Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Take our country back from who, exactly?

Thanks to everyone for keeping the political fires burning during our recent unannounced absence. Feel free to continue banging on each other about political philosophy and poverty and whatnot.

But in case poverty isn’t enough of a hot button issue, here’s a little more controversy. Now normally, we don’t tackle the letters to the editor section in great detail, unless the writer is already fairly prominent. In the following instance, we’re going to make an exception. The topic is immigration, and Gene Baldwin, who we’re sure is otherwise a pretty stand-up guy, is making some implicit points that we’re not altogether comfortable with letting stand on their own. Behold – the AthPo point-by-point rebuttal.

Sez Mr. Baldwin (our comments in red):

The motivation for Laura Davis (Letters, "Americans hypocritical on illegal immigration," March 10) is obvious when she notes her husband works for a company that hires "many undocumented workers." Those companies, and their greed, have passed the burden on to society and taxpayers.

Actually, no argument here. The fact is, that if companies weren’t champing at the bit to hire undocumented workers (who can be paid less, not given benefits, and generally treated even more like crap than management treats American workers), then there would probably be less illegal immigration. Except, here’s the thing. We’re all in favor of cracking down on companies who are taking advantage of you the taxpayer by hiring illegals, but please know that cracking down on the companies, whether by enforcing the existing laws or passing and enforcing new ones, is only a small part of the fix. You’re also dealing with a PR issue here, and no amount of law-passin’ is going to fix the fact that the widespread presumption in many countries from which illegal immigrants come, is that there are jobs a-plenty in the US, and it’s going to take some time to overcome that presumption. And you’ll pardon us for generalizing, but not too many people in Latin America who are looking to come to America read the Wall Street Journal.

Davis labels those who oppose illegal immigrants as racist, prejudiced, discriminatory, hypocritical and anti-American. She compares illegal aliens to those who immigrated to America in the 17th century and who legally came to this country in the 19th century. The key counter-argument is that these people came to this country legally, assimilated into our culture, spoke or learned English quickly, and were never a burden on government services.

Hmmm…one wonders if Mr. Baldwin has ever visited Little Italy (the NYC neighborhood, not the meth dealership/restaurant), Chinatown, or read anything by Upton Sinclair. Fact is, that while successive generations of immigrants (especially from the 19th Century) have assimilated, we’re still talking about the first generation of immigrants in this situation – and to imply otherwise is a little disingenuous. We would also note that, like it or not, immigration standards were substantially looser then than now, so we can’t really speculate as to whether or not there would have been illegal immigration in the 1800s, since there was no demand for it.

Today, we're inundated with approximately 20 million illegal aliens who have ignored quotas, visas, international law and our society.

Well, if you’re the victim of oppression, political or (in most cases) economic, you do what you can to survive. Actually, the kind of person that has the chutzpah to pack up themselves and in many cases their family and haul ass on an illegal and potentially deadly journey to America…well, it kind of seems to us that those are the kinds of rugged individualist, up-by-the-bootstraps kind of folks that we tend to celebrate in America. Unless of course they happen to be Hispanic.

We are forced to furnish free medical care for people who use emergency rooms as their family physician.

One of our favorite issues – health care. Now first of all, it may just be us, but the author seems to imply that there’s a teeming subculture of illegal immigrants that are willfully ignoring preventative care, in order to clog up the emergency rooms and put the burden on decent God-fearing legal Georgians like you and me, Bubba. Not exactly. Fact is, they’re here, they’re sick, they’re barely making minimum wage – if that – and forget about health care and benefits. Now, I know many of our more conservative brethren will spew their lunches all over their Rush Limbaugh neckties (does he still sell those) at the thought of providing health care for illegal immigrants (and the poor who are here legally as well), but ask yourselves this – is it worth it if it lowers your health care costs? Fact is, when the kids get sick, or when mom and dad get sick, it’s self-medication or the emergency room for most illegals, same as it is for most of the working poor. Having the infrastructure to provide universal preventative care – at least for kids – will lower your health insurance premiums. Will some folks get “something for nothing”? Yep. Will you actually pay soething closer to the non-inflated market price for your health care? Yep.

Schools are forced to accommodate illegals with bilingual teachers. Government forms, bulletins and documents are now printed bilingually. Tax dollars are being shifted to groups that aid and abet this illegal activity.

All of these statements can be answered the same way. They’re here and they’re not going anywhere. So, since they’re here, shouldn’t we make sure that they and their kids are educated so that they can participate in the society? Since they’re here, shouldn’t we make reasonable efforts to accommodate them within our government so that (again, since they’re not going anywhere) they’re actually part of our government. And yeah, we need to make it easier to become a citizen, so that illegal immigrants (who are already here and not going anywhere) are incentivized to do the right thing. As far as tax dollars being “shifted to groups that aid and abet this illegal activity,” that’s one way of looking at it. Another way would be to go right back to the assimilation argument above. In the 19th Century, there was a community to support new arrivals – and such a community still exists today. Problem is, life was a lot less complicated in the 1800s, and something’s got to fill in the gap, or we’re going to learn really fast what “counterculture” means on a sweeping sociological scale.

Consider also the impact on law enforcement, as many illegals drive with no insurance, ignore traffic laws and fail to have appropriate driver's licenses. The graffiti at schools and elsewhere is a clear indication of gang activity.

This is the part of the letter that sparked the whole point-by-point rebuttal. There’s an implication that illegal immigrants are the only ones driving without licenses and insurance, for instance. Your humble author is about as WASPy as it gets and I spent a good three months looking in the rearview and driving the speed limit, if you get my drift. The part about gangs is interesting. Newspaper reports lead us to believe that the majority of gang activity in Athens is Hispanic – los Primos, etc. That may be true, but suffice it to say that Athens ain’t the rest of the country. In some cities, most of the gangs are black. In the Midwest, you get gangs of milky-white neo-Nazis running amok. In lots of cities where illegal immigration has been going on for more than just one generation, the Hispanic gang members are just as American as you and me – they were born right here in the U S of A.

Illegal aliens don't have a "right" to be here. It's not discriminatory to demand that people enter this country legally. It's not racist to require people to obey our laws. It's not hypocritical to conduct school classes in English. There is a real cost to the taxpayer for providing social services to illegal aliens.

Those who share these views are disgusted with being called everything in the book by ultra-liberals, head-in-the-sand types and those motivated by greed. It's time to ignore the invectives and take back our country.”

Head in the sand. If anything, I think the more liberal views on immigration are the more clear-headed views in many cases. Again – they’re here now, and they aren’t going anywhere. Not to put too fine a point on it, but we’ve got two choices – continue providing the assistance we’ve been providing, even ramp it up, make it easier to assimilate for those that are here, while tightening up border security; or we can throw every insane law and service cut we can think of at them. Either way, the illegals that are already here aren’t going anywhere – we don’t have the manpower to deport all or even most or them. The difference is this: Do you want a population of immigrants who are getting the tools they need, on a social, political, and economic level, to succeed in this country? Or do you want them here, starving, disenfranchised, and righteously pissed off?

Thus endeth the rebuttal-rant, but there’s also, if you’ll indulge me, a philosophical point to made here. I honestly wonder how the rhetoric would be different if the vast majority of illegal immigrants in America were coming from Belgium, or Ireland, or Sweden. I don’t know Mr. Baldwin, and I want to make it clear that I’m not including him in this philosophical discussion, but it seems to me that there is a pretty overt tinge of racism involved in the immigration discussion, at least as far as many of the more ardent anti-immigrant voices are concerned. It’s the elephant in the room, and no one wants to acknowledge it. Now, when talking about immigration, there are few rhetorical crutches I dislike more than the “We’re all immigrants” argument. It’s as trite as it is true. Still, let me introduce some new rhetoric for everyone to ponder.

The original European colonists came to America for one of two reasons: to gain profit, or to escape persecution. As a result of those factors, America is built on prosperity and inclusion. We’re not doing too well on prosperity, and we’re rapidly losing out on inclusion as well.

Here’s one point that I have yet to hear in the immigration debate. We’ve had large waves of immigration from specific cultural groups in the past. Irish, Italian, Eastern European, and other places in the 19th Century, and in more recent years from China, Japan, Vietnam, India, and Pakistan – to name a few. And, apocryphal as this point might be, with every culture to whom we’ve opened our doors, those immigrants settled, raised families, and in very short order, with the help of our government and their neighbors, those immigrants became contributors to our American society, and the nation as a whole benefited from their contribution.

Folks, when we let immigrants in and helped them succeed, we, as a nation, have never struck out. Maybe it’s time that we let history, and our better angels, be our guide on this one too.


Anonymous said...

I always love the "health care" side of this argument. Very few communicable diseases - major or minor - are isolated to only attacking certain races of people. So, if you've got brown people who are sick, then you are going to have white and black people getting sick, too.

It's like you said, they are here and we can't deport all of them so, I would prefer that illegal immigrants be healthy (as well as educated) than sick (and/or ignorant).

Denying health care to any person in the world is something we should all be very, very ashamed about. It's also very dangerous to the whole population.

Publius said...

To be honest, I wasn't even thinking about communicable diseases. I was thinking about broken arms, flus, kidney infections and stuff like that, but from a public health standpoint, which I didn't even think about addressing, you make a great point, and I don't think I've heard many people, or any people, bring that up.


Ned said...

There is a reason all of us got immunization shots when we were children - yet we have no idea what diseases illegal immigrants may be carrying. Could we be making it easier for a disease like TB to mutilate by allowing unimmunized illegal immigrants to work with immunized Americans?

I don't mind immigrants living here as I am essentially one myself. However, I do have a problem with the fact that we don't know who is here. Having an undocumented, uncounted population as part of our society seems foolish in the information age.

DoubleDawgDareYa said...

Yes, and the only way any substantial portion of the "undocumented" will be "documented" is by making the citizenship process less arcane. The more we "crack down" on illegal immigration, the more we assure ourselves that most of the undocumented will stay that way.

I gotta say great job to my co-editor, btw.

I'm a Realist said...

1) Illegal immigrants are my kind of people. Anyone who looks around, realizes his life couldn't get any worse, and moves his family to a foreign land that speaks a foreign language in hopes of creating opportunities for his children has a gigantic pair of balls, and I approve.

2) "Those companies, and their greed, have passed the burden on to society and taxpayers."

How exactly is giving someone a job passing "the burden on to society and taxpayers?" Wouldn't it be more burdensome to refuse them a job? While I believe that the "undocumented" workers should be treated fairly, I hardly find allowing them the opportunity to earn a wage (regardless of how meager) to be burdensome to me.

If the goal is to increase tax revenue (it always goes back to money, right?), then let's go for it. I don't hide my disdain for the tax bureaucracy, but if it'll make you sleep better at night to know that they pay their fair share (which, is only fair, right?), then let's assign all current illegals immunity and get them documented as being here. Then we can levy all sorts of taxes on them, and they can really feel like they belong.

3) We have an ever-increasing segment of the citizenry that are being ignored due to discrimination against illegals. Remember, if a child is born on U.S. soil (even to illegals), he/she is a U.S. citizen. We now have children that are citizens with illegal parents. The children aren't receiving the benefits due them as citizens because no one is reaching out and educating their parents. This will just perpetuate the cycle and alienate that segment of the population even further.

There aren't any easy answers, but we know some things for certain. 1) We can't deport them. Even if we could, would we really want to eliminate a portion of the populace that has the "do what it takes" attitude? 2) The numbers aren't shrinking. The problem will only get bigger, so we need to develop some sort of plan to deal with the issue.

By the way, this would be a good thing to address in the upcoming poverty roundtable. The two topics should go hand in I'm really interested to see how the poverty council suggests we should assist this segment of our population.

Patrick Armstrong said...

You know, for me, it is hard not to sympathize with immigrants. They're here, working for a better life, making more money to support their families than they would in their home countries. They work hard for long hours and crap pay and make stuff happen. They want the opportunity that many of our families came to this land for back in the day.

My problems lie with the ones who break our laws to get here, and the businesses that use them as de facto indentured servants. I don't think the way our 'system' currently works really benefits anyone.

First of all, I think it is a slap in the face to immigrants who do come here legally, who do jump through the hoops to dot the i's and cross the t's, to let just anyone come across the border. I think we could (and should) make the process easier and more open, but I do want folks who are coming here to at least sign the guestbook on their way in.

Second of all, I think it is dangerous to leave our border as wide open as it is. While some of us may have the illusion of the huddled masses rumbling north across the Rio Grande, there is no mistaking the criminal element that is present - using the mass of migrating humanity as cover for more sinister activity.

Thirdly, the only part of the economy I see benefiting from outside the law labor is the profit margins of a few business owners. These aren't jobs American citizens "don't want" these are jobs American bosses don't want to pay legal wages and protections for. These are jobs that could go to the most vulnerable American citizens, the ones closest to poverty, to allow them to work their way out of bad situations. Instead, we are allowing bosses to hire folks outside American labor law, who aren't making as much, and who are wiring a lot of it to their home country to support their families. That money leaves the American economy.

And we're not going to talk about all the contracts that have been lost to skilled American and skilled legal immigrants because some contractor was able to hire twice the (illgeal) workers at half the price to get projects done cheaper. I don't have a problem with things getting done more efficiently, but not when people are breaking the law to do it.

So, I guess I've got the protectionist, populist opinion on this subject. I think the way to stop the problem with illegal immigration is to punish businesses who knowingly hire illegals. And I mean really, really punish them.

DoYouHaveAnyIdea said...

Time to revisit this issue. A lesson to be learned from the recent roundup in Stillmore, Georgia. CNN Reports that this down has been rendered nearly lifeless by the federal governments sweep of illegals that had become the lifeblood of local industry. More about this at the Progressive Athens blog.