The Core Of The Anti-Immigration Movement

Over a rather bland and ininspired breakfast buffet, puffing Camel Lights and sipping on my iced soda, I read this article in the Washington Post about what appears to be at least a temporary death of the Immigration Reform bill.

Honestly, I will admit to never getting my blood up over illegal immigration, finding many of the arguments against it to be at best flawed, and in some cases, dubious, hiding what I believed to be an underlying motive that few speak of. The effects of illegal aliens on labor, for instance, seemed somewhat silly to me based on my own environment growing up. The San Joaquin Valley, buried in the heart of my home state, is an agricultural epicenter of California, and from this vantage point I saw a majority of illegal aliens populating the fields.

Later, in high school, growing up in very close proximity to the vast fields of Central California, I was able to see first hand the kind of work they do, and realized that that kind of work was the kind of work that Americans wouldn’t do. Not at those conditions, and not at that pay.

Also, there’s the newly born National Security argument which I find particularly untrustworthy by the simple fact that terrorists don’t want to be here illegally, it hurts their cause and their ability to execute terrorist attacks. It puts an increased stressor on their ability to embed themselves in our society, and threatens the integrity of their mission.

I could knock down all the main arguments as to why illegal immigration is a threat, but suffice it to say that my suspicion has always been that at the core of the anti-immigration movement lies a sincere xenophobic bigotry. An us vs. them argument that clutches onto what Bill O’Reilly termed on his show the “White Christian Male” power structure.

But I have never been that close to the argument, not personally, nor idealogically or even politically. But as times change and as immigration seems only second to Iraq in the political sphere, it was time to get interested.

**

My liberal roots are derived from growing up in the lower middle class, and living in the urban society of central California. Unlike the metropolitan epicenters of San Francisco and Los Angeles, the cities in which I spent much of my youth, Hayward and Stockton, weren’t as flamboyant in their liberal leanings. Multiculturalism was accepted and in some cases welcomed, but not celebrated per se like our louder, more in your face neighbors to the south and on the coast.

Living in gang riddled Stockton, citizens were more concerned with crime and gang violence than with families smuggling across the border.

A generation removed and inextricably located in the heart of the agricultural industry, my stepfather grew up in an altogether different life. The progeny of a family of German farmers, Les Muller grew up speaking Spanish fluently, and putting in more work before heading off to school than most people do in a week.

This I know first hand, during my teens trying to scrape some extra spending cash I learned that just strapping on a bridle to a quarter horse could sap you. Farm life is hard life. I had a taste, with Les, it was a all he knew.

“Back in the day,” he told me on the phone, my mom barely resisting the urge to hijack the conversation so she could talk to her granddaughters, “The conventional wisdom was that you couldn’t do without illegal aliens on the farms. There was this myth that if you took all the illegals out of agriculture, the whole system would collapse. And I bought into it too until I realized that that was the same argument that was used in slavery.”

Les, fascinated in politics at a young age, falls more in line with the farming community of California; he’s a staunch conservative. However, being of a later generation his conservatism is more in keeping with what I have branded as California conservatism, a milder, more socially liberal, version that that promoted by the neocons of today.

I had called him for several reasons. One, because I just wanted to learn more about the topic. Also, I wanted the opinion of a rational conservative and not a shill, and one thing that has always struck me about my stepfather is that he is always well informed, not taking his news just from talk radio and Fox, but reading publications from all sides of the political spectrum, and even going so far as to read the honest to god newspaper every single day.

What I think we both learned was during that call was that immigration is a complex subject, but not an impossible one to tackle. Further, it turned out that a reasonable liberal and a reasonable conservative could come together, and intelligently argue over the subject and come to some kind of compromise.

“Yes, it most definitely is a National Security issue!” he bleated. “What’s stopping terrorists from just coming in…”

“Les!” I interrupted. “Did you read the al Qaeda handbook? It instructs its members to embed and assimilate. It tells them not to wear traditional Islamic dress, and it instructs them to act like contributing members of American Society. Border hopping goes against this stuff, it puts the whole idea of sleeper agents at risk.”

He ceded me the point.

We sparred for hours on end on the subject, a particularly enlightening exchange began with a simple statement. “And what about labor? I mean, you know first hand that illegals are doing the jobs that no one else is doing, right?”

“Not true.”

“What?”

“On the face, yeah, it looks like mostly shit jobs like picking oranges, but what people don’t realize is that they play a pretty big part in the service industry too. Cleaning houses tending gardens, that kind of thing. And what people don’t tend to realize is that with this amnesty thing, yeah, you have them in the fields now, but when immigrants gain a legal status, they move up. People work in the fields because it’s hard for them to find better jobs because of their status, once that changes, you think they are going to stay working a shit job doing shit money?”

“I suppose not,” I ceded.

“Nope, they move up, and what happens is you create a labor vacuum that is again filled with illegal workers. That’s why you have to secure the border because no matter what you do, as long as there’s an influx of illegal immigrants, the problem doesn’t stop.”

The question of how to sanely secure the borders, however, was significantly more difficult. But one thing was telling, “Essentially, Mexico is exporting their poverty over here.”

“Yeah, and lots of that has to do with a corrupt and ineffectual government doesn’t it?” I asked.

“Well sure.”

“So I’m a big picture kind of guy. You want to make sure that the only people that are coming into the country are coming here legally, shouldn’t it be a matter of taking away the carrot? I mean, it’s not an easy trek coming over here, people die on the trip across the border, they face getting caught, what have you and they still do it because they see opportunity, one way or another. They see conditions here being better than they are back home. So, you know I don’t believe a fence would work…”

“It would help. It would cut down,” he interjected.

“Yeah, but people who really wanted to come over here would, until, you know someone said, ‘tear down this wall’ and it would be over. So what I’m saying is, wouldn’t it be more effective to not fix the direct problem but instead the underlying problem? I’m not sure how, but pressure or what have you some way diplomatically focus on encouraging Mexican government reform?”

Which became part of what we eventually agreed upon. The fact is, part of the immigration problem is indeed a logistic problem. “You know,” he started to explain, “Part of the problem is we’re broke. Californians are overtaxed, you know this, but because we are a border state with an influx of illegal immigrants who aren’t paying income tax and payroll tax, just sales tax most likely, they are a burden on the state that they aren’t funding. I mean, there are hospitals closing their emergency rooms because they can’t afford to, and the ER’s are already flooded.”

“Right,” I said. “But that’s where changing the status goes in your favor. How many illegals are in California alone, right now?”

“Couple million I would guess.”

“Okay, now you make them legal all of a sudden. Now you have a couple of million new citizens you can collect revenue from. A new influx of money should help, yeah?”

“Yes it would, but you have to control the border in order for it to work or else you have the vacuum effect. You’re still gonna draw more people in and make the burden worse compared to the new money.”

So yeah, fix the government, and find a way to control the border. And I’ll admit, that virtually anything might help. More INS agents, perhaps a fence, it’s a multilevel problem and I’m open to ideas.

A third concept that would help is essentially reforming the naturalization process. One reason people come in here illegally is because it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get here legally. Just the test, look, the naturalization test, I know I couldn’t pass it. On top of being able to speak english and such, immigrants are asked to be able to answer any number of questions that actual natural born Americans can’t as one easily finds out watching Jay Leno’s skit where people on the street are asked questions about their government.

I think a good chunk of the problem can be repaired by not just overhauling what we are doing to keep illegal immigrants out, but also overhauling the system that is used to allow people to enter the nation as legal immigrants. What do we need? Do they need to speak fluent English? Not necessarily, though they should be able to understand enough English for safety purposes, like “Stop”. English, and I’ll say this over and over again, is not our official language, nor should it be, and even so, as anyone knows, and I have a personal knowledge of this one, if you are not fluent in English, you are not going to succeed. Knowledge of our government? It’d be nice, but you know something? I think it’s fair that we ask our citizens to know that stuff before we ask immigrants. I agree, crime is a factor. Anyone would be folly to allow a serial killer into their borders. But what about the time requirement. What purpose does having someone live here for years on end serve?

“In the end, for me, it’s rule of law.”

“Yeah, but Les, how many people do you think honestly fall into that category? It’s such an easy and unverifiable argument.”

“I can’t speak on that, but it does have to be addressed.”

But it has. In a world where Paris Hilton gets slammed with two drunk drivings, sentenced to 45 days, gets it cut down to just over twenty, and then cries her way out at the five day point, you can’t tell me that a five thousand dollar fine isn’t some form of punishment. Especially when you contemplate the fact that rich people like Paris Hilton might sneeze five thousand dollars, but these people are broke, dead-scratching-the-dust broke.

It’s an interesting problem, but not unfixable. The bill that suffered at a minimum temporary defeat was not perfect, but it wasn’t necessarily bad if it was the beginning of a longer, broader discussion that worked towards not just putting band aids on the symptoms, but instead looked at the root causes of the illegal immigration trend. And yet still, it suffers defeat, and that is because at the core of the anti-immigration movement, the problem is worse than my initial one track assessment.

It is not just thinly veiled xenophobic bigotry, but instead anti-immigration is an amorphous mask, capable of fitting any problem you want it to. It isn’t that people are saying it’s a rule of law thing but meaning they think Mexicans are evil, it’s more along the lines of you can take any fear or anxiety that could plague a people; terrorism, job loss, cultural disruption, resource exhaustion and exploitation, crime, disease… any of it, you can take that issue and tuck it up under the veil of immigration and tie it all under a single banner.

And sadly, as long as it is used as such, there will never be a solution to illegal immigration.

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