Thursday, July 29, 2010

Immigration reform: lessons from my lawn?

I have returned from my sister's memorial in San Diego, and I'll have more to say on that score (not that anyone asked) once my thoughts and feelings fully jell. Suffice it to say for now that it was a sad and dislocating experience, and more so for me than it would be for most, I think.

Today I'll venture a few thoughts about a topic on seemingly everyone's mind these days: immigration reform, and Arizona's specialized slant thereon. Let's start with a simple and despicable, but thoroughly logical, notion: If my home state, Pennsylvania, were to pass a law that made it perfectly legal to torture and kill all adults suspected of being illegal immigrants, and to rape their children in the bargain, and if that law were somehow to survive constitutional and other challenges, you would soon see a mass exodus of illegal aliens out of Pennsylvania.* (You might be surprised at how many Mexican day workers crowd this state, but you really shouldn't be, given Pennsylvania's immense sweep of agricultural land.) In this scenario, the risks of illegal residency would suddenly and terrifyingly outweigh the potential rewards, ergo most people would make the sensible, obvious decision.

Much the opposite situation applies in Arizona
currently the nexus of profound political posturing and demagoguery (but very little actual thought)as well as the rest of the states that share a border with Mexico. If you manage to make it safely across that border, you can get a job, albeit usually a menial one, which is still better than what you faced back home. If you're a pregnant woman who can get north of that border before the labor pains hit, your baby enjoys instant citizenship and is fully entitled to all the benefits of same. But really, any alien is effectively entitled to those same benefits, even if he or she sneaks into the U.S. at age 30. Fall ill and the best hospitals in the land will rig your IVs. Schools, in general, will accept you and educate you. If you can find a job that allows you to establish some reasonable financial persona, banks will extend you credit. Police will come to your squatter's development, if need be, and settle internecine disputesoften, these days, without alerting la migra.

An unassailable truth: Reward a behavior and you get more of it. This is the case whether we're talking about immigrants or children or dogs or husbands. It even applies to the crows on my back lawn. A year or two ago a handful of them landed near my dining room picture window one morning, quite at random; I went out and tossed them a few pieces of leftover bread. That started something. Today there are dozens of crows, and their appearance at multiple times throughout the day is no longer random. I rewarded their behavior, so I got more of it. This is the wild card, the underlying conundrum, that profoundly complicates discussions of the "humane" aspects of illegal immigration.

If you have a national policy on immigration that in effect imposes no sanctions for being in the country illegally, then your so-called policy will fast become, as ours has, a joke. Of course I realize that it's inhumane to refuse to treat sick children, regardless of whether they should or shouldn't be here in the first place, but that eminently human spirit of Christian generosity causes more of them to be here. Same with the availability of jobs, housing, schooling, credit, the specter of at least modest upward mobility, etc.

Although I am very conflicted about all this,
on one point I am crystal, as Nicholson put it in A Few Good Men: It irks me no end when politicians disregard principles and embrace sound-bite platforms in order to pander to an evolving voting bloc. America is hurtling toward becoming a nation where the primary spoken language will be Spanish; someday soon the phone prompts will say, "For English, press 2." And so when politicians look at Hispanics, they don't see Hispanics. They see a constituency.

Wherever you fall in the vast and vitriolic immigration debate, I think we agree that this cannot go on forever. It's untenable, unsustainable. If we continue to welcome (or fail to meaningfully discourage) everyone from Mexico and points beyond, we risk becoming a satellite of Latin America. The situation that now applies in social security, with increasingly fewer working people subsidizing the finances of increasingly vast numbers of retirees, will apply throughout American society.

We cannot absorb the Third World without joining the Third World. Hell, in some respects, we're already there.

* I am not suggesting this, or anything like this, as policy! Just to be clear. I'm simply posing a theoretical for the purposes of argument.

3 comments:

RevRon's Rants said...

Thanks for bringing some reason to a typically unreasonable debate, Steve. Living in Texas, I hear a constant flow of demands for "border security," mostly in the form of calls for completing the border fence and adding more troops. I cannot help but wonder if these critics actually believe that their "solutions" will have the desired effect, despite the fact that common sense would indicate otherwise.

Ironically, it is the very people who are quick to criticize the federal government for not "doing its job" that are vigorously fighting the administration's efforts at immigration reform. Those critics are, in many cases, either the mouthpieces of - or the the recipients of significant support from - the industries that benefit from the cheap labor that illegal immigration provides. What is ironic is that many of the very people whose lives are most adversely affected by the flood of illegal immigrants have enthusiastically chimed on the hypocritical posturing that prevents any real progress from being made.

And we bemoan the gullibility of the New Wage sycophants??!

Steve Salerno said...

Ron: Good points. Nor is this debate altogether unrelated to the New Wage movement, or at least SHAMland as a whole. There can be no doubt that issues of entitlement, victimization, and "enabling/codependency" (all of which come out of the great SHAM songbook) are central to discussions of immigration policy nowadays.

RevRon's Rants said...

The issues you describe might be central to the debate, but IMO, they're just PR props, used to mask the one real issue. If you want to get to the root of the debate, follow the money.

Come to think of it, the same holds true for SHAM-land.