Some personal disclosure as I write on this subject. One of my sons is part of the federal work force that is working without pay. So, for me this is personal. My son tries very hard to be apolitical and he doesn’t like to engage in political discussions. He is a loyal and sacrificing American, a combat veteran, and has an essential job in security for our nation. These are not his opinions as he is just trying to do his job, take care of his family, and survive these difficult times.
Some of the things I say will be vehemently opposed by those who are partisan. They completely support the president or adamantly oppose him, no matter what he does. I may fail in my attempt to take a neutral position here, but I am sincere in seeking to honestly discuss and analyze what I think is going on, and on some possible scenarios for what may happen, or could happen.
It Should Be Possible to Agree
First let me say that I think it is possible for Americans to agree on two positions, one is that we ought to continue to be a country that welcomes immigrants, refugees, and try to be a nation that is not racist or xenophobic. Second, I think we can admit we have an overwhelmingly too large population in our country who have come here illegally, or have stayed here illegally. I don’t think those two positions are mutually exclusive, although the extremists in political parties seem to oppose one of those positions.
I need to give some commentary on both of these items. First I will write about illegal immigration vs. legal or needed immigration. Many Americans remember south of the border interactions with fondness, not anger. There has always been a need for additional farm labor, and much of it was seasonal and temporary, and some became permanent. Many of these folks came from Mexico, and with the South-West once belonging to Mexico and the U.S. having such a long Latino heritage in the West it was not offensive, except to some.
Puerto Rico is part of the United States and Puerto Ricans are Americans, so we have always had a strong Latino presence in the northeast. Cuba has always had a strong interaction with the U.S., and when it became Communist Cubans who fled from there were immediately given asylum here due to cold war policies. Florida was heavily impacted by this and Cubans are part of it’s heritage.
The Immigration Crisis
However, a huge group of folks from Latin America began to come without papers, documentation, or permission early in this (21st) century, and stayed. That trend has grown increasingly from Central America. This flow reached its peak around 2003 but the growth made a significant demographic, cultural, educational and social service, (and thus political) impact. Since then the flow has gone down and this illegal group of immigrants has gone from 4.0% of the population to 3.4% of the population (around 12.7 million according to the Pew Hispanic Center). Not only that but apprehensions of those crossing illegally went from 71-222,000 per month in the year 2000 to 20-40,000 by 2018. This is an amazing drop. In addition, when the economy went into recession there were more “illegals” from Latin American leaving then there were coming as many jobs disappeared.
One might say the “crisis” in border crossings has largely diminished or that we are far more effective in stopping it. But, that is not solving the problem of the millions who have stayed by breaking the law. These are two different things and they need to be differently approached for solutions. Thus one might say the “wall” is more of a symbolic political stand on the reality of illegal crossings rather than a crisis necessity. It is like closing the barn door after the horse has left, though border security is a real need and has continued importance.
Why should we be concerned about illegal immigration, because many Americans do constitutionally (by character and allegiance) not like people scoffing at our laws. Even when we are compassionate and care about the suffering of people from other countries due to oppressive governments, religious persecution, gang and criminal violence, and grinding poverty it is hard to turn a blind eye to a process of illegality that starts with getting in without permission, then forging documents, skirting social security and taxes, or staying past an expired visa, then working an over-extended system of immigration courts to extend those stays, and hiding out.
I for one do not give much credence to being afraid of immigrants, legal or illegal, because of some supposed inherent criminality. There are of course too many stories of crime, but highlighting some cases to scare people for political purposes is simplistic cynicism by political opportunists. Since we already have so much home grown crime and home grown extremism these rather isolated stories seem to pale in comparison. Since so many immigrants are hardworking, (legal or illegal) is it hard to make an effective economic argument against them, except when their economic involvement prevents business, government, or individuals to look to our own (low skill) legal population to do the work and incentivize that through education, training, and higher wages. As someone who works with inner city folk this is a concern of mine.
So, I want our government to find a practical process that speeds up the identification of those who are here without documentation, find compassionate ideas and solutions for those children who grew up here without choice of their own and are now culturally American, send back to their country of origin those who have willfully and illegally overstayed their visa or come without one, and use common sense about border security on which we are already spending billions. I know many of us will differ about what is common sense. I also want to stop or expose what are simply racist and xenophobic responses to strangers and people with accents, which has always been a dark under belly of our collective American experience.
We need immigrants and we need them for several reasons. One is simply to be true to our ideals and heritage as Americans, besides Native Americans and African Americans (as opposed to immigrant Africans) we have always been a nation of immigrants. Another is that we need them economically, and a third is that we need them for our future and our seniors. Americans are not replacing themselves in the rate of births. We must continue to grow that population in order to have workers to support an aging population (yours truly included). If we had not aborted so many of our children we would have an additional 40 something million people, but they are dead and we don’t have them.
Overwhelmingly immigrants are aspirational, they work hard, they want to achieve what they think of as the “American Dream.” They are not losers, parasites, or deadbeats. We are in a war against religious extremism that produces terrorism. This is related to certain immigrant groups but some of it occurs in those who are here legally as religious passions arise within them. We have the same problem with Americans who have been here for generations when political passions arise within them. Where can we ship them, if we could identify them? Vigilance against extremism and terror are our constant challenge, and right now some of the people we pay to do that aren’t getting paid.
Some of the driving force of President Trump’s stand on the wall comes from the extreme fringe of his party. He will find it difficult to compromise his stand because of them as they make the biggest noise in the primaries. Indeed, there are extreme fringes on both sides and they are both dangerous to the Republic. Some of these people are simply seditious traitors who don’t believe in government at all and have no problem shutting any of it down. Some of these folks are those that think people who blow up federal buildings are patriots.
Even more conservatives are callous in their approach to people who work for all of us, risk their lives for us at the border, fighting crime, spies, and terror, risk their lives for us when out at sea, and control those prisons which are built to isolate the dangerous and corrupt from the rest of us. Yet they proclaim themselves to be flag wavers while having little appreciation of what keeps our lives safe, working, and feasible. They are patriots who moan about taxes yet want the Coast Guard to come and rescue them.
There is much that could be written about the culture wars of our political parties. Democrats have achieved much through judicial fiat and without majority approval and this has made conservatives resentful and determined to use the same politicization of judge selection (i.e., Teddy Kennedy and Borg) to stem the tide of what they see as a cultural and moral erosion of values. At the same time, going back to the Warren court, civil rights has come about by judicial action and that is and has been a good thing for our country.
Unfortunately, Conservatives have seemed to think that since government is “the problem” they can use heavy handed tactics to force economic decisions from Congress without majority approval. We are a democracy, we vote in our legislators by state, they constitutionally control the purse strings. In order to get them to agree on things they must compromise and that is the art of politics. Today politics is actually hostage taking, not negotiation or compromise. I get my way or we kill what you want, or if necessary burn our collective house down, or since we only have one horse and we want to go in two different directions let me shoot the horse.
We Need A Compromise
I think we need a compromise. I think we need strong border security. I think the Congress has already voted a compromise to give the President more than he is asking for right now, but also with provisions for the “Dreamers” (is that not so?) Why can’t that bill be brought back up and re-worked if necessary? The only reason is to completely defeat one’s political enemies, and that is not politics but demagoguery leading to dictatorship. This is a political crisis, not a border one, created by our President and only he can end it. If he wins because he holds out longer than the Democrats I am afraid there will be some horrible consequences for all of us. One will most likely be a speedier path to impeachment.
To continue to demoralize some of our best Americans, some of the finest people we could find who are educated, trained, and committed to work for all of us is not only short sighted but extremely dumb. At what point do they stop working, walk away, and go find some way to feed their families? How can we make up for their present fears and anxiety, the ruin of their credit, and the disgust they must begin to feel for our present political leaders? Maybe if we had a national strike and not only those workers but everyone walked off their job for a day, so the border was left completely open, no food or drugs inspected, no one could fly or planes were left to crash, prisoners would be left to walk out of jail, those at sea left to drown, taxes uncollected and no elected officials allowed to be paid, what would that be like? I hope we don’t have to find out.
Now, by the way, I pray for our President, I honor his office, and I pray for our government and our country as a whole. I encourage you to do the same.