Monday, August 2, 2010
Mexico and the U.S. - a border of convenience
Today is the third day since Arizona's Immigration Law went into effect. A federal judge, Susan Bolton, had placed a hold on the controversial aspects of the law, pending further review. Those items were clauses allowing state, county, and local police officers to ask for documents showing citizenship or legal status to be in the country, IF the person in question had been stopped for some other legitimate reason in the first place. (In a broader context, the U.S. Attorney General had earlier laid out the case that Arizona's law was usurping a federal responsibility, and therefore unconstitutional.)
The requirements that have been placed on hold had generated multiple angry protests, huge internet website chatter, indignation, charges (of oppression, discrimination, racism, harassment, a police state, similarities to Nazi's persecuting Jews), and counter charges. Judge Bolton also "stayed" was a provision making it illegal for undocumented day laborers to solicit or perform work, and a another requirement for immigrants to carry federal immigration documents.
Arizona argues that the issue is indeed a federal responsibility, but because the federal government is NOT addressing the problem, at least one state is going to try. Interestingly, a number of other states have indicated their interest in Arizona's approach. President Obama calls this law as first proposed 'misguided' and just today, stated the effort was representative of demagogues actions. He explained that we can't have 50 states each with a patchwork set of immigration regulations, though he pointedly did not note the same for a patchwork of "sanctuary cities" who have declared themselves safe for undocumented workers, and in some cases, working actively to insure these individuals can avail themselves of free services.
What is left intact in the Arizona bill are provisions such as: It will become a crime for state officials to interfere with or refrain from enforcement of federal immigration laws. (What does that mean ???) It will also be illegal to pick up and transport day laborers across the state, or to give a ride to or harbor an illegal alien. (How is this to be enforced???) A vehicle used to transport an illegal alien can be impounded. Perhaps, these make little sense because they were meant to be part of a larger package intertwined with those provisions now on hold.
Regardless, as ABC News put it, "Bolton's decision comes as a relief to the more than half million undocumented immigrants who live in Arizona, some of whom were preparing to flee the state in advance of the law's taking effect."
So, the status quo will continue. In spite of the fact that both former President George W. Bush and President Obama, as well as Presidential candidate and Arizona Senator, John McCain, all essentially held the same position for the past several years that there should be comprehensive immigration reform: a secure border, a pathway to citizenship for those here illegally already (such as pay a small fine, and get in the back of the line for legal immigration), and strict penalties for companies who hire undocumented workers.
Editorializing now - this seems reasonable.
Who benefits from the status quo? Businesses mainly - meat packing plants, chicken and hog factories, and all sizes and categories of farming enterprises needing migrant labor in the fields. Why do I point to these? Because this is normally where the raids occur when great swathes of undocumented workers are found.... Immigration officers on a factory raid, buses ready to transport undocumented workers.
Mexico actually benefits greatly as well - in two ways. The porous border allows 6-8-10 million of its citizens to find work elsewhere and send money home. So there is a safety valve against governance that does not seem up to the task, and some US dollars coming back in return. And in truth the US benefits - better a few million workers providing cheap food for all, than a neighboring country that might explode socially without this option. Then there would be a border emergency.
So in some ways, the border constructed as it is, is exactly the one a lot of people want, even if it brings violence and trauma to some. But the status quo has consequences. If we look back at our country's history, it has many examples of racial groups being exploited - Africans as slaves and sharecroppers, the Chinese in the West, native Americans certainly. It does not do our country's "soul" any good to tolerate or live with this current exploitation, and it does no good for a whole new class of workers to learn to avoid eye contact, be invisible, accept second tier returns. (My last point, of course, is a weak one, as these are apparently small prices to pay for a much better life than "back home".)
So the issue IS complicated,and it does need a comprehensive solution. Yet with the politics in the country as they are, there is no political capital left for the current administration to use, and the issue has become a short-hand hot button among a variety of factions. Unfortunately, the status quo also allow racism to rear its head, giving space to those already looking for scapegoats and reasons for prejudice. And more troubling, the situation will likely become more explosive, with the "little people" suffering the most. Don't we have enough trauma in this country without adding a superimposed layer and cycle of immigration roundups - return to Mexico - sneak back across the border - settle in again - little kids growing up with this as their life, before immigration and border security is tackled in a genuine, compassionate and serious manner?
Let's as a nation once again be generous and ordered in our immigration stance as during the latter half of the 1800s when the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island were known around the world as symbols of our ideals. How much better than the hostile yet indifferent border of convenience we have today.