Restricting the immigration debate

Immigration remains the most important—and the most suppressed—issue in America. In the early ’90s I wrote an article for the Miami Herald in which I explored the rhetorical methods used by the liberal and neoconservative establishments to attack the motives of immigration critics and so prevent any consideration of their ideas. As such, the piece is still relevant today, not only to the ongoing immigration problem itself, but also to the larger political and spiritual crisis of a society that is steadily losing one of the chief requirements of self-government—the desire and the ability to engage in rational public discourse.

The Politically Correct Subject No One Wants to Talk Seriously About

Lawrence Auster

The Miami Herald
Sunday, May 10, 1992

Immigration has emerged as a potent national issue in recent months, as California governor Pete Wilson’s vocal concerns about the budgetary costs of immigration, as well as Patrick Buchanan’s restrictionist campaign platform, have compelled a reluctant media to recognize the growing anti-immigration sentiment in this country.

According to a recent Gallup poll, almost two-thirds (64 percent) of the American people say they would be more likely to vote for a presidential candidate who favored tougher laws to limit immigration. The restrictionists have complaints on several fronts. They argue that uncontrolled immigration—now at 1.5 million people per year—is driving down wages and taking jobs, creating chaos along our southern border, causing an explosion of demand for social services at the same time that state and local governments are being forced to slash their budgets, swelling U.S. population growth (the highest of any industrialized nation) and exacerbating environmental problems, expanding the clientele of the race-preference and multiculturalism lobbies, and threatening to turn America into a permanently fragmented society.

But notwithstanding the increasing unease felt by a majority of the country about current immigration policy, open immigration retains the status of a religious faith among the nation’s political elites. The mainstream press, though it mentions immigration more frequently these days, automatically dismisses the restrictionist side. Opinion makers prevent a true debate on the issue by labelling immigration critics as racist, lumping the views of Buchanan (and even the blandly moderate Pete Wilson) with those of former neo-Nazi David Duke.

Another way of foreclosing debate is to say that the restrictionists’ stated concerns about immigration are not what they claim to be, but are a cynical political ploy, a way of scapegoating economic problems onto immigrants. “Is immigration merely being used as a scapegoat for the current recession by Mr. Buchanan, Mr. Duke, and Governor Wilson?” asks John Dilin in the Christian Science Monitor, “or is the growing level of immigration a legitimate issue that deserves wider attention among the public?”

But having raised the possibility that immigration is a legitimate issue, Dillin immediately proceeds to crush it, filling his article with quotes from liberal academics who say that criticism of immigration is nothing but scapegoating. “Duke and Buchanan are exploiting the issue,” says one, “beating up on immigrants, most of whom are non-white, to make a subtle racial appeal to voters.” “The immigration issue is phony,” says another, “because immigrants take the jobs that Americans won’t take.” “Immigration is a ‘Willie Horton issue,’” says a third, “a way of blaming problems on someone of another race.” Statements like these, repeated constantly in the media, spread the message that criticism of immigration is simply off-limits to intelligent and decent people.

Only half the story
In charging that restrictionist sentiment is a pathology that is not to be taken seriously on its own terms, journalists are drawing on the conventional wisdom of the social scientists. In his 1955 classic, Strangers in the Land, historian John Higham traced the anti-immigration movements of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, describing them as a projection of economic problems and other social distresses onto immigrants. Unfortunately, Higham told only half the story—leaving out of his otherwise exemplary account the huge and unsettling impact of immigration on American society during the peak periods of “nativist” fervor. That omission made the restrictionist movement seem like a hysterical reaction to a non-existent threat, rather than an understandable response to a real problem.

Recently, however, Higham has significantly revised his thesis:

We cannot ignore the fact that the two crises [of anti-immigrant feeling]—the crisis of the 1950s and the crisis of the 1920s—erupted at the peak of the greatest waves of immigration in American history. Several leading American cities in 1860 were half foreign-born… . Not only the dramatic growth of the immigrant population but also the militancy of its leadership was unnerving. in the early twentieth century southern and eastern European workingmen—often under revolutionary leadership—were in the vanguard of the largest strike wave the United States had seen up to that time.

Higham concludes:

Recovering tolerance and civic harmony depended in both instances on a period of relief from heavy immigration, during which an inclusive national enterprise could bring old and new Americans together.

In other words, what John Higham described in his earlier work as nativist hysteria he now admits was a normal reaction to social upheavals caused in part by massive immigration; he further admits that when those problems were eased by reducing immigration, so was the “hysterical” response.

The point is that immigration restrictionism cannot be simply dismissed as “scapegoating,” “exploitation,” or any other symptom to be analyzed by the social psychiatrists, but that it is exactly what it claims to be—fear of excessive immigration and its social, cultural and political consequences. It’s a view that must be accepted or refuted on its own merits.

But here the open-borders pundits resort once again to evasion. Even if the immigration issue is legitimate, they say, the way that restrictionists deal with it is not. For example, Jim Hoagland in the Washington Post speaks of how France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen “has cleverly exploited the real social and cultural problems posed by immigration [italics added] to legitimize xenophobic, antisemitic and racist appeals to voters caught in an economic squeeze.” The implication is that there exists some “acceptable” way to speak critically about the immigration problem without “exploiting” it. But since that advice comes from the very people who have never spoken about immigration except in glowing clichés, and who have always stigmatized anyone who did find fault with it, one wonders what this “non-exploitative” way of discussing the issue might be.

What the pundits really mean, of course, is that any serious criticism of immigration will not be allowed. That is, it’s all right to acknowledge that immigration is causing “some” problems, as long as one concludes—despite those problems—that immigration must proceed full speed ahead. But if one raises the same problems as proof that immigration ought to be reduced, well, that’s “exploitative.”

This Orwellian double-think is a recurrent feature in the immigration debate. For instance, it’s perfectly acceptable for liberal educators to observe that immigration is creating unprecedented ethnic and cultural divisions in our society—so long as they conclude that this is a wonderful “challenge” that we can meet by embracing “multicultural” education and a radically revamped national identity. It’s OK for author David Rieff to declare that immigration has turned Los Angeles into a Third-World city—so long as he calmly accepts that fact and urges his readers to do likewise. And no one minds when Mark Lagon and Michael Lind, writing in the neoconservative journal Policy Review, warn that growing ethnic separatism might cause the U.S. to break up into “several distinct nations”—since Lagon and Lind immediately add the politically correct caveat that “tighter restrictions on immigration will not be the answer.” But when a restrictionist like Pat Buchanan notices the very same facts—that massive Third-World immigration is turning us into a radically different and divided country—and logically concludes from those facts that immigration should be reduced, then Buchanan is attacked for being “crabbed,” “ungenerous,” “xenophobic.” When it comes to dealing with the negative effects of immigration, only lip service—or complete surrender—is permitted.

Yet even the half-dose of honesty described above is too much for some mainstream opinion-makers, who fear any open discussion of immigration-related problems. To be truly politically correct, the trick is not to talk about immigration at all—a modus operandi specifically recommended by the Los Angeles Times in a recent editorial. The Times, while conceding the validity of Gov. Wilson’s complaints about the crippling financial costs of immigration, nervously warned that Wilson “could easily be misinterpreted as trying to blame immigrants for the budgetary problems.” And how was the Governor to avoid that danger? “What Wilson should do,” the Times’ editors declared, “is discuss the troubling trend in state demographics.” As Dan Stein of the Federation for American Immigration Reform pointed out in a follow-up letter to the Times: “Discussing demographic trends in California without talking about immigration is like discussing the American trade deficit without mentioning Japan. Never before has any mainstream publication gone on record as urging an elected public official to engage in deliberate obfuscation.”

The above exchange gives an idea of how the immigration issue, fiercely guarded by racial taboos and the “Nation of Immigrants” ideology, has paralyzed the American mind. We, the ordinary people and the leaders of this country, need to start treating immigration as we would any other political question, weighing its benefits as well as its disadvantages, and then acting accordingly. But in order to do that, we must first stop thinking of immigration as some sort of secular god.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at December 06, 2002 01:53 AM | Send


Larry, that 1992 “Miami Herald” article you wrote is a classic and should be in the Favorites of everyone interested in the immigration debate. Thank you for posting it again! As many people as possible should have the opportunity to read it. After seeing it for the first time in October, I sent e-mails to several people, highly recommending it.

(It happens I also posted a letter about it in the Readers’ Forum, in which I talked mainly about the intro to the article rather than the article itself, here: , first letter at top, entitled, “Paul Musgrave: In Case You Need More Evidence.” BTW, in glancing down the list of that same thread just now, I saw where I mentioned VFR again, fourth letter down, entitled, “I Think I May Know Why the Blogosphere is Conservative.”)

Posted by: Unadorned on December 6, 2002 9:13 PM

Mr. Murgos and others who know about such things say that writing e-mails and letters does some good. An e-mail I wrote the other day to a politically-correct Arizona newspaper was inspired by this update I received from Craig Nelsen’s group, :

“Subj: Citizen militias on the border
“Date: 12/2/02 9:48:48 PM Central Standard Time

“Nearly one hundred years ago, the southern U.S. border with Mexico was a place of violence, chaos, and political intrigue. A bloody revolution was raging in Mexico, Mexican agitators and partisans were operating out of the United States, and massive illegal immigration from Mexico to Texas was underway. By 1915, a full-scale movement was afoot among Tejanos (Mexican-Americans and Mexican illegal aliens in Texas) to establish an ethnically separate state in the Southwest.

“Tensions along the border were high, and racial violence was common.

“Things boiled over in January 1916 when Pancho Villa, a brutal, undisciplined, semi-literate horse thief, and his ‘Villistas’ pulled 16 American engineers off a train in Mexico and shot them each in the head. In return, outraged Americans formed citizen vigilante groups, and racial violence between Anglos and Latinos intensified.

“Finally, two months after murdering the American engineers in Mexico, Villistas raided Columbus, New Mexico, massacred 18 Americans, then looted and burned most of the town. The Columbus massacre proved to be a turning point, and prompted an inattentive Washington finally to pay attention to the border. The Texas National Guard was federalized, and U.S. troops were sent after Villa into Mexico itself, where battles with Mexican troops nearly precipitated full-scale war.

“Today, three generations later, the conditions on the U.S.-Mexico border are strikingly similar to what they were in the 1910s. There is again massive illegal immigration from Mexico, violence and chaos are the order of the day, political agitators in the United States conspire with factions in Mexico, and there is a growing militant Mexican separatist movement.

“Can severe ethnic tensions be far behind?

“Groups like have long argued that our government’s laissez-faire attitude toward immigration and immigration law enforcement is a recipe for disaster; that there is every reason to expect that the wholesale illegal invasion of America will result in violence and ethnic conflict.

“Now a man named Chris Simcox, the owner of a newspaper in Tombstone, AZ, has called for the formation of a citizen militia to guard against illegal immigration. In our view, while such a call was utterly predictable, it is nevertheless significant, and continues the pattern of the 1910s.

“Perhaps Mr. Simcox — or someone like him — will be the Rosa Parks of the immigration moderation movement.

“If the history of the border is any guide, the potential really does exist for severe violence, injustice, and ethnic conflict. To avoid such a clear possibility, our government must immediately secure the border, enforce immigration law, and help illegal aliens return to their home countries.

“Furthermore, politicians like George W. Bush and Dick Gephardt must end calls for amnesty of illegal aliens. Amnesties increase resentment among native-born Americans and legal immigrants, perpetuate the impression that immigration is lawless and out-of-control, and encourage even more illegal immigration.

“Meanwhile, Mr. Simcox of Tombstone has been careful to advocate non-violence; he seems to focus strictly on law enforcement. In a recent television interview, he appeared to us to be a levelheaded, well-spoken, socially conscious American concerned chiefly with the well being of his country and the long-term consequences of our reckless immigration policy. However, we must not force citizens to take immigration law enforcement into their own hands, because there is no guarantee that future citizen militia members will act as moderately as Mr. Simcox.


“In forming a citizen militia, Chris Simcox is acting well within his legal rights as an American. Furthermore, he is acting in the tradition of American civil action (think Minutemen), and exhibiting more backbone, patriotism, public-spiritedness, and far-sightedness than the vast majority of our nation’s elected leaders.

“However, in spite of explicitly acknowledging it had no evidence to support such a designation, Tucson’s ‘Arizona Daily Star’ — among others — has applied the ‘hate’ label to Mr. Simcox. In our view, the ‘Arizona Daily Star’s’ name-calling is craven, outdated, foolish, and reactionary.

“Gratifyingly, the ‘Daily Star’s’ readers seem to agree with us and not the editorial board. An online poll on the newspaper’s website asked: ‘A Tombstone weekly newspaper publisher recently called for the formation of a citizen militia to combat illegal immigration. What’s your opinion?’ As of December 2, with over 7500 persons voting, 93% had responded, ‘I’m in favor.’

“You can write to James Kiser of the ‘Arizona Daily Star’s’ editorial board and express your view that the ‘Arizona Star’ needs to catch up with the times: the old naïve open borders ideology is as dead as it is dangerous.

“James Kiser, editorial board,

Here’s the e-mail I sent to “The Arizona Daily Star”:

Date: 12/3/02 12:34:00 AM Central Standard Time
From: Cognassier

[My home address]
December 2nd, 2002

Mr. James Kiser, Editorial Board
“The Arizona Daily Star”
Tucson, Arizona


What part of *”Americans don’t want any more uncontrolled, excessive, or illegal immigration”* don’t you understand?

Referring to Mr. Simcox of Tombstone as a “hater” is nothing but outdated, deliberately evasive PC childishness, and is EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE to those honest, upright Americans who agree with that courageous individual. Such tactics only ignore the real problem, and no one is fooled by them any more, as everyone knows their only purpose is to give those using them a feeling of moral superiority, when their primary interest ought to be seeking a solution to a very grave problem.

Superficial PC band-aids are NOT what is needed now. Things have gone way beyond that point. A tinder box is on the verge of being lit. Those who gratuitously use unjustified inflammatory language like “hater,” to describe decent folk who only seek redress of a legitimate grievance, bring the spark closer to the tinder.

The head-in-the-sand ostrich policy of editorial boards such as yours is going to lead this country’s Southwest to tragic violence, violence which likely will spread to California and the Rocky Mountain states in a major conflagration which will leave the same self-righteous editorial boards scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.

Anyone can tell them what’s gone wrong — the American people are not being listened-to, and haven’t for two or three decades now.

The lid on a boiling pot can be held down by force just so long, and no longer.

How about you guys *start listening to the American people for a change*? And, PUH-LEEEEZE, while you’re at it, DON’T start with the obligatory PC “hater” labels, guys — OK? I mean …. GROW UP for a change!!

Yours truly,


Posted by: Unadorned on December 6, 2002 10:38 PM

More from the “JUST TRYING TO DO MY BIT” Dept.:

Here’s an e-mail I sent the “Wall Street Journal” in response to a suggestion I saw in a reader’s letter in (see at the end of the reader’s letter, where he proposes the sending of e-mails to the WSJ, reminding those morons of the notorious “anchor babies” problem).

Here’s the letter from the Vdare reader: .

Here’s my letter to the WSJ:

“Dear Sir:

“[You say,] ‘If Mr. Bush wants to make the INS more effective, he should consider making immigration policies more sensible.’ 

“Right.  More sensible means putting legal immigration down to zero for the next generation and perhaps beyond, and, when it does finally get reinstituted, capping it at 50,000 immigrants a year maximum (or more, should a legitimate temporary need arise), all of whom must come from this country’s traditional pre-1965 source nations, in the same ethnic proportions which prevailed here prior to the year of the start of the Ted Kennedy/Emmanuel Celler Immigration Holocaust, 1965. 

“Furthermore, illegal immigration must be effectively suppressed.  ‘Hard to effectively suppress something in a free society’?  Oh, really?  How does the IRS suppress the ‘Non-Payment of Income Taxes’ movement so effectively?  Do it that way.  Or do it the way Janet Reno, acting on orders from Hillary, effectively suppressed the Branch Davidians.  (Trust me: the feds are good at suppressing things when they really want to.) 

“Do it however you please.  Just do it. 

“[You say,] ‘Meanwhile, we suspect that simply giving the agency a new look in a new home could make things worse before it makes them better.’

“What will make the new set-up under ‘Homeland Security’ better than the abomination of bad rubbish known as the late INS won’t be ‘giving [it] a new look in a new home,’ so much as it will be the single solitary fact of its being headed-up by this man Hutchinson — who appears to have got his head screwed-on frontwards — rather than Doris Meissner or Jim Ziglar, the extreme open-borders fanatics who preceded him (with the terrifying heir-apparent Stuart Anderson waiting in the wings hoping to replace them and THANK GOD THAT CREEP IS NOW OUT OF THE PICTURE with this new set-up!!!).

“As for your idea of millions of Mexican workers coming here on an as-needed basis, staying a while, then leaving with their nest-egg when the work’s done:  it sounds good on paper.  BUT — what’s to induce them to leave once their American-citizen baby is born here and they suddenly qualify for humongous social benefits for HIM, as well as citizenship priority for themselves and all their uncles, aunts, and third cousins back home through the well-known chain-immigration scheme?

“Before your suggestion can be taken seriously, hadn’t we better rectify the interpretation of the XIVth Amendment in ways recommended by Craig Nelsen’s group FILE (who are litigating these matters in Federal Court even as we speak) and by many others?

[ ]


“Also, how about a recommendation I first read in a column by Linda Chavez:  withhold a fraction of the wages of Mexicans here on temporary work arrangements, say fifteen percent from each paycheck, redeemable by them with interest only upon their return to their country after completion of their time here? 

“So — make the following a part of your proposal:

“1) rectification of the Anchor-babies insanity, and

“2) the withholding of part of their wages until they return home,

“and then maybe we can talk.

     “Thank you very much.  Or, perhaps I’d better say for all you immigration enthusiasts at the WSJ, Thank you very el-mucho.

                           ”Yours truly,

“[name, address]”



Posted by: Unadorned on December 6, 2002 11:33 PM

I congratulate and thank Unadorned for using his time and energy in his effort to redress his legitimate grievance. Too many think they can’t make a difference. Anyone suspicious of Unadorned’s results should read Steve Sailer’s articles at the VDARE Website. Mr. Sailer makes a strong case that just a few percent more “white” (which probably includes many of Hispanic descent) Americans becoming active would rout the mass immigration forces.

Posted by: P Murgos on December 7, 2002 12:03 AM

Here is your excessive incompatible immigration, Mr. Gil. Here it is, Your Holinesses the Pope and Mexican Bishops. Here — look at it, Karl Rove, Pres. Bush, Ted Kennedy, Abe Foxman, Jonah Goldberg. Like what you see, William F. Buckley, Jr., Bob Bartley, Tamar Jacoby, and James Tarantoad Taranto? Look at it … stare it in the face. You must be proud of your work:

” … Last August I [column is by Paul Craig Roberts] reported in a column that in its annual report to Congress the U.S. Office of Personnel Management bragged that ‘preferred minorities’ were vastly over-represented in federal employment.

“As almost all immigrants into the U.S., both legal and illegal, are classified as ‘preferred minorities,’ recent immigrants will be over-represented in federal employment.

“The U.S. no longer draws its immigrant population from England and Europe, where behavior in accord with the rule of law is second nature to the people. For three decades the U.S. has been drawing its immigrants from Third World countries where an office in government is understood by all as a license to collect bribes.

“The U.S. cannot import tens of millions of Third World peoples, forsake assimilation, celebrate multiculturalism, and avoid Third World mores. Once the U.S. has Third World immigrants as prosecutors and police, criminals will be able to purchase their freedom with bribes. Punishment will fall on those who can’t meet the price of a bribe.

“There is no rational basis for U.S. immigration policy. What drives U.S. immigration policy is the soppy assumption that environment determines behavior. Soppy-minded immigration enthusiasts actually believe that the mere act of crossing our frontier turns the immigrant into an American and infuses the immigrant with American beliefs and habits. The immigrant becomes a law-abiding person in spite of everything his life has taught him to that point. … “

Posted by: Unadorned on December 10, 2002 8:58 PM

I recall Mr.Austers 1992 Miami Herald immigration column protesting the p.c. crowd’s use of vituperation and vitriol to stifle debate.That he was in the rational minority is, to say the least, an understatement.
I also remember very well an astonishing full-back page photo advertisement the newspaper took out, about that time, to proudly display its large staff. Consisting of about twenty four, or so regularly boxed photos of its reporters and the like, almost all black, female, yellow or ethnic named ( few white males were depicted) Underneath was a single line of type, a huge bold font caption that read:


I never forgot that page and I never will.

Posted by: Sandy on December 11, 2002 8:31 AM

“Consisting of about twenty four or so regularly boxed photos of its reporters and the like, almost all black, female, yellow or ethnically-named (few white males were depicted [and those were all eunuchs, so they don’t count]) … “

My reply to this gesture of the Miami Herald’s is, “Who has aught against black, female, yellow, or ethnically-named” folk? Certainly not ME OR ANYONE I RESPECT. I’m ethnically-named myself. If I had to live in a world without all these kinds of folk in it, I’d hate it so much that I think I’d want to commit suicide. BUT … these folk already HAVE their country. It’s called China, Mexico, Arabia, Pakistan, and Black Africa. This is OUR country. The people pushing this crap merely are anti-white-anti-Christian-anti-Anglo-Saxon bigots à la Harvard Prof. Noël Ignatiev who want to see the last of the white-Euro-Christian group. You know how I know that? Because if truly “No Majority” were the rule, this lot would be against majorities everywhere — Africa, Israel, Vatican City, everywhere. But it only ever looks like all majorities but one are OK. Three guesses which one that un-OK one always seems to be?

You know what, Miami Herald? OVER MY DEAD BODY.

Got that? Do I have to repeat it?

Put THAT in your “No Majorities” pipe and smoke it!

Posted by: Unadorned on December 11, 2002 9:10 AM
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