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“I just wish America would be America again because it’s not, and it’s not just pointed to the Hispanics,” an anti-imigrant sign-waver Ellen Meeks said at the Murrieta, California protest that, with police complicity, blocked Homeland Security buses from taking Central American kids and mothers to a nearby shelter.
Let’s believe Ellen Meeks that she is not a racist. Like many white people, not all of them resentful Tea Partiers, she may yearn for a lost America that vanished along with White Rock Calendar Girl and one dollar gas. Or, if she’s young enough, the “Reagan revolution” that spurred, or accompanied, the explosive growth of Sun Belt commuter burbs like Murrieta.
To older or white or angry and disappointed Americans, who may feel themselves just barely hanging on to a job, a family, a mortgaged home and their “existential” sense of Americanness, all those Central American kids and mothers probably do feel like an enemy alien invasion.
And, as we’ve seen elsewhere, racially-flavored protests, ultimately aimed at a black president, are a breeding ground for a parallel invasion of human incendiaries like the vigilantes and their groupies who turn up itching for a fight. These feeders-off-other-people’s rage are Tim McVeigh’s spiritual brothers.
We saw it long ago with the Mormons at Nauvoo, Illinois; the 19th century “Yellow Peril” anti-Chinese hysteria; and nativist Americans’ opposition to my parents’ generation of the Great Slav Invasion from eastern Europe. It doesn’t take much to light a match. In recent years Paris saw it among the uprising North African, Arab and second generaton black French in the banlieues; the English in Tottenham and Wolverhampton; and now us in southern California where we’re taking in the thousands of refugees from the the Rio Grande valley.
What a pity that our president has so far not seen fit to visit the border towns that are taking the biggest hit. This week he’s taking time off to attend Texas fundraisers but refuses to see the border for himself. “The President has a very good sense of what’s happening on the border,” his White House spinmeister spins. “He’s getting regular updates from his officials who have traveled to that region.” (Shades of George W. Bush at Katrina!)
I don’t envy the hard-pressed Border Patrol cops facing this flood of human beings especially given our ill-defined and fungible alien laws. They are the undermanned front line who must deal with the vulnerable survivors of The Beast, el tren de muerte, the 1400-mile ride atop criminally-infested freight trains, from Nicaragua to the Mexican border, where rape, robbery, murder and fatal accidents are routine.
It’s easy to have a bleeding heart at a distance at no cost to yourself. Hence more than full marks, a real salute, to so many locals, white and brown, of Texas, Arizona and California who in the face of nasty protests have the heart to come out in support of the “enemy in their midst”, as Mrs Thatcher called people she didn’t like.
The English experience may not apply here. But I was around when the bigoted Latin scholar Enoch Powell made his inflammatory “rivers of blood” speech practically inviting violence against newly arrived Sikhs and Pakistanis in his district. Immigration almost always boils down to race. That doesn’t mean that the people who take the brunt of newcomers don’t have real issues.
Change, any change, especially if it has a different skin color, can be threatening to the middleaged and old or economically hard-pressed who become disoriented at the speed their neighborhoods are “taken over” by foreigners with exotic food, sex and toilet habits.
I used to wander around the Petticoat Lane and Brick Lane markets in London’s east end, originally “invaded” by refugee Huguenots followed by a massive Jewish importation, and when the long-time Jews moved on Bengalis came in which white householders and small shopkeepers found hard to take. “I don’t mind them so much it’s the curry smells!”
Wrongly, the old-timers’ resentment often was labeled as racism by the media-and-multicultural “chattering classes” who live in more stylish postal codes far from the battlefront. It didn’t help that the Nazi-like National Front exploited the residents’ discontent, passing out inflammatory leaflets and validating their darkest white fears.
Nobody has an immediate solution to the immigrant flood pouring in from murderously misgoverned Central America. Republicans torch the issue, even the good Democrats hem and haw. The refugee children and women who risked death on the Beast must be housed, fed, doctored, decently treated, sent on to Stateside families, kept in ICE limbo or deported.
In the 1920s the solution was to dispatch old “Gimlet Eye”, Marine general Smedley Butler, into the offending countries to impose martial law, kick out the corrupt governors and with machinegun fire if necessary clean out the MS-13 type gangs and dope cartels who are terrorizing their own citizens. All, as he boasted in his most famous speech, to make the place safe for Wall Street and United Fruit. Makes you nostalgic for the good old days of gunboat diplomacy.
Full Disclosure: My dad was an illegal non-citizen, and members of my mother’s family – so the legend says – jumped ship in New York harbor to evade Immigration at Ellis Island. I entered Britain as an undocumented alien and spent two years looking over my shoulder until Scotland Yard found me.
Clancy Sigal is a screenwriter and novelist. His latest book is Hemingway Lives.