As a kid growing up in New York I didn’t know anything about Mexicans. I knew Cubans and Puerto Ricans, but Mexicans? We might as well be talking about Martians. I couldn’t tell a burrito from a sombrero.
That changed when I moved to Los Angeles. Suddenly, Carvel was out and Chili Verde was in.
Los Angeles was wonderfully exotic; a polyglot mix of Aztec, Incan, Mayan and New World scents and sounds. Mariachis provided the soundtrack as the City went mad with Fernando-mania. Blonde kids named Kyle and Zack cheered on Los Doyers while wearing jerseys with “Valenzuela” on the back.
I vaguely remembered reading something about friction in the 40s, “The Zoot Suit riots,” and of course bigger trouble a hundred years before that, which is how we ended up with California in the first place. But to my untrained eye all seemed right between the USA and our neighbors to the south.
But all wasn’t right. Since the passage of Ted Kennedy’s Immigration Reform Act of 1965, America has wrestled with a massive influx of illegal immigrants principally, but not exclusively, from Mexico and Central America. The South West felt it first. Now it’s everyone’s problem.
Last week President Obama made good on his long-anticipated threat to “act if Congress won’t.”
Fresh off a Midterm Election disaster, President Obama got off the mat and threw a haymaker at his political enemies and the American public who overwhelmingly rejected his policies and brand of leadership.
By issuing an Executive Order expanding the concept of “prosecutorial discretion” to allow millions of illegal immigrants to stay and work in this country, the President has thrown down the gauntlet to opponents of amnesty.
“Pass a bill,” said the President. And that’s just what the Republicans should do.
The first order of business for the new Congress in January should be a border security bill that hits the ball back over the net and forces the President and his pro-amnesty party to put up or shut up; Either they believe in a secure border or they don’t.
The only way we’ll ever know is with a border security bill unencumbered by residual issues like H1B visas, the Dream Act, family reunification or amnesty.
By insisting on “comprehensive immigration reform”, a euphemism for amnesty, both Democrats and the corporatist wing of the GOP have offered bills that create the illusion of border security while simply replicating the same un-kept promises of the infamous Reagan Amnesty of 1986.
The Simpson-Mazzoli Act promised a “one time only” amnesty for 3 million people. Along with amnesty, our borders were to be secured once and for all. The undocumented got their documents and we got at least 11 million more illegal immigrants. The number could be much higher.
Former Wyoming Senator Alan Simpson-- the Simpson half of Simpson-Mazzoli-- blames the Right along with the Left.
“Grover Norquist killed the National ID Card provision and the Democrats killed the border fence”, said Simpson in a phone interview this week.
The Chamber-of-Commerce Wing of the GOP is still willing to punt away America’s sovereignty to ensure the steady supply of cheap labor their corporate string-pullers demand.
Meanwhile, Democratic leaders blubber about racism while cynically scheming for a permanent demographic majority. They apparently don’t care how much damage they’re doing to the poor and working class of this country by insisting on the very policies that hurt the poor the most.
According to the non-partisan Public Policy Institute, California has the highest poverty rate in the nation. California also has the largest illegal population.
In 2006 then-Senator Barack Obama understood how damaging illegal immigration is for the working people of this country.
“The number of immigrants added to the labor force every year is of a magnitude not seen in this country for over a century,” Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope. “If this huge influx of mostly low-skill workers provides some benefits to the economy as a whole… it also threatens to depress further the wages of blue-collar Americans and put strains on an already overburdened safety net.”
Barack Obama was not the first Liberal to make this observation. Legendary Texas Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordan understood how millions of cheap laborers pouring across our southern border lowered the wages of all working men and women, especially African-Americans. Sxities icon Eugene McCarthy spent his final years warning about the negative impact of unfettered immigration. Perhaps the greatest irony remains that civil rights titan Caesar Chavez was a lifelong opponent of illegal immigration.
On August 4th, 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued a Presidential paper on immigration saying, among other things:
“In the last several years, millions of undocumented aliens have illegally immigrated to the United States. They have breached our nation’s immigration laws, displaced many American citizens from jobs, and placed an increased financial burden on many states and local governments.”
Carter went on to propose a series of reforms, focusing first on enforcement of our laws and establishing penalties for employers who knowingly hire illegal labor.
The Democratic-held Congress did nothing.
In 1979, then Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates issued “Special Order 40”, an internal police directive, prohibiting LAPD officers from initiating a stop based on the suspicion a suspect may be in the country illegally. Special Order 40 is the granddaddy of sanctuary city policies that have been replicated in nearly every major city in America, encouraging millions to move north of the border.
The result has been catastrophic for the poor and working poor.
I learned the ugly side of illegal immigration from Black construction workers who, for whatever local anomaly, once dominated the drywall trade in Los Angeles. They complained their $18 dollar an hour jobs had fallen to $13 an hour before vanishing entirely as the industry was taken over by a largely illegal workforce.
Even with my B.A. in English I can understand the economics involved: lots of cheap labor cheapens labor. It’s supply and demand 101.
While local Democratic politicians exploited this new underclass to increase social service budgets and solidify power within their personal fiefdoms -- city councils, school boards and county boards of supervisors -- Corporate America lobbied for lax border security because they couldn’t outsource everything; hotel chambermaids have to be where the beds are. Same for driveway pavers and meat and poultry plant workers. It’s called “insourceing.”
What voters of both parties want is something so commonsensical you’d think even politicians would be able to grasp it -- first secure the border to stop the next 11 million from pouring in. Then deal with the host of significant residual issues starting with the Dream Act kids.
Unfortunately that’s not what President Obama has chosen to do.
With his Executive Order he’s hoping to bait the Republicans into a fight they can’t win: another government shutdown or maybe even a futile bid for impeachment, two roads the country clearly doesn’t want to travel.
But the country also rejects the road the President wants us to go down. On the eve of last week’s speech only 38-percent approved of his executive order plan.
Still, polls fluctuate. He’s undertaken a splashy Presidential tour to whip up support. And he has a news media eagerly cheerleading him on by saturating the airwaves with sympathetic stories showing the hardships faced by illegal immigrants without a peep about the human and financial toll that comes in their wake. So those poll numbers will likely improve.
What won’t improve is the plight of the poor who have to compete with even poorer people to maintain a toehold on the first rung of the ladder of success.