Illegal Immigration and the Tax Code: Two Problems, One Solution

Mexican nationals who enter the U.S. illegally most often do so to find lucrative work, though their diaspora shields more sinister kinds of crime.  Create a system where every resident pays a fair share of the tax burden… and you send most of these uninvited guests home.

Polybius writes that after Hannibal annihilated the Roman forces in Etruria under the foolish Flaminius, he made his way toward the Adriatic pillaging and burning every step of the way.  His men were ordered, now that they were well within Roman territory, to slaughter every adult they chanced upon.  This was somewhat contrary to Hannibal’s policy while passing through the more remote northern regions of Italy, where he had constantly undertaken (with much success) to convince Rome’s allies that he was their liberator and that his cause should be theirs.

It occurred to me when I read this passage a few days ago (in Book 3, 84-85) that some things never really change.  Hannibal’s Carthaginians were essentially the strong arm of a drug cartel.  Carthage was competing with Rome for mastery of lucrative commerce in the western Mediterranean, and the invading general was a gang lord equipped with the premier armored vehicles of his day: elephants.  Where restless masses could be incited with talk of liberation, Hannibal was generous and eloquent.  Where the locals were bound by too many tribal ties to his adversaries for such manipulation to succeed, he exterminated them with the pitiless efficiency of a practiced butcher.  And he passionately hated the Roman people for reasons (Polybius explains) going back to his father’s conditioning.  The Romans, according to Hamilcar’s catechism, had taken land from Carthage to which they had no right (no more right than Carthage, at any rate), and they had exploited their victories over Carthage more than once to dictate humiliating terms. 

If one were to substitute the word gringos for “Romans” in Polybius’s text, one might imagine oneself reading about twenty-first century Texas or Arizona as forces in Mexico lay plans to grow more powerful and rich, if not to expand titular sovereignty.

For all the issues surrounding our southern border stem from three motives: money, power, and quality of life.  The former two are constantly competing with the last.  The Mexican governing elite, unwilling for generations to dedicate resources to the dire poverty of the rural northwest (an area filled with Indios for whom the Castellanos have little liking), can always be relied upon to demagogue U.S. border tensions with plenty of hypocritical talk about racism.  The drug cartels, which of course have generated enormous amounts of cash, can usually buy whatever local political or judicial support they need to keep operations running smoothly; and a fluid northern border also allows them to keep their merchandise flowing, so they donate with equal liberality to rabble-rousing claptrap about Yankee racism and oppression.  The residents “on the ground”, both legal and illegal, typically have no more lust for extravagant power than for fabulous wealth: they just want safe streets and schools.  Their “quality of life” protests draw attention from scalawags like John McCain at election time… but for most of the calendar, they are mere pawns.  Republicans like McCain and Lindsey Graham covet the money that an open border attracts to their coffers from business interests fond of cheap labor (illegally cheap).  Democrats, meanwhile, salivate over the potentially limitless power of a statist machine harnessed to a burgeoning population of voters accustomed to political and judicial corruption, paternalistic government, and tribal thinking reinforced now by linguistic isolation.

Clearly, factors involving power and money are running circles around concern for quality of life.  The little people—even the illegal ones—are doomed to be political cannon fodder in this war of hoodlum-armies and purple-robed potentates.  Those of us who just want to live our small-town lives in peace would honestly not care very much if Washington, DC, and Mexico City both suddenly went up in smoke.  We’ve long been looking for somebody, anybody, to stand up for common decency.  We thought that Rand Paul might be our man, or maybe Marco Rubio… and then both of them struck us dumb by proclaiming that over eleven million illegal residents can and should at once be processed for citizenship (or something very like it) by a grossly overstrained and abysmally incompetent federal bureaucracy.  We want the hemorrhaging of under-the-table money and sordid political patronage to stop: we don’t want to vacate all the records of corruption and start over with a shiny new positive attitude.  We don’t want to be treated as children any more, or as stupid chattels.

Rome at last won the war against Hannibal by appointing Quintus Fabius Maximus as dictator—a hero known to posterity as Cunctator, “The Delayer”, because of his preferred tactic.  Would-be dictators we have a-plenty, though none of Fabius’s moral character.  What we need is a policy of delay.  All the proponents of “immigration reform” (itself a highly prejudicial way of framing the issue of border trespass) insist that something must be done at once—that, as Rubio said to Rush Limbaugh of his flawed plan, “it’s a lot better than what we have right now.”  Careless change could in fact worsen the situation in a great many ways.  A moratorium on virtually all immigration wouldn’t at all be a bad way to begin.  There’s something very wrong with the way people sneak into our country, stay as long as they want, bankrupt school systems and hospitals with their freeloading, sometimes even draw directly from public welfare programs, cycle half their earnings back to Mother Mexico, obfuscate the movements of cutthroat gangsters within their sheer volume… yes, that’s a really lousy system.  But the obvious first step is to stop the fluid back-and-forth movement.  When the ship is sinking, you don’t start replacing damaged carpet in the stateroom while working the bilge pumps: all energy must be directed to shutting out the water, first and last.

This has been said and written over and over.  Indeed, I have so far added nothing new to the discussion, other than to observe that national borders have been violated by vandals and hooligans throughout historical time, and never to the profit of the “host country”.  It’s pitiful, I admit, to think that such a bland insight might be news to some; and, in any case, arguments like that don’t carry much weight with progressives, since the major premise of progressivism is that what existed yesterday need not exist tomorrow.

Senator Rubio, though young and apparently very naïve, probably understands at some level that a “facts of life” resistance to our assuming the burden of Mexico’s poor will not play well in certain sectors of the electorate.  Too many people believe that life has no immutable facts (i.e., progressives and other star-travelers) or that their own extended families should be allowed to break otherwise respectable rules (i.e., legal Hispanic immigrants).  I cannot say to what extent such political calculation figures into the plan which Rubio has chosen to swathe in humane compassion before the public; but if this winsome, exuberant young man is really reacting to a hard fact of political life—that Republicans “look bad” when they talk common sense—then one could actually find comfort in his duplicity.  Better a sober Machiavellian than a juiced-and-raptured utopian.

Still, the hard fact is that we must talk hard facts.  Our nation is already ailing, and adopting Mexico’s underclass will finish us off.  Call this anti-immigration stance racist, if you will, since illegal immigrants from Mexico create 98% of the strain (even though the Mexican elite, as I have said, loathes this migrant population of native origin).  The crux of the matter is economic, not racial—unless one believes that Amerindian-Hispanic people are genetically programmed to do manual and menial labor and hence to make bottom-rung salaries, which sounds pretty racist to me.  The rich and powerful (and nihilistic) advocates of open borders will continue to scream the “r” word in crowds and over airwaves, nevertheless.  We can’t escape it.  Common sense will be branded as racist until our republic vanishes under the sea like Plato’s Atlantis.

Is the only alternative, then, to show “those people” that we love them?  To marry one of them, as Jeb Bush has done?  (My apologies to Mrs. Bush, who is a beautiful woman—but her husband hasn’t exactly veiled her ethnicity in secrecy.)  Or perhaps to thrust one of them to the fore of the next national election, as the Republican Party would do if Senator Rubio would only understand the privileges of power a little more clearly?  (His Gang of Eight membership, to the Republican elite, is a good sign.)

I propose another option—a purely economic one: tax reform.  Collect all taxes, from federal to state to county to city, from sales taxes.  Everybody who buys anything would pay tax: the Mafia boss, the slick accountant, the Al Qaeda mole, the illegal immigrant.  You couldn’t so much as drive through McDonald’s or pump gas or buy a pair of Nikes without paying your 20%.  Of course, the figure would more likely be 40% or 50% in present circumstances, which I regard as a further selling point for the scheme.  That is, all branches of government would have to slash spending because the public would rebel, otherwise.  The true cost of the nanny state would be translated into terms that every high-school dropout could comprehend.  Wastrel billionaires could continue to build castles and plan vacations on the Space Shuttle, if they wished—and would foot the astronomical tax bill implicit in that lifestyle.  Poor people, to be sure, would have to stop purchasing $50,000 minivans and blowing money on the latest smartphone.  Mrs. Obama wants us all to learn how to take care of ourselves better: this way she wouldn’t have to be our wet-nurse.  Poor folks would stop overdosing on pizza and burgers because they couldn’t afford to, quite literally.

And the immigration problem would slink back into the shadows of history.  For there would be no more free ride north of the border: legal or otherwise, the new arrival would pay for his children’s education and his mother’s cataract surgery every time he bought a six-pack or purchased cable.  (Well, maybe he could get free cable: tapping feeds illegally is a fine art in Mexico, and a premier cause of power outages and fires.)  The “better life” which we’re told this person wants to make for himself would strangely vanish if he were no longer cheating the system to amass money hand-over-fist.  Is it racist to assert that most illegals come here for the cash rather than for love a flag they never fly and a constitution for whose nullification they vote (in places like California where voters needn’t be legal residents)?  If so, I’ll apologize as soon as a fair tax is implemented and I see the evidence that immigration continues apace.

Naturally, I realize that such an overhaul in the tax code hasn’t the ghost of a chance of passing today or tomorrow.  If the Republicans would shift the discussion of border issues to this footing, however, then at least everyone would see that throwing open the border is truly a game whose stakes are raw power and glittering loot.  The problem now becomes the mass of Republican leaders already heavily invested in that game.  Is it possible still to find a Republican who will pitch this proposal, or will a third-party uprising be required?

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