Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Hispanics in your backyard at 3 a.m.

Let's get this straight up front: George Will is a curmudgeonly old stick who has managed to lose whatever common sense and humanity he ever had toadying to the power brokers in today's GOP. He's become Rush Limbaugh in a tweed jacket.

Still, the man is what passes for an "intellectual" of the Right. I can only assume that this is the only reason that today's Oregonian ("We're the Worst Newspaper In the World But We're The Only Newspaper In Portland!") was willing to front up his appalling screed on the Arizona "Papieren, bitte!" immigration law.

As usual, Will takes his little conservative sawed-off shotgun of Deep Conservative Thinking, aims it at the Godless Lib'ruls, and blows off his own foot. And, no, I'm not going to link to the sunovabitch. Google "George Will" and "Arizona immigration" and you'll find his worthless ass.

Specifically what he does is he manages to completely miss the whole point of those of us who find the new law so frigging stupid.

It doesn't have anything to do with racism. Or fascism. Or anti-Mexican prejudice. Or the damn Tea Party idiots and what they do or don't believe is true.

Nope. It's in the process that's stated in S.B. 1070 in these words: "For any lawful contact made by a low enforcement official or agency...where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a resonable attempt shall be made, when practical, to determine the immigration status of that individual."

"Where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States..."

Do you see the problem here?

Let's say that I am Canadian. I slipped across the border into Oregon, applied for a state ID (which in my state does not require proof of citizenship). I have a job, a house, am in all ways indistinguishable from someone born in Portland or Gresham except that I'm not a legal U.S. citizen.

How is a Maricopa sheriff's deputy going to know that?

Should I wear a Canucks jersey? Go around saying "eh?" a lot? Wear snowshoes in Tempe and run gallumphing away when the county cruiser drives by?

Let's cut through the bullshit being spouted about this and man up to the fact that there are only two ways to enforce this law:

1. Target groups or individuals who are "likely" to be in the U.S. illegally.

This is clearly what the law intends. It is designed to smoke out Latinos; Mexicans, Salvadorians, Hondurans, Guatemalans, who are in the country without their papers. Will's column admits as much. He describes it as a "cry for help" because the feds have failed to control passage through our southern border. In the process he also makes the specious claim that Democrats and liberals who object to this are only doing so to win Hispanic votes, but, nevermind, it's George Will. Will makes the assertion that this is merely federalism at work, and that we who know Hispanics only as people with leafblowers in our front yards at noon - rather than in our backyards at 3 a.m. - need to get over it and let Arizonans get on with the job.

(Let me also observe the nasty implicit racisim in the notion that because the Arizonans who like this law are more "familiar" with brown people they have more reason to suspect that many of them are criminals. But, nevermind, it's George Will.)

If this is the intent - which it is - the law is clearly both wrong in intent and illegal in practice. If it becomes obvious that Arizona lawmen are stopping hispanic-looking people and asking for their papers the disparity and prejudicial intent of the law will be legally unavoidable. When the first Hispanic U.S. citizen unable to produce the appropriate papers is arrested (and at least one will be - the Border Patrol and the USCIS, charged with enforcing immigration law, do this all the time) the violent and debilitating payout of taxpayer funds in lawsuits will begin. How many deputies and librarians will Arizona counties have to lay off before realizing that this is a mug's game?

2. Begin asking random individuals for their proof of citizenship.

Game over. The "Papers, please!" chestnut is the oldest shorthand for dictatorship we know. When and if this happens, Arizona will have officially become the rubber bobo head for all the dumb nativist beliefs spouted everywhere in the U.S. And yes, I'm looking mostly at you, conservatives. You've embraced this tarbaby all on your ownselves.

More to the point, none of this really has anything to do with dealing with the problem of controlling our southern border and why it is so difficult.

I have no doubt that this law has something to do with hating on some Mexicans and something to with the a certain type of person's approach to a problem being to find the biggest stick possible and beat on it. But that's not the problem.

One problem is that this law is an unenforcibly bad law; it requires Arizona cops to choose between racism and authoritarianism. It's said that hard cases make bad law. Well, bad law makes for hard cases, and this one is going to be as bad as can be. But that's not the problem, either.

The problem is that this law is a symptom. The problem is that this is a symptom of the kind of bad, stupid, things that people do when they have no patience and no intelligence to come up with a complex solution to a complex problem. The problem is that this law isn't all that much different than doing bad, stupid things like launching land wars and occupying lands in central Asia in retaliation for an act of civilian criminality by a handful of raggedy-ass guerillas. It's not all that much different from doing bad, stupid things like passing legislation that let slicky-boys run financial Ponzi schemes and then refusing to change anything when their greed and dumb stupidity impoverish others.

Back in June of 2007 I talked a lot about this. About how the "illegal immigration" problem isn't really an "illegal immigration" problem but a multi-car pileup of social, economic and political ills in Central America, economic imbalance across the Border, pig-stupid U.S. drug and labor laws, wishful thinking and reality-avoidance on all sides wrapped up in the bone-deep simplicity of the sort of people like Arizona's governor and her fellow thumb-hammerers in the state legislature. About how this does nothing more than punish people desperate to help themselves and their families while doing nothing, less than nothing, about the problems and structural instability that brought them there.

I have no hope that the sort of people in Arizona who thought this law would work will suddenly get smarter. In fact, I have little hope at all that my nation as a whole can avoid the long slide into magical thinking and stupid answers to difficult questions that this law represents. All I can do is repeat to Governor Brewer and the idiotic legislators of Arizona now what I said then:
"The real issue - the one Which Dare Not Speak Its Name - is that the institutional poverty, misgovernance and social maladjustment of most Latin American countries is so profound and so destructive that to address it would take every penny that the U.S. has spent on poorly planned foreign adventures and more. Much more.

So instead we get this idiotic argument that all we need to do is fence these little heatherns out and everything wil be Good. God will once again be White and in His Heaven, the food will magically get harvested, processed, cooked and served by Real Amurikans (actual Citizens) who will suddenly, magically, want to work for the pittance we want to pay for these jobs to prevent our food, clothing and service costs from reflecting what it would cost to pay humans actually living wages to do these things.

As Hadrian himself might have said: Nam tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet.

It is your business when your neighbour's house is on fire."
Hadrian used stone to build his wall and try and keep the Pictish wetbacks out. It was a warlike act and as such it worked for a time. But eventually the pressure from without and the rot from within knocked the rocks down.

I have no idea of what it means that the only rocks involved here are inside people like Jan Brewer's and Russel Pearce's and George Will's heads.


rangeragainstwar said...

Simple solution- don't drive low riders thru Arizona.

FDChief said...

Or order a chorizo scramble at Denny's...

The thing is, I am serious about the problem of controlling borders. A county that can't control who and what goes across its borders isn't truly soverign. We have a problem with people crossing our border, most of those people are coming from Latin America, but this isn't a smart way to solve that problem.

1. It asks Arizona cops to become immigration agents in their work time. Now every contact - every bystander interview, every traffic stop - is supposed to become immigration enforcement if the copper has a "reasonable suspicion" that the person (s)he is talking to is illegal.

2. It therefore ensures that a lot of stuff that happens in the illegal community will go underground, making it even tougher for the cops to police that group. Nobody will talk to the coppers if they thing they're gonna be hauled off to La Migra.

3. It punishes the low-level snuffies - the people who are here to get work and live better - for problems that they can't solve and that punishing them won't solve.

4. There's no way to apply this in a way that's not either prejudicial or dictatorial. One of the people who responded to this (I crossposted it to my Facebook page) talked about how there was a "similar law" requiring people to prove their residence as a condition of employment. THAT would be a much better solution to trying to reduce the number of people here illegally because you don't have to make a judgement call. Everybody who works gets checked. This law forces the working copper to make a decision on the fly as to when it's "reasonable" to check Der Papers.

The only way this problem gets "solved" long-term is to make Latin America more attractive to its own people. I'm not sure how you do that. But I'm sure that this isn't really a workable solution.

EGrise said...

Pushing criminal activity further underground worries me; here in Austin we just had an illegal alien sex-slave ring busted thanks, in part, to cooperation from the Mexican community. Without that cooperation I wonder...

Col. Lang has an interesting idea:

"De-couple residence and economic activities from citizenship between the US and Mexico. In other words we/they can live anywhere we want in the two countries, can own anything we want and take our money wherever we want. You would pay taxes in the country(s) in which you made it or lived. This would have nothing to do with citizenship. In this plan if you wanted to become a voting citizen, you would have to go through whatever process the receiving country prescribed. I suspect that few Mexicans would want US citizenship. they just want the money."

FDChief said...

EGrise: Pat Lang is always worth a read, and I think he's on to something here.

I mean, when you think about it, what's at stake here?

1. Control of the border. A nation that cannot control what and who crosses its border is missing a vital element of soverignty. The problem here is that the border is both immense and porous, and the factors driving the latino Volkerwanderung are immense. complex and hard to get a handle on from both sides of the border.

I was thinking about this after I read your comment and Lang's idea and realized that the situation that the U.S. and its southern neighbor find themselves in is really almost sui generis in human history. Think about it; when has the combination of

a. two neighboring polities of such vastly disparate wealth who were

b. joined by a land frontier hundreds of miles long

ever existed without a state of de facto war between the two? The only remotely similar historical parallels I can think of are the great continental empires (Roman and Han Chinese) with their "barbarian" neighbors, the Romans with the central European tribes, the Han with the horse nomads to the north and west. And those empires basically warred with the "illegal aliens" until the border-crossers grew strong enough and pulled them down.

So we can't find a historical parallel to guide us. Is there any hope of stemming the movement from the south?

Well, we could fortify the border, really fortify it. ISTM that doing so would be to declare war on the peoples to the south. Not to mention that you'd have to construct what would be effectively a police state to catch the underground that would spring up to get people under, over, and around the Hadrian's Wall you built.


FDChief said...


So I think the "control of the border" issue becomes secondary to "social and economic control" as a means of dealing with this.

Because basically people aren't a problem if they're just existing somewhere. They become a problem when they become a political issue - a fractious minority, say, like the Basques in Spain or the Algerians in France, or the Tamils in Sri Lanka. And they become a problem when they create OTHER social problems, like Russian mafioso or Salvadorian drug dealers.

The drug problems, IMO, are largely our own creation. If we had sensible drug laws, including legalizing much of the softer drugs like flake cocaine and weed, we'dgo a long way to taking the steam out of the narcotraficantes.

And as far as the rest goes, Lang's proposal - tax the wages, forget the citizenship - seems sensible enough to me. I don't see border crossing as a problem per se. It's the problems caused by an underground of "illegal" residents that are the real issue. Deal with the social ills and let the rest sort itself out...

Barry said...

FDChief: "...Not to mention that you'd have to construct what would be effectively a police state to catch the underground that would spring up to get people under, over, and around the Hadrian's Wall you built."

Considering that a whole bunch of business really, really, really like having an cheap, expendable and unempowered source of labor, getting a true 'Hadrians' Wall' built ain't gonna fly.

In a sense, this is like wondering if you should favor a war to 'liberate' your country from it's dictator - the USA isn't striving for 'liberation', but for a docile Our SOB, and even if it were, war has many bad side effects, so to speak.

FDChief said...

Barry: I agree that the thing that the GOP anti-immigration shouters haven't really thought out is what happens if we DO run off all these illegals.

I see immense tension in the Right here between the "business conservatives" who really don't want much change in the status quo and the "teabag conservatives", many of whom seem to be motivated by Fear of the Brown. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out.

My concern is that we'll see a substantial, unassimilated hispanic community/communities over the next 50 years who will develop into an undigestible voting bloc. We've watched as the combination of the wealthy, Old South, and New West "conservatives" have paralyzed our deliberative process because they want to spend money for wars and Medicaid but not pay taxes for jack shit.

What happens when this bloc collides with a hispanic "bloc" with its own agenda I have no idea...

EGrise said...

Thanks for the thoughtful reply (with which I pretty much agree 100%). I'll try to respond in kind:

I think you're on to something when you point out our ahistoric situation. To me, this presents ahistoric possibilities like Col. Lang's suggestion. Decoupling citizenship from income could have a number of cascading effects, such as stabilizing wages or even *increasing* them through competition (ISTM that the chief reason so many aliens work cheaply is because of their deportable status; on a more equal footing they might be less willing to work for peanuts, especially if they have trade skills) which would lead to increased tax revenues, more unionization (for good or ill), better worker protection and so on.

(I could go even further and see agreements with other nations like Brazil and blocs like the EU to permit complete income portability, but that's a "Flight of the Creative Class" fantasy for another day.)

To address my earlier point about crime, I have to think that 1) workers with a reasonable legal entryway into the US will be more resistant to criminals (the "Plata O Plomo") since they wouldn't want to jeopardize their status, and 2) aliens with a stake in a stable and orderly society would be more likely to cooperate with the community.

Such a thing would be a bold judo move to be sure, which is why I fear we won't do it or any other highly creative ideas. I was listening to a history professor recently and he pointed out that empires in their later years tend to move away from pragmatism and towards reliving their myths and justifying their virtue (was it Garrett Fagan? I can't remember, but he put it better), usually resulting in warfare externally and tyranny internally. I look around at the stupid and wasteful wars abroad and the war on drugs and terrorism at home and have to conclude that past is prologue, and that we will most likely resort to a military/police effort, like fortifying the border.

Like you (and George Santayana) pointed out, we know how that story ends.

But hopefully that will be in the short term. I hold out hope that we will come to our senses in the longer term and do way with some of the nonsense and try new things. It will require courage, housecleaning and possibly a demographics change (i.e. the dying off of old white conservative Southern people), but it *is* possible.

EGrise said...

A border wall would be an incredibly corrupting influence. The stories coming out of south Texas about local police being corrupted by drug gangs are very unsettling, and the situation would only get worse.

Not that that would stop us from trying :)

And one of the big points in all this is that there are plenty of people preying upon and benefiting from the movement of illegal aliens, be they gangsters or Mexican politicians or American businessmen. The solution is to remove the comparative economic benefit, not the supply (much like with some illegal drugs).

FDChief said...

EGrise: One problem with all our theorizing, though, which I have no real idea of a solution for, is the combination of the physical proximity and the economic disparity of the U.S. and Mexico. I just don't know how you solve that, and I can't see it going anywhere but to bad places.

The only real solution I can see is a real, dramatic, solid improvement in conditions for the average citizen of Mexico. But there's so MANY structural problems there! A friend of mine, a Chilango (dude from Mexico City) used to say that one huge obstacle was the ruling families in Mexico. They realized that if they helped the U.S. close the border that they would trap themselves in their country with the very people the porous border encouraged to leave; the ambitious, the desperate, the otehr words, the sorts of people who would be in the vanguard of a revolution.

His theory was that the reason tha there hadn't been a revolution in Mexico since WW1 was because of the combination of the economic ascendency of the U.S. and the tacit understanding between the elites in Mexico (who wanted their "troublemakers" scrubbing floors and trimming lawns in San Diego for pocket change) and the elites in the U.S. (who wanted the same thing).

I don't know whether to consider this a complete conspiracy theory, but he believed it, and he knew his own country better than I...

Barry said...

FDChief: "My concern is that we'll see a substantial, unassimilated hispanic community/communities over the next 50 years who will develop into an undigestible voting bloc. "

No, that doesn't seem to be happening; hispanics are assimilating quite nicely, Remember, we're seeing a decades-long process from the inside; history books present a thirty-year assimilation of an immigrant group in a tidy paragraph.

What will probably happen is that the GOP has reached a decision to piss off as many Latinos as they possibly can, which will make for a voting bloc which will give the GOP heartburn, over the next twenty years.