Saturday, June 16, 2012

Immigration: Rhetoric and Reality

Little of the terminology currently employed in debates about mass violation of immigration laws describes reality. For example, an immigrant is someone who submits to the established legal procedures for becoming a tourist or long-term resident. An illegal immigrant is therefore a contradiction in terms. The term "illegal alien" is preferred by those who favor mass expulsion of unauthorized laborers, but an alien has to be non-native to the territory in question for the description to fit. In the United States this creates insoluble difficulties, as Mexicans are clearly more native to North America than anyone of European ancestry.

Many who call for respect for the law erroneously claim that violations of immigration law are crimes. This is not true. Immigration infractions are a matter of civil, not criminal law, and due process rights do not obtain. Therefore, they are not crimes. We recognize this implicitly in everyday speech. When someone asks, "What's crime like in your neighborhood?," we never answer that crime is rampant because there are many people without legal visas residing among us. We know that the question refers to assault, robbery, rape, and murder, not jaywalking, littering, illegal parking, and trespassing.

Not that it matters. Even if speeding were a capital offense, no sane jury would convict a driver of violating the speeding laws if it could be shown that he was rushing a critically injured passenger to the hospital in order to save his life. This is basically what "illegal immigrants" are doing when they enter the country illegally. Overwhelmingly from high repression, low-wage regions of the planet, they come in search of an economically viable mode of existence that can help them and their families survive.

That is not a crime.

Yesterday, a reporter interrupted President Obama during a Rose Garden ceremony, asking him why his immigration policy favored foreigners over American workers. The question could just as well have been directed to Obama's "free trade" (pro-outsourcing - ed.) policy, which severely undercuts American workers, but this obvious parallel didn't occur to the questioner, so we'll leave it aside for the moment. Why, indeed, does Obama permit the mass violation of U.S. immigration laws?

The answer should be obvious, especially to a Wall Street Journal reporter. Because U.S. workers are infected with an "entitlement mentality," which leads them to believe that public policy should guarantee them a living wage plus benefits, including medical care, pregnancy leave, sick days, paid vacations, and a secure retirement. Big business has never wanted to pay these costs, and did so partially and temporarily only under duress, when the U.S. workforce was much more unionized than it is today, and when one sixth of the world's territory was officially communist. Now that these pressures are gone, the 1% wants to repeal the human rights advances of the 20th century and revert to the economic slavery that prevailed in the 19th century. Hence the resort to desperate and illegal labor that has never enjoyed such social democratic protections.

There's nothing like mass exploitation to keep labor cheap, cheap, cheap, which is what made America great.

Instead of scapegoating immigrants as criminals, U.S. workers need to join hands with them to confront the real criminals: the unrepentant Wall Street pirates that live by looting, not working. Four years after they crashed the economy, poverty and unemployment are worse than ever, and President Obama can't even say the word "poor" out loud.

If the truth be told, displaced workers from other lands would like nothing more than to be able to go home to viable jobs, rather than continue to be persecuted in the U.S. But the long-term austerity economics favored by Washington has crushed democratic movements time after time, and left vast areas of the world permanently mired in destitution and misery.

Workers are understandably reluctant to return to that.

Source: "Reporter spars with Obama after interrupting Rose Garden remarks," Wall Street Journal, June 15, 2012

1 comment:

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