Friday, April 07, 2006

A good day for immigration policy


Various attempts to write a "compromise" immigration reform from the Senate are apparently dead. Why is this good? Because anything they passed, no matter how apparently fair, would have to be taken to conference with the "build a wall and name 'em all felons" bill passed by the House. By the time the "reform" came out of a Republican dominated conference, we can be sure that provisions protecting immigrants as workers would be gone and probably most of the legalization path. So this has been a good day.

The immigration policy debate has stimulated some interesting oped pieces in the last few days.

One in the New York Times by Douglas S. Massey is going to get walled off soon, so I'll quote extensively from it.

The Mexican-American border is not now and never has been out of control. The rate of undocumented migration, adjusted for population growth, to the United States has not increased in 20 years. That is, from 1980 to 2004 the annual likelihood that a Mexican will make his first illegal trip to the United States has remained at about 1 in 100.

What has changed are the locations and visibility of border crossings. And that shift, more than anything, has given the public undue fears about waves of Mexican workers trying to flood into America.

Until the 1990's, the vast majority of undocumented Mexicans entered through either El Paso or San Diego. El Paso has around 700,000 residents and is 78 percent Hispanic, whereas San Diego County has three million residents and is 27 percent Hispanic. Thus the daily passage of even thousands of Mexicans through these metropolitan areas was not very visible or disruptive.

This all changed in 1992 when the Border Patrol built a steel fence south of San Diego from the Pacific Ocean to the port of entry at San Ysidro, Calif., where Interstate 5 crosses into Mexico. This fence, and the stationing of officers and equipment behind it, blocked one of the busiest illicit crossing routes and channeled migrants toward the San Ysidro entry station, where their numbers rapidly built up to impossible levels.

Every day the same episode unfolded: the crowd swelled to a critical threshold, whereupon many migrants made what the local press called "banzai runs" into the United States, darting through traffic on the Interstate and clambering over cars.

Waiting nearby were Border Patrol officers, there not to arrest the migrants but to capture the mayhem on video, which was later edited into an agency documentary. Although nothing had changed except the site of border crossings, the video gave the impression that the border was overwhelmed by a rising tide of undocumented migrants.

Massey goes on to describe how fence building in California pushed immigrants to the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. More people died, but more actually got into the U.S. as the probability of getting picked up dropped from 33 percent to 10 percent. And with more fences, going home to Mexico got harder, so there is more incentive to dig in and simply stay in the U.S., losing ties with home and family.

Massey concludes: "The only thing we have to show for two decades of border militarization is a larger undocumented population than we would otherwise have, a rising number of Mexicans dying while trying to cross, and a growing burden on taxpayers for enforcement that is counterproductive."

Not to be out done, the Washington Post has printed three quite good immigration columns as well. Ruth Marcus recounted how North Dakota, not usually a progressive bellwether, decided that giving in-state tuition to undocumented graduates of state high schools was simply a good investment. Being a place that is losing population, North Dakotans know the score:

As one state senator, a rural Republican, told a GOP colleague who's running for Congress, "You wouldn't have a seat to run for if it wasn't for immigration."

Usually Fareed Zakaria is not someone I expect to agree with. He's editor of Newsweek International, Yale and Harvard educated, and conservative, the kind of immigrant (Indian-born) intellectual who gives "race cover" to our right winger's mad hegemonic dreams. Though he has questioned how it has been carried out, he has supported the Neocon's Iraq war. But he said a lot of sensible things this week, contrasting the U.S.'s relatively open immigration with Europe's inability to absorb people who are genuinely different. He urged:

These people [immigrants] must have some hope, some reasonable path to becoming Americans. Otherwise we are sending a signal that there are groups of people who are somehow unfit to be Americans, that these newcomers are not really welcome and that what we want are workers, not potential citizens. And we will end up with immigrants who have similarly cold feelings about America.

Finally, African American columnist Eugene Robinson visited Phoenix to take the temperature on the issue. He nails the story:

This confident, laid-back city is on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Immigration reform is more than a political issue here -- it's an acute psychosis.

State legislator Alfredo Gutierrez explained to Robinon what drives immigrant protests.
  • "His childhood was an experience of a 'perhaps more benign' form of the apartheid that African Americans had to suffer in the South. Mexicans were allowed to use the municipal swimming pool only on Sundays, after which the pool was drained and refilled every Monday, he says. ...The idea back then was forced assimilation. 'The teacher would put a piece of tape on your mouth if you spoke Spanish instead of English,' he recalls."
  • "Within his own extended family, Gutierrez says, he counts immigrants who are American citizens, others who are permanent residents with green cards and still others who are here illegally. That is why there are no simple solutions: If you draw a sharp line between those who have proper documents and those who don't, you break up families."
The undocumented are here. Any "reform" can only acknowledge that reality. Find a National Day of Action for Immigrant Justice event to join in your area and say so loud and clear.

1 comment:

Frank D. Russo said...

Thanks for posting the site for finding a local rallies. I posted it as a progressive action item on my site.

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