Sometimes it seems the tipping point has come and disaster is on its merry way, and then -- what do you know? -- things start taking care of themselves. Maybe there was some helpful shoving, and it could be that more needs to be done. But you still have a kind of spontaneous solution, as is the case with immigration.
The immigration issue that has received the most attention is illegal arrivals, but that has always been just part of it. The United States has been importing roughly a million legal, permanent immigrants a year, more than any other country, and the vast majority of them come from very poor parts of Latin America, mostly Mexico. They were largely uneducated and unskilled, often did not speak English, and frequently struggled to make a decent living.
Some were educated, and many that were not contributed in important ways. There are nevertheless limits in opportunities for those without special abilities in this increasingly high-tech country, and a lack of education is a drag on productivity. It should have come as little surprise that increases in poverty have come largely from Hispanics and that a high percentage of immigrants end up on welfare.
Some people said Latino poverty would disappear as generations pass, but as Heather Mac Donald of Manhattan Institute has demonstrated, many Hispanic families have been plagued by unwed motherhood and offspring who drop out of high school and have too many brushes with the law. Poverty has not gone away, and the need was more of something started in the 1990s: standards of immigrant admission emphasizing skills, education and wealth instead of just family ties.
That seemed impossible after the presidential election. The Latino vote has become big and powerful, and Republican candidate Mitt Romney alienated it with his calls for a national ID system to keep illegals out of jobs and to encourage self-deportation. Meanwhile, President Barack Obama wooed Hispanics with a presidential edict that immigration laws would be ignored in the case of deporting immigrants who came into the country as children. It was a humane move that also happened to be unconstitutionally autocratic, which is to say, rule of law does not matter to some when it comes to politics.
I need not remind anyone of the election's outcome or how Republicans suddenly seemed to believe you can't give Latinos enough hugs or kisses, and it seemed that we could anticipate legislation that, if anything, would encourage still more immigration of the kind damaging our future prospects. Here is what is happening minus intervention: First off, owing in part to a bad economy made worse by Obama's mismanagement, Mexicans have been self-deporting in vast numbers. And at the same time fewer and fewer are choosing to come here. Mexico is having an economic boom, its middle class is growing, opportunities are increasing and the growth of its population is slowing.
Meanwhile, the largest immigrant group now entering the country every year is Asians who mostly come here with high skills and education and who largely end up making good incomes while their children earn college degrees. They absolutely are assimilating, and the point is not a difference in racial or ethnic groups, but that it pays off when immigration rules emphasize potential boosts to the economy no matter where people come from.
I think we should aim, as James Glassman of the George W. Bush Institute says, to attract as many of the world's smartest people to America as we can. I think we are also in a position now where we can give amnesty to illegal immigrants making a positive contribution, granting them citizenship after they attend demanding classes and pass an exacting citizenship test. A national ID would still be a good idea, but especially given already improved border security, I think we're approaching a time when the flow of illegal immigrants will be a minor matter.
(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado.)