28 April 2010

The darker side of a troubled nation: "If you want to live here, learn English."

"This is Alabama; we speak English," Alabama Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim James says in a new ad. "If you want to live here, learn it."
This is the latest development in a week that's seen the darker side of a down economy come out. Earlier, Arizona enacted some of the toughest anti-immigration laws yet seen in the country, enabling law enforcement to stop people based on "a reasonable suspicion" of their immigration status.
James' ad is a double-whammy for the conservative base. Not only would giving the state's drivers license exams in English-only completely force people to learn English, it would also, he claims, save people money. Which really, after the past eight years, we can see that conservatives are just as bad at as democrats. Name one thing that the Bush Administration shrank or cut. Hell, they CREATED new departments, new bureaucracy. After all, who knew we had a "homeland?"
Both of these actions boil down the theatre, and deliberate pandering to a right-wing base that seems terrified of the changing world around them. While it may be tempting to crack down on immigration now, we do so at our own peril. We are, after all, a nation of immigrants. Even Tim James relatives once came here as newcomers, and in time, they adapted, as most newcomers do. So when is it fair to say that the tap gets to be shut off? And who gets to say that? We do that at the risk of becoming exactly the same sort of stale, old-world European countries our relatives fled from in the first place.
I am hard-pressed to believe that we would be throwing quite the same fuss if white Canadians or Russians or Scotsman were flooding our borders illegally. Hell, we probably wouldn't even notice. But if you change the look of the border jumper and give him ties to an "invasive" culture, he becomes a threat. While I imagine many involved in this legislation would deny that the people's ethnicity is a factor, I think it's the elephant in the room.
If we really wanted to target illegal immigration, why don't we really go after the people who hire illegal immigrants in the first place? Kill the jobs, and they'll stop coming. Also, if this is such a problem, how come we have not seen significant reform to our immigration system? Third, if the drug violence in Mexico is so bad and spilling over our borders, why don't we target the major source of the cartels' revenue: American consumers?
It is tempting to think that these problems can be solved through building another wall, or sending more people across the border in police vans. They'll keep coming. They will keep coming so long as the great shining beacon of hope gleams across the border. And while it is tempting to say, "Well, they should to it legally," we are lucky enough to not be the ones wearing the border-jumper's shoes, aren't we?


FECH said...

I'm wondering if you could elaborate on the exact negative effects of cracking down on illegal immigration. There is very little explanation besides mentioning the risk of becoming like a "stale, old world country," which is vague and unsubstantiated. After all, a country doesn't need a vast immigrant population to be modern and vibrant. Take a look at Japan, or any other first world nation with minuscule immigrant populations.

Also, just because this nation was founded by immigrants and has a long history of immigration does not mean new immigrants have some sort of retroactive right to disregard current immigration law because it is inconvenient. Immigration is wonderful, but uncontrolled it can cause serious social and economic problems. And it has, both abroad and in the United States.

It seems many people like to paint a rosy picture of illegal immigrants as innocents looking for a better life who aren't hurting anyone, but the notion is absolutely absurd. Almost as absurd as the xenophobe racists on the other end of the spectrum.

Joseph Palmersheim said...

Hey Cory!
This is an interesting conversation, first off, and I don't want you to think that I'm completely crapping on everything you said. Some of what you say I agree with.
The negative affect, and what I worry about, is that we'll turn into the same sort of cliched "papers please" society we see in the old war movies. Not that I believe we'd turn into a German police state (not for a second), but something would be lost. I agree that uncontrolled immigration can cause serious problems, and I imagine that you see them on the front lines in law enforcement in Arizona all the time (actually, I've been meaning to ask - what are your thoughts on all of this law talk?). But we are going after the weakest link in the chain, in my opinion.
If we want to cut off the traffic, why don't we crack down more on the people who hire illegals? If the jobs dry up, why would they bother coming? It sounds simplistic, and maybe it is, but I think it would be a good place to start.
What really scares me about this entire law being proposed is that it poses the risk of growing into something no one wanted in the first place. Granted, it is designed to catch illegals, but who knows what else it could be used for? I think the majority of the people who are coming ARE seeking a better life, and, after seeing what corrupt government and corporate actions have done to the job market in Latin America, who can blame them? Shit, I'd probably seek a better life, too, the best way I can.
I totally agree about the xenophobic racists part- and I think many politicians are using this not because they actually care about it but because it shows how tough, conservative, and law-and-order they are. It panders to the base instincts of an already riled population, and who knows what that will do?
A complicated issue at best, methinks...

Anyways, hope the desert is treating you well. Heading back to MN anytime soon?

FECH said...

I think this is one of those issues where we are actually in more agreement than you realize. I think the strategies you mentioned for reducing illegal immigration are actually the best ones, and they have been somewhat effective when actually enforced. The problem is that it is far easier on a patrol level to arrest one by one, as they come, than to investigate employers. Sure, detectives could do it, but when you look at all the other crime detectives are needed for, people employing illegals is below the radar.

The other issue making it hard to go after employers is the use of forged and stolen documents. The employer just has to show a good faith effort to have legal employees, nothing more. Forged documents and stolen social security numbers are so common it usually turns any investigation away from the employer and back towards the illegal immigrant again anyway. I can't tell you how many times I've taken reports of someone having an issue filing one of their children as a dependent on their taxes because an someone (usually an illegal) has stolen their child's social security number. What people don't realize is how common this is, and most illegals can't find employment without doing this. Most people who believe in the whole "immigrant who did nothing illegal except be here" myth do not realize this.

When you look at the types of crimes committed in Arizona that are nearly all immigration related, and don't happen at nearly as high a rate elsewhere, it is no wonder some folks see Mexican immigrants as an "invasive" culture. I'm mostly referring to kidnappings and identity theft. Although it does happen in other cultures, kidnapping/ransoming is a distinctly Mexican criminal activity. Not to mention the staggering, disproportionate amount of police officers who are killed by non-citizens.

As far as the new law goes, I'm kind of on the fence about it. I'll maybe have more of an opinion once we have all been given some training regarding how to actually enforce it. Governor Brewer has said she doesn't want to see any enforcement action taken until the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (AZPOST) has given training to officers statewide to assure the law is carried out in a fair and even handed manner that doesn't violate any rights. It will be interesting to see how it works out, if it even makes it that far.

As a deterrent to illegal immigration, I like it. However, I'm concerned that if it doesn't work as a deterrent, it may be too stressful on the jail system, and generally unenforceable. I could easily see it being largely ignored unless the suspect has also committed some other sort of crime. As it stands right now, immigration doesn't get involved unless we stop an obvious load vehicle. Otherwise we just stop, cite, arrest, etc. like any other person.

Joseph Palmersheim said...

"Not to mention the staggering, disproportionate amount of police officers who are killed by non-citizens."

Wouldn't the changed circumstances make that particular aspect worse? I mean, wouldn't the new rules make them fight that much harder to escape? Food for thought.

FECH said...

It could. I mentioned it more because of how that particular act contributes to public perception of "invasive culture." Obviously that isn't something most immigrants are doing anyway, and is a statistically insignificant to other murders and crime in general.

Love the blog by the way. I read it all the time. I would post more comments except I generally don't disagree with your take on stuff ;)