“. . . emotions of xenophobia — hatred of foreigners; nativism; the policy of keeping America ‘pure’ (that is, of preferring old immigrants to new) — continue to thrive.” ~President John F Kennedy
Earlier this month, while plowing through some old folders and some old files on an old hard drive in an old computer, I ran across a whole pile of interesting old ‘stuff’ in the form of old essays that I had, 10 to 15 years ago, written and contributed/posted to various internet discussion groups and blogs. What strikes me about many of them this day is the fact that with a simple change of embedded names, dates, etc., the subjects/topics/contexts remain virtually unchanged.
It was just shy of ten years ago, for example, that the following “discussion” on immigration was taking place. As a long time Arizona resident, I wrote a post in response to a blog post whose topic concerned southern Arizona’s so-called “Minuteman Project” and its gun-toting “heroes” that had, at that time, begun hanging around in southern Arizona in order to save the USA from all those illegal Mexican lazy bums. It was on April 03 2005 that I contributed the following essay — my personal view of and my personal involvement in the (observed) realities of “illegal” immigration and the consequences thereof. What follows is the verbatim transcript.
I’ve lived in Arizona since 1962. During those 43 years I’ve traveled to Mexico uncountable times, both on the border and into the interior; I’ve enjoyed the close friendship of many dozens of people — from both sides of the border — who are today referred to with a sneer as “mexicans” (lower case intentional).
Twenty years ago I was a watermelon grower in the Gila Bend area, and the great majority of my harvesting crews were from Mexico, “illegals” in the current vernacular, and a finer and harder-working, more honest and trustworthy group one could never find anywhere. During harvest, at least once each week the Border Patrol would happen by and gather up most of the crew and return them to Mexico; the next morning (or at worst, on the second morning) they’d be back, a little worse for the wear but nonetheless ready to work. We paid them a fair wage, in cash, always under a two-way ‘gentlemen’s’ agreement: we wouldn’t screw them, and they wouldn’t screw us. They worked hard and were completely reliable; meanwhile, they provided us with an address in Mexico to which we promised to send their earned wages should they be hauled away and not return. On one occasion, only one, we did indeed have to send a man’s earnings to the address he had provided us. And we did. He made it back the following year, made it a point to thank us, then went back to work — this time for a higher wage than the previous year and in a better position.
Those were, in a sense, the remnant of the good-old-days; since then, laws have been passed making employers into criminals if they should hire, knowingly or unknowingly, “mexicans” who are here illegally. More recently, a gathering fever has infected Arizona, a fever I’ve not seen since the racism that infected much of America in the fifties and early sixties. There is an unreasonable and perhaps unconscious sense of fear (that’s the polite word — hatred may be more to the point) rustling through society which has resulted in efforts designed to keep “mexican” laborers out of the US. And those efforts have, in effect, caused a tremendous and probably proportional increase in illegal border crossings. Every year, dozens of innocents — men, women, children — die of exposure as they attempt to cross the desert on foot, unprepared; hundreds, perhaps thousands more, pay human traffickers — coyotes — money to deliver them to the US. Coyotes are, without a doubt, consummate scum who care nothing about humanity, only about profit (they’re probably republicans, in other words). Often, bodies of murdered “mexicans” are found in remote desert areas, shot and killed by coyotes because their payment was not there on demand, or was insufficient. Meanwhile, *legal* (I’ve lately come to hate that word) “mexicans” are also victimized in the same way, usually because they agreed to pay the coyote to bring a family member to the US but then came up short when payment was demanded.
The coyote process works, however; scarcely a month goes by where, in the greater Phoenix area alone, a collection and distribution point (usually what appears to be a private home) is not discovered along with its hundred or more occupants — illegals waiting to be distributed elsewhere. These places are, metaphorically, what wholesale produce warehouses are to a supermarket chain. In a more down-to-earth context, however, they’re parcel to an emerging slave trade.
Meanwhile, the percentage of “brown-skinned” Hispanics continues to grow, and grow, and grow. I can’t recall offhand the specific estimates, but it’s likely not too long (a decade, give or take) before “white” will be a minority in many Southwestern states, and if trends continue unabated, “white” will, one day in the foreseeable future, become a minority “race” in the US. That scares the shit out of a lot of people, and brings forth the worst traits of even otherwise seemingly decent folks: overreaction to trumped-up fear — always the Repug’s motivational tool of choice.
Last November, Red-state Arizona passed a referendum which was couched in an “honorable” protect-America-from-illegal-immigration-$$-expense pretense, but which really grants legal permission to harass by virtue of profiling (let them greaser fuckers know who’s in charge here in Amerikuh).
And, of course, last but by no means least, out come the gun nut vigilantes, the fruitcakes for whom a gun is little more than a pecker-extender, a deadly weapon which helps (in their own dementia) portray them as “Real Men” rather than the cowards they truly are. Sometimes I wonder: if gun ownership could somehow be (gender)-restricted to that small percentage of males who are happy and satisfied with the size of their schlong, would all the gun companies go broke within the year?
Probably not, but the NRA’s membership would fall off to nothing, and in the process a huge portion of the Repugs financial base would fall into the toilet — where it belongs.
Let’s recognizing this emerging fruitcake posse for what it really is: the American equivalent of the German Sturmabteilung — the SA, brown shirts, storm troopers — those paramilitaries that Hitler found most useful and used accordingly. In other words, WAKE UP America!
Later that same day — April 03 2005 — a response was posted, one that I felt was ‘worthy’ of immediate comment. Here, then, is my response to commenter who called himself “SmirkySmirk. His comments are highlighted in red.
I have been a SoCal resident since 1982 and during that time have witnessed a steady meltdown of the economic, educational and social landscape: formerly pleasant areas of town are now crime-ridden, drug-infested, gang polluted ghettos-this phenomenon is growing and spreading now to other areas; elementary schools are overcrowded to the point of bursting, where housing historically the greatest number of students per classroom-and growing (moreover 2/3 of the 5th grade children in the SF Valley school district B system do not speak English- typical and in some areas of Los Angeles County the incidence of non-English speaking children is much higher); wages have been decimated in parts of SoCal since the 1980s (many laborers are working for well below the state and federal minimum wage- I personally knew dozens in my area working for $4-$6/hr. and there is no reason for me to believe their plight was unique); and finally a subject I rarely hear addressed in debates on illegal immigration but equally relevant- the impact of illegal immigration on the critical housing shortage in Southern California that has led to exorbitant rents in even the seamiest parts of town; furthermore, the delivery of healthcare, particularly in Los Angeles, is in acute crisis with many shelters closing due to shortfalls caused in large part by the burden of low payed illegal immigrants overtaxing the system.
What I object to is people reacting to immigrants with unjustified and implacable hatred for what is the failure of the Federal government to do its job. What I object to is business getting a free pass on a problem they have created by transferring the cost of maintaining their underpaid, undocumented workers onto the shoulders of society.
Oh, and I also object to anyone turning a purely economic issue into a humanitarian one and accusing the opposition of odious racial motivations or inhumanity for objecting to illegal immigration.
The problems of illegal immigration will never be solved via vigilante posses, nor will they be solved via a modern day “Maginot Line” of contiguous military security. There is no necessity, either, of opening the borders for all of Mexico and Central America to move north into the US. But none of that’s to say or suggest that there aren’t solutions amenable to all concerned.
The big problem began in the sixties with the elimination of the Bracero program during the Lyndon Johnson administration. That program allowed Mexican nationals to come to the US and work, to send their money home, and to return home after their work stint was completed. The program was, indeed, plagued by employers who treated the workers effectively as slave labor, but that was a problem addressable by means other than slamming the door.
The solution, of course, will take place naturally if and when the economies of the US and Mexico come into a sort of equilibrium, whether by a declining US standard or an elevating standard in Mexico (illegal immigration along the Canadian border isn’t much of a problem, for perhaps obvious reasons). Equilibrium between Mexico and the US is a long way off, however, at least if the gap is to be closed by Mexico attaining par prosperity — there are way too many political and cultural roadblocks in Mexico for that to happen in the short term. OTOH, the US is in a position to assist AND to reduce its border problems at the same time by resurrecting some form of the old Bracero program, this time in a way which denies practices of exploitation. That is, in fact, the one suggestion Bush himself made during his first four years that I could agree with.
Of course, we could nuke the place I suppose, but both that and an impermeable armed border sound a little rash.
Why am I not surprised that someone who has profited so much as yourself financially from illegal immigration are also an advocate for it. Can’t find US citizens to do the work? Don’t give me that crap! Pay A DECENT WAGE AND BENEFITS and you will have droves of Americans lining up at your door to work for you. But, you’re right, I’m sure Americans probably would not work for the pittance wages you paid illegals to do the work.
I’ll ignore your presumptions of profit and dismiss them as coming from someone who knows nothing about farming. Beyond that, I’ll guarantee you that any decent farmer would happily pay a “living wage” as you call it, to each and all of his employees AND would happily add a full benefits package as well. All he would ask would be that he still be able to market his (perishable!) crop quickly and at a decent profit. I suppose you and yours would joyfully and willingly pay ten or twenty bucks a pound, give-or-take, for fresh produce? Hey, people pay that much for fresh tuna, right? Why not for broccoli? I give up, why not?
Let me ask you a question, did you provide your employees with health care and a living wage?
Nope, but that part wasn’t terribly concerning — for a small operation, margins are also too thin to provide “the bosses” with health care. As for a living wage, what is that, exactly? Is that a salary paid to one who works in an air conditioned and cushy office, a wage that goes up annually without regard to production or accomplishment (yes, I’ve worked in corporate offices too), or is it whatever accrues when one works in his fields for 12-15 hours a day, 7 days a week and hopes the markets will pay enough for him to get his costs back plus make a small profit? My instinct suggests that you’re probably damned fortunate to have a supermarket handy where you can buy your food at a reasonable price, that if you’d have to grow your own you’d be on a diet.
Or did you just expect the taxpayers to pick up the tab with subsidies to YOUR EMPLOYEES?
I look at it this way: if the taxpayers can pick up, among other things, a “defense” tab that totals more each year than the next ten or fifteen countries combined, if taxpayers are willing to reduce the taxes on those who can best afford to pay them to the tune of a hundred billion a year, give-or-take, such income shortfall to be added to an already balooning deficit, then what the hell difference does it make if they subsidize someone who works for a living too? Sorry for the smart-assed answer (not really), but that was a stupid question.
There are some very serious issues on the table surrounding illegal immigration. And dismissing concerns of those opposed to it with calumniating epithets of “racist” and “hatemonger” is a red herring that has no place in the debate over the true merits and demerits of illegal immigration. In fact, if I were Boardnanny, I would delete your post as the kind of dung that were only worthy of flowing from the pen of a troll.
I didn’t use a pen. Meanwhile, you’d be much better off if you’d take some time to investigate realities and then maybe work to delete instead the undercurrents of racism and hate that are parcel to the anti-immigration movements in the Southwest. Whether you choose to see or acknowledge them or not, they’re here and they’re becoming pervasive. And, they accomplish nothing but to further the polarization, to exacerbate the problem.
I agree with you that something must be done. But unless it’s an enlightened approach that takes the CAUSES into effect AND addresses them directly and responsibly, the result will be roughly the same as pissing into the wind.
As I said up top, not much has changed in the ensuing decade. Reaction to Obama’s executive actions on immigration (forced, essentially, by Congressional inaction on the matter, by Speaker Boehner’s obtuse refusal to consider ANY legitimate options to address the continuing problem) remain every bit as vitriolic as were SmirkySmirk’s responses to my attempts at rationally addressing the humanitarian aspects of the immigration issue overall. Near as I can tell, the bottom line that has come to define far too much of this country is the embedded attitude of White Superiority along with commensurate fear and hatred of any other race/ethnicity. Those attitudes have persisted since before the US gained independence; my suspicion is they’ll continue to persist well after our independence is sacrificed upon the altar of oligarchic greed.
Katrina Vanden Heuvel: GOP ‘Driven By Know-nothing Nativism’ And Was Never Going To Reform Immigration