Sunday, March 26, 2006

the Immigration problem

Now this is a protest (pic via Digby):
This is a shot of a protest of over half a million people in Los Angeles that happened today over the new Republican immigration bill in the House. Another 100,000 marched in Chicago, and there were many others protests across the country.

The bill, which has already passed the House, would (among other things) make simply being an illegal immigrant an aggravated felony, criminalize helping illegals, and build an iron wall across 1/3 of the U.S./Mexico border. Jeralyn at TalkLeft has done a pretty good job putting together info on the bill, and if you're really curious, the ACLU has dealt exhaustively with the subject.

Needless to say, the protesters are right to be ticked off.

Let's be honest, to start off: this is not an easy issue, and there are no simple answers. This Republican bill is particularly ridiculous, however, as the great lesson conservatives should have learned over the last 10 years is that you can't expect to solve the immigration problem simply by being "tough" on it. In point of fact, according to the ACLU we've poured exorbitant amounts of money and manpower into enforcing immigration controls in the last decade, and the result? The number of illegals immigrating doubled.

So what can we do about immigration reform? There are some great ideas here. I don't claim to know all the answers , but what I do know is that, in both politics and medicine, you eradicate the symptoms by treating the disease. As they say, the important question is not who, or what, or when, but why. In this case, there are several "why's." For one, there's worker exploitation. Employers are able to pay illegals less (and probably be a little lax on any number of workers' protection laws) because the illegals lack the ability to appeal to the government to protect them. Thus many industries choose to hire illegals instead of others because it's cheaper. Often, too, it's individual households hiring them: I remember as a kid my grandparents talking about the "hired hands" that came up every harvest season to do various jobs around the farm that they couldn't pay anyone else to do.

This problem has only compounded itself over the years as entire industries were developed around the super-cheap labor provided by exploitation of immigrants, and suddenly changing the situation could mean massive economic repercussions. This partially explains the reckless intransigence of the South toward emancipation, as they had built their entire economy upon oppression: the system couldn't function without it.

There is an even deeper "why" to this problem, however, the answer to which also lies in injustice. The case of Mexico is hugely important to our discussion, as I'm willing to bet it contributes the lion's share of our illegal immigrants. By accident of geography, Mexicans are born in a country lacking the means to take care of them adequately. Yet they're languishing in the backyard of a nation swimming in money with lots of employers just aching for cheap labor, guaranteeing a job and a sweet paycheck to anyone with the cajones to come get it.

The American Dream.

Thus, Mexicans are left with the awful choice of either 1) staying at home with your family, but without money to live the life you want, or 2) leaving your family to go work illegally in a foreign country, making the dangerous trek across the border each time you want to see them again or bring them money. Now, we "natives", being all pro-family and such, want to believe that we'd be willing to risk danger and break the law to protect our loved ones, right? Who wouldn't agree that it's the right thing to do? In fact, the very choice illegals are making here, to leave their homes to go on an often dangerous journey to carve out a better life for themselves and their families in a foreign land, laws be damned, is the exact same decision our own ancestors made.

Thus, for many Mexicans, the decision is so obvious, and contains so many factors out of their control, that it's hardly a decision at all. To channel Malcolm X, on some fundamental level they didn't cross the Rio Grande: the Rio Grande crossed them.

I say it again: the protesters are right to be ticked off.

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