Not Exactly Lies
Most of what you'll hear about Congress's latest "immigration reform" is lies.
There's a difference, as Princeton philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt pointed out in his wonderful book, "On Bullshit."
Liars tell lies to try to fool people.
Bullshitters lie without giving a damn whether it will fool anyone or not. They just bullshit.
The arguments we have heard, and will hear, about immigration reform are both lies and bullshit.
Not that I oppose immigration reform - so long as it provides a way for the millions of law-abiding undocumented people already here to become legal.
We did, after all, invite them to come here, mostly from Mexico and Latin America:
by letting U.S. companies recruit them in their home countries;
by refusing to prosecute employers for hiring them;
by letting corporations use sleazy "labor contractors" to let corporations duck criminal responsibility for institutionalized, gross abuses;
by making war in their countries.
We invited them in all sorts of ways.
Then we punished them for coming, and we punished their children.
We lied about inviting them, we lied about their children, and we're lying about it now.
Consider Sen. John McCain, who, to his credit, wants to fix a few of the abuses. McCain lied to - or bullshitted - his constituents in Arizona by claiming that illegal immigration has declined recently term because of the thousands of Border Patrol officers we've hired in the past decade.
That's nonsense, and McCain knows it as well as I do.
Illegal immigration to the United States slowed down because of our financial crisis. There's fewer jobs here, so there's been no reason to come.
Economic recession or depression is the only thing that's directly affected immigration from Mexico to the United States for the past century.
For the greater good, I suppose it's fine for McCain to bullshit his constituents, but border enforcement has nothing to do with illegal immigration, other than to force it from one point of entry to another.
The most sensible and honest study of undocumented immigration was done 20 years ago by Kitty Calavita, a criminology professor at UC-Irvine.
Calavita wrote, and it still is true, that Congress never will write sensible immigration policy unless it addresses three basic issues. Actually, unless it admits that the issues exist.
First: Congress never has defined what the greater good means when it comes to immigration, legal or illegal.
Does it mean the good of U.S. workers, or of corporations and employers?
During this year's debate, I guarantee we will not hear this question asked.
Second: Calavita wrote, U.S. immigration laws always have been out of phase with reality. We invite undocumented immigrants here when times are flush, because all sorts of businesses need the cheap labor: above all agriculture, construction, hotels, restaurants, office buildings and hospitals.
Then a recession stirs up U.S. xenophobia, and we become abusive again, as we did during the Great Depression, during the Eisenhower recession after the Bracero Program, and in the two recessions since Sept. 11, 2001.
Congress takes so long to pass immigration laws that it always is reacting to a situation that no longer exists.
Third: Calavita said, Congress never has asked whether "securing" our immense, desert border with Mexico may be incompatible with respect for human rights.
Can we do both?
I doubt it.
I've done legal work in every immigration prison on or near the U.S.-Mexico border.
I had clients who were subjected to every abuse you can imagine - by the Border Patrol.
Will it ever stop?
I doubt it.
But Calavita's third question has to be asked. It has not been asked, and it will not be - not by U.S. politicians.
The cumbersome nature of Congress makes it hard to cure Calavita's second point.
But we never will have a rational immigration policy unless we address all three of her questions - surely we never will have it unless we admit that these questions exist.
That Congress has not, and will not, address Calavita's 20-year-old questions makes the entire "national debate" we are not having about immigration, to a great extent, bullshit.