Out of What 'Shadows'?

Who knew? The nation's fastest-growing metropolitan area is in Southern Utah. The continuing growth of this area is, however, contingent on something that is contingent on Congress. This region around the town of St. George in Washington County (which has grown about 40 percent since 2000) is the destination for a familiar

American phenomenon, "internal immigration." A river of Americans, many of them in or near retirement and most of them escaping (as they see it) from California's congestion, taxes, housing costs, crime and other blemishes, are buying houses about as fast as lumber can be sawed and nails driven, and are eager to purchase services. But Utah's Sen. Robert Bennett has been told by representatives of the county's construction industry that if the flow of illegal immigrants comes to an abrupt halt, so will the county's growth.

Now, allowing for hyperbole, of which there is an abundance in the immigration debate, such anecdotal evidence, especially concerning construction and agriculture, underscores a fact: America's economy would suffer substantially without immigrant labor—including much of that which is already here illegally. But consider just one conundrum in the proposed legislation:

It would provide legal status to most of the illegal immigrants who were here before this past Jan. 1. The government, however, has no cognizance of those who are here illegally. They have proved by their presence here that they have limited regard for U.S. legal niceties. So, what is to prevent those who have arrived since Jan. 1, and those who will continue to arrive by the millions, while—"while" means years—the border is supposedly being secured, from fibbing about when they arrived?

This legislation is, as any "comprehensive" solution to the interlocking problems that are called "the" problem of immigration is bound to be, baroque. Its aim is to "incentivize"—that clunky verb, like much else disagreeable, seems to have been born in the 1960s—with many carrots and sticks many millions of mostly Hispanic people to do this and that and to move here and there. These people include the millions already here illegally, and the at least as many who are contemplating coming here, and the many hundreds of thousands who are needed here each year as temporary workers, and the millions of American employers who must be part of any enforcement apparatus.

Sensible immigration policy must arise from more than monomania about the disturbing fact that at least 12 million immigrants are here illegally. Affirming the rule of law is, however, where to begin because when a large and somewhat cohesive cohort succeeds in living in defiance of the law, the scofflaw spirit can have myriad manifestations. Writing in last summer's City Journal, Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute gave a sobering example:

"Protecting one form of lawbreaking may require protecting others as well. The city of Maywood in Los Angeles County declared itself a sanctuary zone for illegal aliens this year. Then it got rid of its drunk-driving checkpoints, because they were nabbing too many illegal aliens. Next, this 96 percent Latino city, almost half of whose adult population lacks a ninth-grade education, disbanded its police traffic division entirely, so that illegals wouldn't need to worry about having their cars towed for being unlicensed."

Mac Donald says that although some data suggest that many Hispanic immigrants live in increasing cultural and linguistic self-segregation, clearly some have assimilated in the sense of acquiring one of the nation's unpleasant current attributes, the entitlement mentality: We are here, therefore we are entitled to be here.

The immigration debate, which may become even more heated when Congress reconvenes after getting an earful from constituents during the Memorial Day recess, would be confusing enough without today's fog of careless language. Journalism and political rhetoric about immigration are ludicrously reliant on the trope "out of the shadows."

At the announcement of the compromise legislation, Ted Kennedy said it would bring illegal immigrants "out of the shadows." The next day, the lead paragraph of The Washington Post's page-one news story said the compromise would bring illegal immigrants "out of society's shadows." The White House fact sheet said, earnestly but ungrammatically, that under the legislation, "The undocumented worker comes out of the shadows to acknowledge they [sic] have broken the law."

This rhetoric reached comic absurdity when CNN interviewed Chuy Arias of Los Angeles. He said on camera that he has been here illegally for 12 years. Referring to him, with the delicacy that serves a political agenda, as an "undocumented worker," today's synonym for "illegal immigrant," CNN's reporter said Arias was eager to "come out of the shadows."

So, Arias can simultaneously be "in the shadows" and discussing his illegal status on worldwide television. Who knew?