrey Nurnberg writes in the summer 2006 edition of the magazine Rethinking Schools. “It isn’t that undocumented adds a bureaucratic note, but that it focuses on the government’s records rather than the immigrants themselves.”
“Visitors who overstay their visas may not be undocumented in the strict sense of the term, which is why the INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] ultimately decided to stay with ‘illegal.’”
Dr. Nurnberg is a senior researcher at the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford and is also a full professor of Linguistics at that university. He originally delivered these observations on National Public Radio.
“But these people are still without papers in the more suggestive European sense, people who have to live without any official status in the shadow of a modern state,” Dr. Nurnberg observes. “Aliens, illegals, even undocumented—over the past hundred years, it has been in the nature of the language of immigration to suppress the human side of the story.”
Yet language can’t wholly obscure those realities.” Here are some realities Dr. Nurnberg missed:
• Then, of course, there were the human 9/11 terrorists who crossed over the borders.
• And, the U. S. Government Accountability Office has acknowledged parenthetically that a spot check of illegal aliens yields several handfuls with criminal records.
• When the restrictive immigration bill that focuses on national security passed the U. S. House of Representatives, border crossings plummeted.
• When the open immigration bill that focuses on guest workers passed the U. S. Senate, border crossings jumped 500 percent.
• In the flow that made its way north at high tide were 50,000 Chinese nationals from a country that tests missiles that could hit the United States.
Dr. Nurnberg also ignores the cost of amnesty for immigrants borne by very human Americans. “The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act (CIRA, S. 2611) would provide amnesty to some 10 million illegal immigrants and put them on a path to citizenship,” Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation points out. “The net additional cost to the federal government of benefits for these individuals would be around $16 billion annually.”
“Further, once an illegal immigrant becomes a citizen, his parents may also become citizens. The long-term cost of government benefits to the parents of 10 million recipients of amnesty could be $30 billion per year or more.”
That would make for total costs to future American taxpayers of $46 billion. To be sure, the Heritage Foundation is a conservative think tank, but then, Rector, who has labored there for two decades, is a careful researcher. Thus, the figures he arrives at that approach $50 billion a year in new expenses for American taxpayers are derived from conservative estimates.
‘The education levels of illegal aliens are lower than those of legal immigrants,” Rector notes. “Half of all adult illegal immigrants lack a high school degree.”
“One-quarter of legal immigrants lack a high school degree, compared to 9 percent among the native-born population,” Rector points out. “However, there is a well-educated subgroup within the legal immigrant population.”
“Some 32 percent of legal immigrants have a college degree, compared to 30 percent of native-born adults.”
One final question, to which no one has given me a satisfactory answer, particularly “humanists” like Dr. Nurnberg: Why are we getting warm and fuzzy about Mexican commuters when our Coast Guard, acting on a Clinton Era directive, is sending Cuban and Haitian boat people back to brutal dictatorships?
That order, known as “wet feet/dry feet,” allows boat people to stay in the United States but only if they make it to shore, unless they are six-year-olds who Castro wants back, like Elian Gonzalez. Six years ago, the lame duck Clinton Administration nabbed the boy in a raid on his relative’s home authorized by Attorney General Janet Reno, in violation of a court order.
The images of the first-grader seized at gunpoint so that he could join Fidel Castro’s Young Pioneers elicited no vigils on campus organized by professors or student walkouts encouraged by school administrators. Indeed, the plight of refugees from the remaining Communist dictatorships on the planet generally leaves humanist academics such as Dr. Nurnberg completely unmoved.
Malcolm A. Kline is the executive director of Accuracy in Academia.