Thoughts on Immigration – D. Hamilton, S. Russell, A. Pogue

“Senate Republicans Strike Immigration Deal.” (New York Times, April 6, 2006)

“As outlined by Senate Republicans late Wednesday, the compromise would place illegal immigrants in three categories: Those who have lived in the country at least five years would be put on a path toward guaranteed citizenship, provided that they remained employed, paid fines and back taxes, and learned English, a senior Republican aide said. The aide said this group accounted for about 7 million of the roughly 11 million illegal immigrants believed to be living here. “

Stop right there. There are a few problems already. Although many enterprising individuals will seize this opportunity to become US citizens, they will not come close to the number of new immigrants that show up in the meantime. Furthermore, a big majority of the undocumented population is going to just keep on doing exactly what they are doing now and there is little in the way of a mechanism to cause them to do things differently. They are not going to pay fines or back taxes or learn English (their children will) or remain continuously employed. Most would prefer to make their money here and eventually return to La Patria. But in the process, it will continue to be a wise move for them to have a child while in the US to improve their options. Internationalism at work.

For a change, it’s mainly the white men in suits in Washington who are going to work themselves into a sweat over this. But its reality is mostly paper and pork. They will come up with some grand plan that will do little to effect the human tide flowing north. They can build a wall along the border if they can find enough Mexican laborers willing to work in the desert, but it won’t do any good. They will throw a lot of money at the issue with negligible results other than further lining the pockets of government contractors and their principal shareholders.

Can you name the city that has the second largest number of Mexicans after Mexico City? The city with the second largest number of El Salvadorians after San Salvador? The second largest number of Guatemalans? Hondurans? Nicaraguans? One answer will suffice. Los Angeles. The human roots are deeply planted on both sides of that imaginary line through the landscape referred to as a political boundary. The influx will not change as long as a person can make a lot more money doing unpleasant jobs in LA than in Tegulcigalpa.

On the other side of the coin, money sent back from the US is an utterly crucial part of the economies of all the countries to the south. In Guatemala, well over half of the nation’s foreign currency earnings come from remittances, almost all from the US where over 10% of all Guatemalans live – about 250,000 in LA alone. For Guatemala, remittances from the US are a much bigger source of foreign currency earnings than tourism and all agricultural exports (coffee, bananas, sugar, cotton) combined – 56% of the total for 2004 and growing. For Mexico, only oil and tourism are considered bigger than remittances and that gap is shrinking. What possible incentive could any Latin American president have to stop that process? Their most successful export is their people.

Unless he gets shot beforehand or the election is stolen, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador will be elected president of Mexico on July 2nd, the first ever successful candidate from the relatively leftist Partido de la Revolución Democratica (PRD). With his principal constituency among the less affluent element of the Mexican population, many with checks in the mail from the US, do you think he’ll be more cooperative with restrictive and punitive US border policies?

There is, of course, an obvious way to severely limit “illegal” immigration. Make it a felony to hire them and enforce it. Build new prisons for the entrepreneurs they catch – mostly Mexican-Americans, who function as our translators in multiple ways. But that’s a nonstarter for several reasons. One, Mr. Capitalist likes cheap labor and he runs this place. It’s in his genes. The Chamber of Commerce and the Catholic church are on the same side of this issue. Two, many of the over 30 million Latin Americans who are now in this country would revolt as their families were criminalized by this legislation. It would at least be on the level with overturning Roe v Wade or reinstituting the draft in terms of political suicide. The specter of 500,000 immigrant rights protesters in the streets of LA caused a prompt revision of the political line by more moderate Republicans, spliting their party. Historically, Latino political power has remained relatively dormant. Why would a Republican want to fire them up by pissing them off?

So the legislative result of this immigration debate is likely to do little beyond creating further means to spend tax money with our favorite corporate vendors of goods and services. This nugget will be concealed under layers of rhetorical obfuscation.

Over the past 25 years, California has gone from a state where most of the statewide office holders were Republicans to one where they are all Democrats – except Arnold. Jeff Jones credits this largely to the growth of the Latin American population. The defeat of John Birch member, “B-1 Bob” Dorman by a woman named Sanchez in ultra-rightwing Orange County was the paradigm. Although Bush did relatively well with Hispanic voters, immigration is a political plus for Democrats (e.g., the most recent mayoral election in LA), a fact that underlies much of the debate. The Rovian Republicans thought that immigration was going to be their wedge for injecting racism into the upcoming congressional elections. That plan seems to have backfired and their prospects for the fall continue to diminish. The only way it helps them is to change the subject away from Iraq.

David Hamilton

Without a doubt the dumbest proposal I have heard is making the border crossing a felony. With I hope a correct sense of my audience, I will not count the ways that is dumb.

I suppose I could be convinced that the US ought to control its borders, even though I can’t get very excited about it since I am not among those who see neighborhoods in US cities where Spanish is the main language as a decline of civilization.

Kinky Friedman’s proposal has entertainment value, but I still don’t like it because the burden of enforcement would still fall on people I do not believe are doing anything wrong. That is, if I was in their shoes, I would do exactly what they are doing.

So here’s my proposal, to be announced by Spanish/English leaflets along the border.

Any undocumented worker shall be put on a fast track to citizenship upon producing a credible report against any person (individual or corporate) violating immigration laws, air or water pollution laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act, OSHA, the National Labor Relations Act, etc.

Then either get ready to hire bunch more lawyers or ignore a lot of law breaking.

When I worked for the UFW, it used to chap my ass when labor contractors called La Migra on payday. Wouldn’t it be too cool if the workers could make the call and be rewarded with citizenship?

Steve Russell

“American” — let’s see, I was born on land that was stolen from Mexico, that in turn was stolen from the indigenous people of the area. Maybe Germany and France had their claims at one time.

Nationalism is nonsense. In addition to that, our “leaders” have no interest in our national interest, if one defines “national interest” as what would be best for the majority of people within our continental borders, but only their narrowly defined corporate interests. In today’s New York Times there is an article on the editorial page on Exxon spending millions to promote junk science against the real science of global warming. Exxon is willing to kill everyone and everything for a profit today. Exxon is a larger threat to the whole planet than Iran’s “nuke some day.” Exxon, and the world oil industry, will kill us all before the nuclear holocaust will.

I don’t see this as “our national interest” versus “their national interest,” but rather the survival of the planet versus “their selfish interests”. “They” being the “industrial/political status quo” everywhere.

Boycott Exxon, buy Citgo (Hugo Chavez gasoline). Forget over-hyped, inefficient, expensive hybrids (VW diesels are more efficient), get a totally electric car if one can (conversions are $8,000). Better mass transit, no toll roads.

Alan Pogue

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