Your Papers, Please

     A smart editor told me: “The American public is willing to do absolutely anything about immigration, except read about it.”
     So I’ll try to keep this short.
     One can sum up the real problems of undocumented immigration, and our government’s idiotic responses to it, in three sentences. Kitty Calavita, professor of criminology at the University of California, Irvine, did this 20 years ago.
     It is a sign of the phoniness of today’s political “debate” about immigration that no one – from the governor of Arizona to the 535 members of Congress to the president of the United States to the yahoos on the streets – ever has, or ever will, mention any of these three things.
     I’m not saying Congress or glory-seeking creeps in office should agree with Professor Calavita. I am saying that, since Calavita has gone to the trouble of wrapping up all of the problems of immigration policymaking in three sentences, policymakers should at least mention the subjects. But they haven’t, and they won’t.
     Here they are:
     1. We never have defined what “the national interest” means in terms of immigration.
Does it mean the interests of business and corporations, or the interests of U.S. workers? These sets of interests often – usually – are at odds. Until we acknowledge that, and address it, we will never have a rational immigration policy.
     2. Due to the length and the nature of the U.S.-Mexico border, it probably is not possible to “secure the border” and respect the Constitution, both. So we may have to choose one.
     Clearly, political leeches from Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer to virtually every Republican in Congress are willing to toss the Constitution into the toilet and flush it if they think it will help them get re-elected.
     I think it’s a better idea to keep the Constitution rather than use it for political toilet paper.
     No one in U.S. politics ever has said – or ever will say – that we have to make this choice. But by ignoring the question we have made the choice. And the choice is guns, Mace, Tasers, handcuffs, immigration prisons and serial idiocy.
     3. U.S. immigration policy always has been out of synch with reality, and always will be, because of the nature of immigration, and of Congress.
     Throughout history, the United States has invited immigrants when we needed labor, then we turned upon them, with venom, during recession.
     This is a repeating political cycle, whose timing is a bit behind the recurring economic cycle.
     Here is the cycle: First, we want cheap and docile labor. Then recession comes, so we make whipping boys of the people we formerly wanted to work. By the time Congress has passed a restrictive immigration law, the economy has righted itself, and we want immigrants again.
     So rather than enforce the law we just passed, or going through the trouble and political embarrassment of repealing or rewriting it, we ignore it.
     And the cycle repeats.
     The best example of this was the famous “Bracero” program, through which we imported cheap Mexican labor during World War II. Then during the Eisenhower recession we turned upon them, rounded up the Braceros and deported them, and we called it “Operation Wetback.”
     These were workers we had invited here to help us during world war.
     When we no longer needed them, they became wetbacks.
     This is the pattern the U.S. Congress, and the American people, have followed throughout our history. This is the pattern we are following today.
     Illegal immigration has not suddenly become a problem. The economy has suddenly become a problem. And our politicians today are more fearful, vicious and shortsighted than ever. So we are having a national shouting match about immigration.
     You don’t have to believe me, or believe Professor Calavita. But note that Calavita did not take a stand on what we should do. She merely pointed out some problems that we must address if we ever want to form a coherent immigration policy.
     The truth is, we do not want a sensible immigration policy.
     We want immigrants when we want them, and we want to throw them away like toilet paper when we don’t want them anymore. And politicians want someone to blame – other than themselves.
     But people are not toilet paper. Not even immigrants.
     Now I will give you two propositions.
     1. We will never have a coherent immigration policy until we address Calavita’s questions. I’m not telling you what side we should take – only that we must address the questions.
     2. We never have addressed these questions, and we never will, because to do that requires two things in which U.S. politicians are wholly lacking today: honesty and political courage.
     And that’s why the United States will never have a coherent immigration policy.

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