Immigrants: Whose Huddled Masses?

An estimated 8 million illegal aliens now live in the United States. Can anything—should anything—be done about them?

You can see illegal immigrants all over Chicago, if you look: digging and planting for the landscape gardeners and nurserymen; busing tables in restaurants in the Loop; fetching and carrying at O’Hare Airport; walking along the streets of Pilsen, the big Mexican neighborhood on the lower west side.

Pilsen got its name from Chicago’s Bohemian settlers a century ago. The Roman Catholic parish church of St. Procopius at 18th and Allport is still in the charge of a Bohemian Benedictine father; a sign on Pastor Charles Kolek’s confessional offers audiences in Bohemian, Slovak, and German as well as English and Spanish. One service a week is conducted in “Bohemian” and is attended by Czechs from the metropolitan area. But today such traces of the early character of the lower west side are scarce indeed. The Indian faces, the food, the posters, the goods in shops, the Spanish speech, all suggest a Mexican border town.

Knowledgeable people estimate that a third of the people on the streets of Pilsen are illegal aliens from Mexico. Most of them join a hometown friend or relative. They also get help from the community of their compatriots. In Pilsen, a newcomer without documents can quickly find a place in a “wetshack,” a rooming house that specializes in illegal immigrant lodgers. In the bars on 18th Street or Blue Island Avenue he can buy false identification — anything from a Social Security card to a driver’s license, a draft card, a birth certificate, a voter registration card, or a “green card” authorizing permanent residence. He can pick up advice on how to make a living under constant threat of deportation; how to look less like an immigrant; what employers to approach; how to ask for a job; when to admit being an alien without papers, and to whom; how to evade the immigration service.

Because they don’t want to come to the attention of the authorities, illegal aliens are loath to use public services, and in Pilsen a variety of people fill the gap. Some dubious operators sell services which are ordinarily provided by public agencies or licensed professionals. Notaries public, designating themselves Notario, one of the Spanish words for lawyer, give advice on immigration law and often make problems worse.

Many illegal aliens, if they seek medical help at all, go to private physicians who charge more than the public clinics which treat low-income Chicagoans. Dr. Jorge Prieto, chairman of the Department of Family Practice at Cook County Hospital, observes of the 2000 or 3000 illegals in Evanston, where he lives: “A large number of them don’t even vaccinate their children. They don’t even get the diphtheria-whooping cough shots because they’re afraid— simply afraid of the society. They only come in when they’re bleeding, when pain is too severe, or when they’re in danger of losing their jobs because of sickness. They’re not getting preventive care and practically no one is reaching out to give it to them.”

Because of their need for anonymity, illegal aliens are likely to use cash instead of checks or credit cards in transactions, which makes them vulnerable to holdups and muggings. They do not call on police for fear of being discovered and deported.

Chicago’s earlier settlers did not have to live outside the law. The first of them came from New York and New England early in the nineteenth century; later waves of newcomers came overseas from Europe. When employment ran out in the South, blacks rode the railroads up to Chicago to find work. Today’s Mexican migrants, like the easterners and the blacks who preceded them, were able to reach their destination over land, without crossing an ocean. Like the Germans, Irish, Italians, and Poles of the old immigration, they are “foreigners.” Unlike any of those who came before, they do not possess an unchallenged right to be in Chicago seeking their fortune, for only a fraction of them have proper visas. The rest are, in the euphemism recently adopted by the U.S. government, “undocumented aliens.”

Some of them, about a thousand a month, are apprehended and sent home by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Several times a week, chartered Greyhound buses come out of the garage under the Federal Building on Dearborn Street loaded with Mexicans, headed for El Paso and the Mexican authorities on the other side of the Rio Grande. Illegal aliens from more distant places are taken to O’Hare Airport for the trip home. But about 250,000 in Chicago have not been found. They mostly have low-paying jobs: as hotel, restaurant, laundry, or hospital workers, gardeners, janitors, cooks, maids. If they stay in those jobs, chances are that no official will challenge their right to be in the United States. Those who move up into better-paying jobs, as meat-packers or factory workers, are more likely to be swept up in an Immigration Service raid, in accordance with the service’s policy of using its resources to free “jobs attractive to American labor.”

Illegal immigrants in the professions are less obvious to the Immigration Service. The Chicago district director remarked, “If a man is a Pakistani chemical engineer, I’m not going to find him on a factory sweep. And he could be legal because of a skills preference. But factory workers cannot come in on a skills preference.”

The officers of the Immigration Service who locate and expel illegal aliens find themselves trying to enforce laws which few people like and many oppose. “A lot of people feel we’re a gestapo or harassing operation. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t have empathy for the illegal alien. He’s not a criminal, he’s not violating the other laws of the country, he’s seeking employment. But if his presence hurts this country, then we have to remove him.” The policeman’s lot is not a happy one, but at least the ordinary cop can expect the support of respectable citizens when he catches a felon, a burglar, or a murderer. Not so the immigration officer as he rounds up a hapless foreigner whose offense is that he lacks the right documents. Most people look the other way. Zeferino Ochoa, immigration adviser for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, is one of those who go further and directly challenge the legitimacy of Immigration Service operations in his city: “If the government is not equipped to safeguard its borders, why bother the people who live here? The INS shouldn’t be on the streets. It’s okay on the borders, at the airports, but not in the towns.”

The Chicago Archdiocese has been particularly helpful to the children of illegal aliens. The Chicago school authorities insist on seeing the visas of parents of new children who have no transfer documents from American schools. The result is that public education is denied to a number of children whose parents cannot show the right papers. Church schools will enroll them regardless of their parents’ legal status, not only meeting the child’s immediate need for schooling but providing him with a school report, that permits his eventual enrollment in a public school.

Among other groups dedicated to helping illegal immigrants is the Immigrants Service League, whose staff of twenty caseworkers and a lawyer work to provide their clients with a basis for residence that will satisfy the law. The work of the Legal Services Center for Immigrants extends beyond the simple legalization of residence for clients to litigation aimed at enlarging the effective immigration quota for the Western Hemisphere. The American Civil Liberties Union will enter a case where it can see a constitutional issue. Yet, important as these issues of principle are, the lawyers who feel a vocation in such matters cannot materially change the situation of the great majority who, under the existing limitations of national quotas and individual preferences, are beyond being legalized.

Immigrant profile

Who are the illegal aliens in the United States as a whole? About 60 percent are Mexican, and most of these crossed the border without being seen. The next big identifiable group is Central and South Americans. Some of these come through Mexico, hut most enter with tourist visas, the terms of which they violate by overstaying and doing paid work. The Caribbean countries send more illegal immigrants than does Canada. From the Eastern Hemisphere, about as many Asians as Europeans are apprehended by the Immigration Service. At a guess, they constitute a tenth each of the illegal population. But nobody knows.

Mexican immigration is the biggest piece in the puzzle, and has been the object of several studies. Among them is Julian Samora’s Los Mojados: The Wetback Story (1971), which includes information from interviews with Mexicans conducted in detention camps near the border. There is also a Mexican government survey of several thousand Mexicans who were expelled from the United States and delivered back home. Wayne Cornelius, a professor of political science at MIT, has studied illegal immigration from the vantage point of the communities in Mexico which send large numbers of migrants north. David North and Marion Houstoun did a particularly illuminating study for the Department of Labor on the characteristics and impact on the labor market of illegal immigration. They interviewed illegals who were on their way back home after apprehension by the Immigration Service.

From these studies one learns that illegal aliens from Mexico are young adults, predominantly men, who have come to the United States for the purpose of working and who are likely to send much of their earnings back to families in Mexico. The Mexicans interviewed in the North-Houstoun project had been in the United States for an average of not quite two and a half years before they were apprehended; most of them, after being caught, told the researchers (but presumably not the immigration officials) that they intended to come back. During their stays in the United States, they had gone home to Mexico on an average of every six months. They worked at low-status, low-paying jobs; their average wage, sampled by North and Houstoun in 1975 in cities across the country and along the border, was $2.34 an hour. Twenty percent of them had been paid less than the minimum wage. More than half of them were in the lowestpaid occupations: farm or non-farm laborer, service or household worker. Only a fifth of U.S. workers are in those jobs. The Mexican government study of illegals upon their repatriation showed that 23 percent were illiterate.

Samora, North and Houstoun, and the Mexican government all took their samples from the catch netted by the Immigration Service—a catch which is itself a selection of a kind, since the service, with its limited resources, cannot look everywhere.

A self-selected group of Mexicans has been studied by Professor Joan Moore, a sociologist at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee: 3000 illegals at liberty in Los Angeles, clients of the One-Stop Immigration Center who were seeking to legalize their presence in the United States. Members of this group are quite different from those studied by the other researchers. Among the millions of people who would like to be admitted to the United States as legal immigrants within their countries’ quotas, three categories get preference: those with close relatives who are U.S. citizens or permanent residents (this is the biggest group); those with special occupational skills; refugees from countries designated by the U.S. government. Persons who do not fall into one of these groups have little practical hope of immigrating legally. Thus it is no surprise to find that the clients of the One-Stop Immigration Center, who had reason to hope for legal immigrant status and the wit to go to a legal aid group in Los Angeles for advice and advocacy, were better educated, more settled, better paid, and more likely to be living in family groups than the people whom other investigators encountered. They were an elite of sorts, with more skilled or white-collar workers than the general run of illegal aliens. Eighty-four percent were married, many with children.

The way in

Illegal aliens from Europe and Asia or other parts of the Western Hemisphere usually come from a higher economic and social class than do Mexican nationals. This is due largely to a geographic relationship to the United States. Illegal entrants from Mexico can approach the border by cheap means of transportation, can cross it on foot and make their way inexpensively across country. When things are difficult, they may have to pay for a smuggler’s help, as many have been doing lately. Still, strength, endurance, nerve, and familiarity with the land are the qualities chiefly needed to “enter without inspection,” as the Border Patrol puts it. Education provides no advantage in gaining this kind of entry.

People from distant parts of the world, on the other hand, must make an expensive journey by either air or sea and come in through official ports of entry. Most carry temporary visas, granted to them as tourists or students, for which they must have some money, or some education, or a bit of both. The European, Asian, African, or South American counterparts of Mexican peasants would not generally pass muster as tourists in the consular screening process—even if they could scrape together the money for the sea or air voyage.

A third of the Eastern Hemisphere illegals in the North-Houstoun sample had had professional or managerial jobs at home. They had an average of just under twelve years of schooling, as compared with five years for the Mexicans. Fewer than a quarter of the Mexicans interviewed spoke English, as compared with more than four fifths of those from the Eastern Hemisphere.

But illegals who are of superior status in their home countries often slip when they work illegally in the United States. In the North-Houstoun sample, only a third of the Eastern Hemisphere illegals who had been professionals or managers were able to remain in those categories in the United States because they had great difficulty using their skills while keeping their illegal status hidden. If one visits an immigration lawyer’s office or an immigration court, one can encounter some fairly bitter and disappointed people: a Ghanaian who has overstayed his student visa to sell ice cream from a vending truck; a graduate physician from India supporting himself by driving a cab, trying to remain in the United States in the hope of doing medical work; a Peruvian accountant who works as a cashier in a restaurant.

What are the numbers?

How many illegal immigrants are there in the United States at present? Nobody knows, and until very recently the United States government felt no need to make any systematic attempt to find out. The Immigration Service is now sponsoring a residential survey in twelve big cities which the Domestic Council Committee on Illegal Aliens described in 1976 as “the first attempt to collect data on the number, characteristics and impact of illegal immigrants on a national scale.” The results of that survey are expected to be known this spring.

Previous government estimates of the number of illegal aliens in the country have been made by the Immigration Service on the basis of the number of people apprehended and on the number of informants’ tips; the Department of Health, Education and Welfare has been singularly uninterested in the question, and the Bureau of the Census, unable to measure, has not tried to guess. There were 1,017,000 apprehensions in fiscal year 1977. Arrest figures are the only firm data about the number of illegal immigrants, but they don’t reveal much. They reflect the number of arrests, not the number of individuals arrested, and there are border-crossers who get arrested several times in a year. Even if one knew exactly how many had entered, the lack of information about those who go back of their own free will would limit the usefulness of the statistics.

Given the shaky base of knowledge, it is no wonder that estimates of the number of illegal aliens in the country have ranged from as low as 4 million to as high as 12 million in the last few years. The last official estimate by the Immigration Service—6 to 8 million — was made in 1976, and 800,000 new illegal residents per year is a commonly accepted figure.

How should one judge these figures? Against other numbers, for a start.

Legal immigration: By statute, 170,000 people are allowed to immigrate each year from the Eastern Hemisphere, 120,000 from the Western Hemisphere. In addition, the immediate relatives of citizens may come in without restriction, bringing the total of legal immigrants to about 400,000 a year. Therefore, the rate of illegal immigration is double the legal rate.

Refugees: Since 1975, about 165,000 Indochinese refugees have been admitted under special authority. If over the next five years 150,000 more are taken in, the final result will be the acceptance of 315,000 people as fallout from the American defeat in Indochina. Illegal immigration is adding several times that number to the population each year.

Population growth: In 1976 there were 1.3 million more births than deaths in the United States. Legal and illegal immigration taken together approached natural increase as a source of population growth. If one assumes an illegal immigration of 800,000 a year and a rise in fertility of U.S. women to replacement level (2.1), the U.S. population will he 291 million at the turn of the century: 26 million more than it would be without illegal immigration.

Employment: This winter about 92 million people were working in the United States; another 6.8 million were unemployed. Illegal immigrants number some 5 percent of the total labor force. In the last twelve months the number of jobs in the United States has increased by more than 4 million, but unemployment is stuck at a rate of over 6 percent because people are entering the labor force as fast as new jobs are created. Among the new job seekers are a significant number of incoming illegal aliens: 800,000 a year would fill a fifth of the new jobs.

So what?

Is there a problem? President Carter says there is: undocumented aliens have “breached our immigration laws, displaced many American citizens from jobs, and placed an increased financial burden on many state and local governments. I have concluded that an adjustment of status is necessary to avoid having a permanent ‘underclass’ of millions of persons who have not been and cannot practically be deported, and who would continue living here in perpetual fear of immigration authorities, the local police, employers and neighbors.”

For the Wall Street Journal, the President’s “enormous problem” is a red herring. “In spite of the sinister sound of ‘illegal alien’ we are dealing with a familiar and healthy phenomenon, a wave of immigration like those which brought us the Germans, Irish, Italians and so forth. . . . The easiest, cheapest and fairest way to protect the labor market will be to legalize the immigrants. . . . Legal or not, the present wave of Western Hemisphere immigrants is already enriching and contributing to North American society.”

The most thoroughly debated aspect of the illegal immigration is its effect on the labor market. Does illegal immigration contribute to unemployment and depress wage levels? Yes, says the House Immigration Subcommittee, which held hearings on the matter in 1971, 1972, 1973, and 1975. It concluded that “. . . illegal aliens take jobs which could be filled by American workers . . . reduce the effectiveness of employee organizations; compete most directly with unskilled and uneducated American citizens and constitute for employers a group highly susceptible to exploitation.”

The President’s Domestic Council Committee on Illegal Aliens, in its report of December 1976, advanced what it termed a hypothesis: that the adverse effect of illegal immigration is felt largely by the unskilled. “As relative wages for illegal aliens decline in response to an increase in their labor supply,” the report said, “the relative wages of legal resident workers who are close substitutes in employment for the illegal aliens also decline.” Academic studies bear out this theory. A study in California and another in Texas showed that wages for unskilled work were lower in border towns (where the concentration of illegals is great) than in the cities of states farther north.

David North and Marion Houstoun point out significant indirect effects even in sectors where illegals are not employed: “For instance, the pants factories in El Paso generally do not employ illegals. The overwhelming majority of their employees are women — often women with small children who can afford to take a $100 or $120 a week job only because illegal maids are available at $25 and $30 a week. If maids were available only at the minimum wage, the pants factories might have to increase their wages, make other accommodations in order to attract workers, or relocate that work to areas where cheap labor is available.”

In defense of the use of illegal workers, employers usually say: “You can’t get Americans to do stoop labor,” and “Americans won’t do service work anymore—they’d rather go on welfare.” Thus, they claim, illegal aliens take only the jobs that Americans won’t do. Professor Michael Piore, an economist at MIT who knows a great deal about the use of illegal labor, believes, “Industrial societies seem to generate a series of jobs, at the bottom of the social structure, which their own labor force is reluctant to fill. ... To the extent that these jobs are critical to the functioning of an industrial society the aliens are complementary to native workers and to domestic consumption patterns. Any wholesale attempt to end the migration is therefore likely to be exceedingly disruptive. . . .” In sum, people have to get what they expect, and cannot be asked to change their ways. Piore’s argument leads him to recommend legalizing the migration he has defined as necessary.

Who pays?

The cost of government services to illegal immigrants and who should pay for them is another area of disagreement. The subject first received national attention as part of a campaign to alert the country to the dangers of illegal immigration. The commissioner of immigration during the Nixon and Ford administrations, General Leonard Chapman, made a great number of speeches across the country about what he called the “silent invasion.” “Aliens come to this country for just one reason—to work, earn money, and send it home. And when they are unsuccessful in finding work, they often end up on welfare rolls. . . . Our files are filled with examples of the ways in which illegal aliens drain our economy through the use of public funds and the avoidance of taxes.”

Commissioner Chapman’s views notwithstanding, there is no evidence that the public accounts are suffering an overall loss from the presence of illegals. On the contrary, the country is acquiring a supply of vigorous, ambitious workers in the prime of their working years without having to assume the full cost of educating them or their children, or caring for them in sickness or old age, or supporting them when they are out of work. Illegal aliens are barred from participation in major federal public assistance programs such as food stamps, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, and Medicaid. Three quarters of the people questioned for the North-Houstoun study reported that Social Security and federal income taxes had been withheld from their pay—but only 4.6 percent said they had received free medical care and only 4 percent said they had ever collected unemployment insurance. An investigation of 9132 welfare cases in San Diego County turned up only ten illegal aliens. The millions of illegal aliens who have false Social Security numbers are fattening up the trust fund for the rest of us: while taxes are deducted from their paychecks, they have not established valid accounts which might someday provide them with benefits.

All of this is cold comfort, however, for localities and states that have large numbers of illegal aliens to whom they furnish some public services. One difficulty is that federal revenue sharing, in apportioning its payments, takes no account of people whom the census has not counted. Evelyn Mann, chief of the population division of the New York Planning Commission, estimated in 1977 that because some 750,000 illegal aliens went uncounted, $20 million a year in federal revenue sharing funds and another $20 million in block grants was lost to New York City. Los Angeles County estimated the cost of illegal aliens to its hospitals at $8 million in 1974 and sent a bill for most of this to the Immigration Service, on the theory that the service was responsible for keeping the aliens out of the country. The bill was not paid.

The Texas Legislature passed a law in 1975 saying that the state would not provide money to local school districts for the education of illegal aliens, and in some localities the children were barred unless they paid tuition. That law has been challenged, and U.S. District Court Judge William Justice has ordered children of Tyler, Texas, temporarily admitted to free public education pending further hearings, noting that “a distinct class of poor, undocumented children. . . is absolutely deprived of any education whatsoever by virtue of their poverty.” In the Houston school district there are thought to be some 5000 illegal alien children, and the school district is trying to exclude them from free education.

Notably silent in this debate is the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. One might think that HEW would make its own assessment of the impact of illegal immigration on American social, medical, and educational services, but immigration is a subject HEW prefers to regard as none of its business. Richard Beattie, the assistant general counsel who represented HEW in the interdepartmental group which prepared the Administration’s proposed legislation on immigration in the spring and summer of 1977, told me that no assessment of the effects of illegal immigration was made by HEW because the time had been short, there was “amazingly, a dearth of information,” and “our interest became diverted to another matter”—opposing the expanded use of the Social Security card to keep illegal immigrants out of the labor market. “One of the alternatives under consideration was to turn the Social Security card into a national identity card—we strongly opposed the idea.”

With the Administration’s program complete (including no change in the use of the Social Security card), there is still no office or person at HEW charged with surveying the effects of the new immigration or developing policy responses to it. Local and state governments continue to trade guesses with the Immigration Service about how many illegal aliens use public services, and the courts are stuck with the task of assigning responsibility for costs.

The President’s compromise

In August 1977, President Carter sent a message to Congress outlining legislation “to help markedly reduce the increasing flow of undocumented aliens and to regulate the presence of the millions already here.” The President’s proposals represented a compromise. The least controversial among them recommend better enforcement of wages and hours laws and more resources for policing the border and entry points.

The difficulties start when he proposes to make it unlawful to hire illegal aliens, and to prosecute employers found to have a “pattern or practice” of employing illegal aliens. Convicted employers would be fined up to $1000 for each alien unlawfully employed. An employer’s defense would lie in showing that, before hiring the illegal worker, he had seen “documentary evidence of eligibility to work.” Such documents have yet to be designated, but Attorney General Bell mentioned Social Security cards, driver’s licenses, and birth certificates as evidence. Naturalization certificates, cards indicating permanent resident status, and temporary foreign worker documents would also be acceptable.

The government’s assumption of the burden of showing a “pattern or practice” of hiring illegal aliens and its proposal of civil instead of criminal penalties were concessions to the views of Senator Eastland and the Senate Judiciary Committee, which over the years has shown itself uninterested in passing new laws to cut back illegal immigration. They disappointed advocates (notably members of the House Immigration Subcommittee) of strong sanctions against errant employers.

The proposed laws would legalize the presence of all who were in the United States before January 1, 1977; people here illegally would have to register and offer proof of their residence. At a guess, 6 million people would qualify. Those who could prove residence before 1970 (a small fraction of the total) could become permanent residents. In five years they couid become citizens with the automatic right to bring in spouses, children, and parents outside the quotas.

People who took up unauthorized residence between January 1, 1970, and the end of 1976 would be granted a new status in American law: “temporary resident alien.” They would be authorized to stay and work for five years but they could not become citizens (unless they found another way to do it, like getting married), nor could they bring in their families or receive federal welfare benefits. Before the five years was up, the government would decide whether the temporary resident aliens would be allowed to stay, and on what terms. This postponement of a decision about which illegal aliens are finally to be let in was a result of the conflict between those who wish to avoid rewarding lawbreakers with an amnesty and those who would clear the decks and start over. The latter group is not satisfied by the President’s compromise. The Roman Catholic Church, Hispanic-Americans, and civil libertarians say that the halfway measure would divide families and create a secondclass status. According to the MexicanAmerican Legal Defense and Education Fund, it would “be a catalyst for heightened discrimination against the Mexican-American community.” When Congress takes up the measure, we will hear from the upholders of legality.

The President noted in his message that an effective policy “must include the development of a strong economy in each source country. Unfortunately, this objective may be difficult to achieve in the near future.” The United States has never had a development aid program in Mexico. There have been signs that Mexico’s large-scale unemployment and external debt and the weakness of the peso have made the Mexican government more receptive to help from the United States. But the Carter Administration’s plan to narrow the safety valve of migration to the United States arouses a degree of anger in Mexico that makes cooperative ventures difficult for Mexican politicians to contemplate.

Notably absent was any proposal of a universal work permit or improved Social Security card to show eligibility for employment in the United States. Secretary of Labor Ray Marshall advocated such a document, arguing that if everyone had to show it on being hired, ethnic discrimination would be ruled out. But the combined opposition of civil libertarians and HEW Secretary Joseph Califano to an “identity card,” together with the lack of agreement from Mexican-American groups that such a document would help them combat discrimination, spelled the defeat of Secretary Marshall’s proposal.

Special interests

No law that might seriously diminish the flow of illegal immigrants is likely to be passed in the near future. Before that happens, there will have to be a major change in the constellation of forces ranged on either side.

The groups which have consistently supported proposals to restrict illegal immigration are the labor unions, the environmentalists, and the population control groups, notably Zero Population Growth. Although the arguments of those concerned with the environment and population are gaining currency, these groups do not yet sway many votes in Congress. Only the unions can exert much political pressure, and it does not appear likely that restricting the illegal influx will be high on the unions’ list of priorities. Union members, the elite of American wage earners, do not see themselves as threatened by competition from illegal workers, who generally dare not bid for highpaying unionized jobs. (Poorer workers, who are threatened, lack organized strength.)

On the other side are the powerful groups that want the continued influx of eager foreign workers. Growers of fruits and vegetables who seek to keep their wage costs down need no scientific evidence to tell them that an ample supply of illegal labor helps. Their power to bend government policy was demonstrated in the spring of 1977. At that time the Immigration Service blocked the usual illegal immigration across the border at Presidio, Texas. The growers of melons and vegetables, thus cut off from their customary source of field labor, asked the Department of Labor to certify that domestic labor could not be found to do the work, thereby clearing the way for temporary admission of foreign workers by the Immigration Service. When the Department of Labor did not make the desired finding, the congressman from the district persuaded the President to disregard Labor and to order 809 Mexican workers admitted for six months to do what their brothers had formerly done as illegals.

Other industries cannot presume to demand a supply of labor at the right price, but they do resist any measures to limit, the availability of illegal labor. When they testify before congressional committees they emphasize the crippling cost of complying with procedures to ascertain job applicants’ status. They exhibit great solicitude for the civil rights of minority job applicants, rights which they say might be compromised by such screening.

Consumers of services may well see their interests as the same. There are many towns where restaurant meals, nursing home care, and household service would cost more if the supply of illegal workers were cut back. This is common knowledge. People in power in Washington know it, even if they don’t talk about it: illegal workers have been rounded up in just about every posh restaurant in town, and everyone who is anyone knows someone with a domestic servant who is, or was, or may become an illegal alien.

Without exception, HispanicAmericans in public life and politics oppose any proposals that are made to limit illegal immigration. All proposals, they say, would increase discrimination against the “browns” of the United States if enacted. The major political organizations of Spanishspeaking Americans have formed a coalition to oppose the proposals of the Carter Administration. In October 1977, groups including the MexicanAmerican Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF, financed by the Ford Foundation); the old-line Latin-American citizens’ organization, LULAC; the Chicano La Roza Unida; and CASA, a radical group dedicated to erasing the Mexican-American border, met in San Antonio to agree on opposition to the proposed incomplete legitimization of illegal aliens and penalties on employers of illegals.

It is not obvious why Hispanic-American politicians should be unanimous in their opposition to restrictions. The self-interest of their constituents would seem to lie elsewhere. The analyses of labor economists indicate that the presence of a large pool of unskilled illegal labor depresses wages and working conditions in the job sectors where most Spanish-speaking Americans find themselves. But Al Perez, who represents MALDEF in Washington, says that even if there were an equitable way to control access to the labor market—perhaps through a work permit required of all persons on being hired — he would not support such a deterrent to illegal immigration. “More MexicanAmericans mean more political power for us. Time is on our side. Yes, we fear the backlash which may come as a result of illegal immigration, but we believe that on balance the migration is in our interest.”

Beneath the surface of much of the opposition to control is the feeling that the Mexican-American border has no particular legitimacy. Fidel Lopez, a Chicago architect who founded the Latino Institute of Chicago with impressive business and foundation support, remarked: “While I don’t want to sound like a radical who wants to return Texas to Mexico, Mexico did lose valuable lands to the United States.” He had little respect for the frontier as a “rigid demarcation line.” Philip Ayala, director of Chicago’s Latin American Youth Center, drew a parallel with the Panama Canal: “It’s just now starting to surface how the United States got the Panama Canal—which is a very interesting story. Well, how did the United States acquire Texas, Arizona, California, New Mexico? So I don’t look at it as us being the aliens. We didn’t have to cross an ocean.”

Then there are groups without an obvious direct interest which still oppose particular measures aimed at cutting down the flow. Proposals to limit access to the labor market usually involve making more use of the Social Security card. The Social Security Administration has always opposed efforts to turn its card into an identification card, although the number has become an almost universal identifying number, even for tiny children.

The rearguard action of the Social Security Administration against further compromises of the principles of social insurance has the support of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which adds the argument of the expense that would be involved in reissuing the cards, estimated at $500 million to $800 million.

Civil libertarians, likewise, have no obvious interest in defending illegal immigration, but they, too, find the measures used to limit it in the past, and those which are proposed for the future, obnoxious. David Carliner, an expert in immigration law, has been the spokesman for the ACLU on the subject. Before the House Immigration Subcommittee he said: “If. . . the number of aliens is a major problem in the United States, the more effective way of keeping them out of the United States and prohibiting them from working would be to keep them from getting food. Could we therefore require a national identity card when a person goes to the grocery store to buy groceries? . . . We all share that revulsion ... of having some kind of identity card as a condition for employment.”

During its long expansion, the economy of the United States has always had at its disposal reservoirs of cheap labor: slaves in the fields, immigrants in sweatshops and factories, children in the mills. Slavery and child labor were abolished—two steps many thought disastrously rash when they were taken. Trade unions and labor laws gradually raised the standards of the exploited newcomers. After World War I, when unlimited immigration from Europe became inconvenient, it was ended. Mexican labor was never formally regulated. It was drawn upon when it was wanted—notably during the wars of the twentieth century—and was rounded up and sent home when it seemed superfluous. As recently as 1953-1956 we had “Operation Wetback,” in which the Border Patrol, under the supervision of a retired Army general, expelled close to 4 million Mexicans.

The days when such an action would be humanely and politically possible are gone. President Carter said as much when he spoke of the millions who “cannot practicably be deported.” Americans have changed; a large-scale effort to root out non-citizens would produce divisions and disorders not unlike those produced by the Vietnam War.

The Mexicans have changed, too. They have grown from a small, docile, available labor force to an incoming wave impelled by rapid population growth and lack of a livelihood at home. (Behind them are far greater numbers of hungry people in other continents; the Mexicans are merely the closest and dominate the inflow at the moment.) The attitudes of immigrants without papers have also changed. Their rights are being advanced thanks to the growing assertiveness and political and legal skills of their American advocates.

The old game is up. We can no longer regard any of the people who live and work inside our borders as negligible factors, people of no account. Taking our illegal aliens seriously will make us think seriously about the American future.

—Elizabeth Midgley