Wow! I had no idea that my column criticizing close-the-border crusaders such as CNN's Lou Dobbs, Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly and Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington would trigger such emotional responses. They do have a following, indeed!
In last Sunday's column, which has since been published by the San Diego Union-Tribune, the Arizona Daily Star and several other U.S. newspapers (including The Vindicator June 14), I disputed claims that Hispanics are "taking over" the nation.
I had quoted Dobbs' April 14 on-air comment that "the invasion of illegal aliens is threatening the health of many Americans," because "highly contagious diseases are now crossing our borders." And I criticized Huntington's claim that "the biggest" threat to America's national identity "comes from the immense and continuing immigration from Latin America."
These claims are wrong, I said, because Hispanics over time are assimilating, and because no amount of fences along the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border will stop the flow of undocumented workers as long as the per capita income gap between the United States and Mexico remains as wide as it is ($36,000 vs. $9,000 a year.) The solution, I concluded, is helping narrow the U.S-Mexico per capita income gap.
It was only a matter of hours before my e-mail inbox started to fill up. Among the most polite ones:
U"I am a San Diego County deputy sheriff with 15 years' experience. I was married to a wonderful Mexican woman and have two children with her. ... That said, I must respond to your opinion piece with my experiences. The illegal alien problem we have here in San Diego County is enormous. The massive amount of crime they commit is beyond written description. Everything from murders, robberies, burglaries. ... I fear you may have a very narrow view of the illegal aliens as just hard working folks." -- Robert Markowitz, San Diego County Sheriff's Dept.
U"Lou Dobbs and Bill O'Reilly are NOT anti-immigrant. They, like the overwhelming majority of Americans, are opposed to ILLEGAL immigrants." -- Jim Reid, San Diego.
U"I feel immigration should be stopped because of OVERCROWDING. Your article missed the point! In California, our roads and schools are packed. The highways are a mess. And you want to add MORE drivers? ... It has nothing to do with race." -- Frank Lucia, San Diego.
U"Maybe things are different in Florida. ... I live across the street from a very large high school. Every morning when parents drop their children off at school, 80 percent of the cars have Mexico license plates. ... You state that Hispanics will not create a state within a state. It is already created and completed here." -- George Lawrence, South Texas.
U"Question: Are you advocating open borders to permit anyone to enter our country from anywhere at any time? Sounds that way to me. ... What's wrong with you reporters? Are you un-American?" -- Bryan Fulk, Tucson, Ariz.
U"Your suggestion [that] the Lou Dobbs comments regarding diseases coming in with illegal immigrants was aimed at Hispanics is simply a calumny." -- D.P. Jones, Miami.
U"I was pleased to see you speak out about the bigoted nonsense that spews forth nightly on what I call 'The Lou Dobbs Hour of Hysteria.' Every night, the major segment of that program is called 'Broken Borders,' and it's never the Canadian border. ... [It] can basically be reduced to, 'Oh my God, all those brown people speaking their funny language are flooding across the border and inundating the country!!"' -- Larry Jurrist, Hollywood, Fla.
My conclusion: For the record, I understand the concerns of critics of uncontrolled illegal immigration. What I'm disputing is their assumption that spending millions of dollars to erect a 3.5-mile fence along the 2,000-mile-long border, or doubling the number of guards along the border will stop the migration flow.
It's more likely to be a waste of time and money. The only solution will be helping narrow the income gap on both sides of the border with further economic integration between the United States and Mexico, and the rest of Latin America. Rich European countries have done that with their poorest neighbors for 40 years, and it worked. I'll expand on this in coming weeks.
X Andres Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for the Miami Herald. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.