Friday, May 21, 2010

...there will your heart be also

What's missing in discussions on the subject of immigration is a tone of compassion. These are our neighbors and, as Arizona is only now discovering, an important part of our workforce and an important part of our lives. You would think we feel an obligation to do a little more than simply say, "Hey, what the hell are you doing here?"

These are neighbors that have left their families and risked their lives to come to the U.S. Millions of them. They aren't coming here for the view. They're not here on vacation. They're not here on a whim. They often had to go through hell to get here and they were willing only because it is the course of last resort.

During the final waves of immigration from Europe, most of us were people of relatively modest means. Our children's favorite toys were marbles and cloth dolls that cost pennies to manufacture and purchase. The immigrants then worked hard for low wages and built themselves up, generation on generation.

Now, one of the biggest arguments I hear about illegal Latino immigrants is how much they are costing us. Don't we have that to spare? Shouldn't we feel an obligation to make it easier for them to build themselves up, generation on generation? Shouldn't we appreciate their hard work? Yes, thousands more low-income people mean a strain on public schools and hospitals and maybe we'll have to pay more in property taxes as a result. Shouldn't we do that? Do our children really need new cell phones and computers and iPods and Wii's and Playstations and whatever the hell else? Are we so protective of our treasure that we have to build an impenetrable wall to guard it against our neighbors? At that point, do we have a functioning community anymore?

The arguments in favor of trying to wall off Mexico somehow, trying to prevent any of those folks from coming in illegally--those arguments have a nationalist fervor. America for Americans. But what it boils down to is simple frustration and greed. Greed for obvious reasons. Frustration because, in Arizona, illegal immigrants account for a large part of out-of-control organized crime. And yes, that can be tied directly to U.S. immigration policy. Toughening the policy might help in the short term--then again, it might not.

The U.S. shares thousands of miles of land border with Mexico. A shared coastline on two shores makes the problem of patrolling that border even tougher. What will help in the long term is making sure that Mexico and the southern U.S. achieve parity in the standard of living. We have a long way to go on that score. We're filthy rich and they're dirt poor. We have opportunity for everyone. They have opportunity for only a meager few. Once a greater parity has been achieved, all this will fade into memory. Like a bad dream.

How do we do that? Well, I suppose it would have to begin with a close look at why NAFTA failed to help Mexico. And then build from there.

[this article was originally posted around noon 5/21/10 and lightly edited at 3:29 p.m. EST.]

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