Friday, March 31, 2006

Demonizing the Other

Listening to Tom Tancredo this morning, I started thinking about the tangled issue of immigration in this country.

He mentioned a 700 mile fence along the Mexican border. If you can't spend time along the Rio Grande, than read Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, to get an idea what the country is like "down there." You will end up with a better idea of the geography of the Texas borderlands than you would ever get from a textbook. A fence is as useless against illegal border crossings as it would be against a hurricane.

Then consider that Texas is, culturally and ethnically, "Mexican" from just south of Austin, on a line that runs from El Paso straight across the state to Houston. The border is porous because Texas left Mexico in legal status only, and Mexico has been reclaiming it ever since. People on the border don't argue about "English Only." They become bi-lingual. And they don't worry about immigration, because you're talking about family, friends, customers, clients. Notice there is never a push for "immigration reform" coming from Representatives along the Border, or even from Senators of border states. Tom Tancredo is in Colorado. James Sensenbrenner is from Wisconsin.

But to really consider the issue fairly, consider the solutions being offered. Tancredo talked about immigrants basically "taking" jobs from Americans. If we could stop them from wanting to be here, he argued, they would go home. Of course, stopping them from being here means making them felons. That is the only status of person we can deny jobs to in this country, and do it not just with immigration laws, but with the full force of police forces from county constables to FBI agents. This is the import of House Bill 4437, and the reason so many people are taking to the streets, in Texas as well as elsewhere. And this is, in fact, the issue: the economic magnet of jobs in America, drawing poor people from below the Rio Grande (and from deep in South America) like iron filings. If you want to stop that flow with the blunt instrument of the law, Rep. Tancredo is right: you need to deny them access to jobs.

But the simplest and best way to do that is not to create 11 million felons, and do to the criminal justice system what Bush and Rumsfeld had done to the U.S. military. The most effective way to deny jobs to those illegal immigrants, is to prosecute employers for hiring illegal aliens (and usually cheating them in the process), and to make farm workers subject to minimum wage laws.

That would solve much of the problem. American workers don't want the jobs Mexican laborers will take in large part because those jobs pay so poorly, or because employers would rather cheat undocumented and unprotected laborers. That's not the whole of the picture, of course. But if we are so anxious to criminalize a segment of our population, and to regulate our economic system so as to dissuade illegal immigration, it's an easy matter to use the workforce we have to crowd out the workforce that wants to risk its life in the Chihauhua desert to come here.

Too easy, in fact. So easy, we'd rather rely on good old American xenophobia, and demonize the other.

No comments:

Post a Comment