Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

The Ethics of Immigration

Listen to an audio of Victor Davis Hanson’s remarks
By Suruchi Bhutani

Hoover Institution Senior Fellow Victor Davis Hanson addressed one of the most hotly contested ethical issues in the United States, illegal immigration, at a recent Ethics at Noon presentation for the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics. Best known as a scholar of ancient warfare as well as a commentator on modern warfare, Hanson is also a fruit farmer and the author of Mexifornia, a book on the impact of Mexican immigration on the Southwest.

In his talk, Hanson looked at three basic questions: Who benefits from illegal immigration? Why is the situation becoming more polarized? What are possible solutions?

First among the beneficiaries of illegal immigration is American business, Hanson said. Mexican workers are not only ready take jobs at a lower wage than Americans but they are also the best workers in the world, and hence offer great economic benefit. They are willing to perform labor-intensive jobs, rarely get ill, and are almost never involved in any criminal activity. Between the ages of 18 and 40, these workers are a net plus for the American economy. After 40, however, Hanson explained that hard work has often taken its toll on manual laborers, and older immigrants can become a drain on the economy because of their need for entitlement programs.

Not only businesses but also American middle class citizens living in the Southwest gain from illegal immigrants, Hanson stressed. These efficient workers do household chores for the middle class and accept lower wages than American citizens would for the same jobs. Hanson pointed out that often there is no lack of American manpower, as the unemployment rate in poverty-stricken areas close to affluent neighborhoods can be quite high.

Another beneficiary of illegal immigration Hanson mentioned is the Mexican government, which benefits in three ways: First, they gain through the remittances sent to Mexico by the immigrants. Second, they use immigration as an escape valve for social tension or dissension in their country by encouraging “angry” people to leave. Third, they know that Mexican immigrants will want fair treatment for their home country, further promoting Mexico’s interests in the United States.

Another group that likes the status quo, according to Hanson, are those who believe that the American Southwest is actually part of Mexico and that, ipso facto, Mexicans cannot be illegal immigrants. Hanson said this group is very powerful in certain areas of American life, such as the media and universities, and it gains clout from an increase in the number of immigrants—illegal or legal.

Finally, both political parties, Hanson said, are happy to have illegal immigrants in the country. According to Hanson, Democrats see them as a short-term voting block if they are offered health care and their first impression of America is positive. On the other hand, Republicans see them as social conservatives who will tend to vote for Republican candidates in the long-term.

Hanson went on to discuss increasing polarization on the issue. First, the increasing numbers of illegal immigrants are in direct competition for jobs with economically deprived Americans. Differences in the points of view between the unemployed and low-wage workers on one hand and well-off Americans on the other have caused a lot of controversy. Also, the 9/11 attacks have focused attention on the unprotected border, thus emphasizing the influx of illegal immigrants from Mexico. Last, Hanson mentioned that the 2006 riots in France highlighted the fact that having a significant immigrant and impoverished population can lead to social breakdown.

In conclusion, Hanson said that “the solution will require concessions from both opponents and supporters” of immigration. Republicans will have to give up deportation as an alternative and Democrats will have to address the issue seriously and be willing to take legal action. Hanson proposed that all immigrants who have been in the United States for less than three to four years should be sent back with a process whereby they can return legally. Those who have been in the United States for longer should be offered some kind of legal residency.

Victor Davis Hanson is a military historian, columnist, political essayist and former classics professor. Hanson writes weekly columns for National Review and Tribune Media Services.

Suruchi Bhutani is a media intern at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.
January 2007


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