The Immigration Debate: Racism—Or Treason?

(First published under the title "Un-American Activities: If Immigration Destroys America, Does That Make The People Who Favor It Un-American?" National Review, June 16, 1997)

[Peter Brimelow writes:  The appalling Senator John McCain was at it again last week— trying to intimidate critics of immigration policy by playing the racism card. ("Are we going to say work-authorized immigrants have to ride in the back of the bus?"—click here for audio).

Nearly ten years ago, I pointed out the answer: The riposte to the charge of racism is the charge of treason. Of course, I didn't then realize that Bill Buckley was about to purge National Review of immigration reformers and allow the charge of racism to be made, with no opportunity of reply, against me.]

New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has turned on his fellow Republicans in Congress, calling their welfare law "un- 'American" because it denies assistance to legal immigrants. —UPI, May 8[1997]

AH, the immigration debate—that's what I love about it. There's none of this nonsense about "My distinguished colleague" and "Will the gentleman from Armpit please yield?" We don't take prisoners here.

All in good fun, of course. Civilians startled by the abuse that is quite routinely exchanged by us immigration debaters need to bear in mind Samuel Johnson's definition, in his Dictionary, of "[expletive deleted]": "a term of endearment between sailors."

Personally, I don't even find Rudolph Giuliani's tergiversations (see above) especially distressing. Needless to say, legislation to ensure that immigration is not being perversely subsidized by the American taxpayer cannot possibly be regarded as "un-American." Indeed, the attempt to keep immigrants from being "public charges" is one of the most consistent themes of American immigration policy. The Bay Colony legislated about it in 1639, only 19 years after the Pilgrims landed. At the height of the last great wave of immigration in the early 1900s, more than half of the 2 per cent of arrivals sent back after inspection on Ellis Island were suspected potential charity cases. American authorities have always struggled to keep out the indigent, criminal, and diseased—until now.

But hey, New York was an alien place to most Americans even before the influx accidentally triggered by the 1965 Immigration Act, which has driven the foreign-born proportion of its population to the current incredible 40 per cent. Anyone attempting to get elected as a Republican there must be viewed with the clinical detachment you would bring to studying an unusually ambitious performing flea.

At least, I should say, I assume the abuse is all in good fun. I'm indulging in the usual polite fiction when I say that immigration debaters " exchange" abuse. We don't. As any fair-minded observer must agree, all the abuse comes from the immigration enthusiasts, and it is directed at those of us who think the current system is less than perfect.

This is not, God knows, because we don't feel like hurling abuse back. But the major media are so pro-immigration that only the most squeaky-clean facts and logic on our side have any chance of making it through.

Still, there's a certain lack of symmetry when one side in a debate can routinely make charges that would seem designed to drive their opponents out of public discourse and even destroy their chances of making a living if they work in journalism or academe. Is there a moral equivalent to their charges of xenophobia, nativism, racism, neo-Nazism, etc.? (Just to select a few from my own experience.) 

Yes. The morally equivalent charge is this: What the immigration enthusiasts are doing is, in the last analysis, treason.

Treason? Well, I don't literally mean they should be arrested and tried. I mean it in the same warm, cuddly, fun sense in which they describe us as xenophobes, nativists, racists, neo-Nazis…and " un-American."

Treason is defined quite specifically in the U.S. Constitution (Article III, Section 3): Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. The Founders were specific because they were aware of the danger of what Oliver North was later memorably to describe as "criminalizing policy differences."

But the Founders did not mean that only armed attack constituted treason. The Supreme Court, in Cramer, quoted a definition of treason as "an act which weakens or tends to weaken the power of the [United States] . . ." Treason required an act and conscious intent; but not necessarily war.

And this definition of treason must be read in the context of what the Founders believed they were doing. The preamble to the Constitution begins: "We, the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity . . ." [Italics mine.]

Not posterity in general, note—but the specific posterity of those men who signed that document. They represented a full-fledged nation. Newcomers might be assimilated. But there was no thought that they should transform.

Today, however, immigration triggered by the 1965 Act is changing the U.S. in a way unprecedented in history. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050, the population will be nearly 400 million, of whom 130 million will be post-1970 immigrants and their descendants—virtually all from non-traditional sources of U.S. immigration. So by 2050, the U.S. will be "a place that George Washington would not recognize," as historian John Hope Franklin recently gloated to Duke University freshmen.

There is an obvious and undeniable risk that a country which in 2050 will be, for example, one-quarter Latino, must also be, in some degree, Latin American in its politics and culture. Will it then be tranquil domestically? Will the blessings of liberty be secured?

And do supporters of current immigration policy know and intend that it will " weaken" the United States?

Paradoxically, the political correctness that has protected immigration enthusiasts for thirty years hurts them here. It has lulled them into saying some interesting things:


Or (this just in) how about Clinton-appointed U.S. Civil Rights Commissioner Yvonne Lee, in the May 16 AsianWeek newspaper:

Here Miss Lee openly says that her agenda is to build an ethnic faction—with taxpayer money to finance it.

Why not? Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo told Mexican-Americans in 1995 that they were "Mexicans—Mexicans who live north of the border." He proposed to allow them to retain Mexican citizenship while exerting influence here. Washington said nothing.

All these immigration enthusiasts apparently wish, quite consciously, to end the U.S. as it existed in 1965.

Does this make them guilty of treason? I don't think so. No doubt they truly do not realize the implications of their position. Once the facts are pointed out, they will hasten to recant.

Won't they?