Well, I thought the election season was over, but I was mistaken.
There are actually run off elections this Saturday in Louisiana for
Congress in Districts 4 and 2. I heard a radio commercial for one of
the candidates in the District 4 runoff election that dealt with
immigration. And it stirred some repressed political angst within me.
I get angry when people do dumb things. It grates against my soul.
This is why I get so frustrated when I hear a Republican figure,
whether it is Rush Limbaugh or Mitt Romney, talk about illegal
The battle cry of the conservative wing of the Republican Party
regarding immigration chants predictable slogans about illegal
immigrants stealing jobs, about the need for “No Amnesty,” about
immigrants getting back in line, about getting them to learn English,
and about preserving our American culture. Now, I truly believe that
preserving our American culture is an extremely important endeavor.
The melting pot of America has created the most free, most open, and
most prosperous nation in the history of the world. That is definitely
something worth preserving. However, accusing illegal immigrants of
stealing jobs, screaming “No Amnesty!” at every opportunity, and
insisting that they learn English before they come, and making all
immigrants get back in line, or else, are some of the worst possible
ways to preserve the American culture.
Each of these individual points of the immigration debate has its
individual issues and circumstances, but first I want to address what
seems to be the gist of all of the Republican talk on immigration. It
appears from the jabber I hear on the radio and in campaign speeches
that millions of Mexicans (and all other brands of Hispanics)
streaming into the Southwest and into our cities is a bad thing.
This is a bad thing? When has it ever been a problem for millions of
people to want to get into our country? We have Hispanics jumping
fences, scurrying across deserts, and generally risking their life and
welfare for what? They do it to mow your lawn, cook your restaurant
order and pick some carrots in California. Really? Yes, really.
Imagine someone risking everything to pick carrots in California. That
doesn’t sound like a problem for America. That sounds to me like
America is still the land of opportunity, that it is still great, that
it is still a shining city on a hill. It looks like there is still
evidence of America’s inherent goodness, America’s optimistic promise,
and America’s hopeful dream.
On the interior of the Statue of Liberty, the words from the poem “The
New Colossus” are inscribed as context for the effigy. It reads in
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Wow. That is an extremely high standard for a nation, yet we’ve done
it. We have taken in the tired, the poor, and the rejected. We have
allowed them to prosper and become full citizens and we are still
reaping the benefits of this immigration over a hundred of years
later. And we are AFRAID of Mexican immigration? We are afraid of day
laborers outside of Home Depot? So, this is OUR country and not some
Spanish speaking suburb of Mexico? Say what you will and speak what
you believe, but I call that cowardice; I call it the storied pomp of
ancient lands; I call that rejecting the high calling of our history;
I call it devastating our American culture.
Now, that’s a critique of a general attitude toward immigration. I’m
sure that many people are reading those last few paragraphs, liking
what they hear, but still have great worries about the state of
affairs regarding immigration. That is okay. This is where we talk
about specific details of the illegal immigration issue. Trying to fix
specific things involving immigration does not mean that you have a
cowardly and pompous view of immigration. It means that you want to
fix a specific situation. That is a good thing. However, the
ineptitude of Republican’s ability to fix specific situations leads me
to suspect a xenophobia mindset over a real public service mindset.
Let me explain.
We hear “No Amnesty!” all the time, but what does that even mean? I
know it means that we will NOT allow illegal immigrants to stay here
scot-free, but what does it mean that we WILL do?
I’m getting conflicting answers to this question of what Republicans
WILL do. The first answer I hear to this question is nothing. As a
matter of fact it is more accurate to say this is the first answer I
do NOT hear. Instead of answering the question, many Republicans just
scream “No Amnesty!” even louder. Ignoring the question does not solve
The second answer I hear is deportation. Now, I give you kudos for
actually answering the question, but an “F-” for giving a dumb answer.
The current estimates for the number of illegal immigrants in America
runs around 12 million. It could be as high as 20 million. How on
earth would we even deport one million people from the United States?
I don’t want to even think about 12 or 20 million. If we even tried
this, it would be so inefficient and sparsely enforced that it would
merely be a pitiful footnote of the immigration conundrum. Also, we
would still retain all our immigration problems.
The third answer to this immigration question actually has the
possibility of doing something, but it could have some rather severe
side effects. This involves putting pressure on employers, through
fines and revoking business licenses, not to hire illegal immigrants.
Once there is enough pressure on employers, there will be no jobs for
illegals, therefore they will go home. Now, this looks closer to the
market to solve problems than a pure government fiat like “Deport
'em!” so it might actually work. But what will an effective strategy
of forcing employers not to hire illegal aliens look like?
Well, first I must say that it will not reduce the number of illegal
immigrants. By reduce, I mean none of them will pack up and go back
home. They may get fired from their jobs, but they will just have to
find different jobs that are untraceable: the kind of jobs for which
you apply by standing outside Home Depot all day waiting for pick-up
trucks to pass by. Now of course everybody wants less illegal
immigration, but this course of action does not offer more or less
illegal immigration. These people scurry across the desert in the dead
of night to get to the land of opportunity. Do we honestly imagine
them scurrying back to Mexico, a place where drug lords are currently
waging war with the government, because there are no legal jobs here?
This course of action has nothing to do with sending immigrants back
home. It merely offers the choice more illegal immigrants with jobs or
more illegal immigrants who are poor, out of work, and desperately
searching for the means to acquire money. Which sounds worse for our
Now, remember our original goal: to preserve our American culture. If
we scare immigrants away from getting legal, tax-paying jobs by
heavily cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants and if
we scare immigrants away from reporting crimes to police that happen
within their neighborhoods because their naturalization status could
be questioned, how will these people ever assimilate into our American
culture? Won’t they just stay in their crime-ridden Spanish-speaking
neighborhoods? Some may say that they should learn English before they
come to America, but how is a dirt-poor laborer supposed to learn
English BEFORE he gets to America? When have we ever forced immigrants
to learn English before they got here? Travel to New York City, you’ll
find that some immigrants who came at the turn of the 20th century
STILL speak Italian or German or Yiddish or Hindi or whatever
normally. And how are Hispanics supposed to learn English if they are
restricted to their own immigrant neighborhoods in order to guard
against deportation? How can they become accustomed to the Land of
Opportunity when that land is primarily concerned with deportation,
green cards, fluent English before employment, and other forms of red
I am sure that there are some readers who have become angrier and
angrier as they have continued to read because I am ignoring the
central issue of illegal immigration: since these people came over
illegally, it destroys any semblance of a rule of law. To this, I
agree. I see it silly and dangerous that breaking the law is more
common that following it regarding immigration. The question is not
"Should the pattern be changed?" but instead, "Who do we correct?" Why
do we want to correct millions of Hispanics for wanting to come to the
Land of Opportunity, to better their lives through hard work and the
sweat of their brow? Many people say that they should have gotten in
line, but what does that involve? Most Americans don’t know. We’ve had
so many proposed laws, so many rejected laws, so much talk about guest
worker programs, and so much hot air about Green Cards, that I’m
starting to be confused about what the real path to citizenship is.
And if I’m confused, just think about your average illegal immigrant.
Whose fault is this?
I have a general rule about these things. Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me 12 to 20 million times, there is
probably a federal agency somewhere in the mix. If it is so easy to
cross the boarder that hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants
come into America every year and if it is so difficult to get
citizenship that millions of immigrants who want to get citizenship
either cannot afford to do so or are backlogged on waiting lists, why
is our criticism aimed at the illegal immigrants who are coming across
the border? It seems like we should be yelling at the federal
government. True the Republican Party has been yelling at the federal
government about this, but the main things we have been yelling is “No
Amnesty!” “No Amnesty” is an empty phrase that usually means nothing.
Occasionally it does mean something, but it means something really
dumb like mass deportation, scaring immigrants back into the secluded
corners of immigrant neighborhoods, and shutting off legal, tax-paying
employment opportunities like guest worker programs. Apparently, we
don’t want illegal immigrants to get back in the line to citizenship.
We want them to get back in line to go back to Mexico. How else can we
explain the resistance to various proposed “paths to citizenship,”
which include fines, tax-paying jobs, and an end to illegal status
which is a mockery of the rule of law? When the federal government
tries to act, they are met with a barrage of angry voters who haven’t
really thought through the issue. It seems that the inaction and
ineptitude that many conservative Republicans find so despicable in
Washington are due to conservative Republicans themselves.
I am also a political animal. It makes me angry when I see tired,
poor, and huddled masses turned away at the golden door, but it also
makes me angry when I see my party committing political suicide. If
you notice, Barack Obama made significant inroads among Hispanic
voters in November. So I ask: Since when are socially conservative,
hard-working, middle class citizens, like the legal Hispanic
population, turned off to the Republican Party? Since Republicans got
so ardent about “No Amnesty,” that’s when. Many Hispanics match so
well to Republican principles, it tears me up that so many Republicans
have been duped into championing stupid phrases which drive away our
closest political allies. I think “No Amnesty” beats “Yes We Can” for
Dumbest Political Phrase of the year.
That’s all I have to say about that. I’m getting so angry I’m becoming
a little incoherent.
-J. Caleb Jones
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