Borderlines: Adios Mes Amigos

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Adios Mes Amigos
by Jack Random
Something is missing in the debate on illegal immigration.  We listen to Lou Dobbs, the self-proclaimed champion of political independence, blaming twelve million unauthorized migrants for the problems of the American middle class.  We listen to a Republican presidential candidate plead for just a little compassion – not for the immigrants but for their progeny – and watch him get hammered by the hardcore right.  

Everyone condemns employers for employing immigrants over native Americans – or rather, legal immigrants – but no one is really demanding the kind of enforcement that would end the practice. 

Corporations are the sponsors of political candidates and, in any case, it would only hurt the small businesses that candidates promote as the heart of our economy.  

Even the defenders of immigration fall back on their heels against the assault, protesting that most immigrants are not of the criminal element, that not all abuse the system and that most contribute to the economy on balance.  

What is missing from the discussion is basic common sense – not the brand of common sense that demands an impenetrable wall across the southern border but the kind that breaks it down to human terms.  

NAFTA and CAFTA, the landmark “free trade” agreements covering North and South America, have not produced the kind of job and wage increases promised by former president Bill Clinton and his bipartisan allies in congress.  Free trade proponents south of the border failed to foresee that absent organized labor wages would remain subterranean and jobs would go to the lowest bidder – most notably India and China.  Proponents north of the border failed to foresee that given inadequate wages and marginal social services, the incentive to migrate north would become more powerful than ever.  

What is missing from the debate is that, given the circumstances, we would do exactly the same as our neighbors to the south.  That is, those among us who are physically strong enough, presented with a choice of watching our children go hungry for lack of food, grow ill from inadequate housing, clean water and health care, would raise whatever money we could, hand it to an unscrupulous “coyote” and make the long hard journey across the northern border.  

The bravest and strongest among us would risk anything and everything for a chance to build a decent life for our children and families.  They would ford rivers, walk barren deserts, evade border patrol and vigilantes, forge documents, live in crowded conditions and pay bribes for the possibility of a better life.  

In America, we used to call such individuals heroes.  Now we call them criminals.  

In Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Columbia and anywhere else where people have suffered under the mandates of “free trade” agreements, they still call them heroes.  

When rightwing politicians, desperate for an issue that deflects the blame from their own sorry policies of corporate protectionism and greed, condemn any expression of sympathy and decry even the most modest of compromises as amnesty, they are practicing the lowest of the political arts:  pandering to the reactionary base.  

Let us be clear:  Any proposal that requires illegal immigrants to pay a substantial fine, voluntarily submit to deportation or get in the back of the line is neither realistic nor sincere.  The compromise that failed to gain passage in congress was merely an attempt to push the issue off the table.  

Those who have come to this country, secured jobs in what can only be described as an underground economy, will not give up what they have worked so hard and sacrificed so much for on these terms.  These are poor people.  They live day to day at the mercy of their employers, who can choose to pay them or have them rounded up by the immigration service.  Asking them to pay thousands of dollars in fines is like asking them to take food out of the mouths of their children. 
Asking them to return to their homelands to get in the back of the line is like asking them to scale Everest without a guide.  Having been raised here since early childhood, many have no homes in their countries of origin.  They would become the equivalent of migrants in their own lands, rejoining the pool of slave labor and refueling the vicious cycle of survival and escape.  

They could not and would not do it and, in their shoes, neither would you or I.  

We call them criminals but what is the crime?  They have acted with courage, perseverance and sacrifice.  They have done what any people would do.  

No one is asking for medals of valor but until we begin to address the enormous problems created by unregulated corporate greed on a global scale by demanding fair wages and minimal standards of labor, the least we can do is accept responsibility and offer forgiveness.  

It is strange what politicians can do with words.  In every working democracy in the world but ours, there is a viable socialist party.  In America we despise anything “social” as in socialized medicine – though the vast majority of us would accept nonprofit health care as not only acceptable but appropriate to the healthcare profession.  

Now, the very same crowd that invokes the name of Jesus would have us believe that “amnesty” is a dirty word.  Far too many of us recoil at the word as if it was an unforgivable offense and yet amnesty is the only solution to the problem of illegal immigrants within our borders.  

Yes, it is a problem – not because it steals our jobs, squanders our resources and cripples our economy – but because it creates a permanent underclass:  people without rights, representation or legal recourse.    

We need amnesty to bring these workers out of the shadows so they can contribute openly and be treated with the common decency due all human beings.  They would be empowered to organize, lifting wages for all of us.  They would be empowered to vote, expanding the franchise and strengthening our democracy.  

Even Ronald Reagan recognized that amnesty was the only solution.  To suggest that we should or could deport millions of illegal immigrants by force of arms is a fairy tale.  Beyond the violence and inhumanity that such a mass deportation would bring, the cost would compel us to suspend all other programs while we pursued this singular endeavor.  

There are better ways to end the war.  

Of course, if we granted amnesty and failed to address the policies that helped to create the problem (as Reagan did), we would be revisiting the problem in short order.  

Until fair trade with labor rights and living wages replaces “free” trade in the global economy, there will be no lasting solution.  



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