[Part I in a series on Immigration.]

An up front disclaimer: I support open immigration. To spend billions of dollars to prevent millions of people from coming here to seek a better life is offensive to me both politically and morally. To impose quotas based on national origin, world region, or numerous other arbitrary factors is also repugnant. Our nation is not only a nation of immigrants, it’s a nation of dirt-poor, shifty immigrants—who schemed their way across the oceans to flee poverty and oppression. Those “huddled masses yearning to be free” built many of our great cities, staffed our factories, made our slumlords rich, and built a better life for themselves and a downright decent life for their children or grandchildren.

So I don’t like this modern tendency to view those “poor brown people” with disdain and fear. But I know why many people fall back on that: they’re scared and mad. And they have every right to be. This is not their father’s America, or—more to the point—their great-grandfather’s.

In those days, the American Dream was simple: you come here, you work your tail off and maybe, just maybe you get lucky and get rich. But, mostly, you probably die still pretty poor. However, and here’s the kicker that drove the engine of immigration for decades, your children start slightly-less dirt poor. Now, they work their tails off, maybe get lucky, but probably die somewhat poor. Their children, however, start only modestly poor. And so on. Repeat that over a few (not many) generations and you go from someone having (literally) nothing but the clothes on their back to Americans indistinguishable from everyone else except for a few extra holidays and some colorful language.

That dream, the dream of a better life for your children, drew millions across oceans. They endured poverty, abuse, racism, and everything else because America—for all its sins—was a place you could build a life for yourself, and certainly for your kids. And that’s still the main reason for most immigrants. We don’t have millions of undocumented Mexicans because they came to be on the dole. You don’t see illegal immigrants littering the homeless shelters. You see them crammed dozens to an apartment, working three jobs, trying to make enough to support families back home or bring those families to America.

So what’s the problem? In the 1960s the Left gained a major victory for what they termed “the Great Society.” They rammed through massive social entitlements going far beyond FDR’s wildest socialist dreams. And they’ve continued to expand and “improve” those entitlements. Heck, they’ve even gotten the Republicans to fund massive new entitlements, for goodness sake. We now spend nearly $700 billion on Health and Human Services and over $200 billion more on agriculture, education, and Housing and Urban Development. (That’s of course not including Social Security, which would not be an entitlement if it were actually fully funded.) That’s over $2500 for every man, woman, and child in the country.

Now, those on the Left may not be the sharpest knives in the drawer, but they certainly realized that the key to this massive wealth transfer is prosperity. Of course, this directly conflicts with their endless desire to humiliate, despoil, and impoverish the rich and successful. But, since the Republicans are still pretty much a wholly-owned subsidiary of the country-club set, the Left could allow them to shield the rich just enough to keep the whole thing shuddering along, wasting tremendous amounts of capital, generating tremendous amounts of graft and corruption, but transferring trillions of dollars to the favorite money pits of the Left.

There’s just one problem: to keep the party going, you’ve got to limit the guests. If every poor person is going to get massive amounts of government handouts—far above their tax contribution—then clearly you can’t operate a system open to the flood of those “huddled masses.” So, with the deepest irony, at least some of those self-described “advocates for the poor” found themselves arguing against admitting hard-working foreign poor people to protect domestic poor people already on the dole (and in the pocket of the “advocates”).

At the same time, poor Americans whose work ethic was being systematically destroyed by the honey trap of the welfare system naturally feared the competition from immigrants to whom the wages—never mind the government benefits—of a sub-minimum wage job seemed heavenly. Of course, this fear of competition from immigrants is nothing new, nor is the sense of entitlement that drives it. But now, rather than simply being obviously self-serving, it can cloak itself in concerns about the “cost” to society. If everyone, foreign or domestic, who fails to prosper winds up in the welfare net, then there’s a decent argument against risking adding too many new welfare cases. Let those “huddled masses” wallow in misery in their own countries, the argument goes, rather than coming here and either sucking off the welfare teat or (worse) forcing us to do the same.

So, nativism reared its ugly head for about the ten millionth time in American history. Once more, those despicable “foreigners” were swarming over the border to “take our jobs.” (Completely disregarding the evidence that many of those foreigners were “taking” jobs nobody much wanted.) And, as always, they smelled, lived in filth, spoke funny languages, and committed the deadly sin of working their tails off in ways most “real Americans” aren’t willing to do.

Of course, the nativists have some legitimate points, as well. The traditional pluralism of the melting pot—in which common ties like English, patriotism, and the rule of law were exalted, while cultural and religious ties to the old country were grudgingly accepted—has given way to Euro-style touchy-feely multiculturalism in many places. And, as it always, does this multi-culti nonsense produces division and tension, and often an ugly sense of entitlement among those immigrants who adhere to it. Another fine gift from the Left—this time the New Left.

So, forget illegal immigration, many on both sides aren’t too happy with immigration at all. As long as it’s limited to a relative handful of people (each year the U.S. admits somewhere between 700,000 and 900,000 legal immigrants), it’s not a problem. But with a veritable swarm flowing over the southern border, both sides are up in arms. That number of gate crashers might just crash the party.

The irony, of course, is that the vast majority of those streaming in have no desire or intent to become welfare drones or diversity activists. They’re beating a path straight for good old-fashioned low paying jobs, living twelve to a room to keep the rent down, scraping up money to send back to the folks, and scheming either to return to the “Old Country” with pockets full of dollars or to get their families over to the Promised Land as well. But that’s the problem, then, isn’t it? Everything about them—from their struggle to get here to their incredible work ethic—loudly proclaims that all they want or need is a paycheck and a chance, no government goodies required, no special recognition of their “unique culture” needed.

In other words, they’re still “living the dream,” the old-style American Dream. They just don’t realize that many Americans have cashed that Dream in for a fistful of government greenbacks and a headful of “identity politics”. They’d have thrived in great-grandpa’s America, and they’ll thrive here now. But maybe we’d all thrive a bit more in the long run if we took a long, hard look at all those government handouts and diversity perks we’re “entitled” to, and the barriers they put in the way of all those “huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”