By Molly Ivins
AUSTIN, Texas—While the rest of you were celebrating life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, I was keeping an eye on Karl Rove—because someone has to.
A “Bush Signals Shift in Stance on Immigrants” headline is the early warning sign that we’re about to get an all-out immigrant-bashing campaign for the fall, complete with xenophobia, racism and blaming the weakest, least powerful people in the country for everything that’s wrong with it.
House Republicans, who know a good socially divisive issue when they see one, are perfectly happy to blame illegal workers for everything. Trade policy, repealing taxes for the rich, corruption in Congress—it’s all done by illegal workers. Everywhere you look in this society, there’s a bunch of people named Gomez and Ramirez, all of them making decisions from the top—in charge of the Pentagon, heading the military-industrial complex, deciding the rich need tax relief, in charge of this stupid war, making decisions on Wall Street.
What do you mean, the only people you know named Gomez and Ramirez push brooms and pick cantaloupes? Can’t you see that everything that’s wrong with this country is because of illegal aliens? It’s all their fault. The people in charge have nothing to do with it.
Besides, immigrant-bashing is such an old American tradition. Back at the time of the Revolution, many Anglo-Americans worried about the terrible number of Germans engulfing the country (see, Karl?). Since then, we’ve managed to work up a snit over the Irish, the Jews, the Polish, the Swedes, Bolivians, Bavarians, Bosnians, Russians, Italians, Sicilians, a great variety of Africans, Indians, Pakistanis, Maltese (sorry you missed that one—the Maltese once overran New York City deli counters), Cubans, Puerto Ricans and so forth.
If you haven’t been here long enough to get upset about at least one other group moving in, you must still owe the coyote (as immigrant-smugglers are called). Think of the rich verbal history of ethnic insults—Bohunks, Krauts, Polacks, Micks.
I don’t see why we should stop blaming newcomers for our troubles just because they’re not in charge of anything. You gotta admit, prejudice is as American as apple pie. I hear tell these Mexicans keep crossing the border so they can get on welfare and get healthcare and all these goodies. Funny, we don’t have goodies in Texas, but they keep moving here to work anyway.
Bush was planning to take a stab at resolving the problem, particularly on the Mexican border, with a guest-worker program. But the House Republicans had a hissy fit, claimed it was an “amnesty program” and demanded harsher measures, militarization of the border, a big fence. Not gonna work, y’all. Build a 50-foot fence, and they’ll build a 51-foot ladder. Hire Halliburton with a no-bid contract to build the fence, and it will hire illegal workers to do it.
The catch-and-release program currently run for Mexicans by the U.S. government is damn silly. So what will work? If you want to stop Mexicans from crossing the border to work here, put Americans who hire them in jail. Since the Americans who hire them are also often (not always) large donors to the Republican Party, you will have to take that up with them.
Fixing Mexico certainly does not involve interfering in Mexican elections. I had to laugh at the number of American pundits who solemnly lectured the Mexicans on how their tied election was such a delicate situation for their democracy. Like it never happened to us?
Helping to fix Mexico involves, in my opinion, redoing NAFTA, so that labor and environmental standards can be included. I’ve always liked Lou Dobbs, who at least cares about middle- and working-class Americans. But to some extent, he’s got the immigrant issue by the wrong end. If you don’t want Mexicans walking into this country, make sure no one is offering them jobs. You could even pass a law about it. You could even enforce the law. Don’t blame them.
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