Below are the video and transcript of the panel discussion “Open Borders: Their Impact on Society” which took place at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s 2015 Restoration Weekend. The event was held November 5-8th at the Belmond Charleston Place Hotel in Charleston, South Carolina.
Heather MacDonald: Today, I’m going to talk about the mass illegal immigration and its effect on American society. This summer the nation experienced a horrible murder in San Francisco. A young woman, Kate Steinle, was fatally shot by an illegal alien who had been deported five times already for various felonies. I wanted to deport him a sixth time, but was foiled in doing so by the San Francisco Sheriff, who alleged that this murderer should be let out.
As the country was trying to digest this information and what it meant for our immigration policies residents of Los Angeles, if they relied exclusively for their information from The Los Angeles Times, would have been largely clueless. Because The Los Angeles Times barely covered it. Only several days after Donald Trump had brought this to the national attention did the LA Times get around reporting what had happened and the underlying policy of sanctuary cities that led to it.
The unwillingness of The Los Angeles Times to report on this murder honestly is emblematic of how mass illegal immigration is distorting our cultural discourse and resulting in a whole series of taboos about what can be said in polite discourse.
Today I want to examine more closely this very concept of a sanctuary city – of which San Francisco is a shining example – because it’s emblematic of the agenda of the illegal alien lobby and their erosion of the law. Until recently, ICE, our federal immigration authorities used to be known as INS but now the acronym is ICE, had a program known as Secure Communities. It posits that when an illegal alien criminal is booked into a local jail ICE should be notified of the presence of that illegal alien criminal in order to allow ICE the option of deciding whether to take custody of that illegal alien criminal when he is then released from the local jurisdiction, having served his time or maybe even just the prosecutor decides I don’t want to do anything with this.
This should be a no-brainer because somebody who’s in the country illegally has no claim for presence in this country. But if that illegal alien goes on to commit further crimes – whether theft, graffiti, drunken driving, assault – at that point there is simply no ground for claiming that you should be immunized from any possible threat of deportation, and yet, over 300 jurisdictions across the country formally declared that they would have nothing to do with the Secure Communities program. ICE could ask the local jail authorities to hold on to an illegal alien criminal rather than releasing him back into the streets and those jurisdictions would just look the other way and say, “We’re ignoring your federal authority. We’re letting him back out.”
And the irony is that ICE’s own prosecution of the Secure Communities program was completely listless. In 2012 ICE was notified by participating jurisdictions of 400,000 illegal alien criminals who were in local jails and ICE decided to take custody of only 19 percent of those 400,000. Not surprisingly, 50 percent of those illegal alien criminals whom ICE decided not to take custody of went on to commit more crimes.
Why is the Secure Communities program and the opposition to it so significant? Its ultimate goal is to delegitimate deportation entirely as a response to illegal entry. Conservatives have let themselves get sort of hung up on the issue of the fence. They talk exclusively about we’ve got to build a fence and if you notice the Left doesn’t really push back very hard against the fence. Why? Because the Left understands that far more important than the fence is this delegitimation of deportation because even if we build a fence there’s always going to be people who get through. The issue is what happens next.
The Left is so confident that it is starting with the hardest case. It is saying, even an illegal alien criminal should not be deported. If you can’t deport somebody in the country illegally, any formal immigration policy is an absolute nullity because the only penalty for illegal entry is deportation. It is the only penalty that actually responds to the law breaking.
I’ve never heard the Left actually disclose what it thinks should be an appropriate and legitimate response to illegal entry. But for the sake of argument, let’s postulate that the Left would agree somebody’s in the country illegally. There should be a penalty. The Left would say that penalty will be paying a fine. If that is the penalty, that is no deterrent at all. It just simply becomes the cost of illegal entry.
Now, what’s particularly interesting is who has been opposed to this Secure Communities program. I would say the Obama administration was opposed because its efforts to enforce Secure Communities was so listless and it contrasts very strongly with the Obama administration’s response to Arizona’s law SP1070.
Several years ago Arizona legislators passed a law that said we are officially and explicitly deputizing our law enforcement officials in the state to cooperate with ICE in the project of detecting and removing illegal alien criminals. Our sheriff’s deputies, local police officers, have the authority – if they have reasonable suspicion to think that somebody’s in the country illegally – to ask questions.
Arizona wanted to cooperate with federal immigration authority. The Obama administration hauled Arizona into court for violating the Constitution by trying to cooperate with the federal government. The Obama administration won.
What is the Obama administration’s response when they have an actual case of non‑compliance with federal authority? Such as when ICE asks a sheriff’s deputy like Ross Mirkarimi in San Francisco to say, please, could you hold on to this illegal alien criminal so we can take custody and deport him?
Rather than hauling San Francisco into court, – which it should under the precedent of the Arizona case – the Obama administration has chastely looked the other way. In fact, the Obama administration has now eviscerated Secure Communities.
But equally telling is the response of big city police chiefs like Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck or New York Police Commissioner William Bratton. These are people that in any other context support the idea that law enforcement is important to the rule of law and public order; that there is no such thing as an innocuous crime; that if you wink at things like graffiti, public drinking, public drunkenness, drunk driving, that the whole legal order starts to fray. They equivocate. They believe in enforcing the law in every other context other than illegal immigration.
This is a complete hypocrisy and shows again the practical effect of the reality on the ground of mass unchecked illegal immigration and how that erodes our basic principles.
Amazingly the San Francisco supervisors after the national uproar of the murder of Kate Steinle by this five-times deported illegal alien felon reaffirmed their sanctuary policy. An explicit commitment to the rule of illegal aliens.
California’s largely emasculated state Republican legislators – in one final pique of principle – tried to pass a law that would punish sanctuary cities but the Democrats in California overruled it. What we have here is a perpetual motion machine. The presence of so many illegal aliens drives policy making and you have legislators passing further laws to normalize their presence so California is now considering a $1 billion bill that would open up completely Obamacare to illegal aliens.
It is passing law after law saying there’s no distinction in legal practice – if you’re in California illegally you still get to be a lawyer – an amazingly bizarre perversion of law. Those laws that are passed because of the presence of illegal immigrants further act as a magnet to bring people in, bringing more people in who then generate more laws.
Now, as Congressman DeSantis mentioned yesterday, the most mind boggling violation of the rule of law and the disintegration of our Constitutional order is Obama’s proposed Executive Amnesty. In it, he declares that because Congress is not willing to give an amnesty across the board to illegal alien criminals he’s going to decide Article 2 of the Constitution is a nullity. An astounding precedent that I assume Democrats one day will rue if the Republicans ever capture the White House again.
But beyond the effects of unchecked mass illegal immigration on the rule of law and on the very idea of sovereignty I want to briefly look at the effects on the economy and on our competitiveness and social culture.
California – my home state – is a bellwether of all things related to illegal immigration. If you want to see the future of the country today you just need to look at California. California in the 1950s and 1960s led the country in its educational attainment. It was a thriving economy, drawing scientists across the country and world to its aerospace industry and its schools and colleges led the nation. Today, California’s peers in educational achievement are places like Mississippi and Alabama. It’s at the absolute bottom of the country’s educational scale.
The Los Angeles Unified School District, which is the second largest public district in the country, in that jurisdiction 67 percent of all its students are below grade level in English and 75 percent are below grade level in math. What has driven this? The presence of so many Hispanic students. Hispanics in the LA Unified School District only 32 percent are at grade level in math and English. California spends enormously to try to close the achievement gap between Hispanics and whites.
Jerry Brown, several years ago, the governor of California, pushed through a law that would redistribute school funding from districts that were succeeding to districts that had high proportions of so-called English learners. But like all such previous efforts to try to spend our way out of the massive, and seemingly intractable, achievement gap, this one didn’t work.
California is also the sort of Ground Zero for a very disturbing phenomenon known as long-term English learners. You’d think the term English learner refers to somebody who has grown up in a different country, comes here, and needs to learn English. And a long-term English learner is somebody who by high school still is not testing adequately on various tests that would measure English skills.
One-third of all long-term English learners in the country are third generation immigrants. So they’ve been here; their parents have been here, and their previous parents were here and yet, by test scores, they are testing as if they just came because their cognitive skills are so low and California is the leader in the long-term English learner problem.
California is a harbinger. This year, for the first time, the nation’s test scores dropped, and amazingly, The New York Times, which is one of the most aggressive champions of unchecked illegal immigration, actually acknowledged the truth and said the reason is demographic change, which is a polite euphemism for mass illegal immigration.
Now, what’s going on in this country is mirroring what’s happening in Europe, which has already been noted in the Horowitz Freedom Conference this weekend. The very idea of borders is under attack and with it the very possibility of western culture and western civilization.
The pope, in his visit recently to the United States, unfortunately embodied this idea. He privileged immigrants always over native people, but insisted that there should be no distinction between legal and illegal immigrants and anybody who arrives should be absorbed and taken into the national culture. There are, outside the country, a few courageous voices who are willing to say the truth about what is going on.
A Hungarian holocaust survivor named Imre Kertesz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2002 has very eloquently identified what’s going on. He said, “Civilization reaches a stage of over ripeness where it can no longer defend itself and doesn’t particularly care to.”
Tony Abbott, the Australian prime minister, has also been unapologetic in saying where this is heading to. He said, all countries that say that anyone who gets here can stay are now in peril, given the scale of the current population movements.
Now, the Left understands this. The mystery to me is why Republicans don’t. The establishment wing of the Republican Party embodied most clearly by, say, The Wall Street Journal editorial page, continues to promote a vision of open borders. It’s blind to the issue of skills. It’s blind to the issue of culture.
Now, the Left, and the establishment Right, both say that unchecked, low skilled, illegal immigration is a good thing for America and for their own agenda. They can’t both be right, and following the lead of David Horowitz, I’m going to put my bet on the fact that the Left probably has a more accurate picture of how things are working than the right.
Thank you for your attention.
Audience Member: I’d like them perhaps to be in our jails or something rather than be deported. If they got here illegally once, and they’re criminals, what’s to stop them from coming back again? And I just don’t see deportation as helping that. I just wondered.
Heather MacDonald: This is a vexing issue because on the one hand, why should taxpayers be footing the bill for somebody here illegally who’s taking up a prison slot, and, while the costs of incarceration are grossly exaggerated by the anti-incarceration lobby and compared to other things like the cost of crime, incarceration, it turns out, is a real bargain, which I’ve argued. Nevertheless, it’s asking a lot of taxpayers to foot the bill for illegal alien criminals. So, this is where I would say, obviously, a border fence is not an irrelevancy and is something that we do need but I think we do need a two‑pronged attack of both a fence and a set of policies that make it simply unfeasible to be in this country illegally so people do not try to come back in and some of those policies are, obviously, a uniform e-verify program so people simply cannot get a job, and getting rid of all of the magnet policies that say your kids get welfare. My desideratum would be to get rid of birthright citizenship. It’s an outrage. There is no way that the drafters of the Reconstruction amendments, when they were trying to figure out a way to reintegrate freed slaves into the American polity gave any thought to the status of an illegal alien who comes into this country and has a child. This was simply no part of the Founders’ intentions that drafted these Reconstruction amendments.
So, the fact that this is kind of a non‑starter and occasionally Jeff Sessions brings it up, but basically, you cannot talk about getting rid of birthright citizenship in polite company without branding yourself as a Neanderthal, but that would be one place to start. But we need both the fence and get rid of the magnet policies and have more effective ways of penalizing people who are here illegally.
Moderator: Good. The next question’s going to be right here, by Thomas Lifson. He’s the editor of American Thinker. It’s the second web site you should go to every morning, after frontpagemag.com, of course.
Thomas Lifson: Thank you, Mike. The check’s in the mail. I think one of the things we could learn from the Left is to take a class analysis of who benefits and who suffers under a flood of illegal immigrants, and it’s primarily the white and black working class that have been most profoundly affected in terms of a cap on wages and simple inability to find work. I’ve had occasion to employ a number of people in the construction industry in the San Francisco Bay area and the white members of that group, who tend to be either union members or skilled or both, are incredibly bitter over the illegal immigrants who come in and undercut them and often don’t follow the same, well, they don’t file building permits and they get around the regulatory state. Another gift from the Left.
So, how can we play the class card, because it’s obviously large employers, small businessmen, the entire restaurant industry in most of the United States functions on illegal immigrants. And there’s the domestic help and the lawn care and all the things that make upper middle class life more affordable. How do we play the class card?
Heather MacDonald: Well, Jeff Sessions has been trying to do so. He has been just a consistent and enlightened voice about the fact that mass unskilled immigration is destroying the American working class and it is lowering wages. The studies absolutely show, as you say, Mr. Lipscomb, that the people who are hurt are the people who are competing with the low‑skilled immigrant workers. The rest of us, it’s kind of a wash. It’s not even necessarily a boon, because the fact is, is that low skilled immigration imposes fiscal costs the taxpayers pay in terms of healthcare, school spending, and welfare costs.
But, Sessions’ message, it’s not getting picked up, and I can only think that there is now a hierarchy, a reverse hierarchy on the part of the Left. It used to be, of course, that they thought of themselves as champions of the working man and they did play, to a certain extent, somewhat of a class warfare game. They’re not doing that now. And I think it’s because identity politics and the agenda of multiculturalism trumps even economic concerns and they’re more interested in attacking what they see as white culture by bringing in third-world culture than they are about the fate of, let’s be honest, the people who were hurt the most are less educated blacks and there’s not even that many. I mean, it’s just bizarre. The Congressional Black Caucus is also open borders. So it’s very, very perverse. We can try to do it but it’s not resonating because the agenda is that of multiculturalism, which is anti-western civilization.
Moderator: Okay. We’re over time. I know there’s a lot of hands up. We’re going to have to give David Baum the last question and then we can all surround Heather with our remaining questions.
Audience Member: Heather just two quick thoughts. What was supposed to be the original benefit to America of the sanctuary cities; and the second, what are the legalities in the elimination of it? City rights? State rights? Federal? Who trumps who and what is the possibility of elimination of the concept of sanctuary cities?
Heather MacDonald: Well, the concept is that illegal aliens will not cooperate with law enforcement if they fear that local law enforcement authorities might turn them into the immigration authorities. That is a proposition that has never been tested empirically. But that is the received wisdom, is that we need to give the sanctuary so that people can come forward if they’re domestic violence victims or if they’ve been victims of a theft, they can come forward. But again, there’s nothing preventing a jurisdiction from saying, okay, if you’re a victim of crime to come forward with a crime report, we’re not going to deport you, that doesn’t mean you have to protect the criminals. But that’s how it works, and the legalities of it are clear.
If the Obama administration can haul Arizona into Federal District Court and say, you’re violating the supremacy clause of the Constitution by cooperating with us, the precedent is obvious. You’re violating the supremacy clause of the Constitution if you defy us. And yet, demographics is destiny and it’s legal destiny because nobody’s bringing that case, including the Obama administration, but it should be winnable under a principled court system.
Heather MacDonald: Right. Yes, I agree with the Chamber of Commerce argument that they want cheap labor, but I actually think it goes beyond that because I scratch my head at the Republican establishment that is willing to wink at this and I think they, either as a political matter or a principle one, they hold on to this conceit that the low skilled, illegal population is somehow a set of Republican voters waiting to happen if we just get our policies right. An insane delusion. There is not a single poll for the last 2 decades that has not shown that the biggest constituency for bigger government and the taxes to fund that government are Hispanics.
Now, that’s not to say that there are not individual businessmen out there and entrepreneurs who are working to turn around communities and, in fact, in South Central Los Angeles, they have helped bring some stability there. But on bulk, what we’re talking about is a lowering of educational attainment and a growth in government because the skills that they bring and the culture that they bring does not conduce to fast upward mobility and what we need to do is revise our immigration policy to unapologetically favor high skilled immigrants who come with language skills and with education that will keep our country competitive and not become Brazil.