Friday, June 15, 2007

Twelve Million Invisible People

This one is going to set off the rabid rowdies, I know already, but I have to put this in print.

I am a Republican, have been since I was 8 years old and I couldn’t understand why more taxes were supposed to be a good thing for regular folks. I am also a Conservative. I believe in the rights and power of the individual, in limited and accountable government, in strong support of the Constitution as it was actually written, and in promoting and expanding American-style to as many places as possible, because no other system works half as well or promises half as much. I am also a fundamentalist Christian, and I believe we are all accountable for those things put into our power to help or hurt fellow human beings. It is not fear of hell which moves me, half so much as fear that I might act of a hellish character.

All this brings me to the present problems of Border Security and Immigration Reform. And make no mistake, they are separate issues, both important but still definitely separate. One mistake I think both Democrats and Republicans have made in all this brouhaha, is the notion that so many disparate acts should be rolled together in one fix-all bill which in actual fact does none of what it promises. Make no mistake - I do not like the present bill before the Congress, because while a measure of bipartisanship is nice to see, getting together to push out legislation which will confuse and hinder millions of honest people while allowing some dishonest types to play the system for their own advantage is simply a very bad idea. What should be done, is that Congress should lay down the present bill and try again with several bills which each address their own specific function. Of course, that shows the politically distasteful possibility of Democrats publicly supporting a bill which secures our borders, or Republicans openly voting for a bill which requires businesses to be accountable in their hiring practices. For now, I will address only the question of Immigration Reform, for the simple reasons that the most important issue, Securing the Border, seems so obvious that I cannot imagine a serious argument against it. In fact, the only arguments I have read or heard, have been contrived rhetoric which attacks individuals – often falsely – for not doing enough or not doing it fast enough. So I leave that useless bickerfest to those who find it to their taste. Other issues are, to my mind, less important and less of the moment than reforming our Immigration laws and policies, so that is why I focus there.

Back in 1998, my wife’s mother was planning to come from Hong Kong to the United States to visit her daughter and me, but there was a problem with the State Department. You see, once mainland China began talking about Hong Kong’s “reunification” with the mainland in the same way Michael Corleone talked about Fredo’s place in the family, a lot of Hong Kongese started wondering if they might be wise to consider leaving for better climes. To that end, Mikki’s mother came to the United States and began the long process towards residency, the almost-legendary Green Card. She filled out all the forms, paid the fees, and complied with all the requirements, some of which made little sense. But she missed one of the required visits back to the United States, and Mikki explained to me that the INS refused to reconsider her position, at one point stating that the old lady would be arrested if she tried to enter the United States. Widows over sixty years old, of course, are well-known to be the most nefarious class of villain.

So I made an appointment to go talk to an INS officer at the Houston office. It was a hot summer day when I arrived, and I saw about three hundred people standing in a long line in the sun outside the building, a long line that wrapped around the building and into the parking lot. Most of the people in that line were Hispanic, though there were also a lot of Asians and some Africans. Since I had made an appointment, I wanted to make sure the line was for everyone entering the INS building, so I walked around to the entrance and saw a couple staffers smoking outside. One of them saw my white skin and business suit and waved me over. I thought he was confusing me for an employee, so I tried to explain what I wanted, but the guy didn’t care. He waved me into the lobby where the line ran up to a window where a couple clerks were handling the long line. I was directed to an ‘Information’ window where another clerk issued me a Visitor pass and directed me to the elevator. I noticed then, that the building had a large waiting room, with enough seats for more than a hundred people. I asked why the people in the first part of the line couldn’t just wait there, where it was air-conditioned, and the clerk told me it just wasn’t done. I said nothing more, but went up to my appointment, where a polite young man assured me that the INS had no intentions of arresting little old widows and grandmothers, and after a bit more paperwork I had her visit approved. As I left the building and saw all the people still waiting in line, I couldn’t help but wonder how much my appearance as a successful – and white – American had smoothed the wheels of bureaucracy. Certainly I had accomplished more in an hour than my wife’s mother had been able to see in a couple months’ of work, and she was neither lazy nor stupid. I was glad for the result, but uneasy at the apparent double-standard at the INS. Considering that event was years before 9/11, I don’t think it has gotten better for those people who try to follow all the Byzantine rules of the government.

And it is with that impression in mind, that I turn my eyes to the millions of people here illegally in the United States. I am hardly unaware or unconcerned about the effects of illegal migration, on just about every level, so I will start with the negatives of the present situation. Twelve (or more) million people who do not pay for their children’s education, for police and fire protection, for taxes, or for medical care, will severely impact any infrastructure you can name. And it is a plain fact that the number of violent criminals in the United States who came into the country illegally has been rising, and continues to do so at a fast pace. Further, the network of coyotes who traffic in border crossings is ready-made to smuggle in enemies of the United States, and whatever materials or weapons they wish to use. An answer is long overdue.

However, many of those who demand draconian actions are not realistically examining the condition. As my title suggests, they seem to not see the sort of people who are the focus of this issue. Yes, there are terrorists to protect against, but as yet I have not heard of a major Latino group which desires to murder American civilians or overthrow the United States government. Granted, movements like the Reconquista and racist groups like La Raza are problematic, but if we call them ‘terrorists’, we not only start to blur the difference between vulgar but nonviolent activists, and people who bomb schools and cut heads off as part of their ideology, but we would also be forced to declare many leading Democrats to be ‘terrorists’. The rhetoric is too similar to ignore the shared meme. Also, most Latinos are neither violent nor opposed to nominal American community practices. The Latin culture is often family-centered, loyal to Christian morals and standards, and as a whole compatible with standard Western values and beliefs.

At this point, I have to stop and acknowledge that yes, I am speaking of the illegals as basically Latino, though there are other races and cultures involved, because statistically most of the illegals are from Mexico, and from Central and South America. I also agree that I am stereotyping to some degree, but I think that in the general sense, my descriptions are accurate. I do not mean to suggest that we should not worry about millions of uneducated and unskilled foreigners in our country, who do not speak the language and do not try to assimilate into the American cultural fabric. Yet I have read enough history and heard enough from first-generation immigrants, to know that every group which comes to America in large numbers tends to be unskilled and uneducated, because the one who do have skills and knowledge are able to do well without coming to America. The United States has always taken the apparent dregs of the world. The Irish, the Polish, the African, and the Asians were all in their turn described as “too many”, “unskilled”, “uneducated and uneducatable", and they lived in cultural islands and ghettoes away from the majority for a generation. Ever hear of Little Italy? Little Warsaw? Little Vietnam? Such communities are everywhere, and they are not new. I have noticed that it is usually the second generation, the children, who start to assimilate and become part of the nation and in so doing add their contribution and shape the nation’s future. One reason my own father made a point of getting a Masters degree in Mathematics, was because growing up he got angry at hearing how bad the Irish were at Education, and that higher-order studies were impossible for a “mick”. I don’t mean to imply anything about the people who find the current illegals undesirable as a class of person, except that what is happening now has happened before. It is something which can be corrected, but only with time and only by understanding the Historical context of Immigration to America.

The reason, more than anything else, that illegals enter the United States, is a better life. No, that does not make it all right to ignore the law, but it does mean that illegal entry into the United States will continue to be a crisis until the root causes which spur illegal migration are addressed in substance:

[] The Mexican Economy and Infrastructure
[] The U.S. Immigration Bureaucracy
[] Assimilation Strategy
[] Law Enforcement Strategy

Each of those is a sub-topic worthy of its own discussion, so I will leave them stated simply for the moment. For here and for now, it is important to understand that to address this problem in any fashion which will lead to a durable and practical solution, we must choose a party which is best minded to address the matter rationally, we must support the leadership of that party and work to craft corrections and enforce functional law. We must clear out inefficient and unethical practices in the government’s offices, and we must create avenues of communication which help foreign nationals understand that compliance with the law is in their best long-term interest, and that of their children. New proposed legislation must be designed with those principles in place to guard against repeating error or creating obstacles for people who have already complied with the law, and it should encourage people to begin to comply if they have not done so already. The forces of law enforcement must be encouraged to work cooperatively to advance the cases of law-abiding immigrants and protect the rights of all persons involved, to the degree that their conduct warrants such attention, and to communicate a simple, clear message regarding rewards for compliance and punishment for defiance, for businesses as well as individuals.

We cannot simply act as if twelve to twenty million people are invisible.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well presented. It seems to me that the underlying problem is that the government does _not_ want the problems solved. _That_ is what I find so difficult to comprehend. What are the motives for inaction? It is said that the Dems want the immigrants for voters, which they expect to control. It is also said that the Repubs are financed by business owners who want cheap labor. Is there a hidden motive in those who want a North American Union similar to the EU? Is it really possible that Bush has that as an ideal? Could he be of a mind with Dems on this? There has to be _something_ - else it's simply a matter of imcompetence, which imo, is simply intolerable.