The United States has long been regarded as a beacon of hope for people throughout the world seeking freedom and opportunity. Many have immigrated here in pursuit of those objectives and have built families, neighborhoods and businesses as loyal Americans. More recently, we have seen people immigrate here with darker motives: To subvert, undermine and destroy the very nation that Americans call home and countless others throughout the world look to as a refuge from tyranny.
Nationally syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin makes the case in Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists, Criminals and Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores (Regnery Publishing, 259 pages) that our federal government hardly tries to determine the intentions of foreigners who desire admission into the United States. Armed with a collection of news reports, stories and statistics, she launches a full frontal assault on the INS, the laws that govern it and the politicians who resist changing them.
Malkin is a first-generation American whose parents are immigrants from the Philippines. Her book brims with contempt for those who don't value American citizenship or abide by the rules her parents followed. This may be described as her guiding principle in establishing the proper admission criteria for immigrants to the United States: "I believe we should discriminate in favor of foreigners yearning to live the American Dream - and against foreigners yearning to destroy it." In other words, potential immigrants should be carefully screened for their intentions and propensity to live within our laws and norms. Those who wish to become Americans can be considered and those who do not should be excluded.
Invasion concentrates on those who should be kept out. Malkin believes America has lost control of its borders and that there will be dire consequences if nothing is done about it. While others have speculated about what better intelligence sharing between the FBI and CIA or improved airport security might have done to prevent the deadly attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, she blames lax policies and inept bureaucrats for allowing terrorists to slip through undetected. "The nineteen hijackers who invaded America on September 11, 2001 couldn't have done it without help from the United States government," Malkin writes. "We unlocked our doors, spread out the welcome mat and allowed these foreign visitors to plot death and destruction in the comfort of our home. And they could do it again in a heartbeat."
People of course enter the United States many different ways. The U.S. offers foreigners a range of 57 immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Last year, 17 million people from 28 countries were admitted without visas under “Visa Waiver” programs intended to expedite travel by those classified as low-risk tourists. Others come in as refugees. Some simply walk across the border; 8 to 12 million are here illegally. Malkin argues that the government is doing a poor job of determining the intentions those who come in and an even worse job of removing those who for a variety of reasons (such as fraud, illegal border crossings and overstaying visas) should not be here.
Throughout her career, Malkin has cultivated a gift for writing about bureaucratic incompetence. She finds ample fodder in the INS. Invasion is replete with tales of shoddy record-keeping, employees unable to perform the functions of their jobs, a culture resistant to reform and errors that allow even dangerous criminal aliens to remain free among American citizens.
Even the INS concedes that it has difficulties keeping track of who comes and who goes. In December 2001, then INS commissioner James Ziglar was forced to admit he did not know the whereabouts of 314,000 fugitive deportees. Others placed that figure at closer to 1 million. Malkin tells many detailed stories about horrible things done by foreign terrorists and violent criminals. While this could be dismissed as using anecdotal evidence to support a nativist agenda, she frequently ties these events to specific failures by immigration bureaucrats. It is precisely these failures that form the basis of recommended reforms.
For example, the "Railway Killer" Angel Resindez was able to enter and reenter the United States repeatedly despite a lengthy criminal record and three deportations. He eventually murdered a dozen Americans, which Malkin records in shocking detail, aided by a series of tragic INS blunders including a failure to enter him into a criminal-tracking database. His last four were committed after being released by the INS even though there were outstanding warrants for his arrest.
Invasion also points out elected officials' contributions to border security problems. Malkin denounces the Citizenship USA program as "the biggest citizenship scandal in our nation's immigration history." She argues that this Clinton-Gore administration policy of shortening the wait between application and naturalization from two years to six months for 1.3 million immigrants before the 1996 elections - in an apparent attempt to increase Democratic vote totals - prevented 180,000 immigrants from undergoing fingerprint checks for criminal records. Some 80,000 were naturalized in spite of criminal backgrounds. When an effort was made to denaturalize the 6,300 worst felons, federal courts struck it down.
Invasion’s single-minded focus on the national security aspects of immigration distinguishes it from other well-known books on the subject. Pat Buchanan and Peter Brimelow have critiqued the ethnocultural impact of current immigration, while other writers have gotten into detailed economic arguments with Julian Simon and company over everything from immigrant welfare participation rates to how many native-born waiters are displaced by Mexican immigrant busboys.
Malkin avoids all of this to contend that the U.S. government needs to more effectively screen foreigners coming into the U.S., track them more accurately during their stays and then deport or imprison them if they break the law once they are in. Her tough-mindedness on these issues is admirable, but immigration concerns more than national security. Even if we agree not to admit criminals and terrorists, it does not necessarily hold that all other immigration is beneficial.
The basis of any comprehensive immigration reform is likely to revolve around the question of national identity. Immigration can of course alter a nation’s self-perception adequately to change that identity. A nation also requires a certain level of social cohesion in order to remain viable. Even if the immigrants who are admitted are well intentioned and law-abiding, they may still undermine this cohesion by fraying the bonds of common culture, bringing social mores that are incompatible with the host country’s traditions and customs, fracturing linguistic unity and importing ethnic and religious strife. Cultural balkanization is not necessarily a product of ill will; it is a realistic result of groups carrying with them “messages,” to use Thomas Sowell’s term, which historically have proven to have great staying power.
This is why assimilation is absolutely required, yet Invasion does not adequately discuss assimilation or “Americanization” even from its own limited national-security perspective. Malkin does not indicate whether she would replace the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that is responsible for our current mass immigration, or where she stands on the crucial question of whether America is a nation or “idea.” These are crucial issues that cannot be ignored out of political or other considerations.
She also misses the opportunity to support reforms outside the parameter of border control and enforcement even when they would clearly complement her proposals. Invasion does not explicitly endorse reduced legal immigration levels, even though enhanced screening would be extremely difficult if we continued to admit the same number of immigrants. Smaller numbers would also reduce the political pressures that complicate assimilation and frustrate attempts to adopt some of the security steps Malkin suggests.
Yet judging from the reaction her book has gotten, there is a case to be made for her decision to have such a limited focus. Positive responses have come not just from immigration restrictionists like Brimelow and his writers at VDARE.com. Commentators who do not frequently weigh in on immigration-related issues have now entered into this discussion. Rush Limbaugh, who rarely talks about immigration other than to criticize illegal immigration, has praised her book on his radio program and his brother David reviewed it favorably in his syndicated column. Sean Hannity of FOX News has called the book “a stunning bill of indictment” against federal border security practices. Invasion is not the complete answer, but it serving as a beginning point for many people in a discussion about immigration. The result of such a discussion is not likely to be majority support for open borders.
Malkin’s post-Invasion columns and articles demonstrate that she is willing to continue doing the heavy lifting on these topics. She broke the story of alleged Beltway sniper Lee Malvo’s immigration status, reporting that he and his mother had been in INS custody and were simply released rather than deported. She has written in defense of whistleblowers who call attention to failures to enforce immigration law and warned about the possible risk posed by illegal aliens in the event of a war with Iraq. Malkin deserves praise for calling attention to problems that even many conservatives would prefer to ignore. Those from all backgrounds who revere America would profit from paying attention.