Even to talk of illegal immigration earns slurs. I can attest to that. It is the most self-censored topic in America today, where we construct artificial worlds of rhetoric that in no way resemble reality (e.g., try to suggest that California’s current problems with 30,000 to 40,000 too many prison inmates, or spiraling entitlement costs, or test scores right below Mississippi’s, or gang-related crime have something to do with the entry over two decades of millions of illegal aliens, and then see whether that proposition is discussed or slurred in ad hominem fashion). The most ardent critic of open discussion is often the most likely to self-select and remove himself from any concrete exposure with the issues he champions at a distance. No one is a better exemplar of the dishonesty than the president who, with large majorities of liberal Democrats in both houses of Congress for two years, deliberately ignored his own “comprehensive immigration reform” agenda — only to demagogue his opponents for now opposing what he would really, after all, at last, but of course, like to do — but only after it is, conveniently, legislatively impossible. So we get “moats and alligators,” a perfect summation of the bankrupt status of the entire hushed debate.
So here it goes: the old matrix of how we were to understand illegal immigration is extinct. The concept of a largely white privileged class exploiting poor immigrants who simply wished to be a part of the American dream is now fossilized — dead and buried by new realities: the sheer millions of those entering the U.S. illegally, the cynicism and connivance of the Mexican government, the outflow of nearly $30-40 billion in remittances to Latin America, the rise of the multicultural salad bowl in lieu of the multiracial melting pot, the illiberal nature of the advocacy for open borders, and the rise of a new tribalism and ethnic solidarity on the part of the immigrant community.
For the last half-century, the subtext of illegal immigration was racial prejudice — how a hard-working minority struggled against a largely white overlord class for social justice, best emblemized by Caesar Chavez and the farmer worker rights movement. Those divides are now largely gone — or at least have become so problematic and complex to have been rendered irrelevant.
So-called whites are now a minority in the state. Integration and intermarriage are commonplace. Racial heritage sometimes evokes the one-drop rule of the old Confederacy. A thriving middle-class third- and fourth-generation Mexican-American community speaks little or no Spanish and has no direct memory or firsthand knowledge of Mexico. If there is Latino “under-representaton” at a UC Berkeley, it is not a “result” of white “over-representation” (whites are proportionally “under-represented” at UCB), but of the superiority in test scores and grades of the Asian community, which enrolls at four times its numbers in the general population.
Blacks and Asians are as opposed to illegal immigration as is the majority of the population, including millions of Mexican-Americans. And more importantly, the entire argument for open borders, both here in the United States and in Mexico, disturbingly, is taking on racial and ethnic overtones —as a recent spectacle attests of thousands of Hispanic residents booing mention of the United States while cheering the Mexican national soccer team at the Rose Bowl.
(These trivial incidents [cf. the recent Morgan Hill, California high school 2010 walkout on Cinco de Mayo] are insignificant in isolation, but in aggregate offer disturbing symbolic evidence of an increasingly Balkanized tension that is the logical wage of multicultural separatism, and furor at the absence of almost instantaneous parity with the host. I note here in passing that in my years of residence in Greece, had I, as an American apartment-dweller in Athens, joined a majority of expatriate Americans in booing the Greek national team and cheering a visiting American team at a match in the national stadium [demanding that the victory ceremony be held in English], I would have had to sprint out the exit for my proverbially dear life.)
The new, vastly changed racial realities thus raise a fundamental question that the proponents of either amnesty or open borders cannot or will not address. What, I wonder, exactly privileges illegal immigration from Mexico — in a way that might not be true, say, of allowing half-a-million aliens to enter the country illegally from China or Africa? Proximity? Race? History? Money? Politics? Power?
Surely what drives Mexican consular officials to demand certain rights for Mexican national expatriates in a way that they would not for other nationals is not the abstract concept of illegal immigration, but only concern that illegal immigration remain mostly a phenomenon from Mexico — or at least by extension Latin America.
The same is true of the La Raza lobbyists — that they have no interest in the notion of illegal immigration as an issue per se, since there are no doubt a few thousand here illegally from Poland, Uganda, and South Korea. Their concern is largely confined only to Mexico and Latin America, and thus is entirely predicated on one or two (or both) notions: first, racial affinity should adjudicate who and who does not need to follow U.S. immigration law, and, second, Mexico has some sort of historical claims on the American Southwest. Is that a logical deduction?
If so, illegal immigration has transmogrified into one of the most illiberal, reactionary phenomena on the current American scene, an ossified concept of racial solidarity and tribalism that attempts to privilege one group, solely on the basis of race or ethnic fides, in its exemption from federal law, and in a manner that would never be extended to other immigrant lobbies, with less numbers, influence, and potential electoral power. We have come full circle back to the 1920s when immigration was likewise largely seen through racial lenses — when one’s race determined how one navigated immigration law.
Should there now be 6 million Korean nationals — and more on their way — inside California without legality, would the proverbial Hispanic community in large part be calling for stricter border enforcement? Would it be amnesty or deportation? English-only or Korean-language interpreters?
Are we back to the 19th century concept that each ethnic group feels itself superior to all others? Or, if the issue is not tribal solidarity, is it some vague sense of reconquest — the American Southwest belongs to those whose ancestors used to have claim to it — as if Germans could now without worry of law or statute migrate en masse into Western Poland on the basis that it is really still East Prussia, a Gdansk still Danzig? Do we remember the arguments from the Volk about “lost land” and “German speakers” that characterized the 1930s?
But that too raises a disturbing question: if, as some polls reveal, a majority of Mexican nationals both wishes to emigrate northward, and yet believes that the American Southwest in some vague way should return to Mexico, then what? Does one wish to leave one’s country and yet recreate its premises where one flees to? Or are we stuck in fantasyland, where logic simply does not exist, and the entire issue is clouded by feelings of victimhood, inferiority, anger, a desire for belonging with fear of rejection, and a need for tribal expression, as one from the Third World is thrust into a highly competitive postmodern America without the requisite tools to succeed (legality, language, education)?
And when one adds in the schizophrenia of simultaneously demanding amnesty while couching such demands in a critique of America (as is often the flavor of La Raza literature, or what we saw at the Rose Bowl or the Morgan Hill high school Chicano student anger at someone wearing an American flag T-shirt), should we laugh or cry? Is it: “I prefer the idea of Mexico and will cheer her on, but I will never leave the reality of America that I boo?” Or as the L.A. Times quotes one spectator:
“I love this country, it has given me everything that I have, and I’m proud to be part of it,” said Victor Sanchez, a 37-year-old Monrovia resident wearing a Mexico jersey. “But yet, I didn’t have a choice to come here, I was born in Mexico, and that is where my heart will always be.”
(Such contradictions remind me of the mayor of Los Angeles. Despite his efforts to promote open borders and a permanent political constituency, he nonetheless is the first mayor to insist that he needs a vast wall around his “Getty House” residence to protect himself from hoi polloi.)
Money, Money, Money
The issue of remittances has changed the paradigm as well in three ways: it makes transparent the cynical efforts of the Mexican government to export its own citizenry in hopes that they will live frugally, and/or with U.S. government help, in order to free up a portion of their wages to send back to families that the Mexican government has no interest in — given that many of the expatriates and their Mexican families back home are indigenous peoples far from the centers of concern and power in Mexico City. U.S. remittances are now the second largest source of Mexican foreign exchange (well over $20 billion), and money, not morality, governs most of what we hear from Mexico City.
Second, the level of cash sent to Mexico and Latin America — who knows the exact amount, but variously reported at well over $30 billion — redefines the entire question of immigrant wealth and poverty. We are not talking of $10 million or even $1 billion, but a fantastic amount of capital, which, in theory, computes to several thousand dollars per resident illegal alien. Are aliens, then, sending capital to Mexico with the full expectation that federal, state, and local agencies here will make up the difference with health, welfare, housing, and education subsidies?
Could not there at least be a 10% tax on funds remitted to Mexico as a sort of bond to ensure the sender is not dependent on American taxpayers?
Third, the dollars represent a huge drain in capital from the American Southwest and a transference of financial resources across the border. The one defense of massive remittances — they prevent social unrest in Mexico — is even questionable, especially with the violence today inside Mexico. (Could it be worse without the remittances?) Oaxaca sends more illegal aliens to the U.S. than other regions in Mexico, and is probably the largest recipient of U.S. cash sent back — and yet is one of the most unstable regions in Mexico. Were not the Mexican system propped up by several billion, would it not, in Greek fashion, have to embrace structural reform?
So Tribalism Trumps All?
Then we come to ecological exemption. The American left is proud of its advocacy of radical ecological reform, more government regulation, and insistence on family planning. Yet in matters of illegal immigration, these issues are not merely ignored, but considered racist or illiberal even to introduce. In vast swaths of California, issues like zoning laws, single-family residency edicts, or family planning are simply taboo, as if the impoverished have no choice but to live in garages, to park four or five Winnebagos behind a farmhouse, to plop down a kitchen on the roadside and call it a restaurant without adequate bathroom, washroom, or refuse facilities. So are we the least or most regulated state? The most or least liberal?
Because of the sheer numbers of arrivals, the lack of English and education, and the neglect from the majority population, there is a sort of exemption — in part politically correct, in part benign neglect — from the whole array of environmental and regulatory statutes, and this from the most fanatical of regulators and strident environmental zealots in the world.
Where does all this leave us? A mess of alligators and moats, poor children being arrested on their way to ice cream, wise Latinas, ethical lectures from the Mexican president on the White House lawn, and America as a foreign team in the Rose Bowl. The former liberals have now become the most illiberal sorts; a movement that targeted racism is now itself race-based, as La Raza has sought to resurrect the once discredited notion of Volk — a people to be defined not by ideas or values, but by how they look.
God help us all.