A View From The Handbasket

Monday, March 27, 2006
The Train of Death
Posted by neros_fiddle at 1:05 PM
Immigration is as complex and subtle an issue as they come. Of course, that doesn't deter people from painting it as a matter of keeping out brown people who don't speak English. One has to wonder what the popular attitude toward immigration would be if Mexico and Central America were populated with English-speaking white people.

In reality, though, we get a steady stream of invective attacking the "lazy" Hispanics who come to America to steal jobs and government services from citizens while having lots of babies. These critics have found a new rallying point in HR 4437, legislation from Rep. James Sensenbrenner (from the immigration hotspot of Wisconsin) that will ratchet up enforcement, add several new regulations to the ones that are currently being ignored, and build a literal wall at the border. Most extraordinarily, this bill would make assisting illegal aliens a felony, which will freeze out a variety of community services including ESL training (it's somewhat ironic that the people who are offended by people who don't speak English are actively trying to eliminate workplace ESL programs).

Yet all this "get tough" rhetoric and legislation misses the point (as is the case with most "get tough" measures). If the proponents of HR 4437 think that they can intimidate people from attempting to enter the country, they have no idea of the reality. Spend a few minutes and listen to this recent episode of NPR's Fresh Air, in which Sonia Nazario relates her experiences reporting on children attempting to follow their parents to the US, and the unthinkable obstacles they face before even reaching the border.

Backers of HR 4437 such as Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole claim:

Illegal immigration, however, creates an underclass of workers, creates a disadvantage for those who wish to enter our country lawfully and puts our nation's security at risk.

There will always be an underclass fueled by immigration. There is nothing we can do to stop it as long as the demand for low-cost labor exists, and the supply of people desperate to escape the Third World exists. What HR 4437 represents is the decision of what to do with that underclass. Do we allow them to stay at the margins of America, or try to push them off the edge? Though shoving them toward the cliff won't help the underlying problems, it sure seems to make a lot of people feel better, as they cower behind their blinds staring hatefully at the guy mowing their neighbor's lawn.

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