Immigration Reform: One-Track Loyalties

I’d like to think that most of us who write socio-political commentary, no matter where our intimate ideology resides, write our pieces hoping to lasso those in the mini universe who read us, praying that we can hold their undivided attention long enough to allow us to display our rational wares. But more often than not, either we fall short in capturing their attention; or if we do, we fail to garner acceptance for our rationale.

Ernest Hemingway wrote in The Problems of a Writer in War Time that “It is always how to write truly and, having found what is true, to project it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it.” Amen to that…but how can a writer succeed in today’s pell-mell world where everyone is continuously bombarded not just by lobbyists but a legion of obvious as well as unrecognizable advocates?

Can anyone think of a more apropos “war time” than now in this United States? And I am not referring to foreign military interventions or crusades, such as Bush’s ill-fated adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq, but of domestic upheaval not seen since the days of Civil Rights confrontations back in the sixties. A writer can hardly be expected to dispense a magic pill in his writings to project personalized experiences for all people reading him; particularly these days when the truth the writer is drawing from is not a finished mosaic but, rather, a heap of small pieces of colored-truth tile.

Welcome to the world of immigration reform in the United States, and our own sectarian violence – mostly verbal at this point – brought about through a non-military occupation by uncounted millions of undocumented or, if you prefer, illegal immigrants. Not unlike Iraq’s, an occupation where some people want the invader around, while many do not.

Why is Bush so intent in getting Congress to come up with legislation which will resolve the status of millions of undocumented workers, and their families, in the United States? Is this one more thing for him to fail in, to ensure his legacy remains unmarred by success? Such may prove to be the case in a tag of loyalties each pulling its own way, each deaf to what others may have to say.

It’s a sleeping-beauty syndrome, this illegal immigration thing; and we wake up every two decades to face not a prince but a problem that last generation’s politicians put a Band-Aid on but failed to resolve. It happened in 1987, and we are at it once again, but this time the problem has become far more complex. And it’s doubtful that today’s politicians in Congress are up to the task of doing what’s right to resolve the situation not just for now – which is the Band-Aid the president is asking for – but for generations to come. And resolve it in a way that achieves a proper balance that maximizes economic results while minimizing human pain; also addressing any and all concerns culturally-based. There needs to be an all-encompassing, interdisciplinary approach where all Americans are made to feel they have a say in helping shape this nation’s future for the twenty-first century, and beyond. Otherwise, it’s back to the Band-Aid; unfortunately this time, to cover up an infected wound past the anti-biotic stage and at the beginning of a gangrenous course from which we may no longer have the opportunity to veer.

There is no issue as divisive in the US today and one that angers Americans more, including the military lunacy in Iraq, than that involving the 12 million “illegals” – an adopted but conjectural figure that could very well be 20 million – who live and work among us. For all our touted resourcefulness and hi-tech, neither the Census Bureau nor Homeland Security have a clue as to what the approximate figure should be, give or take a couple of million. A most embarrassing situation for a first world nation. But sheer repetition of this 12 million-figure during the past year has given it census-validity, including its breakdown: approximately 9 million Mexican nationals, 2 million “other” Latinos, the remaining million a catch-all classification for all others.

Although much of this anger born in frustration in much of the population has been directed towards an inept government, it is now rapidly changing course and being redirected “against” the more visible copper-toned border crossers who can be made easy culprits of all our economic and societal ills. And so that everyone understands where to line up on this debate, things have been simplified; you can be either pro or against “illegals” and that’s that. Never mind anything else.

In this chaotic state of misgoverning where there hasn’t been leadership at the top ready to tackle tough controversial issues, politicians have done nothing more than tune in to one-track loyalty groups that make the loudest noise in their ears. It’s been like that all along, abortion and homosexuality being the recent issues that have elected or dethroned our politicians. And now, it’s beginning to look as if the politicians’ standing on illegal immigration is the new insignia. So every interest group has been hard at work evangelizing, displaying not only the positive things they bring to the table, but also rendering judgment on their opponents’ negative acumen.

Undocumented workers have ample, at times unconditional, support from those whose economic well-being, even viability, depend on them, i.e.: agribusiness, hospitality and construction industries, and services catering to business or private individuals; and, as one would expect, from businesses catering exclusively to Hispanics, including the Spanish-language media, that derive from the relocation of both culture and language to the host country. One could hardly imagine the shrinking multi-billion dollar networks Univision and Telemundo would undergo without an audience made up in great part of undocumented Latinos. So the overall support for immigrant workers, even if they entered the country illegally, is strong and broad based, even if mostly for economic and not humanitarian reasons.

At the other end of the divide is a strong majority of angry Americans clamoring for the deportation of all people who are in the country illegally. In most cases, the contention is that the economic cost-benefit equation ends up being negative for America; and that there are additional socio-cultural costs which are not being measured, and which are likely to be inordinately high. And the voices representing this supermajority are getting louder and louder, some with racial overtones; others, depicting a more educated tone, such as those of Pat Buchanan and Lou Dobbs, bring to mind that figure from seven decades ago, Father Coughlin, who in his radio broadcasts was able to translate the Fascist agenda of Hitler and Mussolini to the then American culture.

During the past two years I have read more than a dozen reports dealing with this cost-benefit economic analysis, most with the rubric of think tanks or academic institutions. I must add that they are all deficient and defective even to the overview of a modest, occasional practitioner in Operations Research. In most cases, it became obvious that those put in charge of conducting the studies could not tell the difference between causal and intervening variables. Could it be that their studies were intended to support an already adopted position? And the flaws were not restricted to studies which either supported or negated the overall economic contribution by the undocumented immigrants. They were, for the most part, equal opportunity garbage with restricted or no value.

The prospective legislation that Congress was recently working on, and which died in the Senate short of the necessary votes – something Bush is now trying to resuscitate – cannot be called immigration reform; only something politically expedient, and wrong.

But when politics are conducted to answer only one-track loyalties that reflect narrow and not national interests, can the citizenry expect more from those who govern?