“Here’s to the land you’ve torn out the heart of …”

The polls seem to indicate that a majority of Americans support the Arizona anti-immigration crackdown.  But there’s something happening here, and what it is ain’t exactly clear.  They are 12 million of us.

The picture we’ve grown accustomed to is that of a rabid and hysterical right wing, albeit a minority, lashing out at a cowering and cringing pack of pseudo-progressive surrender monkeys.  But today we see an enraged, energized and righteous outpouring, albeit a minority, telling Arizona “find yourself another country to be part of!”

Conservatives are a bit stunned.  They find themselves trying to be reasonable.  “We’re only trying to enforce the law,” they cry.  (This is a lie.  Arizona law would jail legal immigrants not carrying their papers for 6 months, federal law mandates a $100 fine and sentence up to 30 days.  Question:  Would a European basketball star playing against the Suns in Phoenix have to carry his papers while on the court?)  Stone racists are bending over backwards to insist they’re not racist.  Meanwhile, Arizona sports owners and players denounce the laws.  City councils are calling for boycotting Arizona.

The Latino community has come into the streets (boots on the ground).  So who is the liberal establishment listening to?  The anti-immigrant bigots.  “Arizona proves we have to pass immigration reform,” they lament.  Obama has proposals and Congress is scurrying to patch together some kind of package.  So how might this all play out?  What’s a progressive to do?


Let me give a quick snapshot of the situation.  There are about 46 million Latinos in the U.S.  There are approximately 12 million Latino immigrants who lack proper papers.  A majority of them are Mexican, but many come from Central and South America as well.  Their home countries are beset by poverty, political terror, and drug wars.  NAFTA has wreaked havoc on their economies.  They are hunted like animals along the border.  They die of thirst and exposure, or suffocate in shipping containers, trying to get across.  They are raped and murdered by the “coyotes” who profit from smuggling them in.  They are among our most law-abiding citizens.  (“To live outside the law, you must be honest.”  Dylan.

Many do not speak English.  Many work in the lowest-paying jobs, in agribusiness, domestic help, hard labor.  They are super-exploited, denied overtime, benefits, safety rules, even wages at times, because their employers can turn them in.  When laid off, they are not entitled to social services.  They are victims of crimes which they cannot report, suffer abuse at the hands of racists who know it is safe.  Some commit crimes as they wend their way north from the border.  Battered women have a quasi-legal status due to the limited protection through Violence Against Women Act.  They are scapegoated.  They are publicly denounced.

Some want to make money in the U.S. and go home.  More do not want to return to their countries of origin, or dare not.  They are an integral part of the Latino community, as wives and husbands and children and cousins.  An integral part of all community, as neighbors, friends and co-workers.  They can not be surgically plucked out without the entire Latino community hemorrhaging.  The entire community hemorrhaging.

Their condition drives down wage levels.  They are an integral part of the U.S. economy.  There are 12 million of them.  Or rather, they are 12 million of us.

Their condition is in many ways appalling.  The Great Recession has made it all worse.  This is not a tolerable situation.  This is generally known.

The Politics

Daily Kos took an interesting poll.  Asking “Based on what you know or have heard about the new Arizona Immigration Law, do you favor or oppose it?

Favor:  53%

Oppose:  36%

Kos asked a second question (slightly misstating the law).  “Arizona now requires anyone passing through or living in their state to carry papers proving citizenship that can be produced at the command of any law enforcement officers. Do you approve or disapprove of this requirement?”

Favor:  48%

Oppose:  44%

More generally, other polls indicate 89% of Americans think illegal immigration into the U.S. is a problem (30% “extremely serious,” 33% “very serious,” and 26% “somewhat serious.” (Time Magazine, Jan. 2006)

Look especially hard at the 89% that think it a problem and the 44% who oppose “show us your papers” legislation.

The dynamic is somewhat akin to attitudes on abortion.  A strong majority still support Roe v. Wade, yet majorities also support every possible restriction to access, such as forced sonograms, waiting periods and parental or spousal notification.  But restrictions that do not grant exceptions for  rape, incest and the health of the mother do not have such support.

Similarly, majorities support a crackdown on the undocumented, but are less happy when it entails overt racism or gestapo tactics that might affect them as well.

But here’s where I agree with the conservative apologists for the Arizona law.  I also think it doesn’t have a lot to do with legality or the specifics of the law.  (“It’s just enforcing the law, whimper!”)  I think the response is largely emotional.  And to that I say, it’s about fucking time!  As we well know, people are capable of all sorts of intellectual disconnects.  I think we are seeing a gut reaction against a movement that would set race against race, a movement that would tear the country asunder.  I think we are seeing a gut reaction against another move towards a police state for all of us.  Passionate intensity against fascism, gut level.

But remember the passionate intensity in favor of health care reform.  How did that turn out?

Obama’s course

Per the White House website:

Strengthen Border Control.  President Obama will protect the integrity of our borders by investing in additional personnel, infrastructure, and technology on the border and at our ports of entry.

Improve Our Immigration System.  President Obama will fix the dysfunctional immigration bureaucracy and enable legal immigration so that families can stay together.

Remove Incentives to Enter Illegally.  President Obama will remove incentives to enter the country illegally by preventing employers from hiring undocumented workers and enforcing the law.

Bring People Out of the Shadows.  President Obama supports a system that allows undocumented immigrants who are in good standing to pay a fine, learn English, and go to the back of the line for the opportunity to become citizens.

Work with Mexico.  President Obama will promote economic development in Mexico to decrease the economic desperation that leads to illegal immigration.

To sum up, it means strengthening our border defenses as George Bush was too cheap to do, going after employers, and creating a legal path to citizenship.

In reality

The part about going after the employers sounds attractive to progressives.  But the essence of all such plans is a national ID system, to be imposed on all of us.  Per the Washington Post on 03/18/10, “An improved tamper-proof Social Security card would let employers verify that holders’ identity and that they are authorized to work in the United States, based on a machine reader that would confirm an individual’s fingerprints or eye scan ”

“Only for employment,” say proponents.  In a pig’s eye, sez I.

Further fortifying our borders is only a continuation of the Bush years, its effectiveness depending on budget.

I wanted to write something about the “Work with Mexico to promote economic development” bit, but the fits of hysterical giggling were threatening to leave me with a torn diaphragm.  Sigh.

The economics remain untouched.  Mexico has cheap labor.  U.S. corporations want cheap labor.  To date, every attempted crackdown on employers has led to tougher times for the workers, not the employers.  Unless Obama plans to become a revolutionary, which seems unlikely, this dynamic will remain the same, with the undocumented forced into ever more marginal labor.

But where it gets sneaky is around the path to citizenship.  First, the brouhaha that will arise when the right starts screaming about amnesty for illegals will be thunderous.  What Stupak-like concessions will have to be made (can be made) to appease this uproar?  Secondly, all such plans entail admission of guilt, a $5,000 fine, payment of back taxes, and (effectively) waiting 8 years to become legal.  Some of the proposals require leaving the U.S. and only returning after achieving legal status.  At best, this will create a thin veneer of now “out of the shadows” immigrants who can afford the fines and taxes.  

As Obama himself said, “right now we’ve got a backlog that means years for people to apply legally. What’s worse is, we keep on increasing the fees, so that if you’ve got a hard working immigrant family, they’ve got to hire a lawyer; they’ve got to pay thousands of dollars in fees. They just can’t afford it. It’s discriminatory against people who have good character, but don’t have the money.”

The rest will be in the same boat as they are in now, except it will be sinking.  (A $5,000 fine for a family of 4 with one wage-earner = $20,000!  Most are not going to declare.)

What will not be the same will be the intensified assaults on Latinos at every level.  The social division.  People instinctively sense this.  Just as everyone senses the increasing hold of governmental control over our lives.

The trap for progressives

I fear that this will play out in ways similar to the healthcare debacle.  In that case, there was a clear need for reform.  Single Payer or Public Option had majority support.  The deal was that to get Public Option and other progressive reforms, we had to take the exchanges and the mandate and Stupak-Nelson.  Then the progressive parts were yanked away, but the Surrender Monkey Democrats had to pass something, so they left us with more government control (mandate), restrictions on abortion, and a massive boondoggle for the insurance industry.

So here, the public perceives a clear need for reform.  A vast majority of the American people support reform that includes a legal path to citizenship for those already here.  They also support stronger borders and other not-so-progressive measures.  But in the political process, parts of the bill will be made ever more draconian, and the legal path will be cut to ribbons if not outright eliminated.  (Tell me you don’t know this, I dare you!)  If anything passes at all, which I doubt, we’ll be left with tighter government control over us all, more restrictions, more families and neighborhoods torn apart.

And whatever the increase in deportations there might be, they are 12 million of us, and the fundamental situation will not be changed.

Audacity of Hope

The poll I consider most significant was the one taken at the “Los Suns” vs. Spurs game in Phoenix on the Cinco de Mayo, which wasn’t a poll at all.  The game was made a protest against racism, a celebration of Cinco de Mayo, a festival of sombreros.  Yes, I suppose if a poll were taken outside the arena after the game, a majority would have said yes, I support the Arizona bill.  But for those few hours, there was a social process at work operating outside the laws, outside the polls.  It was quite powerful, quite spiritual.  Yes, people were being emotional.  Quite corporate approved, for that matter, but in this case I’m not complaining.

The problem is that spirits can be crushed, just as movements rise and fall.  The danger is that progressives will be sucked into the reform process just as the Surrender Monkey Democrats got sucked into healthcare reform through the bait of a public option, and ended up with the switch of Mandate and abortion restrictions.

The fundamental fact we have to grasp is that the problem of 12 million of us lacking legal status cannot be solved under the current system.  Just as poverty cannot be solved under the current system.  Just as our wars of aggression in the Middle East cannot be stopped under the current system.  What is to be done?

I stated above that the situation of 12 million of us is intolerable.  The word still has meaning.  Intolerable does not mean undesirable.  It does not mean hey, bummer, man.  It does not mean that it is unpleasant.  Intolerable means it cannot be tolerated.

At times, you find cracks in the system.  Reforms that might work.  But not this time.  Prominent liberals call openly for accommodation.  This is the reality, they say.  Occupy ourselves with targeting the worst.  Get rid of our current sellouts and sign up to elect Future Sellouts of America.

The alternative is to begin addressing the system.  Is perfecting the liberal welfare state the best we can do?  Can we even perfect (significantly improve) the liberal welfare state at all?  If you look at what most of the blogosphere advocates, that’s what it pretty much adds up to.  But what is the alternative?  I don’t know.  I can’t lay one out here.  If I did, it would have little persuasive power.

What I would settle for here is to recognize that an alternative must be created.  If we were to achieve consensus on that, then we could begin to discuss what such an alternative might be.  And then we could begin to discuss how it might be achieved.


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  1. Buy low, sell high.

  2. WWII. And what is this system? The answer is as old as history, FEAR. Rational and educated dialogue NEVER takes place with respect to critical decisions affecting the Republic. There is no cultural interest or desire to enter into debate with those who have different perspectives.

    Everybody tries to yell louder than the next person.

    Is immigration reform possible? Not without a legitimate national discussion. But we don’t do that in this country.

    Look at healthcare. When Congress recessed last summer Obama told everyone to go home and talk about it. Then we saw our real culture in action: Chaos, threats, intimidation and the birth of the Teabaggers. This country has proved it is incapable of legitimate,dispassionate discussion.

    I practiced immigration law for about two years after IRCA was passed in 86′. The legalization provisions worked out pretty well. That was the reform part. The control part was swamped by economic needs of U.S. business and the increasing economic weakness of Mexico. As I urged in the early 70’s, these issues are intertwined. It’s a North American demographic, economic, cultural and historical challenge.

    We talk about Globalization all the time, but really what is meant is goods and money, not people. Unless we can honestly listen to the  moral perspective surrounding immigration reform, this issue will never be resolved, just like healthcare and, I’m afraid, all issues that run “head on” into the walls of capitalism (and unfortunately racism).

  3. Actually, I think the US is a narco-state, also, but with a key difference. Ultimately, in the US, the government is controlling the drug trade, so its effectively quasi-legal. (See copvcia.com) In Mexico, though, the locus of power is outside the government, hence the clashes. Those damn naroc-terrorists don’t want to be controlled by the government – how dare they!

    Well, I don’t know that much about the subject, so I’ll stop on that subject, there. But the real question, for me, is why was this law passed? What was the motivation for the AZ government, and what was the reason that the people have supported it? (BTW, the governor got a massive boost in popularity. I’m sure Republicans and Democrats have taken note.)

    Personally, I think fighting the extremely brutal Mexican drug cartels is what was the biggest concern of the AZ government. Those cartels don’t just smuggle drugs into the US, they also smuggle people.

    Thus, I don’t think you’re going to see any massive roundup of illegal aliens in AZ. That’s because, as you note, they provide cheap labor, and they are thus highly desired by businesses. The situation in Mexico is deteriorating, and my boss (and others) from my company no longer travel in Mexico without armed guards and armored limos, as of 2 years, ago. There’s also the issue of getting support from the Latino community in fighting the cartels. People are scared enough of the cartels, anyway. Instantly deport them for talking to police, and you are not making the job of the police against their bigger concern any easier. Thus, I claim that watching how the law is enforced, early on, will tell us why the law was passed. (Though variations in enforcement may not yield a clear picture, after all.)

    As for why the people of AZ support it, they are also concerned about the crime aspect. The statistics show AZ crime pretty flat, even as illegal alien population increased, but that tells us nothing about crimes threatened against the illegals, themselves, by their criminal gang trafficers, nor does it tell us what increase of crime by the cartels (kidnapping, murder, etc.) occurred, that could obscured by their relatively small number. (BTW, IIRC, kidnapping has been increasing.) And it sure as hell doesn’t tell you anything about the ‘fear factor’ associated with brutal gangs having free and easy access to your neighborhood, even if they keep a low profile and don’t take pot-shots at you, or your local police.

    I think a secondary reason is economic. There are too many people out of work, and while some business love cheap immigrant labor, the fact is that you can get US workers pretty cheap, too. With unemployment benefits not getting extended, you’re going to see millions of US workers dreaming of working in the kitchen, where at least getting fed is no problemo, and taking home even minimum wage, under the table, will at least help keep the family off the street. Plus, people don’t want to pay taxes for supporting immigrants’ healthcare, and such. Yeah, you get cheaper tomatoes if some guy from Mexico picks them, but what if you don’t like tomatoes? People can’t do a realiable cost-benefit analysis, and they feel their taxes, directly.

    Both of those reasons – crime and economic/taxes – probably had much more to do with the popular support of the law than, as Paul Rosenberg said at OpenLeft, “pure prejudice”. I’d like to see polling data which illuminates the issue, and not argue hypotheticals.

    Also, I don’t know how the AZ media portrayed the legislative fight. I’m just guessing that it focussed on crime and the social/tax burden of illegals. Does anybody know?

    For background, I recommend:

    Drug Cartel escalation in Arizona and thoughts on immigration

    Mexico drug war cartels join forces

    (fighting by cartels over access routes to Texas is mentioned)

    Also, don’t miss my quick hit at openleft:

    Violence from narco-state Mexico spills into the US – lefties pretend not to notice

    which raised quite a few hackles, there, including this ‘response’ which I just found out about, now, after searching for references for this post

    Papers please! Who’s the inspector & who’s the inspectee? What’s being inspected & why?

  4. At the very heart of this immigration problem is what caused the huge influx of Mexicans to find a way into this couuntry over the pas 15 years or so.  I think you would have to say that NAFTA is the reason.  NAFTA created a situation in Mexico, which then drove the workers into a desparation to come and seek work here, and usually find themselves victims of exploitation by those who hire them, and on and on.  So, the irony is that we, essentially, drove them from their own country and now seek to “crucify” them for having come here.  If we were to rescind NAFTA, the problem would gradually correct itself, I believe.  Oh, well, I can dream on!

    But in this whole debate, the political aspects should not be overlooked as having its impact on this “monster” law.  I made a few comments here, here, and here.

    I’m always a little amazed by the heavy discussion of drug-cartels, etc.  That could have been fairly well arrested long ago, had the government not derived, by one means or another, revenue “too good to refuse.”  

  5. As I was taught it, some time before the battle of the Alamo, hundreds of Texan insurgents were surrounded by the Mexican army and surrendered.  They were then executed at Santa Anna’s orders.  A few dozen escaped as they saw they were to be killed, and the Mexicans were too lazy to pursue.*

    I learned this when I was 8 years old, living briefly in Texas.  I learned to hate Mexicans.  I did not have knowing contact with any Latinos, though in retrospect my little friend Alan may have been Latino.

    Our family took a vacation to Mexico City.  We visited the fort outside the city where hundreds of Mexican cadets fought to the death against the U.S. army during the Mexican-American war.  I recall our tour guide relating how the last surviving cadet wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leapt from the parapet to his death.  I always recall the pride in the guide’s voice, pride in an “enemy” to my lights.  I didn’t make any intellectual conclusions from this, as I was only 8, but there was some deep emotional impact I’ve never lost.

    I suppose I should have a point here.  Okay.  Some of the discussion by Metamars and others posits racism as being based on personal experiences.  No.  It is TAUGHT.  It is socially imposed.  I was taught to hate Mexicans having nothing to do with my personal experience.  Organizations and media and families pass this down from generation to generation.  Some of us see beyond this.  But we are ALL taught it.  It is woven into the fabric of our society.  As are so many of our prejudices.

    *The real story was that the Mexican commander was reluctant to carry out the executions, and did so only under repeated orders.  Of the few who survived, many of those were led to safety by Mexicans (men and women alike) who could not stomach such barbarism.

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