Monday, May 22, 2006

I Got Here Yesterday So All These Other People Have To Leave Right Now

The debate on illegal immigration has an even weirder aspect in Arizona, where the people complaining the loudest about it have been here less time that the illegals. Anyway, I had fun with this one, but my suggestion for the headline was even more subversive: "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm, señor?" But the Tribune editor didn't much go for ethnic humor, although he did let me keep all the other zingers.

East Valley Tribune, May 21, 2006

It looks like Bush’s speech last week on immigration worked about as well as the Harriet Miers nomination. But what, exactly, made immigration the most important thing in politics today?

It’s not like Iraq war is going swell. The budget’s totally out of whack, Hurricane Katrina showed the Bush administration as grossly unprepared for natural or man-made disasters, and while those at the very top are getting absolutely huge compensation packages and enormous tax cuts, real wages for everybody else have declined. And don’t forget the Libby indictment, the administration’s view of the Constitution and bans on torture as things it can ignore at the president’s pleasure, and the congressional-and-CIA hookers-cigars-and-earmarks scandal.

With so much incompetence from which to choose, why has immigration suddenly caused so-called “conservatives” to question or abandon President Bush? Big majorities of Americans think the country is on the wrong track, but it took day laborers loitering in Home Depot parking lots to make die-hard Republicans rethink things?

Little hard evidence exists that undocumented aliens living and working in Arizona have increased that much, in percentage terms, from 10 years ago when immigration wasn’t really an issue. Border Patrol arrests are way up, but those numbers are affected by changes in enforcement resources, both here and in neighboring states, and arrests aren’t necessarily a good guide to how many are here already. There’s anecdotal evidence of a qualitative change, that border-crossers today are more violent and less, well, nice than previously -- just like how these kids today are no good! And that noise they call music! It’s not like when we were kids in 1969!

Of course, estimates of illegal immigrants are notoriously unreliable, with results depending on the different methodologies used to estimate numbers of people actively trying to avoid detection. It makes sense that we have many more undocumenteds in absolute terms than a decade ago, because Arizona (and its economy) is that much bigger and more populous. Yes, census estimates of the percentages of immigrants and Hispanics have increasing, but it was already high, and growth in the number over the past few years is a point and a fraction.

But without any statistical proof, it seems almost everybody is acting like previous generations did when the next wave of immigrants arrived behind them. Translate J.D. Hayworth into Yiddish and he sounds much like the German Jews complaining when those déclassé Eastern European Jews (like my grandparents) reached Ellis Island. Why?

Peter Laufer had a theory in his book Wetback Nation, excerpted in Washington Monthly magazine last year and plugged by Paul Glastris on the magazine’s Web site recently. Laufer predicted that immigration would become the Next Hot Political Thing as migrants started settling in “non-traditional” (meaning Red State) locations.

It was traditional, and expected, for new immigrants to land in border states or big cities. But changes in the U.S. economy have shifted demand for lower-cost labor from “traditional” urban and border locations, where people are used to the continuing cycle of immigration and assimilation, to new communities in the Sun Belt and suburbs. Immigrants of all types have gone where the jobs are, and that’s where lots of existing residents aren’t used to immigrants, and the existing folks don’t like it much.

Instead of being happy that you can now get pretty good Mexican food in Georgia or Virginia, people who don’t read much anyway are furious that so many signs are in Spanish. People here understand that Hispanics have been in the East Valley since even before the first Anglos, but previously newcomers stayed in the Hispanic neighborhoods or lived way out by the farms. But there are no farms “way out there” anymore; they’re now new subdivisions. People resent that nobody today respects our good old American traditions, like de facto segregation.

So you have Bill O’Reilly, as if reading from The Protocols of the Elders of Mexico, claiming that there’s a powerful, secret immigrant cabal seeking to dominate the country. Fox’s John Gibson pleads with white people to have more babies. That’s today’s immigration debate -- and there are fewer things more pitiful than powerful white guys worried life is passing them by.

1 comment:

Craig said...

You asked: "...what, exactly, made immigration the most important thing in politics today?"

And then you answered your own question.

"It’s not like Iraq war...and the congressional-and-CIA hookers-cigars-and-earmarks scandal."

Everything that you listed as going wrong is something the Republicans are responsible for. Any Rep who runs on that record, loses.

They know that. Since they are not stupid (Arrogant certainly, corrupt probably, but not stupid. JD and W excepted) they are running on something they don't have to take responsibility for.

Yup, 'dem durn furriners' to the rescue.