Column No. 102 By Steven Jonas, MD, MPH - April 20, 2006

Now let’s see.  There are about 800,000 legal immigrants into the Untied States every year, and about 500,000 illegal immigrants.  That means that the illegals account for around 40% of the total, legal immigrants accounting for the majority.  The proportion of illegal immigrants to the US population, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Center tells us, has not changed since the mid-1980s (the last time Congress was consumed with the matter, also during a mid-term election year with a lame-duck Republican President in trouble over a foreign policy issue, coincidentally involving Iran, among other countries).   Yet all of a sudden there is a hue and a cry emanating from the Republicans (well, most of them other than the President) about the issue.  Why now, one might ask.

Well, duh, it’s an election year (again) in which this time the Republican prospects are not very good despite the almost total lack of Democratic Party leadership against them and against Georgitism.  So not trusting that even with the lackluster performance of the Democratic Leadership they can still retain their hold on the Congress, what better issue for Republicans to raise in order to mobilize their base than the hot button one of immigration.  (Unless of course it’s “let’s go after the gays,” which I treated in my previous two columns).  As I noted last week, that this was to be a principal election-year strategy for them has been signaled by Cheney’s favorite TV channel (Fox”News”Channel) for some months now.  They have, for example, been featuring such items as the vigilante “Minutemen” (though unarmed) volunteer border patrollers.

But why would the Republicans want to use this particular issue?  After all, the principal supporters in power of illegal immigration are those corporatists who make wide use of (very) cheap illegal immigrant labor who happen to be major financial supporters of Bush.  They are among the very last people who want any change in the present situation.  For in addition to working cheap, they can’t vote, and so can be exploited without fear of political repercussions; for the most part they work hard (so we are told) and will be the last to report unsafe or exploitative working conditions to any authority; and contrary to right-wing propaganda they do pay taxes in the form of sales taxes on the goods they buy and (indirectly) real estate taxes on the property they rent.  So the Bush corporate base likes them.  And Karl Rove knows this.  He also knows something else.

Karl Rove knows that facts matter little to the Georgite base which is trained daily by the Privatized Ministry of Propaganda to ignore them.  Thus reciting the above list to them would mean little.  He also knows how red the immigrant issue red button is.  So he can have it both ways.  He can fan the flames of xenophobia, racism, and class-ism without any worries that the situation will actually change.  Bush gets to appear “reasonable” at the same time his most loyal far-rightist legislative troops get to exploit the issue for all it’s worth.  What a combo!

The rhetoric used by the anti-immigrant crowd is fascinating.  Patrick Buchanan is one of their “intellectual” leaders.  He loves to talk about how immigrants (and he doesn’t seem to distinguish between the legals and the illegals) are “destroying the American tradition,” “undermining American values,” “totally lacking in any knowledge of American history and its meaning” (this latter from a man who routinely refers to the Civil War as the “War Between the States” showing that he hasn’t the foggiest notion of what it was really about --- slavery). “They aren’t Americans,” Pat tells us, and cannot ever “become like us.”  Continuing to admit immigrants is a guarantee that the “nation as we know it” will eventually be destroyed.

This is precisely the language that the jingoistic “Know-Nothings,” White Anglo-Saxon Protestant to their core, used to denounce the Irish immigration of the 1830s (when most of the Irish immigrants happened to be Protestants, but what the hey, it was as unfair to confuse Right-Wingers with facts back then as it is now), 1840s and 1850s (when they were primarily Catholics fleeing from the mis-named “Potato Famine”).  Then from the 1890s to the outbreak of World War I, when the Italian and Jewish immigrations were at their heights, descendants of the earlier Irish immigrants used the same kinds of language against them.  Now two of the most prominent leaders of the anti-immigrant movement are a Congressman Tancredo and a Congressman Sensenbrenner (literal translation from the German: “scythe burner”).  Surely neither WASP nor Irish names.  It is ironic indeed that Buchanan and Hannity and O’Reilly, among the strongest “anti-immigrant” voices, are themselves descended from the immigrant group that was among the most reviled ever to have landed on US shores.

When in 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a gathering of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a strongly anti-immigration organization at the time (especially in re Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism), he began his address with words “Fellow Immigrants.”  And his Dutch ancestors had arrived in the Hudson Valley in the 17th century, well before those of many of the ladies gathered for his address.  One wonders how many of his audience got the point.  Actually, the only North American inhabitants entitled by history to truthfully use the words “immigrants will destroy the nation as we know it” were the Native Americans, not themselves immigrants but rather first arrivers.  Collectively the European immigrants surely destroyed their nation as they knew it and they were the only ones who encountered no other humans when they first arrived.  As for all of the rest of the ancestors of those of us who live in the US, all together they built the nation as we know it, its wonderful attributes (and there are so many of those) and its worst, as are being brought out in a gradual but unending stream by the Georgites.

The Republicans leading the charge against the Mexicans in particular blame all the domestic ills of our country on them: the failing health care system, the deficient educational system, increased traffic, crime, environmental issues, and etc.  Of course, it is the only time they get near the laundry list of problems that are actually caused by the policies of their own party.  How conveniently blaming the illegal immigrants for their outcomes: privatization, export of capital and with them American jobs, the purposeful shrinkage of the tax base, the ever-widening gap between the ultra-rich and the rest of us, the rapidly widening Federal deficits, and the resultant limits being placed on the already minimal levels of national domestic spending.

Let’s look at some possible solutions.  One quick way of dealing with the illegal immigration problem would be to enforce the law against employing undocumented workers.  If the jobs dried up, the illegals would stop coming.  They may be desperate for work, but they are not dumb.  If the word were to get back to Mexico that there are no jobs, the inflow would stop straightaway.  Another way is the Sensenbrenner fence.  Very expensive.  It would take a long time to build.  It would definitely change routes of entry and might even cut down on the numbers somewhat.  A major question to ask about it, however, is: would the illegal immigrants hired by Halliburton to build the fence at the lowest possible cost and highest possible profit then be provided with some form of “amnesty?”

There is one real solution that could work.  I discussed it briefly in my column on Mexico published on TPJ on Jan. 12, 2206.  As I said then: “In an article written by a senior Mexican economist with a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics, Dr. Ricardo Pasco (The [Miami] Herald Mexico, 12/28/05) I was surprised to learn that only a minority of illegal immigrants from Mexico are unemployed farmers.  The majority are people who have jobs and at least some education but, as Dr. Pascoe told us, simply cannot make enough to support their families as the NAFTA-driven ever-widening income gap in Mexico continues on its un-merry way.  As Dr. Pascoe said: ‘The problem is that wages are very low in Mexico.’  Building a wall is one way, theoretically, to solve the problem for the U.S.  But criminalizing illegal immigration would likely not act as a deterrent (since the vast majority of illegal immigrants don’t get caught and likely wouldn’t even with a wall) and accomplish nothing more than expanding the United States’ already vast prison system, at taxpayer expense.  The best long-term solution for both countries?  Repeal NAFTA so that manufacturing jobs would stay here and profits that the Mexican ruling class does make in Mexico could not so easily be exported and they might have to re-invest in income- and job-producing enterprises at home.”  But of course it was none other than Bill Clinton, whose first big money-men in politics were the Waltons of Wal-Mart, who was the engine behind the passage of NAFTA.  And his DLC still controls the Democratic Party.  So I don’t have a solution that could really be adopted, unless any regime change here were really drastic.

Thus at this point all progressives can do about the illegal immigration problem is tell the truth, expose the lies, propose some reasonable, cost-effective, humane long-term solutions, and most importantly, in my view, use the fact that the issue is being put out there by the Republicans to achieve the “Three D’s:” Distract, Defer, and Diminish the focus of the public’s attention from the truly most critical issues of the day.