IMMIGRATION NATION

7 04 2006

Nashville just had what may have been its biggest protest demonstration, ever. Those of us who have grown accustomed to seeing the same three hundred people at demonstrations over the last decade were left with our mouths agape at the turnout for the march protesting the proposed criminalization of illegal immigration—as many as fourteen thousand people. Even the organizers of the march were surprised—in a pre-rally story posted at the Tennessee Independent Media Center, they said they expected two thousand marchers—which would still have been one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Nashville. I mean, this town does not turn out.

But the kind of stuff my friends and I have been publicly squawking about for years is abstract compared to what our Latino cousins are facing. A majority of the U.S. House voted to make it a felony to be in this country illegally, and anyone who helped those so-called felons—family, friends, humanitarian assistance organizations—without turning them in to the authorities for imprisonment and ultimate deportation would likewise be guilty of a felony. Passage of such a measure would demand the apprehension, arrest, imprisonment, and deportation of not only the eleven and a half million illegal immigrants in this country, but of possibly millions more individuals, some of whom would be deportable, and some of whom would be native-born Americans who would instead be caught up in the snares of the federal justice system, which is already overloaded by its attempt to enforce our country’s unrealistic drug laws. And speaking of our unrealistic drug laws, these delusional immigration policies are being championed by none other than drug warrior supreme Jim Sensenbrenner, a member of the house from Wisconsin, who may regard imprisoning eleven million illegal aliens as a warmup for imprisoning twenty million marihuana smokers…but I digress….

If Mr. Senselessbrainer, Tony Tancredo and their unrealistic ilk have their way, millions of Mexicans and other Central Americans will be dumped back into their home countries, where they have no way to earn a living; the already tenuous economies of these countries, deprived of the huge sums illegal immigrants send home to support their families, would collapse even further. All of Central America would start to resemble Haiti, and Haiti—you don’t want to think about it.

With its police forces beefed up to handle this mass detention, and concentration camps—I mean detention facilities—set up to handle the arrest of nearly five percent of the country’s population, the land of the free would become a police state. I mean, not since the Nazis declared the Jews persona non grata has a country intentionally set out to incarcerate so many of its inhabitants. There have been stories floating about Halliburton being contracted to establish detention centers—we in the antiwar movement thought they were for US—silly us, they’re for the Mexicans, and for those of us in the antiwar movement who happen to help out illegal immigrants on the side—which, actually, might be a lot of us. I confess, I have. Come and get me.

And, with so many prisoners, would the government start contracting out our captured Mexicans to perform labor? After all, taking eleven million people out of the workforce would create a major labor shortage. Back to the lettuce field, Jose, but this time the government’s collecting your paycheck…

Or maybe the war on immigrants would be like the war on terror and the war on drugs—lots of spending on executive salaries and hardware, occasional high-profile arrests, but no serious attempt to round up everyone —just another club to threaten people with, one that only gets used when it’s politically convenient for the party in power.

Those who want to tighten up our borders make a lot of noise about illegals choosing to come here, without really examining why they choose to come—just as they like to spout about Muslims who hate our way of life, without looking at why—so maybe we should look at WHY these people come here.

Well, as Willie Sutton said when asked why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

And why is the money here? It’s here because Americans have been very clever about concentrating capital, but not so wise about sharing it with the less fortunate. The immigration issue is not new—Woody Guthrie wrote “Deportees” in 1948, with the lines

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

Things got worse after the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which enabled cheap U.S. farm products to be sold in Mexico and ended the Mexican government’s protection of its small farmers. The result has been devastating for rural Mexico, as people face the double bind of having no money in an economy that demands money. Even the maquiladoras, the big factories just inside Mexico that were built to import into the US, and other industries that first moved out of this country into other Central American countries, are moving on as their owners respond to the lure of cheaper labor in China and other parts of East Asia, thanks to the United States and our World Trade Organization. All you folks who are sentimental for a Democrat party administration, remember it was Bill and Al who pushed that through.

So, like moths to a flame, the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free come to America—they see our television, they think they know what to expect. Hah.

Mr. Bush, who appears to be more liberal—or is it just realistic?–about this issue than many Republicans, has cast it in terms of “jobs Americans won’t do.” That’s not the complete phrase—the real deal is, “jobs Americans won’t do for the kind of wages employers are willing to pay.” Employers like to spread the myth that higher wages for workers will have to mean higher prices for everyone, but simple economic analysis reveals that in most situations, there is plenty of room to raise wages without having a substantial impact on prices. Besides, when poorly-paid people get raises, they tend to buy basic consumer goods, which boosts the economy—except for the fact that most consumer goods are made in China these days. Oh, well.

On the other hand, are there really Americans willing to do the jobs that illegals are doing, at any rate of pay? The seven million unemployed Americans have in theory been displaced by eleven million illegal immigrants, but the geographical facts of life probably defuse this comparison. Would you leave your family in the rust belt and move to California to pick grapes and chop cotton? Would you move your family to California to do that? Twenty-first century Okies, anyone?

This is a complex issue, and there are a lot of people insisting on simple answers. They are going to be disappointed. People complain about deteriorating school and health services and blame it on our newest, frequently illegal, immigrants. The truth is that our schools and hospitals are in decline because the current government would rather play Rambo and cut taxes for the rich than take care of the least of us. They often proclaim their Christianity—the Jesus I know said, “howsoever ye treat the least of mine, is how you treat me,” and I think he’d be more likely to scourge Pat Robertson out of the temple than anoint his brow with oil—but I digress.

“Guest workers.” They want “guest workers”–people who are not going to be citizens of this country who will do our dirty work. What does it do to democracy and participation in the civic process to create a permanently disenfranchised underclass? “Guest workers”? They have those in Saudi Arabia and Dubai, don’t they? Is that the kind of country we want to become? A small, fabulously wealthy elite supported by a vast, disenfranchised underclass? That’s where we’re heading. The rich are getting richer and not just the poor but the middle class are all getting poorer. That’s about three-quarters of the country losing it. The auto companies’ dumping of their workers is just the tip of the iceberg, folks. Trickle down economics, right? Only, what’s trickling down is yellow and it smells baaad. This is WTO working, this is GATT working, this is NAFTA working, this is the World Bank doing what they all set out to do—put the U.S. on the same playing field as the rest of the world. You know when American high-tech workers will be competitive with Indian and Chinese high-tech workers? When we’re willing to accept the same kind of wages they are. All these trade treaties are effecting the economic genocide of the American way of life.

But—our much-touted American way of life is based on ripping off the rest of the world. “Middle class” in America is about new cars every few years and sending your kids to college. In most of the world, middle class means you’ve got a spigot in your front yard that gives you potable water that you can haul inside in a bucket to cook and wash with. We have been flying very high for a very long time, it’s a long way down, and in my darker moments I think we may just have to get used to it. The only way to solve the illegal immigration problem may be for this country to become as impoverished as the rest of the world—then there’s no impetus for people to come here looking for work, right?

That’s all the more reason to start building local economies. Large corporations are leeches that suck the money out of communities in order to enrich their management and stockholders. Until we can redistribute those ill-gotten gains, we need to do everything we can to create a personal, face-to-face, non-corporate economy, one that keeps money in the communities it supports. This is not a program that takes a bureaucracy to administer; it just takes a lot of different people in a lot of different places figuring things out among themselves. Storm clouds are gathering, folks, it’s time to get to work. All those Spanish-speaking people who come out of the deep poverty down south have practical skills that we just might find mighty welcome in the years to come. Se habla espanol?

music: Steve Earle, “What’s a Simple Man to Do?”

Comments

For the most part I’d say you’re right on the money. But one thing I’d like to comment on is your view on “guest workers.” I am a spanish speaking white American deeply involved with the Hispanic community. One misconception about most Hispanics is that they want to become citizens or permanent residents. That is not the case. They [most] just want to be able to work here legally, with no problems, and to be able able to travel back and forth from this country to their homeland with no problems. That would be a “guest worker.” Although this situation is something that most undocumented workers would prefer, another situation arises that creates a lack of laborers in their native land, less taxable income, less local investment and entrepreneurial ventures, split and damaged families, fatherless children, abandoned wives seeking new romances… the list goes on and would be rather too long a conversation to take on here.
Posted by Caryn H on 04/24/2006 10:11:02 PM

Thanks for your perspective. From what you are saying, and from my own contacts with folks who have come up from Mexico and Central America to work, (and my own experience of having to leave the depressed area I lived in for economic reasons) I gather that most of them would prefer to stay home with their families and communities, but that this is a financial impossibility. I think the real solution is to re-create economically viable, self-sustaining cultures there as well as here, and I ain’t talking maquiladoras or Chinese timber deals! I bet it would be cheaper than current enforcement proposals and a share of the military budget. I have no problem with their desire to stay connected with their home culture, I just don’t think that having a lot of people in this country who “just work here” is good for the country.

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