Cleburne Times-Review Column for 2 April, 2006
“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone.”
First off, you have to understand that from the perspective of my ancestors (some of them, anyway) everyone who has set foot on this continent since October 12, 1492 is an illegal alien, so my view of this issue may be somewhat skewed. The question of what to do with an estimated 11 million illegal aliens in this country (and that’s probably a conservative figure) is a tough political issue, mostly for Republicans, but for Democrats as well. Republicans are divided between two impulses: the first, which we might call the Puritan Impulse, is to find a group of people to demonize in order to gain power from people who are afraid of the dreaded “other.” Welfare queens? Too 1980’s. Besides, we already “reformed” welfare, didn’t we? Homosexuals? Good, but we’re running out of civil rights to deny them. But illegal aliens, now there’s a target with some meat on it. There’s some solid history behind paranoid fears of aliens. And they can’t even vote! The perfect victims. Incidentally, an excellent book on the Puritan Impulse throughout American political history is “Hellfire Nation,” by James A. Morone. I highly recommend it. The poster-child for the Puritans could be Cong. Lamar Smith, and his asinine plan to build a wall around America. More about that later. The second impulse, which we can call the Plutocrat Impulse, is to bust unions and drive down wages. Reasonable minds can differ as to whether illegal aliens are a net plus (through sales taxes, some payroll taxes and purchasing power) or minus (the cost of education and health care) to the economy, but it would seem like a safe bet that they are a net drag on wages. Employers like illegal aliens because you can pay them below minimum wage, provide no health care, not even for workplace injuries, even stiff them on their paycheck entirely, and there’s nothing they can do about it. After all, what are they going to do? Call the police? So why even bother hiring an American citizen? The Plutocrat Impulse is best exemplified (if you doubt his sincerity) by President Bush. Whatever else you can say about George W. Bush, he does deserve a pat on the back for recognizing fifteen years ago that immigrant-bashing was a bad idea politically. Actually, Karl Rove probably realized it for him but still, give the man his due. Bush spoke out against California’s Proposition 187 when it looked like railing against The Alien Hordes was the wave of the future. This (along with a crooked election in Florida and five Supreme Court Justices) is why Bush is President and Pete Wilson isn’t even a footnote. The wage issue incidentally is also why the issue divides Democrats as well, torn between compassion for the underdog (or the more cynical might say a desire for Hispanic votes) and their traditional alliance with organized labor, which has enough problems keeping wages from stagnating without having to compete with illegal aliens. But, since the Republicans are in power, their schizophrenia is more open and obvious. As you might expect, there’s quite of nonsense floating around this debate. For starters, there is no way—and I repeat, NO WAY—we are going to deport 11 million people. It’s just not going to happen. It’s an impossible task, and the country would go bankrupt or be transformed into a police state trying to do it. And even if we could magically teleport every single illegal alien back home, broad sectors of the American economy (especially construction and agriculture) would collapse overnight. The 2004 indie film “A Day Without A Mexican” took a tongue-in-cheek approach to this, imagining a morning in California where all Hispanics had vanished. Panicked white yuppies wander about aimlessly, wondering who will watch their children, clean their houses and mow their lawns. Back to reality: if there’s no way to deport that many illegal aliens, we obviously have to differentiate between those who are already here and those who will come in the future. And that brings up the second myth: the idea that we can build a Great Wall of Texas to keep all illegal aliens out. Also not going to happen. Forget using the army to “seal the border,” as some have suggested. For one thing, that might very well be illegal because of the posse comitatus law. For another, we don’t have enough troops, even if we brought them all back from Iraq. And those self-absorbed wackos the Minutemen with their borderline racist rhetoric and Cabela’s camo aren’t going to do it, either. In fact, they are far more likely to get themselves or someone else killed in their stupidity. Now, this is not to say we shouldn’t increase funding for the Border Patrol (which has faced budget and personnel cuts from the Bush Administration)—we should, especially in light of a recent embarrassing test that showed how relatively easy it would be to sneak a “dirty bomb” across the border. But, unless you want to join falafel-loving grumpy commentator Bill O’Reilly in expressing admiration for North Korea’s border security program, forget having perfectly impermeable borders. Lastly, we shouldn’t be swept away with overblown rhetoric about “waves” and “invasions” and “hordes” of illegal aliens. The total foreign-born population of the United States (legal and illegal) as of 2002 was about 33 million, which represents 11.8 percent of the total population. For purposes of comparison, the highest percentage of foreign-born Americans in history was 14.8% in the 1890 census. Ironically, of course, it is now the great grandchildren of those immigrants who are using the same arguments that were used against their forebears in the current debate over the new generation of immigrants.
This is obviously a big issue, obviously, and can’t be thoroughly chewed over in just one column. Next week, we’ll debunk more myths about immigration, dissect some of the competing immigration reform proposals, and look at the protests that have (kind of) spontaneously erupted against them.