Monday, March 27, 2006

Illegal Immigration: Cool, or Not Cool?

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?


Craig Moorhead said...

Well, you go back to the argument that we're all foreigners to this country except for the 8% of the population that are Native Americans (and where did THEY come from, I ask you? They've been pretty tight lipped about THAT!) and the whole debate seems ludicrous. I'm not sure exactly what harm the influx of aliens is doing. And I mean that literally. There may be great harm being done, but I'm not sure what harm is being done. But I feel like it is all rooted in xenophobia more than anything else. Because... think about it: We have a huge population of people who will risk their lives to get their asses into this country and the only thing we can think to do with them is throw them back out? With all that's wrong with this place, we can't take them in? Train them? Put them to work where we need them instead of letting them fall into shitty jobs that pay shitty wages? We need teachers, right? We need police. Are we saying they aren't good enough to be teachers or police? Is a part of the problem the fact that, as soon as they arrive in what used to be the land of opportunity, everyone spits on them and tries to throw them out?

I really don't know. To be honest, the status quo has treated me just fine and it's all I know and if I had my way, it would be this way forever. But the way it is comes down on other folks real hard. And I didn't do anything but get born here.

I think there's a smarter way to handle this. And I don't think 700 politicians typing on 700 typewriters would ever come up with it, sadly.

Anonymous said...

The system of
capitalism/colonialism creates this mess, forcing people whose country has been plundered to look elsewhere for work and bread.

They come to America or any other place for that matter to work and find better opportunities for their families.

It's all about survival.

Now, if you maintain this current system, then you will have workers who rightly get upset when a desparate person comes in to a "country" to take their job because they allow themselves to be exploited for less. I don't think it is just, and employers should be punished for undermining labor contracts when they partake in this type of behavior. It breeds xenophobia.

Again, that is if we play by the rules of capitalism and nation states - then the pursuit of higher profit margins and lower prices is everything. People are sacrificed to the business cycle and to the crisis inherent in this terrible system that we hold so dear.

But, this is all about survival -nothing to do with race. Maybe the true racists and elits drum up the nationalism and race hatred because its a good way for them to galvanize their low-working class primarily white base.


blankfist said...

It's a slippery slope. If you consider the founding ideology of America, it defines us as a 'melting pot' whereas there's an open invitation for the world to give us their tired, their poor and their huddled masses. For better or worse, we need to consider these words carefully. Personally, I'm a man who does not enjoy an overcrowded space or country, but that decision isn't mine alone to make. I'd like to see closed borders, but I'd also like us to honor the noble ideas of our founding fathers. It's a true conundrum.

Moorhead is right. Aside from the Native Americans, we're all transplants. We've come from abroad, we're all trespassers, and I think we need to consider that before bringing finality to this decision to put a proverbial lid on the 'melting pot'. And, we should really be fearful of cowering behind the 9/11 national security shield when making this decision.

These are human beings, Crane, and we should apply the same credence and careful reasoning to this argument that our founding fathers had while drafting The Declaration of Independence’s famous line: “All Men Are Created Equal”. Still, in the end, personally, like I said, I’d like to see the borders closed.

Xenophobia? Maybe. Racism? Possibly. But, if the borders aren't closed, then somewhere deep inside of me, my very being that keeps me grounded and happy will be satisfied with the outcome, nonetheless. How's that for noncommittal?

Speck said...

"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe free."

So, much for that speech...

To me this is just like the Death Penalty. Yes, I believe in it...but not in it's current form. It needs major revising...So, do our laws on immigration.

I don't want the country flooded with illegals...but I don't want to deny people looking for a better life either.

Hard to come up with a good plan to make this all gravy for bet....but this bill and what it says...I'm not for that either.

Its like your post...full of conradicting points...this is good, but that is bad, But that is bad, but this is good. etc etc etc. It will never come to a resolution.

Speck said...

God damnit....Heath beat me to that quote...

That was the first thing that came to mind when I heard about the bill.

blankfist said...

"Give me your tired insight, your poor excuse for copying my reply, your huddled masses of lies when you yearn to be free of my ridicule, Speck."

Haha, just kidding, Speck. Maybe great minds think alike? Maybe not. Anyhow, I'm not for more laws. I think we give our government too much credit by allowing them to implement law after tired law. They should really be spending their time protecting life, liberty and our pursuit of happiness, and little else. Although, it would've been nice if Locke was able to slide "Life, liberty and estate" into the Declaration, but according to the possible misinformation found on wikipedia, Jefferson thought the concept of protecting property enabled feudalism and contradicted liberty. Aparently, Jefferson wasn't a renter in LA.

Crane, you seemed afraid to truly speak to your take on this, one way or another. Is there a reason for this, or is it that guilty Liberal inside that's censored your tongue?

blankfist said...

Just came across this on wikipedia. Interesting.

The phrase "pursuit of happiness" has popped up in at least one Supreme Court case, Loving v. Virginia, which focused on an anti-miscegenation statute. Justice Warren wrote:

"The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men."

I wish someone would argue a little harder for the gays's right to marry, but if a heterosexual were to argue for same sex marriage, his friends would call him queer, and that just isn't right, Crane, so stop calling me that.

noahkey said...

Two things come to mind when I read this:

America is named after Amerigo Vespuci, a sailor and explorer from obviously not here; an Italian. So calling anyone a Native American seems a little weird. I wonder what the aboriginal people of this land mass call(ed) themselves as they have a definitely opposite view on the idea of land ownership (man belongs to the earth, not the other way around.

You will notice that George Mason University is in the Final Four, for those of you who keep up with that sort of thing. Why do I bring that up? George Mason was the Founding Father who refused to sign the Declaration of Independence unless the abolition of slavery was included. He kinda felt that "All Men Are Created Equal" had to be, I don't know,....backed up in deed, not writing alone.

200 some odd years later we are no closer to solving those sort of paradoxical questions then we were then. This immigration thing is going to continue to be one of them. I would think more pressure on Mexico to raise their standard of living to ours instead of the other way around with corporations fleeing the ol' US of A with their factories to said nation would be a nice place to start.

And, alas, I may be cynical: But no Crane, their will never be a rational national debate on this issue.

In the words of Tommy Lee Jones:

"A person is smart. People are dumb, panicky animals and you know it."


harwell said...

I'm real late to this discussion, but I just took a live vote on this issue over at and a whopping 81% of the 105 thousand who have voted say YES we should restrict immigration.

I voted no. And I feel pretty confident in saying 81% of 105 thousand people are inherently racist.

Think about it: how often do we hear complaints about Canadians or White Europeans living in this country, taking jobs, and making a mess of things? NEVER. This issue is about Mexicans and Arabs. If they spoke our language and looked like us, this would not be an issue at all. Plain and simple. We're threatened by the inevitable fact that the majority will be the minority in a matter of decades. And, yes, then we will have a sliver of an idea of how the American Indians felt.

Closing our borders will only lead to more outsourcing. If our companies can't get cheap labor here they will go to the cheap labor there.

Anonymous said...

I don't have to worry about Canadians knifing me in the back.

Anonymous said...

It's sort of annoying the way this issue has been twisted to the point where there's no longer any differentiation made between legal and illegal immigration. It's just assumed by many that if you want the government to enforce any immigration laws whatsoever, you're anti-immigrant, or even worse, a bigot.

We are a nation of immigrants, and we should continue to be, but there's a right and wrong way of doing things. We can't just open the borders and let it be a free-for-all. When a person goes through the proper legal channels to become a naturalized citizen, there's a process involved where they have to make an effort to learn English, have a job, and reside here for a certain amount of time first. When a person hops over the border illegally, they are immediately thrust in a situation where they must either

a.) work for sub-standard wages that not only take advantage of the illegal worker, but also undercut American union workers. The only winner in this situation is big businesses. They get cheap labor and have zero accountability for working conditions because their labor force is illegal and afraid to report any abuses.


b.) obtain a stolen social security number, which of course, is fraud. The victim of the theft gets his identity stolen and the immigrant is now a felon. A gorgeous way to start out life in a new country.

The reason we don't hear all the bitching about Canadians jumping over the border is simple and has little, if anything, to do with racism. Just look at the education gap between the average Canadian and the average Mexican, and you'll see one reason for the discrepancy. Another reason would be the language barrier. Canadians can move into this country and assimilate into the culture rather easily. Uneducated, poor Mexicans who only speak Spanish are unlikely to prosper in modern America and will generally be doomed to working menial jobs their whole lives. When you pair this with the sheer number of Mexican illegals vs. Canadian illegals, the reason for the so-called double standard becomes clear. Simply, Americans would rather have people come to this country who are educated and speak our language than be completely displaced by a foreign horde that will not pay income taxes and don't seem to value our laws.

I have nothing against Mexicans. I think they generally make good Americans. They're hard-working and family-oriented, I have a general affinity for their culture. I would even support allowing more Mexicans in as naturalized citizens than any other single group of nationals. But it must be done legally.

harwell said...

"Uneducated, poor Mexicans who only speak Spanish are unlikely to prosper in modern America and will generally be doomed to working menial jobs their whole lives."

And how is this different than uneducated, poor English-speaking Americans? If the life you describe above is STILL a better life than the one they left in Mexico why on Earth should we deny them that?

"We can't just open the borders and let it be a free-for-all." Again, why not? What are you afraid of? That a small group will cross and fly airplanes into buildings? Your right, it's better with the security checks now and even more would prevent this from ever happening.

"I have nothing against Mexicans. I think they generally make good Americans. They're hard-working and family-oriented"

Nixon said the same thing in one of those White House recordings that was released. Only, he then added, "They're different from the Negroes that way." Not trying to bust your anonymous balls here, but grouping people together by culture is a generalization that will - without fail - not stand up to scrutiny. What you wrote is absolutely no different than me saying "I like Americans. They're generally good Christians and like drinking Coke." The problem is, I know Crane drinks Diet Pepsi like it's crack. And Heath's a jew. So then what???

Anonymous said...

And how is this different than uneducated, poor English-speaking Americans?

It's different because they're Americans and they speak English. Duh. Kicking people out isn't an option, we're talking about letting new people in here.

If the life you describe above is STILL a better life than the one they left in Mexico why on Earth should we deny them that?

I don't want to deny them anything. They should follow the same process as everyone else to become naturalized citizens of the U.S. Why are you overlooking the fact that there is a legal way to emigrate?

"We can't just open the borders and let it be a free-for-all." Again, why not? What are you afraid of? That a small group will cross and fly airplanes into buildings? Your right, it's better with the security checks now and even more would prevent this from ever happening.

I don't remember mentioning terrorism. I simply think it's wise to keep track of who is coming in and out of the country, who is participating in the tax system and who isn't. Do we even have the infrastructure to deal with a true open border "free-for-all"? If we do, what the hell do I pay taxes for? Why is my car registered? Why don't we all rip up our goddamn social security cards? Maybe we should just go back to the barter system. Or ditch our "straight" jobs and sell chiclets and ceramic Spider-Mans on the streetcorner. Then we may have a sliver of an idea of how those poor pitiful third world darlings live. But only a sliver.

grouping people together by culture is a generalization that will - without fail - not stand up to scrutiny. What you wrote is absolutely no different than me saying "I like Americans. They're generally good Christians and like drinking Coke."

Generalizations are useful when you're talking about large groups of people. That's what they are, they're general truths. As a group, Americans are generally Christian and do like drinking Coca-Cola, in spite of Heath's jewry and Crane's odd cola proclivities. I don't think it's unfair to say the average illegal immigrant Mexican is hard-working and is family-oriented. I think it's practically a statistical fact, like saying the average illegal Mexican immigrant is Catholic.

blankfist said...

Look everyone! Harwell is a guilt-ridden liberal. Let's all pause for just a moment while we all collectively and digitally point and laugh.