Thursday, April 06, 2006

What Immigration Problem?

I've been reluctant to weigh in on the immigration issue because of how complicated it is (and always has been) yet how simplistic the issue is presented by politicians and the media. But, reluctance be damned, here I go rambling as it may be.

Let's begin with the most talked about issue within the issue, border and border security. The wall. This has to be the stupidest idea, to attempt to construct an impenatrable barrier along the entire border with Mexico. There has actually been suggestions that illegal immigrants be hired to do the labor. Walls don't work. People can go under, over, around and above a wall. A wall is nothing but an empty symbol of protection, unless the other side of the wall actively participates in defense of the wall, the wall stands for nothing. Even East Germans managed to escape their barriers.

Immigration has always been tied to economy, from the earliest beginnings of the United States. Our country used the importation of slaves and indentured servants to do the hard labor. When that finally ended it was wave after wave of European immigrants to do the tough jobs. The West Coast used Chinese labor to build railroads and do mining. Now, it's Mexicans and Central Americans that are "needed."

The argument has always been that immigration was needed because Americans won't do certain jobs. The truth is that the capititalist leaders have always used a divide and conquer strategy for labor rather than to pay the wage that would attract nearly anyone to the jobs. Divide and conquer involved usually recruiting immigrants to compete with Americans for the jobs producing a spiraling down of wages and benefits. In the backdrop to that was the purposeful rhetoric of xenophobia (hatred of foreigners or strangers). The power of the few at the top to dominate the masses being used in economics backed by political power is the continuing history of the United States.

It has been true that countries of origin that the immigrants that have massed to America in the past and now were countries suffering economic depressions or unrest and the poor and repressed of those countries saw America as the place for prosperity. It is also true that those countries didn't place much emphasis in stopping that emigration, and more often than not promoted it.

So the social movements of people to the United States has been repeated throughout our history. Nearly 100% of non-native Americans of today are descended from one wave of immigration or another and even combinations of several of the waves. Black slavery is of course not a wave of willing peoples, forced as it was.

So how is todays immigration "problem" that is so dominant in political discussion any different than before? It's not, except for one factor, "post 9/11 America."

There has become a fear factor that has been developed since 9/11. This fear factor has been purposely pushed on us by the political powers, yet it was easy to do as 9/11 was a huge excuse to make us afraid. Homeland Security, terrorists, borders, Arabs, etc. are now thrown into the immigration issue to further complicate it.

The possiblity of more terrorism within the US borders makes building a wall a more attractive response and is put to Americans as a double positive as it will stop immigration as well. Funny how little the issue of drug trafficing is not mentioned as another good reason to have a Mexican wall, probably because we like drugs so much.

The truth is a wall won't do any good. Terrorists, immigrants and drugs will enter by sea, by air, via tunnels, by way of our long, long Northern border. Republicans with their supposed opposition to big government programs and who happen to be most interested in a wall (for security reasons) seem to be forgetting the cost of building a wall, and the subsequent increased security that will still be needed. Other Republicans are stuck in their support of corporate interests and are not so enamored with a wall and restrictions on immigration.

Another issue is that we do have laws about immigration that aren't being enforced. Corporations and businesses are not suppose to be hiring illegal immigrants, yet do so with impunity. If anti-illegal immigrationists were really interested in slowing the influx then they would raise the mechanisms to investigate and then penalize the business world for breaking the law. But they don't and probably won't.

I don't consider the immigration issue as anything but partisan politics in an election year (and these days elections years seem like every year). Nothing will really be done, because nothing can be done that is good in that type of atmosphere.

This morning I saw a review of the current most likely proposal. Basically a guest worker program for illegal immigrants who have been working in America for 5 years or more with the pushing of becoming citizens and get this, speaking English. Those here between 2 years and 5 years will be briefly forced to leave and re-enter as guest workers and those with less than 2 years, deported.

I have to laugh. First how are they really going to find and round up every immigrant? How are they going to determine how long they've been here, people with no immigration papers or documentation? Can you say massive profiling?

And forcing English as a language, America has never done this before, we've never had an official language. People learn English because that is what makes sense in this country, there has never been a need to force the language on people. American English is loaded with words of many nationalites, we adopt new words all the time and it makes our language all the better and interesting.

I may have missed some pieces to the immigration situation. I don't really see some type of black and white answers to the puzzle. I do think that enforcing the laws about hiring illegals would be a beginning step. Try that with some gusto and see where it leads and then decide further steps.

I also think a puzzle piece I haven't discussed needs to be addressed, and that is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Mexico has and is been a different link in the trade deal. It's allowed corporations to export jobs to that country. It's allowed big changes in Mexico that drives Mexican poor to try to come to America by any means possible. NAFTA has not been free trade for Mexico or fair trade for America. So, I think a rethinking about NAFTA and a new way of negotiating trade pacts in general needs to be done.

Exportation of jobs is an irratant to many Americans. Just this morning in my Detroit newspaper on the front page was an article about GM exporting engineering jobs. Excuse me? These are jobs that college educated people desire and have been advised to persue through education. If America can't keep these type of jobs, those jobs desired by immigrants may be more important to Americans than we think.

Our middle class is being pulled apart at the seams and in the process putting more pressure on lower class jobs. There is this idea that legal immigration for high paying jobs is fine, but having legal immigration for the low paying jobs isn't so good. We are not xenophobic about a Pakistani doctor, but are for a Mexican fruit picker, something is weird about that picture.

Our education system from high school on can be a part of the problem as well. We've made it very difficult to afford college, particularily for the medical field. Graduates are entering the work life with big bills to pay back for many years and in many cases the occupations they were told would be good for them are turning out to be victims of job exportation, computer programming for instance.

It's time to stop rambling and finish up. The immigration issue will not be solved by some bill from Congress. It's far too deep to slap a few rules on to claim the issue is over.


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