Sunday, January 01, 2006

We are all illegal aliens, as far as the Hopi and Cherokees are concerned

Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia and Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado (both Republicans) are hard at work whipping up hysteria about illegal immigrants coming here to have citizen-babies. Apparently Republicans consider such behavior a sort of demographic terrorism. About 70 members of the House signed onto legislation designed to somehow circumvent the 14th Amendment and deny citizenship to the U.S. born children of illegal immigrants. Though Deal and Tancredo don't say so (being dimly aware, I suppose, of the bad press that comes with outright racism) it's pretty clear to me that the object of their animus is Mexican immigrants. But Tancredo puts the matter in terms of illegality.
"Any issue that has a `damn right' response, you can go with," Tancredo said. "You ask if we should stop illegal immigrants from coming onto this country and having a baby here who is an American citizen, and most people say, `Damn right.'"

The "damn right" test would seem to be very much like the test every fascist has historically found useful for directing public fear and loathing against the fascist scapegoat of choice.

Mr. Tancredo and Mr. Deal, like a lot of Republicans, seem to think their ancestors were planted here by Johnny Appleseed.

Given that up until 1924 in fact, there was essentially no restriction on European immigration, but that it was quite hard an immigrant to become a naturalized citizen, many, perhaps most Americans today can trace their own citizenship, today, to the fact that whoever happens to get born here has citizenship by virtue of that. Many first generation immigrants, perhaps Mr. Tancredo's own ancestors for all we know, never became citizens, but their children inevitably did. The difference is that in an earlier day we did not deport the parents.

For most nationalities, during most of our history, there was no such thing as illegal immigration. All you had to do was buy a ticket, and give your name to the record-keepers at Ellis Island--who would misspell it commonly enough to account for much of the riotous orthographic anarchy of American phonebook white pages listings today--and you were a legal immigrant. And when you had children here, they would be citizens

That's not to say that there was not nativist restriction on immigration--there was, directed mainly against Asians. And although great efforts were made through various bracero agreements to make sure Mexicans went back home after they harvested the peaches, Mexicans were not subjected to an actual immigration quota until 1968, believe it or not.

Until fairly recently (more recently than for most nationalities), there was no such thing as a Mexican illegal alien, unless the immigrant failed to conform to the fairly minimal requirements for getting here.

The last time I looked, a year or two ago, the number of "illegal aliens" in this country was thought to be in the neighborhood of 10 million (and the figure varies wildly, because no one really knows), of whom most will be employed at any given time and the rest actively looking for work.

And who exactly is in competition for a job on the framing crew with the Mexican construction workers building your house? If Republicans were not actively engaged in the destruction of the labor movement, perhaps there would be more non-Mexican working-class Americans accustomed to a first world living wage, looking for jobs of that kind.

Of course, a first world living wage may be a thing of the past. But...that will stop illegal immigration. It's worth noting here that Mexican immigration slowed to almost zero during the Great Depression. Historically, the surest way to control our borders would seem to be complete economic collapse, a drastic means our Republican rulers may well have in store for us.

The last time I needed to hire someone for a job of work was not long ago when a large tree partially fell on my house. I knew that one of my neighbors (himself a legal green-card immigrant) was an entrepreneur who had a tree, lawn, and landscape business. I got a bid from him, hired him, and he had a crew out that day with the necessary tackle, ropes, and chainsaws, and it was done.

Since I speak Spanish, I talked a little with the crew, and I have every reason to think all of them but my neighbor were illegals. They were hard workers. They knew what they were doing and got the job done well and fast. Nice guys, too. Most of them will probably go back to Michoacán one day. Some will contrive to stay here.

But my point here is that the illegal immigrant situation springs from the absurd-but-not-comic illegalization of what in a previous era was thought to be commendable personal get-up-and-go, and from the fact that we have a lot of unfilled hard-labor jobs.

Deal and Tancredo and the 70 co-signers of their bill got nowhere this time. But the issue will no doubt be back in time for the next elections, unless Bush and company plunge the country into a depression and render the question moot. Who is going to walk through a dangerous desert to have a baby in a place where no one has a decent job?

No comments: