Edward Abbey [1927-1989], the late novelist, essayist, and environmental activist, was a confirmed political “liberal” (perhaps even an extremist), who believed that the degradation of the land and culture of the American Southwest was a crime against nature, and that the least any one of us could do was to try to defend it from the resource exploiters and population pressures which endangered it.
In an essay written for (solicited, actually, by) the august New York Times, Abbey took the contrarian position regarding Mexican immigration. The Times refused to publish it, or give Abbey his “kill fee”–perfect proof that he’d stepped over the line. Rather than publish the “embarrassing” article, they pretended that it hadn’t ever been written. It didn’t matter whether Abbey was right or wrong–a figure of his authority disagreeing about immigration was just too potent a threat to the liberal biases the Times felt bound to observe. In the long run, however, as always, trying to resist the truth is always a bad strategy, as Abbey’s essay has continued to be a cautionary document for those who get too caught up in the apologetics of unfettered (and illegal) immigration. I’m reprinting the essay in toto here, since it appears several other places online, copyright fears be damned (at least until someone threatens me with a lawsuit).
“Immigration and Liberal Taboos” [Reprinted in 1988]
In the American Southwest, where I happen to live, only sixty miles north of the Mexican border, the subject of illegal aliens is a touchy one. Even the terminology is dangerous: the old word wetback is now considered a racist insult by all good liberals; and the perfectly correct terms illegal alien and illegal immigrant can set off charges of xenophobia, elitism, fascism, and the ever-popular genocide against anyone careless enough to use them. The only acceptable euphemism, it now appears, is something called undocumented worker. Thus the pregnant Mexican woman who appears, in the final stages of labor, at the doors of the emergency ward of an El Paso or San Diego hospital, demanding care for herself and the child she’s about to deliver, becomes an “undocumented worker.” The child becomes an automatic American citizen by virtue of its place of birth, eligible at once for all of the usual public welfare benefits. And with the child comes not only the mother but the child’s family. And the mother’s family. And the father’s family. Can’t break up families can we? They come to stay and they stay to multiply.
What of it? say the documented liberals; ours is a rich and generous nation, we have room for all, let them come. And let them stay, say the conservatives; a large, cheap, frightened, docile, surplus labor force is exactly what the economy needs. Put some fear into the unions: tighten discipline, spur productivity, whip up the competition for jobs. The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause. (Neither group, you will notice, ever invites the immigrants to move into their homes. Not into their homes!) Both factions are supported by the cornucopia economists of the ever-expanding economy, who actually continue to believe that our basic resource is not land, air, water, but human bodies, more and more of them, the more the better in hive upon hive, world without end – ignoring the clear fact that those nations which most avidly practice this belief, such as Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, to name only three, don’t seem to be doing well. They look more like explosive slow-motion disasters, in fact, volcanic anthills, than functioning human societies. But that which our academic economists will not see and will not acknowledge is painfully obvious to los latinos: they stream north in ever-growing numbers.
Meanwhile, here at home in the land of endless plenty, we seem still unable to solve our traditional and nagging difficulties. After forty years of the most fantastic economic growth in the history of mankind, the United States remains burdened with mass unemployment, permanent poverty, an overloaded welfare system, violent crime, clogged courts, jam-packed prisons, commercial (“white-collar”) crime, rotting cities and a poisoned environment, eroding farmlands and the disappearing family farm all of the usual forms of racial ethnic and sexual conflict (which immigration further intensifies), plus the ongoing destruction of what remains of our forests, fields, mountains, lakes, rivers, and seashores, accompanied by the extermination of whole specie’s of plants and animals. To name but a few of our little nagging difficulties.
This being so, it occurs to some of us that perhaps evercontinuing industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion, and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people. At least until we have brought our own affairs into order. Especially when these uninvited millions bring with them an alien mode of life which – let us be honest about this – is not appealing to the majority of Americans. Why not? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful–yes, beautiful!–society, for another. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see.
Yes, I know, if the American Indians had enforced such a policy none of us pale-faced honkies would be here. But the Indians were foolish, and divided, and failed to keep our WASP ancestors out. They’ve regretted it ever since.
To everything there is a season, to every wave a limit, to every range an optimum capacity. The United States has been fully settled, and more than full, for at least a century. We have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by allowing the old boat to be swamped. How many of us, truthfully, would prefer to be submerged in the Caribbean-Latin version of civilization? (Howls of “Racism! Elitism! Xenophobia!” from the Marx brothers and the documented liberals.) Harsh words: but somebody has to say them. We cannot play “let’s pretend” much longer, not in the present world.
Therefore-let us close our national borders to any further mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, as does every other nation on earth. The means are available, it’s a simple technical-military problem. Even our Pentagon should be able to handle it. We’ve got an army somewhere on this planet, let’s bring our soldiers home and station them where they can be of some actual and immediate benefit to the taxpayers who support them. That done, we can begin to concentrate attention on badly neglected internal affairs. Our internal affairs. Everyone would benefit, including the neighbors. Especially the neighbors. Ah yes. But what about those hungry hundreds of millions, those anxious billions, yearning toward the United States from every dark and desperate corner of the world? Shall we simply ignore them? Reject them? Is such a course possible?
“Poverty,” said Samuel Johnson, “is the great enemy of human happiness. It certainly destroys liberty, makes some virtues impracticable, and all virtues extremely difficult.”
You can say that again, Sam.
Poverty, injustice, over breeding, overpopulation, suffering, oppression, military rule, squalor, torture, terror, massacre: these ancient evils feed and breed on one another in synergistic symbiosis. To break the cycles of pain at least two new forces are required: social equity – and birth control. Population control. Our Hispanic neighbors are groping toward this discovery. If we truly wish to help them we must stop meddling in their domestic troubles and permit them to carry out the social, political, and moral revolution which is both necessary and inevitable.
Or if we must meddle, as we have always done, let us meddle for a change in a constructive way. Stop every campesino at our southern border, give him a handgun, a good rifle, and a case of ammunition, and send him home. He will know what to do with our gifts and good wishes. The people know who their enemies are.<