(by Thomas Sowell, HumanEventsOnline.com) – Social Security used to be called the third rail of politics but illegal immigration is the real third rail that both political parties are afraid to touch.

Cops who find illegal aliens are under orders not to turn them in to the feds. And the federal government’s own border guards have their hands tied by the higher-ups as well.

Now that Hispanics are the largest minority in the country, and with the country closely divided politically, neither party wants to risk alienating the Hispanic vote by enforcing immigration laws.

Many other Americans may be outraged at the way illegal aliens are handled with kid gloves — and, in some places, even given rights normally reserved for citizens — but so long as this outrage is directed at both parties, neither party wants to be the one to risk losing the Hispanic vote.

America’s weakness in controlling its borders has only promoted contempt for the United States on the part of the Mexican government, which publishes instructions to help people illegally get into this country and offers helpful hints on how to take advantage of American welfare state benefits.

When some Americans living near the border in Arizona organized themselves to watch that border and report on people crossing it illegally, the media immediately demonized them as “vigilantes,” even though these observers used no violence and inflicted no punishment.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that he would welcome such observers on California’s borders, there was another media outcry against him.

There is a reason why illegal immigration is the third rail of politics. Not only is there a fear of losing the Hispanic vote, there is a fear of being demonized in the media and therefore losing other votes as well.

Among the intelligentsia, there have long been those who think of themselves as citizens of the world, and who think of national borders as just arbitrary lines drawn on a map. In addition to those with these liberal attitudes, there are some conservatives who think that we need workers from Mexico to do work that Americans will not do.

Virtually every job in the country is work that Americans will not do, if the pay is below a certain level. And the pay will not rise to that level so long as illegal immigrants — “undocumented workers” — are available to work for less.

Even those who write editorials about how we need Mexicans to do work that Americans will not do would not be willing to write editorials for a fraction of what they are being paid. If Mexican editorial writers were coming across the border illegally and taking their jobs, maybe the issue would become clearer.

You cannot discuss jobs without discussing pay, if you are serious. And, if you are really serious, you need to discuss all the welfare state benefits available to Americans who won’t work.

You might also want to consider the attitudes being promoted by the intelligentsia and the activists that people should do only “meaningful work” and not accept “chump change” but should insist on some arbitrarily defined “living wage,” even if that is more than their labor is worth.

When you say that Americans have a “right” to have their “basic needs” met, you are saying that when some people refuse to supply themselves with food and shelter, other Americans should be forced to supply it for them.

If you subsidize workers when they won’t work and subsidize employers by making illegal aliens available to them, then under those particular conditions it may well be true that illegal immigrants are taking jobs that Americans won’t do. But such statements conceal more than they reveal.

Hard-working immigrants may indeed be a godsend, not only to farmers and other employers, but also to families looking for someone to take care of children or an aged or ill member of the family. But Americans worked as farm laborers and as maids before there were “undocumented workers” to turn these chores over to.

If it has been done before, it can be done again. All that prevents it is the welfare state and the attitudes it spawns.

Dr. Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author of “Applied Economics” and “The Housing Boom and Bust.”

Reprinted here with permission from Human Events.  Visit the website at HumanEvents.com.


1.  Identify the issue of this commentary.

2.  The “third rail” refers to a subject that tends to be avoided because of its controversial nature; something that is dangerous to tamper with.  What two reasons does Mr. Sowell give for both Democrats and Republicans regarding illegal immigration as the third rail of politics?

3.  One of the main arguments in support of illegal immigrants is that they do work Americans won’t do.  This is the argument that Mr. Sowell addresses.  How does he counter (respond to) this argument?  Is his argument persuasive?  Explain your answer.

4.  Mr. Sowell says: “Even those who write editorials about how we need Mexicans to do work that Americans will not do would not be willing to write editorials for a fraction of what they are being paid. If Mexican editorial writers were coming across the border illegally and taking their jobs, maybe the issue would become clearer.”  Is this a strong argument?  Explain your answer.

5.  Most Americans vote for a candidate based on his/her stand on many issues (social, economic, homeland security, etc.).  By avoiding this issue, do you think politicians really believe that Hispanic-Americans all support illegal immigration?  Do they further believe that Hispanic-Americans would only vote for a candidate based on the one issue of illegal immigration, without regard to how a politician stood on education funding, social security reform, tax reform, abortion, homosexual marriage, etc.?  Do you agree with these assumptions about Hispanic-Americans?  Explain your answer.

6.  Politicians should address this issue – either by insisting that current immigration laws are enforced if they support them, or by changing the existing laws if they don’t like them.  To write your opinion to your senators or representatives, at senate.gov and house.gov(When writing to express your opinion, state the issue, and what you think the official should do to solve the problem.  Always maintain a polite tone.)