Monday, April 03, 2006

On good ol' liberal guilt

Okay, so like any good liberal, I'm feeling guilty right now. But it's a new and different kind of guilt. It's the kind of guilt you feel when you know what liberals are supposed to be all over right now, and you just can't get behind it. My only real consolation is the fact that I also know what conservatives are supposed to be all over right now, and I can't get behind that, either. But it does leave me in some kind of awkward middle ground, like a Georgia fan at the ACC championships (so at least it's not an unfamiliar middle ground).

I recently linked to Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez's open letter to the media. She wrote about the stereotyping and easy assumptions made by the media regarding the immigration issue, and I wrote about the need to reframe it to accomplish what we're really trying to accomplish (which does vary from person to person, thus the need for a clear frame). Here's the part where I look at the more realistic frame and think, "Wow, I'm.... kind of a crappy liberal."

The frame in question (the real frame, as opposed to the "Ohmigod it's a brown person" frame) is whether or not undocumented Hispanic/Latino immigrants are a threat to a) national security and b) the economy. I'm fairly sure that, as a liberal, I'm supposed to say, "Woohoo! The more the merrier! Come on in; I'm a-liftin' my lamp beside the golden door!" But I'm not saying that. Or I kinda am.

Oh, screw it. Here's what I'm saying:

- I don't know why Mexican (or Honduran, or Salvadoran) immigrants should be any less palatable than their European counterparts. People (particularly conservative people) like to talk about how they're going to come over and laze around and get high and suckle at America's teat. And sure, there are people like that in any subset of society. But if you line up a Mexican woman who works 18-hour days to send money home to her kids, and either (or both) of the Hilton sisters, and I can tell you who is more likely to make worthwhile contributions to society.

- That having been said, it is important that immigrants come through proper channels. The reason that illegal immigrants are called illegal immigrants is that they're doing something that's against the law. And I'll admit, I do have problems with the idea that someone is reaping the benefits of our infrastructure without contributing to the tax base. For instance, rich people who screw the US out of $2.5 billion in tax revenues. I think it just stinks.

- That having been said, from what I've been told, gaining American citizenship is an absolute bitch. The process is lengthy and frequently expensive. It's hard enough to do it when you've got a college education and a comfortably wealthy family (I'm watching a friend prepare to get married in order to secure a green card, and she wishes there were an easier way to do it), but when you don't even have a GED, it's almost out of the question. It sometimes seems that employers are happier to employ illegal immigrants than legal ones, because the ones who can afford citizenship are the ones who aren't willing to work for the wages offered.

- And let's talk about those employers and those wages, shall we? One of the biggest complaints about undocumented immigrants is that they run down labor costs. I understand that; why should an employer pay minimum wage for a legal worker when he can pay crap wages under the table for an illegal one? But I don't hear anyone up in arms about the contractors and farmers and landscapers contributing to the problem; the only time there's a stink is when a politician gets caught with an undocumented nanny. Yes, immigrating illegally is wrong, but they wouldn't do it if there weren't something in it for them on the other side.

- In light of increased wages and benefits - realize that we're going to have to suck it up and pay more. The biggest benefit of illegal immigration is that it allows business owners to keep expenses low and, by extension, prices. If we really want to see wages rising and legal workers in every job, we're going to have to accept paying more than $1.99 a pound for oranges. It's, what do they say, the cost of doing business.

- And while we're talking about businesses, let's talk about Bush's guest worker program. Now, I think that the idea of guiding current illegal immigrants toward citizenship is a great idea. Amnesty obviously wouldn't help things, because it would offer no encouragement to immigrate through legal channels, but there's also no reason to make workers go home to start the citizenship process if they're already here and employed. Here's my problem, though: if we bring in a whole bunch of Mexican "guest workers," that doesn't solve the problem of low wages. It just gives business owners another steady supply of cheap labor and no encouragement to pay an actual living wage.

- This might come off a bit jingoistic, but - if you're going to be marching and chanting for immigrant rights and equality, you might want to do it in English. I have nothing against people who speak Spanish, I don't think that being an American means giving up any part of your heritage, and I think it's actually quite cool that you can wander around the US and hear so many languages spoken fluently. I think that the ability to incorporate a great many cultures into one country is one thing that makes America great. But "¡Si, Se Puede!" isn't going to convince the country that you really feel like Americans. As Doug put it, "That's like going to a march against profanity and shouting, 'Fuck yeah, profanity has to fucking go, dammit!'"

- Someone pointed out to me recently, and I don't remember who, that the terrorists who blew up the World Trade Center didn't creep across the border under cover of night or stow away in a container ship. They got visas, lived in apartments, paid power bills, took flying lessons - they were neither illegal or undocumented, outside of the fact that many of them overstayed their visas. A great big wall and a whole lot of razor wire will protect neither our homeland nor our economy, and I don't see why we should spend the money on it.

- Any law that prevents a hospital from providing medical care or a church from providing food just because the recipient doesn't have seine Papiere in order is unchristian. Yup! I said it. Not that I think for a minute that our legislation needs to have any significant basis in the teachings of Christianity, but if you're going to call yourself a Christian, you're going to have to do the kind of stuff that Jesus says to do. And one of his biggest things was helping the poor and downtrodden. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my people, that you do unto me," Jesus said. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus asks, "Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?" And the answer is, "The one who had mercy on him." That's because Christianity is about love and charity and mercy, not judgment of someone who just wants to feed his freaking family! Jesus! And I mean that.

So, in a nutshell: Immigration reform, totally messed up. From either party. Messed up. Totally.

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