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Us vs. Them in the Immigration Debate


Is anyone old enough to remember the expression: “Go Back to Africa?” Can anyone remember when the lynchings of Blacks, Asians and the hunting down of American Indians and Mexicans were commonplace? Does anyone remember when Jews were turned away at this nation’s borders? How about the Chinese Exclusion Act? Can anyone remember when the Irish and Italians were not welcome here?

This country has had a long and sordid history of xenophobia and scapegoat politics, which brings us to the current immigration debate. Prior to it, I had not been aware that illegal aliens were the number one threat to the security of this nation and the cause of the majority of the nation’s many problems.

It’s amazing how we are all easily corralled. All we seem to need is for someone to whip up the frenzy to permit the segregation of human beings and to permit the mass incarceration of Japanese American citizens or to conduct an Operation Wetback to send Mexican Americans back to where they came from. Not too long ago, it was George Wallace. Yesterday it was Pat Buchanan. Today it is the Three Amigos: CNN’s Lou Dobbs, and Republican presidential hopefuls, Tom Tancredo and Duncan Hunter.

And it is amazing the lengths that people who have been formerly targeted by demagogues will go to, to prove their Americanism. They seemingly scream the loudest when a new group has been targeted. One can hear the catharsis–an incredible sigh of relief–when they are able to point a finger at another group.

This time around, illegal aliens are the target. They can’t fight back or vote. And technically, they don’t have a face. All the vitriol can be hurled against them without feeling guilty just don’t say the word Mexican and you can’t be accused of being a bigot besides, you have nothing against brown people, as long as they’re legal, educated, employed and can speak English

Perhaps this exam will help us to determine the actual answer as to who is the cause of this nation’s problems.

Who is responsible for U.S. policies that permit: the spending of close to $500 billion to wage an illegal and immoral war? Torture and the violation of the Geneva War Conventions? The elimination of Habeas Corpus? The illegal wiretapping of its own citizens? War profiteering by Haliburton and mercenary armies (Blackwater) to flourish? The dismantling of affirmative action and the nation’s civil rights laws? A Tax system that favors the super-rich?

Here are the choices:

a) illegal aliens

b) Arabs & Moslems

c) Blacks

d) Mexicans

e) Jews

f) Gays & Lesbians

g) liberals

h) abortion-seeking women

i) American Indians

Today, it seems that most Americans would choose option “a.”

This means that if the United States puts up a 2,000-mile wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and if the 12 million nannies, busboys, gardeners and maids were deported, the Iraqi war–which is expected to skyrocket in costs to another $1.5 trillion–would immediately come to a halt. If deported, the nation’s skyrocketing gasoline prices would begin to immediately reverse. In fact, the nation’s dropout crisis would also end overnight, enabling those who are remanded to the worst jobs in society to instead compete for the nation’s best jobs.

Once these 12 million law-breakers are deported, no doubt this administration would direct the EPA, the USDA, the FDA, the Federal Trade Commission and the Labor Department to begin to enforce its consumer protection and food, drug and worker safety laws. (Why enforce them now when illegal aliens are making a mockery of our nation’s laws?)

While it’s true that illegal aliens are overworked, overexploited, highly overtaxed–and generally without human rights–we all know that if deported, Congress would pass Universal Health Care overnight. While it’s also true that illegal aliens have for decades been pouring billions of dollars into Social Security and into Unemployment Insurance and Medicare, knowing full well they will never see a red cent–their precipitous departure, along with their windfall tax revenues–would also no doubt bring about their immediate solvency.

If these 12 million varmints (as John McCain refers to them) were deported, it would solve the U.S. prison crisis overnight. A recent study, by the Washington-based Immigration Policy Center, has found that immigrants are much less likely to be imprisoned than U.S. born residents of the same ethnicity. Another study, by the Public Policy Institute of California, has shown that immigrants are more likely to push up wages than depress them. Regardless, the departure of 12 million would no doubt make space for our own home-grown criminals, and it would also no doubt compel U.S. corporations to immediately institute a living wage for all workers. Right?

Truthfully, the primary party responsible for all of the above problems is the Bush-Cheney administration. All else is diversion and division. The urge to blame illegal aliens or anyone else for the nation’s problems is but the result of the administration’s politics of fear, hate and blame. They’ve unleashed that dynamic and now, Americans have come to believe that their rights, livelihood and happiness are dependant upon the dehumanization of their fellow human beings.

Perhaps the demagoguery is limited to a loud and rancorous minority because it’s hard to believe that a majority of Americans actually are satisfied with a society that continues to divide up human beings into legal and illegal categories. It doesn’t have to be this way; a simple transnational labor agreement can change all this, though the drawback is that workers and their families would not lose their human rights, dignity or citizenship in the process. Who would we then blame for the nation’s problems?

ROBERTO RODRIGUEZ triumphed in two police brutality trials in L.A. between 1979-1986. He is the author of Justice: A Question of Race, a book that chronicles the underworld of police brutality. He can be reached at: .



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