PERSPECTIVE ON IMMIGRATION : Latinos Want a Tighter Border, Too : The flood of illegal immigrants hurts the whole community, which now must do what government won’t.

<i> Jesse Laguna was born in Austin, Tex., and spent his career in applied mathematics with the Navy and General Dynamics. A member of the Save Our State Committee, he has long been active in Mexican American affairs in southern San Diego County. </i>

I am a Mexican American. I have proudly served my country in two wars, and there are millions more like me. We are proud that our country’s immigration laws are far more generous than those of Mexico or any other place in the developed world. But we are also proud that we are a nation of laws, which means respect for laws, including those we may not like. And illegal immigration is just that: illegal. It is a crime. To condone, encourage, perpetuate or defend it is unconscionable. To aid and abet it is equally illegal.

It is one thing to break a country’s laws when fleeing from persecution or when your life is threatened. It is a totally different matter to break the law and hope to profit. It is one thing to petition your own government for fair treatment. It is quite another to make demands on a foreign government and its taxpayers when you have illegally rushed across its borders. And it is a horrible thing to start your life as a would-be American as a criminal.

This has nothing to do with race. If Latinos are caught more often, it is because they illegally cross the border more often. Most of the Anglos I work with on Proposition 187, the “save our state” initiative, would feel exactly the same way if the border invaders were Canadians setting up camp in Montana and hollering for freebies. We take the position that the state of California can no longer be the Department of Health, Education and Welfare for the rest of the world.

What’s interesting in this debate is the opinion of other Latinos. Maria Enchautegui, who has conducted immigration studies for the Urban Institute, acknowledges that “Hispanics are affected most by immigration. Hispanics compete more with new immigrants than do white and black Americans. They feel the negative effects more.”


Dallas Morning News columnist Richard Estrada says: “The rank and file Hispanics were far ahead of other Americans in viewing illegal immigrants as economic and even social threats . . . because the effects of immigration have manifested themselves first and foremost in Hispanic communities of long standing.”

The respected magazine Hispanic says: “There is an ironic inconsistency in the U.S. Hispanic community. On the one hand, Hispanic Americans have become subjects of an anti-immigration backlash, while on the other, the majority opposes current levels of immigration. Up to 84% say there are already too many immigrants coming into the United States.” Hispanic’s report was based on the Latino National Political Survey, which, the magazine said, is considered the most sweeping measure to date of Latino opinion on social and political topics.”

The poll sought a response to the statement, “There are too many immigrants.” The following agreed or strongly agreed: Cuban Americans, 66%; Mexican Americans, 75%, and Puerto Ricans, 79%. Surprisingly, non-citizens agreed or strongly agreed in larger percentages: Cubans, 73%, and Mexicans, 84%.

Some self-proclaimed Latino leaders insist that passage of Proposition 187 will cause Latinos in general to be suspected, rightly or wrongly, of being illegal residents. Quite the reverse. The hostile tactics of those fighting the initiative, the boast by many Latinos that “we won’t overcome, we will overwhelm,” and the encouragement of young Latino hotheads to take back the Southwest, Texas to California, by armed force, can only lead Americans to suspect all Latinos of being a potential fifth column.


California’s middle class, the main backer of Proposition 187, seems caught between the Mexican and U.S. governments. While proponents of an open border say that there is no way to close it (so relax and enjoy it), either government, if really determined, could shut it down in a month. Working together, if they had a will, they could do it in three days.

Why don’t they? Because illegal immigration has become a big business, with the local taxpayer bearing the costs. It provides a pressure valve for Mexico, so instead of caring for its own people, Mexico ships them north. Our paralyzed legislators don’t fight, acting like deer transfixed in headlights. Our $2-an-hour “employers” welcome it; it’s the next best thing to getting workers free. Drug abusers need it; the coyotes carry their mail.

And so it goes, on and on and on, like the Energizer Bunny.