Saturday, 10 November 2007

More Thoughts on Immigration

This is another publication that my father e-mailed me. I have found it online here, and it is another, more direct, screed against immigration across the southern US border. Again, because it is not my work, I will only link to it, but again, I recommend reading it before reading my response.

To begin with, I certainly sympathise with the wish that these people change their own country for the better; I would in fact dearly love to see that happen. However, their situation is far removed from that of the Revolutionary War era colonists. In many ways, ours is the heel from under which these people are trying to escape. America is the idyllic land of plenty, after all, and our patriotic posturing does nothing to diminish that image. We project exactly the image that draws them to us, and we do little to ease their misery where they come from.

I have had my own Mexican border experience. I drove through Tijuana to get to my partner's sister's wedding, and saw from a distance but nevertheless firsthand the abject poverty and desperation that has unfortunately come to characterise that city. That people would want to get away from it is more than understandable; it would be surprising to find anyone wanting otherwise. There is most certainly a problem here, and elsewhere along the border, but the solution to the problem is not merely to make it harder for desperate people to escape their predicament. (I would emphasise as well that I acknowledge that even legal immigration will not necessarily allow them to escape their predicament. This is a deeper and more complex
issue than the right wing is usually willing to acknowledge, one which requires a concerted effort on many fronts to resolve.)

The article implies that all illegal immigrants are drug smugglers, burglars, and vandals. Many may be, but I would be surprised if all or even most were. Mostly, they just want a better life for themselves and their families, and I would not deny them that. These people, as the article freely admits, are desperate. Fencing them out will not alleviate that. Treating them like human beings will. In fact, I am amazed at the lack of empathy expressed in this piece. The allusion to the Boston Tea Party in the last paragraph reminds me more of Marie Antoinette's "let them eat cake": the Americans here simply have no comprehension of what life is like for the Mexicans. Honestly, I may not have a clue as to what life is like for Americans
on the border, and I certainly wouldn't want to live there. But I can tell pretty clearly that the Americans on the border do not know or care what life is like for the Mexicans on the border. I can say with certainly that, however desperate the Americans may think their lot is, that of the Mexicans is considerably worse.

Actually, rereading this article, I find myself appalled at the writer's lack of empathy. "The first time Kennedy saw 30 illegals
dashing across his property, he'd trip over his Guatemalan lawn guy rushing to the Senate floor to demand enforcement"? I would hope not. I would not. I am not "confused", or without logic, or "all emotion." I want for these immigrants no more than they want for themselves: a reasonable chance at making an honest, sustainable living. You want emotion? My emotional reaction to this is that Americans tend to act as though they are a different and superior species from all other
humans on the planet, and this article does nothing to persuade me otherwise. These are *people* that we're talking about here, human beings, not "just Mexicans". I find that this attitude puts the lie to the supposedly superior moral sense that the Christian right likes to pat itself on the back for.

So, how should we fix things? Honestly, this is not a matter to which I have given enough thought to feel competent to suggest solutions. I am not familiar with the legislation in question, and as such will not speculate on its effectiveness. Amnesty and guest-worker programmes are one step, perhaps in the right direction; I am not sure. I would emphasise that I deplore the Gastarbeiter situation in Germany as you have described it to me. Ultimately, the solution there is to make
things in the Middle East better for the Gastarbeiter, and here to improve the lot of Mexico. More than that, we need to recognise the worth of each of these places, to help their natives acknowledge that they need not leave to improve their lots in life. That cannot happen, of course, unless they genuinely can improve their lots in life in their own countries, and we must acknowledge that, to some extent at least, their inability to do so is our own fault. I think that unrestrained capitalism, combined with an almost religious patriotism, is ultimately at the root of the problem. I do not advocate abandoning capitalism (at least not as regards international competition) but it must be regulated far more, with an eye to the living condition that it fosters amongst other countries, if it is to be fair.

The article's bias is likewise apparent in its disparagement of the ACLU and its approval of the Minutemen. I do not doubt that the latter organisation has many good people with genuine concern for their country amongst it, but the fact remains that it is at its heart a vigilante organisation. Yes, we need to patrol our borders more effectively, but we need to do so with accountability, a principle inherently lacking in vigilante organisations. As for the ACLU, I am not sure what that particular organisation's role in this affair is, and this article does not give the impression that its author attempted to find out. I doubt that the ACLU is "confused": human rights are human rights, and are not limited by nationality or legal status, and with the high emotions, low opinion of immigrants, and lack of accountability here, I would be suspicious as well of how people were treated.

To summarise, I think this article is a prime example of how conservativism is anything but compassionate.