Victor Davis Hanson

is a classicist and senior fellow

at the Hoover Institute

The collapse last week of a comprehensive immigration bill in Congress that called for a huge guest-worker program, fast-track visas, and a sort of earned citizenship for illegal aliens has unleashed a backlash against those opponents of it who prefer to close the border first and legislate the details of illegal immigration later.

Washington pundits and Beltway politicians are furious at critics of the bill, from radio talk-show hosts and writers for conservative magazines, to frontline congressional representatives and Republican presidential candidates such as Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney and likely aspirant Fred Thompson.

These critics are dubbed cynical nativists - or racists - who have demagogued the issue and scapegoated hardworking illegal aliens. Even President Bush alleged that conservative obstructionists were somehow not working in America's best interests.

But who's really being cynical when it comes to illegal immigration? The government? Of course. It has caved to pressure groups for more than a quarter of a century.

The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 ensured neither reform nor control. Instead, the law simply resulted in millions entering the United States through blanket amnesty and de facto open borders.

In many cities, current municipal laws bar police officers from turning arrested illegal aliens over to immigration officials.

So why should the public believe that the proposed new law, with hundreds of pages of rules and regulations, would trump local obstructionism or effect any real change?

Had the bill passed, could we really have expected that the first impoverished alien unable to pay the fee or fine under its provisions would have been sent summarily home? More likely, he would have appeared on the 6 o'clock news as a victim of American mean-spiritedness and racism.

Congressional supporters of the current legislation are, themselves, often engaging in politics of the most cynical kind. Rare "bipartisan" cooperation on the bill, which brought Sen. Trent Lott (R., Miss.) to the side of Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.), is hardly statesmanship or a sudden outbreak of civic virtue. Rather, it is a new public face to the old alliance between profit-minded employers (and those who represent their interests) and demographically obsessed liberal and ethnic activists.

The former want assurances there will be millions of aliens available to work at wages that Americans will not - with the ensuing medical, housing, schooling and legal costs subsidized by the taxpayer. The latter can't wait for more constituents who, it is hoped, will someday support them at the polls.

Most cynical of all, however, are the moralistic pundits, academics and journalists who deplore the "nativism" of Americans they consider to be less-educated yokels.

Few of these well-paid and highly educated people live in communities altered by huge influxes of illegal aliens. Their professed liberality about illegal immigration usually derives from seeing hardworking waiters, maids, nannies and gardeners commute to their upscale cities and suburbs to serve them well - and cheaply.

In general, such elites don't use emergency rooms in the inner cities and rural counties overcrowded by illegal aliens. Their children don't struggle with school curricula altered to the needs of students who speak only Spanish.

So, what is the truth?

Simple. Millions of fair-minded white, African-, Mexican- and Asian-Americans fear that we are not assimilating millions of aliens from south of the border as fast as they are crossing illegally from Mexico. They are rightly worried that when millions of impoverished arrive without legality, education and the ability to speak English, costly social problems follow.

Those fretting about delays in sealing the border along with proposed fast-track visas, millions of new guest workers, and neglect of existing immigration law are neither illiberal nor cynical. But their self-righteous critics may well be both.