As a recent immigrant, I find the politics of immigration in this country even more perplexing than the visa requirements—and in case you are unfamiliar with those rules, that is saying something. The issue throws up some strange arguments and alliances, some peculiar and memorable images.
One I won't forget is the sight of Christopher Hitchens, like me an Englishman by birth, celebrating his new American citizenship last week by having Lou Dobbs fasten an American flag pin to his lapel. The scourge of idle orthodoxy—who but Hitchens, peace be upon him, could be driven to rage by Mother Teresa and righteous compassion by Paul Wolfowitz?—meets the solemn tele-champion of populist demagoguery, a man who before much longer will be sporting epaulets and calling for Mexican heads on pikes all along the southern border. Dobbs himself expressed some doubts about the occasion. "I can imagine viewers right now asking, 'What is Dobbs doing, talking to Hitchens? What is Hitchens doing, taking on God?' " (Point of clarification: He wasn't referring to himself in that second part, I think, but to the subject of Hitchens's new book.)
Well, put my reaction down to envy.
If I ever meet the stringent requirements for citizenship—and did I mention I will do whatever it takes?—I want Dobbs to pin my flag on, too. Anyone can dream, can't he?
Democrats are split on immigration, Republicans are split, the unions are split, and the pro-business types are split. Are unskilled immigrants pushing down wages, taking American jobs, overburdening the schools, straining the public purse, slowing traffic on the freeways, and driving up crime? Yes, all of that and worse, say Dobbs and the other get-tough people. Are they indispensable to the American economy, doing jobs that no American would want, holding down prices, and generally paying their way? Yes, all of that and more, says the other side. The disagreement cuts through every ideological alignment, setting brother against brother, activist against activist, corporate spokesman against corporate spokesman.