Posted by lex, on May 3, 2006
Regular readers of this page – including some who disagree with me – understand that my personal opinion in the immigration debate is quite nearly as muddled as the problem itself. I support border enforcement as a necessary component of national sovereignty, while confessing that I am off-put at the probable human costs attaching to the notion of forcefully deporting some 10-12 million souls – people who have come here to make a life and escape grinding poverty by doing necessary work that few, if any, of the native-born would consider.
Many (although certainly not all) illegal aliens – or the undocumented, if you prefer – residing here in violation of federal immigration law have an advantage over other aspirants who must follow the rules, if only because of host nation proximity. It is our very own “special relationship.” But it’s possible to believe that to be true, and still question whether the arrival of illegals necessarily impacts negatively the prospects of those who seek legal entry into our workforce and polis. Whether, in other words, the legal versus illegal question is a zero-sum game. It doesn’t have to be.
And yet, a squishy humanistic desire to see the status of those who come here to work regularized will not in and of itself solve the problem of stopping the illicit flow of other people across the border, and this simply cannot go on forever – resources are almost by definition limited. So yes, fine – guest worker status and a planned path to amnesty (or whatever else you label it) today still leaves us with the question: What is to been done tomorrow?
With all that in background, let me say it was disconcerting to find that so many legal immigrants seem to be forging common cause with those who are here illegally. Most of us take for granted the notion that, once a person is nationalized, he is as authentically American as any New York blueblood whose ancestors walked off the Mayflower. Accented English or no, this is a nation of immigrants, and to say that a person is a “naturalized citizen” is only to add a descriptor, rather than attach a modifier. A citizen of whatever provenance is a citizen before the law, with all the rights, privileges and duties appertaining thereto.
Because we, of course, are a nation of laws.
Which is why the idea of naturalized citizens building political coalitions with illegals is disturbing, at least to me. We have seen far too many examples in the news in the last twenty years, in places so foreign and violent as to leave us in stunned incomprehension, what results obtain when tribe and race trump national identity and the rule of law.
On NPR today I heard west coast boycott organizers say that their recently concluded street actions are a way of “getting a seat at the political table.” Concerned commentators speak approvingly of the concept of a ”Latino civil rights” movement.
Keeping in mind the fact that illegals are here in the numbers they are because of incredible economic pressures in their homelands, a long and porous border, and the attraction of a better lifestyle with hard work, willingly offered, gratefully accepted. Keeping in mind the fact that illegals are also here not least because of the forbearance of those of us whose home this is: We decline to be inhuman, as we decline to dehumanize those cast up upon our shores. And while we gain from our openness, we also pay a cost:
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), said his state spends $2 billion a year on health care and education for people in the country illegally. Arizona and California officials said their expense for detaining illegal immigrants who commit crimes is a combined $950 million per year, a fraction of which is reimbursed by the federal government.
“It’s an enormous burden on taxpayers,” Stewart said. “It’s funny that people think that going out on the streets will make people change their minds. There are very strong opinions on this issue.”
Keeping all of this in mind, would it be rude for me to ask “what special rights there are to seek for people any national descent, under our framework of laws?” Or would it better to ask, “what rights does an identified group not have under current civil rights law, that it wishes to obtain?” Would it be amiss to seek to understand whether there are to be such things as “Latino” civil rights, distinguished separately and apart from “American” civil rights? Have not all those victories already been won?
Perhaps it is only a poor metaphor and I over-react, but when identity groups play identity politics as a way of “gaining a seat at the table,” one does not readily imagine that they are necessarily there to negotiate for the common benefit. No, the image is rather of a diner seeking to carve out a larger slice of a finite national pie for the benefits of his constituency. A zero-sum game, in other words, and someone’s ox is bound to get gored.
But it doesn’t have to be.