The beginning of my upcoming article in The American Conservative (not yet online):
Despite its tradition of editorializing in favor of openness and public participation, the prestige press offered virtually no complaints when the Senate recently voted to skip holding hearings on the convoluted "comprehensive immigration reform" package worked out behind closed doors by Senators Ted Kennedy and John Kyl with Bush Administration support. Nor did the mainstream media object when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced his intention to ram this vast concoction of highly debatable effect through the Senate in one week, a ploy that even Reid soon admitted was wrong.
This high-level disdain for open debate over immigration was not an anomaly. You might think that our nation's elites -- political leaders, public intellectuals, and the press -- would find immigration the single most fascinating domestic policy issue to explore. After all, besides ourselves, nothing is more interesting to us than other human beings. And few political questions would seem more compelling than which of the six billion foreigners we would want to become our fellow citizens, neighbors, workmates, and, eventually, the ancestors of our descendents. Immigration policy directly affects nearly every other question of our day, from education and crime to economic inequality and health care costs.
Yet, the national newspapers cover immigration with no more enthusiasm than they muster for local zoning board meetings. When they deign to discuss immigration at all, their approach is superficial and sentimental. Actual debate over immigration legislation is routinely denounced as "divisive," as if democracy is the opposite of "division" (which is the English term for a legislative vote). The palpable contempt the mainstream media radiates toward anyone well-informed about immigration contributes to the vapidity of its coverage.
An insightful economist, writing under the protection of anonymity, recently pointed out:
"Power today very largely consists of being able to define what criticisms are off the wall, over the top, and out to lunch… Those who wield it do not 'run the world.' Rather they can block significant changes that reduce their power."
There may be no better example of this than how the powerful treat informed analysis of illegal immigration.
For example, recall the Amnesty Baby Boom. What, you haven't heard of it?
According to a 2002 study by demographers Laura E. Hill and Hans P. Johnson of the Public Policy Institute of California, due to the 1986 amnesty (another "comprehensive" compromise, combining legalization with enforcement provisions that were never enforced), "Between 1987 and 1991, total fertility rates for foreign-born Hispanics [in California] increased from 3.2 to 4.4" expected babies per woman over her lifetime. Why? "Many of those granted amnesty were joined later by spouses and relatives in the United States." This fertility explosion among former illegal aliens choked California's public schools, leading to the expenditure of over $20 billion for construction of new school buildings by the Los Angeles school district alone.
Now, this bit of recent history might strike you or me as relevant to assessing the wisdom of the current amnesty before the Senate, but a Google search shows that we are off the wall and out to lunch according to those in positions of power. It's not quite accurate to say that the PPIC study was tossed down the memory hole because it was never allowed out in the first place.
Why is respectable immigration reporting so one-sided, inane, and downright dull? Just as immigration is tied into every domestic issue, the failure to examine immigration intelligently illuminates much that is wrong with American intellectual discourse in general.
Here are some reasons for this sorry state of affairs ...