At risk of getting into some sensitive territory, I wonder what some of you guys think about this immigration reform bill being pushed through the House. More than half a million people spilled into the streets of Los Angeles over the weekend to protest Rep. Sensenbrenner's bill that would have far-reaching implications for illegal immigrants in this country. The specifics of the bill sound kind of frightening, no matter which side of the issue you come down on. Illegal immigration would become a felony, mass deportations would ensue, the US would build a massive wall between our country and Mexico. This stuff doesn't seem tenable. A lot of Republicans are saying "enforce the laws on the books," but one of the laws on the books is if you are born in this country, whether your parents came here illegally or not, you are automatically a citizen. If coming to this country illegally became a felony punishable by deportation (I don't know if that's all the punishment is, probably not knowing what Sensenbrenner's capable of), then you're taking a citizen's parents and sending them to another country against their will. Do you not deport the child as well, or do you separate the parents from the child? How can you, if the child's a citizen?
A lot of smart people are against this massive influx of illegal immigrants. Lou Dobbs, for example, is on a one-man crusade against it, and uses his show to highlight the ill-effects illegal immigration has on this country. A lot of other smart people are all for it, and believe our economy wouldn't function without the services rendered by illegal immigrants. Arch-conservative George Will says it's all fine because they do the jobs that no one else wants to do, that our economy would tank without their services. I don't know who to believe. Are we, by importing third-world cultures, risking becoming a third world country ourselves? By importing what is, in essence, a non-citizen peasant class to do our labor for us, are we helping to depress wages for a majority of low-skilled citizen laborers? People on both sides tell us two different stories, each with statistics to back them up, each making persuasive arguments.
Editor of the liberal opinion magazine The Nation, Katrina Van Den Heuvel says there's an element of "white supremacist thinking" that fuels this anti-immigration furor. I think she's partly right in that there is a bit of that involved for some Americans, but then again I think of the influx of "Okies" that came out of the dust bowl during the depression. (I think of them not because I've read any historical data on them, but because I read the Grapes of Wrath and that made me feel sad for all of those poor bastards.) California did whatever they could to make sure those darn Okies knew they weren't welcome (unless they were exploiting them by working them from sunup to sundown and paying them criminally low-wages, (also from Grapes of Wrath)), and those people were all whiteys, too, so maybe it's less about fear of the swarthy Mexican with his sombrero and his bandoleers, and more of a fear, rational or not, of unemployment, of lower wages, a fear of the effect an influx of desperately poor people can have on a middle-class community. But, given that we're talking about humans here, maybe racism plays a larger role than I think.
I don't think the protestors that spilled out into the streets are doing themselves any favors with the White's watching at home by waving big Mexican flags all over the place. Makes me feel kind of queasy, rightly or wrongly. Some might be tempted to ask, "If you love Mexico so much you'll wave a giant Mexican flag on the streets of Los Angeles, why are you here and not there?" Then again, with their adopted country treating them so badly, they probably don't want to wave an American flag. On a practical level, illegal immigration from down south is never going to slow, the 11 million illegal immigrants already in the country aren't going anywhere. So what to do? Should we build a wall and offer amnesty and citizenship to all the ones who made it here already? Should we go after the people who employ illegal immigrants? I don't see too many Republicans talking about that. Going after businessmen is anathema to Republicans. I know people in this state who flout the law by hiring and exploiting illegal immigrants, and if there's an unabsorbable influx of people coming into this country, I blame guys like that.
Anyway, it's a complicated issue and I don't know enough about it to speak intelligently on the right course to take. I admit that some aspects of the illegal immigration issue tweak the nerve centers of my primitive lizard brain (the aspects the Republicans are playing up to), but I doubt that speaking from my gut on what "feels" right is going to advance the debate much. In the end, I hope the Congress approaches this issue mindful of the fact these people are human beings, and deserve respectful treatment. On the plus side, if the Republicans get too zealous with their bill and make illegal immigration a felony and start forcibly deporting folks, then the Latin-American vote (which, like I said, isn't going anywhere) will go Democratic for generations. Any thoughts or opinions from you folks? Or is this issue too thorny to get into?