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'Something is terribly, terribly wrong'

Interview | Scholar and author Victor Davis Hanson on the seeming insanity of U.S. immigration and assimilation practices

Issue: "Schiavo’s fight for life," April 2, 2005

If you can only read one book on the immigration issue, read Mexifornia (Encounter Books, 2003), which author Victor Davis Hanson accurately describes as "part melancholy remembrance of a world gone by, part detached analysis by a historian who knows well the treacherous sirens of romance and nostalgia, and part advocacy by a teacher who always wanted his students to be second to none."

Those students are mostly immigrants or children of immigrants from Mexico, and Professor Hanson-a fifth-generation Californian who runs a family farm-teaches them about ancient history and civilization at California State University-Fresno. He is also the author of thoughtful and wonderfully readable books on military history such as Carnage and Culture: Landmark Battles in the Rise of Western Power.

In his writing and teaching he extols Western culture but shows an understanding of and respect for those who are first coming into contact with it. He seems like a compassionate conservative-with "compassionate" not meaning easygoing or merely sympathetic, but tough and caring enough to challenge the needy to live as people created in God's image.

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That's important to keep in mind in regard to immigration. Although its critics have often had fun with the term, "compassionate conservatism" in general is not an oxymoron, for the conservative emphasis on faith, family, and the rule of law goes well with successful poverty-fighting both in biblical teaching and historical experience. But the concept is a difficult fit concerning immigration, where some speak with all heart and no brain and others display the opposite.

WORLD: You detail the nasty and often short lives of many illegal immigrants, not neglecting "the stabbings, the drunk driving . . . the plague of alcohol . . . venereal diseases . . . tuberculosis . . . the fencing of stolen property . . . meth labs." You show how hard-working illegals carry around cash after payday and are preyed upon by "Mexican gangsters who steal, maim and rape with impunity their own more ambitious brethren from Mexico." How can illegal immigrants gain protection against thugs?

HANSON: The time-honored and true antidotes to crime-come out of the shadows, gain citizenship, speak English, assimilate, and trust law enforcement. Criminals abound to prey on illegal aliens because they assume their victims are afraid to call the police, carry mostly cash, don't speak English, live as transients among mostly young males, and are not legal participants in their communities.

WORLD: You touch on worldview questions in passages such as, "In our collective efforts to be angelic we can sometimes be devilish by establishing the principle that the state is responsible for an individual's success or failure. . . . Rather than confess that mankind by its very nature is prone to be murderous, sexist, and racist-and that only liberal institutions of the West can rein in these innate proclivities-we instead demand instantaneous perfection of our own country and no other, both in the present and in the past." Could you briefly lay out the religious and philosophical presuppositions that have gotten us in such a mess?

HANSON: We have given our entire souls to the god Reason, and left little else to the mystery and inexplicable of the world of faith. By believing that money and education alone can remake man, we of this therapeutic age forgot that his nature is largely fixed and hence predictable-and thus saved through law, family, religion, and community that ameliorate and tame his innate savagery. In our arrogance, we think a millionaire bin Laden or an educated Mohammed Atta is simply misguided, or has legitimate grievances, or is in need of aid and understanding, rather than proud, bullying, full of envy-and, yes, evil-and thus must be defeated rather than understood if we are going to save the innocent from their murderous instincts.

WORLD: You write that "almost everything stern and uncompromising that for two centuries has helped other immigrants to the United States-language immersion, autonomy from government assistance, rapid assumption of an American identity, and eager acceptance of mainstream American culture-has either been discounted as passé or embraced only halfheartedly." We are recovering some of the 19th-century understanding in poverty fighting; can we do the same regarding immigration?

HANSON: I hope so. With perhaps as many as 20 million illegal aliens from Mexico, and the immigration laws in shreds, we are reaching a state of crisis. In a multiracial society such as our own, are we to tell the Filipino, the Sikh, the Korean, or the Haitian, "Stand in line, come legally, wait your turn-unless you come across the Mexican border and break the law in doing so." So, we need to return to what is known to work: measured and legal immigration, strict enforcement of our existing laws, stiff employer sanctions, an end to bilingual documents and interpreters, and ethnic chauvinism, English immersion-in other words, an end to the disastrous salad bowl and a return to the successful melting pot.

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