Sunday, April 27, 2008

Immigration and Illegality - A Nationalist-Internationalist Exchange

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/18/08 at 12:40PM

I don't understand why I should object if an immigrant pays into social security under my name, thus increasing my benefit levels when I retire. As to who is being cheated, illegal immigrants are. They pay billions of dollars annually into social security, but are not entitled to receive benefits.

I teach immigrants every day, many of them undocumented, and very few of them trust our government enough to "come out of the shadows," whatever reform proposal may be offered.

On the issue of illegality, shouldn't it be part of the discussion that the United States government and major corporations headquartered here have consistently overthrown democratic governments and crushed popular movements for desperately needed social change throughout the Third World, thus contributing mightily to illegal immigration flows? This behavior is quite illegal, aside from unspeakably immoral.

On the other hand, we cannot absorb the entire Third World within our borders, so those who object to mass illegal immigration cannot be dismissed on the basis that they lack compassion. In short, those who are paying the social costs of current immigration policy have a right to complain.

To call illegal immigration an "invasion" is a bit of a stretch. What we did in Iraq in 2003 was an invasion. And yes, American soldiers in Iraq are illegal immigrants destroying a country. On the other hand, Mexicans and Central Americans who come here in search of any job they can get are fleeing miserable conditions our government has had a large hand in creating in the first place.

It is not simply "up to the Mexicans" or "up to Latin America" to create decent living conditions for their citizens, as though they haven't been trying to do precisely that for a long time now. But every time they enjoy a little success the U.S. government moves in and destroys the project.

If we want less illegal immigration, we should reign in the illegal actions of our government.

Posted by mohl on 04/18/08 at 1:51PM

The problem with identity theft is that the person or persons who use your SSN to work also often uses it for identification when buying a car, applying for a credit card, using it as identification when getting medical assistance, etc. Often the user fails to pay and that is when things get really nightmarish for those whose identities have been stolen. Of course, our government permits this to happen by allowing the use of an SSN by more than one person, but they will not help you clean up the mess when your credit is tarnished or even destroyed.

Yes, our government and corporate policies, along with those of foreign governments, help to cause this crisis. But the problem ultimately falls to the American taxpayer, especially state and locally, to pick up the tab of caring for and educating those who come here as a result of actions for which they have no culpability.

Over the past 20 years (and mostly in the past 10) as many as 20 million or more have entered illegally. There may be many causes for illegal immigration, but it's pretty hard NOT to call this an invasion.

And yes, we can hold other governments responsible for the living conditions and opportunities in their own nations. Who else is ultimately responsible?

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/18/08 at 3:03PM

We are. U.S. taxpayers provide the revenue with which the U.S. government maintains harshly punitive economic and social conditions throughout the Third World. Take Latin America. For decades the U.S. has crushed or strangled one popular movement after another attempting to create decent conditions of life for the majority: in Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in Guatemala (the Catholic Church called our policy genocide), in Ecuador, in Brazil, in Cuba, etc. etc. As a general rule the forces allied with us inside those countries have not been "governments" but denationalized looters beholden to a foreign power - Washington. In short, we shouldn't blame this on "other governments," but on our own. Morally, we are obligated to stop our own (more serious) lawbreaking before we complain of the illegal actions of others. And when we do this, immigration flows will likely decline rapidly.

In Mexico, we have always allied ourselves with the looting class. And we were specifically warned that NAFTA would destroy small Mexican farmers, predictably leading to an immigrant "invasion" of the U.S. If we consistently ignore the predictable consequences of our own actions, can we be taken seriously? I think not.

Where is the element of force in the immigrant "invasion?" The typical use of this word implies force is being exercised. I don't see how sneaking across the Mexican border at night constitutes an exercise of force. The brutality of U.S. force, on the other hand, is dramatically apparent throughout the world.

Let's get a handle on that.

Posted by mohl on 04/18/08 at 4:38PM

Force can be from numbers as well as weapons. I'm a conservative who blames our current and past presidents as much as you for our actions in Iraq and other loathsome international policies. But what you forget regarding illegal immigration is that there are other victims here as well: American taxpayers, workers, and students are the ones who actually must bear the burden.

You can hate our government for its sins, but why blame Americans for its pecadillos? Wouldn't you then have to blame the illegals for the injustices of their own governments?

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/19/08 at 4:32PM

To call our mass murder operations in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World "pecadillos" is an exercise in apologetics. I mentioned that in Guatemala alone it reached the scale of genocide in the 1980s. And I explained why the American people are responsible: we fund our government, and I should add that we elect it. That makes us responsible for what the government does.

To blame Mexicans for the Mexican government or Guatemalans for the Guatemalan government might make sense if the U.S. role in Latin America were different from what it has been. But historically the governments that succeed in Latin America are highly repressive thug states maintained by U.S. arms, aid, diplomatic support, and counterinsurgency training (i.e., state terrorism), "governments" whose mandate from Washington is precisely to thwart the popular will. When we get our boot off their necks and let them elect whom they want to elect, then I'll hold them responsible for their governments. But not before. And let us here note that in Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, victor of more democratic elections than any figure in Latin American history, is bitterly opposed by the U.S. for precisely that reason.

The immigration issue is directly tied to the legacy of colonialism and imperialism, because the regions exploited by Euroamerican power for centuries are precisely where so much undocumented immigration is coming from. The World Court ordered us to pay $17 billion in reparations to Nicaragua alone for the destruction we wreaked there in the 1980s, but naturally, we never paid it. So who has contempt for the law?

I acknowledged that those paying disproportionate social costs of mass undocumented immigration can't simply be dismissed for lack of compassion in opposing the loss of community control that occurs when a wave of cheap workers swamps a particular area.

But where I live Spanish speakers have been here longer than English speakers, so who invaded whom first? As a matter of historical fact, the U.S. invaded Mexico and took about one-third of the country by force. As Mexicans often point out, correctly, "we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us."

The illegal immigrants we need to resist most are the U.S. troops destroying Iraq. How many of them brought passports and visas to Baghdad?

Posted by mohl on 04/19/08 at 6:31PM

And before the Spanish speakers were here, the Navajo and Hopi and Apache were here. How far back do you want to go and to whom should we return the southwest? Borders change. They've changed dramatically and often in Africa, in Asia, in Europe, and in the western hemisphere. That is something with which you and Mexico must deal.

We should get out of Iraq as soon as possible. Then we should put our soldiers on our southern border. We should learn from our historic blunders, not continue to make them.

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/19/08 at 9:37PM

But how many Navaho and Hopi and Apaches are here now? Do they have anything like the current demographic and cultural significance of Spanish speakers in the Southwest and California?

Actually, Indian peoples as a whole are still legally sovereign over roughly one-third of the continental U.S. I'm all in favor of honoring that, and doubt very much whether they would consent to putting thousands of troops on the Mexican-U.S. border. (Mexicans are mostly Indian, too, Some 30,000 Spaniards mixed with millions of Aztecs, so genetically they have to be far more indigenous than European.)

In any case, it is not a matter of going back, it is a matter of dealing honestly with injustice, especially desisting from one's own criminal behavior before pointing the finger of blame at others. The Southwest is certainly home to Mexicans, who do not feel they are entering alien territory when they cross the border. I expect it will remain U.S. territory for some time, but that does not mean Mexicans should be treated as criminals for crossing into U.S. territory. If we stopped imposing "free trade" agreements and allowed Latin America to define its own brand of economics for itself, we wouldn't be inundated in immigrants to begin with.

"Borders change" contains no news. On that basis Hitler's redrawing of the map of Europe was legitimate.

Posted by mohl on 04/20/08 at 12:14AM

Demographic and cultural significance? I think the Native Americans would disagree with you as to their significance.

How the American southwest became a part of the U.S. does not nulify the fact that it now is and we won't be giving it back. We have a border and it is sovereign. In the distant past, half the known world was Rome. That is no longer so, and California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas have been part of the U.S. for 160 years. That's the fact and the reality. As you said in an earlier post, let's get a handle on that.

I agree with you regarding Iraq, but that is a separate issue. As is free trade at least to an extent, which has hurt American workers too.

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/20/08 at 1:58PM

Well, in one sense all cultures are of equal significance, no matter their size, but as you yourself indicated, numbers in themselves can be an expression of force, or at least impact. In that sense, Spanish-speaking cultures are way more significant than indigenous cultures in the Southwest and California.

We wouldn't be having this discussion if the Mexican border were sovereign. Arbitrarily establishing a border in the middle of Mexico guaranteed that it would not be. Absent a change in our foreign and economic policies, there is nothing that can prevent the Spanish-speaking population in the U.S. from growing to 100 million in the next forty years. Borders change, yes, but so do demographics.

The article that started this thread spoke of undocumented immigration as an international phenomenon, which makes Iraq not at all a separate issue. In fact, it is the clearest possible instance of an illegal immigrant invasion destroying a country.

Free trade is not a separate issue, either, at least if we really want to reduce undocumented immigration. The Zapatista rebellion in Mexico emerged right after NAFTA was passed, warning that "free trade" would destroy communal agriculture, dispossessing millions of Mexican farmers. They were right, and recent waves of undocumented immigrants are among the obvious consequences.

Putting the troops in Iraq on the U.S.-Mexican border is a policy that (1) has no chance of being adopted, and (2) has no chance of solving an immigration problem rooted in economic exploitation if it were adopted.

When I said "let's get a handle on that," I was referring to stopping the U.S. government's illegal and immoral policies, not insisting on continuing them while complaining about their predictable effects.

Posted by mohl on 04/20/08 at 3:29PM

At least we've come to a round-about agreement that the massive numbers of illegals crossing our border constitutes an invasion.

Our southern border is sovereign but not protected. There's a difference. And yes, I do fear between "invasion" and birth rates, Spanish speakers in the U.S. may number 100 million and in a lot less than forty years. Not a happy thought given the overcrowding and dwindling natural resources that is our likely future if that ghastly growth occurs.

I'll give you that NAFTA was ill-conceived. It enriched the corporations without consideration to the harm that would be done to BOTH Mexican farmers and American workers alike, and our government, Mexico, and Canada knew (or should have known) this going in. So you want Americans to pay for this forever? All three governments were equally complicit. Why then do you believe only the American people should bear the burden?

But let's not forget that long before NAFTA, the Mexican, Guatemalan, Colombian, and Salvadoran peasantry were little more than fodder for their ruling classes and crossed our borders illegally or over-stayed their visas in smaller but still significant numbers. Another ill-conceived U.S. government policy, the 1986 amnesty, shouted to the world that all you had to do was get here and we would relent and let you stay. Do you concede that was also a blunder by our government?

I agree putting our soldiers on our border won't happen. Too politically incorrect. I don't agree that it wouldn't stem much of the flow. Of course I don't advocate shooting people who are attempting to cross illegally, but I do believe if you make it too costly and too difficult, they will stop trying. Maybe then the people who look to the U.S. for economic survival will turn their attentions to demanding more opportunities in their own countries.

It's time to stop blaming the U.S. (and its people) for everything and start thinking about saving it. It's far from perfect, I'll grant you, but it's better than the alternatives. You can detest the U.S. government all you want, but don't overlook the fact that its people are the first to give and help when disaster occurs.

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/21/08 at 1:13PM

Massive undocumented immigration may fit the secondary definition of the word invasion, though I think applying the word in this case is more rhetorical than accurate. But I can't say it's completely wrong.

The Mexican-U.S. border is one of the most militarized borders in the world. Militarizing it more will not solve the problem, which is social and economic, not military. There is no military/police solution.

I have not said only the American people should bear the burden of NAFTA, which is a nonsensical statement and therefore one I would not make. I have said, and continue to say, that Americans are responsible for their own government, not the Canadian or Mexican governments. And I've pointed out that the U.S. does not allow the Mexican people or any people in Latin America to have a government that runs contrary to major corporate interests in the U.S. In short, the governments that typically hold power in Latin America are extensions of U.S. power, so how can the people suffering under them be blamed?And the denationalized looters that hold power by being servile to the U.S. are doing what they are paid to do.

With the advent of NAFTA, even Canadian sovereignty has been at least partially eclipsed. Canadian social welfare protections - more generous than ours - are challenged under free trade doctrine for restraining trade. The U.S. government was far and away the most powerful actor in ramming through NAFTA.

Making immigration more costly and difficult will increase the death rate among migrants, but will not staunch the mass immigration flow. To stop that, we'd have to support Chavez, Castro, Evo Morales, Rafael Correa, and other socialists in Latin America, whose democratic populist agenda explicitly rejects free trade, while favoring the closing down of U.S. military bases in Latin America. These governments are trying to make Latin America a decent place, so people don't have to migrate thousands of miles to find a job. The U.S., of course, opposes them.

As I already mentioned, Latin Americans have been demanding more opportunities in their own countries for a long time. (That's how Chavez, Correa, Morales et al came to power in the first place.)The U.S. has drowned their demands in blood time and again. The alleged generosity of the American people has done little about it. Then again, the American people know virtually nothing about Latin America, and therefore can't do anything about it.

It is frankly conceited to rate one's own society better than all others, especially when it is committing crimes against humanity on a regular basis. Do we really need Osama bin Laden to wake us up?

Posted by mohl on 04/21/08 at 5:12PM

Sometimes reason can fly out the window when you hate something so much, as you seem to hate this country. Chavez is making moves to become a dictator and it may not be long before we see Venezuelans attempting to escape to freedom in the same way Cubans (under the thumb of another of your heroes) have done since 1959.

Your preference for socialism is puzzling given the historically oppressive nature and ultimate failure of this type of government. It seems the victims of corrupt regimes, once down-graded to socialism, would go from the frying pan into the fire.

Illegal immigration to the U.S. is beneficial only to Corporate America's bottom line, but a terrible economic and resource drain on state and local taxpayers. You can't make that fact go away regardless of where you wish to lay blame for this chaos.

I said the U.S. was far from perfect. But if it were not a better place to live than most, why would so many want to come here, and not just for survival? Should not a people be proud of their country, their culture, and their way of life, and want to protect it?

We are clearly and permanently at cross-purposes here. I want to bequeath to my grandchildren an America with room to breathe and opportunity to thrive and prosper. I'm not sure what you envision for our future (or what future you believe we deserve).

Yes, our government has made many international blunders (I venture to guess it's a rare country that hasn't). Yes, the American people could be better educated as to the actions of our government. But since I have voted for non-winning presidential candidates for the last 28 years and losing Senators for even longer, I'm just not sure what you would have me do. What do you do to see that the wrongs are righted?

Posted by mksmith07 on 04/22/08 at 11:30AM

I have expressed no hatred for my country in any of my posts, nor do I harbor any. I have spoken of injustice and the need to overcome it. That is not hatred.

Chavez respected the will of the people in rejecting his reform package, one feature of which would have allowed him to seek a third term as president. How many dictators agree to limit their time in office in accordance with a popular referendum?

Just like capitalism, socialism has many forms. It is too sweeping to speak of "this type of government" when referring to socialism. Each case is unique and has to be judged accordingly. To pronounce all socialist efforts as "failures" betrays a deep prejudice, as well as unawareness of what is going on in Latin America, where it is very much alive, and not just in Cuba. Note that in Venezuela, Chavez, the "dictator," has rejected calls by Marxist-Leninists to nationalize the whole Venezuelan economy.

I don't know if people "should be" proud of their country, but they naturally are, and this is fine within limits. But when pride becomes chauvinism and blinds the patriot to the crimes of state he/she needs to take responsibility for, the limits have been surpassed. And calling a long series of deliberate criminal behavior "blunders" is pretty far-fetched. Was it a fit of absent-mindedness that had the U.S. kill millions of people in the forging of its empire?

It is impossible to know whether the U.S. is a country "better than most" - better in what sense? The culture and people of the U.S. have much to recommend them, but the national security state and the transnational corporations headquartered here are rapidly bringing the human race to the brink of extinction. They are a major factor in sustaining the miserable conditions people are fleeing when they come here. Therefore, it is disingenuous for us to conclude that simply by coming here immigrants are stating that the U.S. is better than other countries.

I don't think "an America with room to breathe" will result from supermilitarization of the Mexican-U.S. border, or any similar effort to turn the country into a prosperous cage.

I share your hopes for your grandchildren to thrive - for everybody's grandchildren to thrive - but have serious doubts about their "prospering," which usually connotes financial success. When we've reached the point where trillions of dollars in assets disappear overnight, it is not clear that anyone can count on prospering anymore.

Profit as the superordinate goal of society was probably never a good idea, and is now clearly obsolete. The ecological crisis will never be solved by tinkering with market incentives. It requires extensive social planning. Wall Street is not likely to look kindly on this fact - or even recognize it.

Our material standard of expenditure is going down, and will continue to. That in itself is not a bad thing. A life glutted with gadgetry and haste is not the best of all possible worlds. We need to find a higher quality of life at a lower standard of expenditure. I doubt very much that can be done within the constraints of a profit-driven system.

Posted by mohl on 04/22/08 at 11:29PM

You're probably expecting a lengthy response but I'm worn out trying to win any concessions from you. I plan to go on believing this country can and will continue to thrive and prosper, along with my grandchildren, and hope that wisdom guides us to be a sovereign but more honorable neighbor. Hope you have a great week.

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