The secret to achieving power in today's America is not being the best, the brightest, or the most ruthless. The secret is coalition building; convincing specific blocs of people that you have their interests in mind, that you will favor them.
None of this is lost on the Bush administration, which is getting into the coalition-building business, big time. George W. was stunned that he lost New Mexico and only got 35 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally last November. After all, he speaks Spanish for cryin' out loud. So the president is considering a bold move that would propel him in the Latin community: He may "legalize" millions of undocumented Mexican aliens.
On paper it looks like a good political maneuver. Bush needs to get Hispanics out of the Democratic orbit, and an amnesty push would certainly give him a big issue. But even though it may be good politics, would amnesty be good for the country?
There is no question that millions of Mexican-Americans have contributed mightily to the fabric of the United States. But here are some additional facts:
The most recent study by the National Research Council concluded that the cost of allowing illegal immigrants to remain in the United States is substantial. In California alone, it costs every native-born household nearly $1,200 each year to provide government services to immigrants. That is above what said immigrants pay in taxes.
Even after welfare reform, an estimated 34 percent of households headed by legal Mexican immigrants and 25 percent headed by illegals use at least one welfare program. By contrast, 15 percent of native households dip into the welfare entitlement pool. These statistics come from a recently completed study by the Center for Immigration Studies, which opposes any amnesty. The center tops off its argument by stating that Mexican immigrants who have lived in the United States for more than 20 years still have double the welfare-use rate of natives.
And this is understandable. In addition to the language barrier, Mexico's culture is completely different than America's. The pace is different; the mindset is different. It is not easy for most Mexicans to make the transition to life in the United States.
The argument for giving amnesty to Mexican illegals centers around the help many Mexican workers provide the U.S. economy. They do work Americans don't want to do, the spin goes. And that's true to some extent. So let's deal with this situation properly.
President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox should set up a "guest worker program" that is based in Mexico. Any Mexican who wants to work in the United States could apply, and if that person has no felonies or infectious diseases and has an actual place to go in the United States, he or she would get a work permit and a visa. In that way, American authorities would actually know who the heck was coming in here and could track their progress and tax their wages.
Making millions of illegals legal with the touch of a pen is simply insane. It is grossly unfair to other ethnic groups who want to come to the United States and are waiting in line. Our government could stop much of the illegal immigration and drug importation from Mexico simply by putting the military on the border, as most countries do. But we don't do that because it might offend Mexico, which continues to be a massive drug transshipment center.
But instituting a guest worker program and properly supervising our southern border would be real work, and would cause much angst among some Americans. This is not coalition building. This is teeing some people off. Better to be compassionate. So welcome to America, amigos, and vote George W. Bush in 2004!
Veteran TV news anchor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show The O'Reilly Factor.