Tuesday, May 1, 2007

May Day!

Today is May Day, the traditional first day of summer, and lots of Mexican immigrants are out to protest America's immigration policies. They are not pleased.

Most of the news accounts are referring to the protesters simply as "immigrants," but it seems pretty clear to me that we are all talking about Mexicans, and not so much folks from other places.

Now, I don't know a whole lot about immigration. But I'm not about to let that stop me from having strong opinions on the matter. Let's see if we can get folks to agree on a concept first. Then work out the implementation. Nationally, I think we are still arguing about the concept here. So I'm not buying all the punditry that Bush will get an immigration bill passed this year. Bush is not strong on leading people to agreement on a concept. After listening to him, I'm still not sure what his concept is.

Illegals. Such a name. Ever wonder why they don't say "outlaw?"

Well, immigrating illegally is a little different than some other crimes. There is an idea that laws can be divided into two types: malum prohibitum and malum in se. That is, some acts are wrong because they are simply always wrong or evil, like murder and rape. Other acts are wrong because they are prohibited, like speeding or moving to Texas without a visa. Although most people ("right thinking people" we used to say) believe in a moral obligation to obey the rules, most people agree that inherently wrong acts are worse than simply prohibited acts. This is, I think, one of several important points of fissure in America's concept of how to frame the illegal immigration issue.

So today we have these visa-less Mexicans who walk among us so freely with their lawn mowers and paint brushes. Just how bad are they? Even bad at all? And why do they all go to Wal-Mart on Sunday night?

It wasn't their act of moving here that was bad. It was breaking the rules of our society that require getting bureaucratic permission to move here.

So what does that mean? It means they started breaking the rules of our society as soon as they arrived. Not cool!

But wait! Wouldn't you do the same thing? Does the poverty they are subject to justify their seeking a better life, even if they have to break the law? Wouldn't you risk jail and the desert to get your wife and kids out of poverty. Poverty that is instutionalized by an oligarchal social and legal structure in Mexico? Or would you politely accept your fate and await your reward in heaven? Me? I'd take my chances with the law.

What about the Mexican people who follow the rules to move here? Doesn't it make fools of those who follow the law if every few years those who break it get forgiven?

And what about Mexico? What is wrong with that place? Thin skin for one thing. If a US politician should remark that the Mexican government should be doing anything it becomes a faux pas majeure. Never mind that the place is such a toilet that it's own citizens are climbing over fences to get out.

So, in line with our latest approach to Iraq, shouldn't we hold the Mexican people responsible to clean up their own country and make it work? Why don't we help them do this!

Surprisingly, our government does not want Mexico to reform. This is because of a secret: our government works hardest for very rich people. To help the people of Mexico turn their country into a decent place would require reforms in land ownership and other socialist (gasp!) policies. This completely freaks our guys out. Hence they help (or just watch) the right wing Mexican President Felipe Calderon steal the election from the leftie Lopez Obrador in 2006. We are afraid of another Hugo Chavez in our midst.

But the long term US strategic interest is to have Mexico become a stable environment for its lower class people. Right now Mexico's poverty policy is simple. Poor people should move to the US. Bush actually likes this because of the cheap labor supply. That helps US business.

Side note - Did you know that farm workers don't get paid minimum wage? They are exempted from the law. If you've ever picked vegetables you know it's a tough job.

Anyway, I can't say I don't see both sides of this. Because of this cheap labor I haven't mowed my own lawn for years, and I've never painted my own house. And I can't communicate with the guys who do it, which doesn't seem to bother them or me. On the other hand I don't want to be outnumbered. Just ask the Iriquois what a liberal immigration policy can do.

The liberals seem split. The unions realize that cheap labor will result in the American working class getting screwed. On the other hand, idealists see that these are real people we are talking about. Let's not be harsh. Let's be fair. Why is a Mexican child less deserving of opportunity than an Amercian child?

This is where the immigrant advocates could get some real traction. But I think they are shooting themselves in the foot.

Americans are people of conscience. We want to be good. This is how Ghandi worked against England and MLK worked against racism, by appealing to the collective conscience of people. It could work here.

But I don't buy the "you are splitting up families" rhetoric I'm hearing these days. A woman comes to America illegally and has a baby. The baby is (arguably) a US citizen. The Mom gets deported. Oh no! We broke up the family! Wait a minute. Nobody said the baby can't go with the mother. To me this smacks of false hostaging of the children. So I end up dismissing the whole argument, figuring that if that's the best they've got, it's all baloney.

Immigrant advocates shoot their other foot by wrapping multi-culturism into the mix. Lot's of Americans favor immigration. But lot's of Americans believe in an American culture. Sure, there are lots of subcultures here. Even separate cultures. But don't expect Americans to welcome immigrants who say they want to replace American culture with their own.

So Happy May Day!