Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia

MexiforniaIf Donald Trump is elected the 45th President of the United States, one issue in particular will explain how a loud-mouthed, crass celebrity with no political experience ascended to the office once held by Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln: immigration. American society has seen massive changes to its demography over the past few decades alone, and no single immigrant group has had a greater impact than those from Mexico, who are a majority of both legal and illegal migrant groups. To a very large degree, the fate of America in the coming decades will depend on its success or failure at integrating these new arrivals, but thus far there has been a conspicuous lack of debate on the subject. That deafening silence is the subject of Victor Davis Hanson’s Mexifornia: A State Of Becoming, and helps to explain the book’s subtitle, for California, the testing ground for this immigration influx, is in a perpetual state of change, with the final destination still uncertain.

As in any discussion of sensitive topics, it’s prudent to begin with the numbers, particularly the least-contested ones. In the 1970s, there were some 800,000 Mexicans residing in the United States; as of today, the official estimate for the number of illegal immigrants from Mexico is 11 million, with highs running to more than twice that number. To quote Hanson:

Each year over 1.5 million aliens are apprehended attempting to enter the United States illegally, the vast majority on the southern border of the United States. Perhaps ten times that number are never caught. The U.S. Hispanic population – of which over 70 percent are from Mexico – grew 53 percent during the 1980s, and then between 1990 and 1996 rose another 27 percent. At present rates of birth and immigration, by 2050 there will be 97 million Hispanics who will constitute one-quarter of all Americans – and well over half the population of California!

Immigration on such a scale presents immense problems for the host country, ranging from issues of assimilation to mundane matters of providing housing, energy and infrastructure to support the population surge. Thus far, Hanson argues, America’s efforts on both these fronts can only be qualified as an unmitigated disaster:

Less than 10 percent of those who identify themselves as Hispanic nationwide have graduated from college with a bachelor’s degree. Meanwhile, almost one in three Mexican-American males age 18-24, in response to a recent poll, reported having been arrested, and one in five has been jailed. Currently there are 15,000 illegal aliens in the California penal system.

He goes on to quote figures demonstrating that the rates of illegitimacy, illiteracy, alcoholism and even STD transmission are far higher in the Hispanic immigrant community than in the native population.

More interesting than the result of this experiment is the perverse reasoning behind it, and the real value of Mexifornia, particularly from our vantage point in 2016, with a potential Trump presidency on the horizon, is in its ability to explain the uneasy status quo. Big business – particularly large agricultural corporations – have a financial interest in porous borders, as these provide an unending supply of cheap foreign labourers, who will work off the books, without incurring the added expenses that documented workers would. The political Right, Hanson argues, is utterly beholden to these interests; the Left, on the other hand, draws from a number of motivations, ranging from humanitarian (illegal immigrants to America, even paid off the books, enjoy a far higher standard of living than in their native Mexico) to cynical (Hispanic Americans are reliable constituents of the Democratic party) to ideological (the “Chicano studies” professors, for example, who believe California – and much of the American Midwest besides – rightly belongs to Mexico). Mexico itself, Hanson argues, is cynically invested in the status quo, as illegal immigration into America relieves them of the financial and moral responsibility of providing for their poor, or ameliorating their corrupt political system – to say nothing of the estimated $15 billion in annual worker remittances that Mexican labourers in America send back to Mexico.

In an ironic twist of fate, the results for both Left and Right have been disastrous:

Illustrating the law of unintended consequences, the present immigration crisis is not quite what any of the stakeholders anticipated. For in addition to some cheap labor, the tax-conscious Right also got thousands of unassimilated others who eventually plugged into the state’s nearly bankrupt entitlement industry and filled its newly built prisons. (Almost one-quarter of California’s inmates are from Mexico, and almost a third of recent drug-trafficking arrests involved illegal aliens.) In contrast, the pro-labor Left, salivating over a larger bloc vote, slowly discovered that the wages of its own impoverished domestic constituencies were eroded by less expensive and more industrious alien workers (50 percent of real wage labor losses was recently attributed by the Labor Department to the influx of cheap immigrant labor) – and that puts a strain on the coalition that the Left wants to build.

One story, in particular, illustrates this comedy of errors. It is not widely known, but illegal immigrants to California and ten or so other states are able to apply for driver’s licenses without providing proof of citizenship. This was a concession to practicality, not to humane policy, for the rates of drunk driving and the high cost of traffic accidents faulted to illegal immigrants were rapidly reaching crisis level. By issuing driver’s licenses, and thereby imposing some measure of safety and regulatory training on illegal immigrants, it was hoped this problem might be curbed.

One of Hanson’s warnings, in particular, now seems prophetic. Immigration, he argues, is a divisive issue, but it is no longer one that divides people evenly along political lines. The Left and Right have thus far been happy to maintain the uneasy status quo. The better predictor for someone’s position on immigration is socioeconomic status. The wealthy minority, who reside in homogenous neighbourhoods where the only Hispanic-speaking people are cleaning pools or acting as housecleaners and nurses, are largely in favor of immigration; the poorer majority, who have witnessed first-hand the tidal shifts in their communities, who have seen their wages stagnate, their government services diluted, are increasingly opposed. This, I think, is the starting point for an understanding of Donald Trump’s popularity.