Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Something There Is That Doesn't Love a Wall

I'm puzzled that so many of the people who are vehemently in favor of "free" trade are equally impassioned in their opposition to "free" immigration.  They approve of unimpeded, unrestricted movement of goods (presumably because such absence of regulations leads to what Adam Smith called the "wealth of nations"); yet these same people cannot see that unimpeded, unrestricted movement of manpower (people) would probably have a similar positive effect on the general weal.

Indeed, the argument could be made that one of the reasons that Texas and Arizona have growing economies is precisely that a steady flow of immigrants (albeit "illegal") has allowed business and industry in these border states to benefit from the pool of laborers willing to work for low wages.

So, in some sense, Texas and Arizona have already experimented, willy-nilly, with the unwalled liberalism I mentioned in paragraph one:  both "free" trade AND "free" immigration.  And it's been working!

Why, then, do so many people in these border states genuinely HATE the illegal immigrants in their midst--the very people who are keeping their factories and small businesses competitive in the "free" market?

Why, for instance, has the Arizona legislature passed a draconian anti-immigration law which, if ever fully enforced, would send back to Mexico perhaps as much as 10% of its workforce?  Does this make economic sense?

Why does Arizona seem to want a Wall to "keep the aliens out"?

Oh, I've heard all the "rational" arguments.  Illegals (read:  Mexicans) impose an intolerable burden on the state budget:  they often pay no taxes, and yet, their children must be educated and their emergency health care must be provided.  So, the reasoning goes, in order to save the state from bankruptcy and economic ruin, we have no choice but to round up the illegals and ship them back to Mexico.  And keep them there with a border wall.

But what about the enormous sums that will thus be LOST by Arizonans who depend upon illegals for everything from gardening, to nannying, to farming, to manufacturing?  Will the savings to the state outweigh the losses to private parties?  I doubt it.

It depresses me that I keep returning to the theme of ethnic, cultural and racial intolerance.  Because, in truth, I don't believe that Arizona's opposition to illegal immigrants is based upon sincere, deep thinking about economics.  Rather, as most of us know in our gut, the foundation of the new law is just plain old anti-Mexican prejudice.  Or, to put it another way:  FEAR.

People who benefit, either directly or indirectly, from the oppression of another group almost always DESPISE that other group--and blame that other group for the very problems that the oppression has created.  The Jim Crow South blamed blacks for the violence that resulted from confrontations between oppressor and oppressed.  Arizona blames the immigrants for the cost of services required to keep the immigrants working for nearly nothing in the Grand Canyon State.

And, of course, human beings everywhere seem to hate those who are different--especially those who, for whatever reason, are very obviously different (by virtue of skin color or language).  Mexicans often fit this definition of "in your face" difference:  they may be dark and they may be speaking Spanish.  Hence, the lighter-skinned, English-speaking citizenry begins to fear that they are being "invaded"--and that their way of life is threatened by the necessary (as workers) but dangerous (as cultural infiltrators) immigrants.  You know: Rome threatened by the barbarian hordes.

Parenthetically, I confess that I, myself, have sometimes experienced such emotional reactions.  I remember a "world languages" workshop that I attended some years ago.  The main presenter of this gathering was (like most of the participants) a foreign language teacher.  But she was also a native speaker of Spanish who felt strongly that Spanish-speakers should be accommodated everywhere in the U.S.  Her central idea was that language was a personal choice and that Americans should be able to use whatever language they chose, in both private and public settings.

This notion appalled me.  I love languages and I firmly believe that everybody should be at least bilingual--perhaps trilingual.  The more languages one knows, the more access one has to the world.  But I most emphatically do NOT believe that a culture can function, thrive or even survive if linguistic anarchy is allowed.  America, like every other coherent culture, requires a unifying language to ensure that ALL Americans can work together in their common endeavors.  For whatever reasons--historic, cultural, I don't know--English has become the glue that holds America together.  It's fine with me (indeed I applaud) if parents teach their children Spanish and speak Spanish in the home or at private gatherings.  But in order to be a fully functioning  member of this culture, EVERYONE must learn English and be prepared to speak it for public and official purposes.  I do not want to see my country divided up into linguistic ghettos (like Belgium, for example).

So, upon occasion, I have gotten quite upset at a Spanish-speaker who, in a public forum, seemed to feel "entitled" to be served in Spanish (mind you, I'm not talking about buying burritos at Taco Bell).  I'm pretty sure, to cite a parallel situation, that should I decide to live in France, I would be obliged to pass my driver's test in FRENCH.   It's not unreasonable to expect Spanish-speaking people who have chosen to live in the U.S. to conduct their official business in ENGLISH.

I guess the key expression here is "chosen to live."  Because isn't that what  an immigrant IS?  Someone who has come into this country with the express purpose of living here and becoming a contributing citizen of THIS country.   Being an immigrant means leaving behind the "old country."

Therefore, when I advocate "free" immigration, I'm also insisting that our society respect and treat the immigrants as people who want to be Americans.  That means NOT expecting them to live in isolation--as a subordinate underclass.  That means NOT allowing them to go through school in "bilingual" classrooms that, in fact, are simply Spanish-speaking babysitting services.  That means NOT breaking laws in order to exploit their ignorance of U.S. customs.  Above all, that means respectfully expecting immigrants to assimilate and NOT making it easy to live here without assimilating.  We simply must insist that immigrants (who have chosen America)  behave as Americans.

Once we are comfortable with such responsible freedom, once movement in either direction across the border becomes "legal" (and yes, quickly and efficiently "documented"), I think it likely that those who cannot or will not try to assimilate will choose to return to Mexico.  Those who truly wish to become Americans will do so.  And NO ONE will be illegal--except, perhaps, recidivist employers who continue to break U.S. laws by paying immigrants too little and "under the table" (to avoid taxes).  In such a scenario, however, the burden of guilt will be on the exploiters rather than on the exploited--and the culpable businesses will at last have to pony up.

Perhaps this is all naive.  Perhaps the Mexicans are trying to take over all of North America and re-establish some kind of Aztec Empire, with Spanish as their official language.  Perhaps this "invasion" from the South is comparable to the barbarian invasions of Rome.  Perhaps a new Dark Age will soon arrive.  Perhaps the only solution, after all, is the build that Border Wall.

I am reminded, however, that most such walls--Berlin's, Hadrian's, China's--rarely succeeded in keeping the "aliens" out.  So why not let them in? Why not let them join us?  Isn't it worth a try?

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