May 27, 2008 --

WE Americans see our illegal-immigration crisis in isolation, as if we alone face failing borders. But we're in good shape compared with migrant-flooded countries around the world.

Zimbabwean migrants fleeing South African pogroms (like these children) are only the latest of the world's refugees.

It's a global phenomenon - a new age of mass population transfers that bedevils rich, stable countries and overwhelms the infrastructure of weaker states. And there's no end in sight.

For us, it means focusing seriously (at long last) on securing our borders and facing up to our economy's needs. For struggling states, the scale and speed of population movements mean scarcity, explosive crime, terrorism and anti-immigrant riots that climax in murder.

Just this month: In South Africa, pogroms butchered refugees from Zimbabwe and economic migrants from Mozambique. In India, Muslim fanatics among a mass of Bangladeshi immigrants (to whom even India appears wealthy) set off a string of bombs in Jaipur.

Central Asians fear a demographic takeover by Chinese moving westward; European states struggle to absorb unskilled African illegals and Muslim immigrants out to exploit welfare benefits (while avoiding social integration). The United States confronts the prickly question of what it means to be a nation of immigrants in the 21st century.

Within states, the rural poor swell monster-cities such as Lagos, Sao Paulo and Mumbai. Fleeing such cities, desperate people overload wooden boats, walk across deserts or stow away in aircraft cargo - headed for other continents that offer a glimmer of hope.

On the plus side, the new mobility means a brilliant Indian software engineer in Silicon Valley or a drop-dead-gorgeous Polish barista in a London Starbucks. But, all too often, it means Salvadoran gangbangers in Virginia, no-prospect Muslim kids simmering in Paris or deadly economic competition in Johannesburg.


May 27, 2008 -- CONTINUED

Why is this happening now? First, it isn't really new. This is only the latest great global migration - the last one occurred over a half-dozen centuries, beginning as the Roman Empire faded. Back then, entire tribes moved, driven from their grazing grounds on the steppes or searching for richer worlds to conquer.

Today's migration is more chaotic and individualized, but swifter. Instead of moving on horseback and fighting hostile tribes, today's migrants fly or ride over-crowded buses, and do battle only with immigration officials or border police. But the world is on the move again.

The immediate reason for these explosive population transfers is simply that we've been stunningly successful at improving nutrition and reducing disease in poverty-stricken countries. Nature no longer takes its natural toll - but few developing states can absorb the results of reduced mortality.

With our hard-learned humane values, Western states have been slow to recognize global migrations as an accelerating challenge - and not a temporary phenomenon bound to wither away. Demographic pressures are only going to increase.

The bottom line? Europe is already on a disastrous course with its won't-assimilate Muslim immigrants - not toward "Eurabia," but toward another period of population expulsions.

Developing states inundated by migrations will behave brutally (and Western leftists will make excuses for every atrocity, as long as it's committed by dictators hostile to Washington).

But what about us? What about this country composed of immigrant stock (save for our Native American population)? Who are we? What sort of country do we want to be? Which of our fears are grounded, and which are folly?


May 27, 2008 -- CONTINUED

The problem with our immigration "debate" is that it isn't a debate, but a shouting match among the deaf. A realistic, humane immigration policy that acknowledges our economic needs would make neither the militant left nor the extreme right happy.

Let's start with the admission that we need to control our borders - and are entitled to do so. We're not required to accept everyone who wants to come here. We're not required to admit criminals, or the diseased, or those who reject our fundamental values.

If it takes a fence to control our borders, just tell me how high. But we also have to accept reality. Our feckless leaders - Republican and Democrat - have allowed 12 million illegals to enter our country. And the US Army is not going to line them up four abreast and march them back across the Rio Grande.

My solution would be to create a new form of residency, short of full citizenship: No one who broke the law to enter our country should ever be able to vote in our elections.

But we also must be honest about our needs. Immigrant labor is essential at both the bottom and the top ends of our economy. If talented individuals educated at foreign expense want to come here to help us create wealth, we should be tripping over ourselves to grant them visas.

Contrary to left-wing myths, a Ukrainian physicist won't put an American auto worker out of a job. And that auto worker isn't going to accept a job harvesting garlic in Gilroy, Calif.

If we want to maintain our global lead (which we have not lost), we're going to have to be accept that our economy will always need new blood.

On the other hand, we must be much tougher on criminal immigrants. One felony? Serial misdemeanors? You're gone, dude. No appeals.

What's the worst thing we could do about the new global migration? Ignore it. Postpone solutions. Pretend - as we did 20 years ago - that illegal immigration is a temporary phenomenon curable with a "one-time" amnesty.

What's the best we could do? Control our borders, but be honest about our needs and treat legitimate immigrants with dignity and decency.

The status quo is not only unworthy of our values, it's a disaster.