Thinking about Immigration, Part 3: Living in the Path of Illegal Immigration.

Six months of the year I am what they call a “Snow Bird.”   Karen prefers us to be called “Winter Residents.”   We live in Arizona City.   It is south of I-8 and just west of I-10.  It has been a major corridor for coyotes, drug runners and illegal or undocumented immigrants. There is hardly a week that goes by that we do not have coffee shop stories of found pot bales, abandoned vehicles, spotters hiding in caves and illegal’s coming to homes asking for water or food.  These stories are supplemented by our almost daily observations of border patrol vehicle searches and regular high speed police runs. One of our visitors commented that she had never seen so many police vehicles in her whole life as in our area.

Caution Ilegal immigrantsLast fall, one elderly resident who lived out in the desert was found murdered in her home. Nothing was missing but no suspects have been found. There are many folks in my area who will not venture out in the desert without being armed and there are many areas where you are warned to stay clear of.  I routinely jog in the Casa Grande Mountains and while relatively safe, there have been drug busts and roundups of drugs and illegal immigrants within the past few months.  A short time ago, I found a rifle with a telescopic sight and a sawed off butt behind a cactus.  I turned it into the police station where they were not too concerned about it. To date, my biggest danger while jogging has been a cactus that is known as a “jumping Cholla.” These things seem to magically find a way to get attached to you and their barbs are quite painful.  I have had at least six attacks by them during the past few months.

GatedThe picture I am trying to paint for you, coupled with the fact of the ongoing drug war in Mexico, which is only about 120 miles from our front door (47,000 deaths and counting), is designed to give you some idea of the context in which many Arizonians find themselves.  Gated communities, suspicion of neighbors, fear of criminal break-ins and an overall worry about the poor economy, housing foreclosures, and jobs (Arizona has led the nation in many of these problems) gives rise to a citizenry which is far from tolerant of anyone coming over illegally into this country. There is a great deal of fear in the nation as a whole ever since 9/11 and nowhere I think is it more evident than in Arizona.  Fear and tolerance do not go hand in hand.  However as Ben Franklin noted “Those who would give up their freedom for safety will soon find they have neither.” It is difficult to counsel this advice though when neighborhoods cannot be made safe and people are afraid that they will become victims.  So what does this have to do with stopping illegal immigration?  Let me turn the clock back to help answer this question.

Migrant farm workersIn 1963, I was sent to an Air Force station located in Osceola, Wisconsin.  Coming from the East coast, I could not have told you where Wisconsin was if my life depended upon it.  Furthermore, to be dropped into the middle of “Dairy Farm USA” was a major culture shock.  Nevertheless, I adapted by marrying a woman from Thorp, Wisconsin and having my daughter Christina born in Osceola.  Life was good for me in the service but money was short.  I found local employment doing migrant farm work and obtaining a part-time job (to supplement my military income) at a local nursery called Abrahamsons.  It was at this place, that I had my first meetings with Mexican farm workers.  Each season, Abrahamsons’s would bring in workers from Mexico to work at the nursery. The work involved digging, balling, burlapping, loading and then digging to replant trees for wealthy buyers in Edina and the Twin Cities.  It was hard work.

Chart-farmWe dug trees and loaded them from 6 AM to often after 9 PM at night.  I was paid one dollar per hour.  I do not know what my Mexican counterparts were paid because they could not speak English.  I could not speak Spanish and my bosses warned me to never discuss salary with the other workers. Thus, I spent my days working in the fields, sharing food but no conversation with the other workers.  Believe me when I say there were few local non-Hispanic people applying for these jobs.  I have since been to other areas of the USA including Mackinac Michigan and Door County Wisconsin, where they rely on immigrant workers to provide services to locals and tourists. To say that illegal or legal immigrant workers are taking jobs and bread from the mouths of Americans is a shallow and false bit of rhetoric.  I have heard it said that if these undesirable jobs were not taken by immigrants then the wages would go up and USA workers would then apply for them.  This bit of fantasy ignores two possibilities: 1. The work could go overseas to even lower wage workers or 2,  The Law of Substitution says that other higher value added services could replace services that become too costly.  In any event, I have yet to see the “older” immigrants from America who are now second generation citizens clamoring for these hard dirty and low paying jobs.

bracero statesSo year after year, from the middle 40’s to the late 60’s, immigrants came over from Mexico and South America on a seasonal basis.  Each year millions of these Bracero program workers would come and work in the USA.  Most would go back home after the work was over.  Some would apply for citizenship and stay in the US. The Bracero program favored Hispanic workers (there did not seem to be many Canadians or Europeans looking for farm work) and it seemed to create a rather orderly and neat influx and outflow of labor seasonally needed by US employers.  Then the program was changed.  Barred from working seasonally and denied access to work permits, many Mexicans and other Latinos took the easy road.

Illegal yes, enforced no.

US-Mexico_border_fenceThat is until 9/11, when all hell broke loose.  Never in the past 100 years had USA citizens felt as vulnerable as after 9/11.  Fearing for an influx of terrorists and watching unparalleled amounts of drugs crossing the border, we reacted to our fears by passing the Patriot Act, by beefing up Homeland Security, by building Border Walls, by making it a felony to repeatedly try to cross our borders, by greatly expanding the Border Patrol and by building large detention centers in the Southwest.  My county Pinal is often referred to as “Penal County” and has numerous detention centers to house drug runners and detainees awaiting deportation. The number of anti-immigration bills started to proliferate state by state as the Federal government seemed impotent to deal with the crisis.  Citizens armed themselves and formed watchdog groups to police our borders with Mexico.  No one really seemed worried about those Canadians.  I suppose ever since prohibition was rescinded, the Canadians have stopped smuggling whiskey across the border and are less of a threat to the US.

prohibitionSo let’s ask a simple question here?  Why do all of these illegals come to the USA? The answer is easy. Two reasons: Jobs and drugs.  I wonder if the solution to the problem seems as evident to you as it does to me.  First, legalize drugs.  Let the government tax them and let anyone sell them just like cigarettes, coffee and alcohol are sold. We have spent billions on a fruitless drug war and we have accomplished nothing.  Furthermore, in light of all the drugs that Americans take, it is a hypocritical war to begin with. It is a war waged by idiots and morons who keep our prisons, courtrooms, and lawyers sucking our taxes and wages for no apparent gain. It is perhaps the most ludicrous endeavor that has ever been created.  It makes Alice in Wonderland look like a reality show.  We have become so blinded by the anti-drug rhetoric that we no longer have the ability to see reality. What did we learn from Prohibition?  “THOSE WHO FORGET THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT!” Banning alcohol did not stop the use of liquor nor did it curtail organized crime.  On the contrary, it gave organized crime the income and mandate to expand its power and territory and become even more powerful and dangerous. The same is true for the South American drugs, primarily pot and coke that we are trying to banish. The drug cartels have become so rich and powerful, they are immune to any efforts to abolish them.

bracero-program-poster-series_NTOkThe second reason illegals come over is to find work and to have a better standard of living.  To help others accomplish this, we need to create a new policy for temporary and migratory workers that represents the nature of work needed by immigrants and by employers in the USA. This policy needs to be fair and equitable but also realistic. The relationship we have with Mexico cannot be dictated by the relationships we have with Canada, Europe or any other countries. We need an equitable policy, but there is a difference between equity and equality.  A fair and just policy must create a win-win both for our nation and for the immigrants we give visas or sanctuary to.  There cannot be one size fits all for this policy.  Part of this policy must be humanitarian.  It is in our constitution and in our national charter to help others escape from tyranny, poverty and other calamities.  Part of our immigration policy must also be self-serving.  We need to help our country become stronger and to better meet the needs of competing in a global economy.  Realistically, we may have a cost attached to immigration.

Despite many arguments on the negative and positive costs of immigration, the best evidence to support a more liberal immigration policy is to look at our success as a nation over the last 250 years.  Can anyone doubt that it was immigration that built and fueled the development of this great nation?  We may need to balance short-term costs with long-term gains in a realistic immigration policy but a good policy needs to be slanted towards tolerance for immigration and not intolerance.

I have one final idea. Let’s take the development of an immigration policy away from the politicians and appoint a group of immigration experts from a wide range of viewpoints. Take twelve experts on this subject and put them in a room together.  Give them four weeks to hammer out a new immigration policy. When they are satisfied that such a policy is realistic and equitable, let them distribute this policy to the newspapers and Internet websites for a review by American citizens.  After four weeks of review, let there be a national referendum on the policy.  A plurality of sixty percent should be needed to pass. If sixty percent cannot be reached, the policy will be returned to the experts for further changes and amendments. Once a plurality of American voters has accepted this policy, it would be sent to the Senate and House for review and to become law.  Woe to them if they could not finalize this policy.

Time for Questions:

There are many things you can find wrong with my suggestions. I can hear all the reasons why these ideas would not work. The question I have for you is this: “Can you find any better ideas.” The definition of craziness is to keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  Maybe it is time we tried some new ideas; as Einstein said: “Problems cannot be solved by the same level of thinking that created them.” We need to discard our prejudices and biases and see things in a new light. What do you think needs to be done?  When was the last time you wrote your representative to express your ideas?  When was the last time you went to a party caucus or actively worked to help elect a representative?  What could you do to help create a new and fair immigration policy for this country?

Life is just beginning.

“The interaction of disparate cultures, the vehemence of the ideals that led the immigrants here, the opportunity offered by a new life, all gave America a flavor and a character that make it as unmistakable and as remarkable to people today as it was to Alexis de Tocqueville in the early part of the nineteenth century.”  ― John F. KennedyA Nation of Immigrants

Why America Needs Latino Immigrants or Lets Stop Dissing Mexican Americans!

Chicanos, Mexicans, Latinos, Hispanics, Mexican Americans, Spanish Americans, it’s all so confusing, what do I call them anyway?  Why can’t they just take a simple name like we do: Gringos?  You don’t see White people making it hard for others to call us names.

mexican american familyWhen I grew up in an Italian American neighborhood, we were wops, dagos, greasers, and guineas.  As in:

“You think im some goombah housewife with big hair and big jewelry??”
“You dirty wop, go back to Naples”
“You stupid Guinea, go back to Africa”
“What’s up dago?” 
by mikey ambrosio February 07, 2005

When I grew up, it was the age of cowboy shows.  The early shows were collected from old movies and brought to TV and featured such notable characters as Hopalong Cassidy, Lash Larue, Gene Autry, Tom Nix, Zorro and many others.  Early TV had two roles for Latinos:  Sidekick or villain.  Mexicans got to play the bad guy if the script wanted to use someone other than Indians.  I can still remember my first image of a Mexican.  It was a guy with a long black mustache, bandoliers crossing his chest, carrying two or more side arms.   He was adept at hiding behind rocks and ambushing my heroes.  Of course, he always wore a large black sombrero and spoke like:

“You tink you get away from Pancho?  Pancho no fool?  Pancho keel you now, you stupid gringo!”

mexican banditoThe cavalry never had to rescue my hero from the Mexican bad guys as needed to happen when he was captured by the Indians.  The Mexican bad guys were easy to outsmart:

“No, I would never try to get away from Pancho.  Would Pancho mind loaning me his gun for a minute, I would like to see what a nice gun he has close up?”

“Oh sure, gringo like to see my gun?  Here take it and see the nice ivory handle.”

“Hands up Pancho, or I’ll blow your brains out. Come to think of it, I’ll blow your brains out anyway, cause your just a wetback from over the border. You probably don’t even have any legal immigration papers.  Blam, blam, blam, take that you dirty Latino.”

The other role for any male south of the border (Latino women were always cooks and stirring a large pot.   Later on they got to play tavern whores when the shows got more risqué.) was as a sidekick.  One of the most famous Mexican sidekicks was Pancho (What else?) who was Duncan Renaldo’s sidekick on the Cisco Kid.”  Renaldo was not born in Mexico but was born in Romania but he played the Cisco Kid who apparently was of Hispanic lineage.  The Kid spoke fluent English while of course Pancho (Leo Carrillo) said things like:

The Cisco Kid: There is something Pancho and I can do.
Pancho: Yes, there is something we can do. We could – we – what is it?
The Cisco Kid: Investigate, Pancho.
Pancho: I don’t have a mind to invest in a gate. What good would that do, anyhow?

“The Cisco Kid: School Marm (#6.8)” (1955)

“Although he played stereotypical Mexican Americans, Leo Carrillo (a college graduate) was part ofcisco and pancho an old and respected California family. His great-great grandfather, José Raimundo Carrillo (1749–1809), was an early settler of San DiegoCalifornia. His great-grandfather Carlos Antonio Carrillo (1783–1852) was Governor of Alta California (1837–38), his great-uncle, José Antonio Carrillo, was a three-time mayor of Los Angeles, and his paternal grandfather, Pedro Carrillo, who was educated in Boston, was a writer.”  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leo_Carrillo

Of course, it would not do to have a Mexican play a hero or anything more than a bumbling half-witted but well intentioned sidekick.

Time for some musicMexican Americans Cheech and Chong full song (Click on Link)

I live in Arizona which has a large amount of undocumented immigrants attempting to pass through.   Many people in this state have developed a higher than average intolerance of our Latino friends.  A short while ago I was sitting in the local coffee shop and the woman on the stool next to me said rather loudly “I wish those damn Mexicans would all go home.”  I said “Well, many of them are home.  In fact, many if not most of them were here before you were.”  She looked at me rather meanly and said, “What, do you mean by that?”  I said, “Well until the Gadsden Purchase, the land you are sitting on was owned by Mexico.  Mexicans living here were given the chance to become American citizens and since many of their families had been living here since about 100 years before the Mayflower came over, they decided to stay.”  She did not say another word to me.

sign for serving whites onlyMy actual first encounter with Latinos was way back in 1967.  I was doing migrant farm work for Abrahamson’s Tree Farm in Scandia Minnesota for $1 dollar an hour.  It was hard physical labor from about 7 AM to 9 or even 10 PM at night.  Many of the field workers were from South of the Border.  I was warned never to discuss wages with any of them.  This warning was given despite the fact that none of them spoke English and I did not speak Spanish.  One day, while I was sitting in the fields with some of the other workers eating lunch. one of them looked at me and said “Bull-OVA, Bull-OVA.”  I had not the slightest idea what he was trying to say and looked rather quizzically back at him.  He finally reached over and took my arm. He pointed to his wrist and my wrist.  I suddenly realized we were both wearing Bulova watches.  It was a small thing but it was a rather poignant connection that we shared despite our lack of language.  That was my last contact with any Latinos until about 1979 when I was hired by Sister Giovanni to teach at Guadalupe Area Project in Westside St. Paul.

Nearly fifty years later and I am still discovering interesting things about our Latino neighbors and friends.  I was substitute teaching in one of the Casa Grande High Schools about a year ago when the phone rang in my classroom.  I picked it up and heard a Spanish speaking voice on the other end.  I looked at my class which is about 40 percent Hispanic and I picked out one suitably Mexican looking young girl and said to her:  “Maria, would you take this call for me, they are speaking Spanish.”  She looked back at me and said “I don’t speak Spanish.”  So much for getting over stereotypes!

In 2000, Arizona voters approved a law that effectively banned bilingual education in public schools.

Proposition 203, which passed with 63 percent of the vote, prohibits native-language instruction for most limited-English-proficient children in public schools. Using the electoral process to micromanage the schools, the new law imposes a statewide English-only mandate, overruling the

  • Choices of Hispanic and Native American parents,
  • Judgment and experience of professional educators,
  • Decisions of local school boards, and
  • Sovereignty of Indian nations trying to save their languages from extinction.

This mentality reminds me of the efforts by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) in the early 20th century to eradicate the Native American cultures in this country by prohibiting Indian students from speaking their native language.  Many Americans now look back on the history of Indians and say how unfair our treatment of them was.  We say that we wish we could do it over.  But we are trying to do the same thing to the Latino speaking cultures in this country TODAY.  This is not happening 100 years ago.  In 2010, Arizona passed a law banning Ethnic and Multi-Cultural Studies in schools.  The ostensible reason was to insure that the government of the United States was not overthrown by these multi-cultural radicals.

But Mexicans are good for one thing.  Many of my compatriots in Arizona love to go to the border towns in Mexico to get their dental work done or their prescriptions filled.  The town of Algodones is on the Mexican border of California and Arizona.  It is filled each day with people from the USA who cross over to take advantage of the lower prices for both dental and eye work.  The prices can be as much as a third lower than in the USA. The popularity of both inexpensive prescriptions and medical care catering to Canadian and US senior citizens has prompted a virtual explosion of pharmacies and dental offices.  We may not want these Mexicans to live near us but we don’t mind if they will fix our eyes and teeth at discount rates.

stereotypesSo what drives this antipathy and sometimes out right hatred towards our Latino neighbors?  Why after 300 years of sharing our border have we reached this sorry state of anti-immigration and intolerance towards the Latino culture?  Some would say fear.  Others would say it is a reflection of hard times in the USA and the difficult economy.  Who needs more competition for jobs and work when millions of United States citizens are suffering with unemployment and a high cost of living?   But is this any reason to take it out on the poor of other countries who want a chance to escape their poverty?  Why can’t we look for a win-win in this scenario?

What further exacerbates this problem is the sorry state of leadership in this country.  Instead of looking for solutions that would appeal to the best in human nature, too many of our political leaders seem intent to stoke the fires of race hatred and cultural intolerance.

Resistance to a sweeping immigration overhaul is moving from conservative talk shows to the corridors of power.  The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on rejected President Obama’s policy to stop deporting young people brought to this country illegally as children. With all but six Republicans voting against funding a policy that lets hundreds of thousands of law-abiding but undocumented youth enrolled in high school or the military to stay in this country, the vote spotlighted the long odds facing the much broader Senate bill to allow 11 million illegal immigrants to earn citizenship.

 The House vote came two days after Republican Gov. Rick Scott of Florida vetoed a bill that would help young people whose deportations were halted by the Obama administration get driver’s licenses. And on Wednesday, a key immigration leader in the House, Republican Raul Labrador of Idaho, defected from bi-partisan talks.  http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/mounting-signs-of-gop-rebellion-against-immigration-reform-20130607

 We seem to have forgotten that this country was settled by people from many other countries.  Perhaps our greatest strength has come from our diversity and our ability to assimilate people from diverse cultures. The assimilation was not accomplished and has never been accomplished by laws or politicians. The assimilation happened because we were all able to share in the mexican_march_californiaAmerican dream of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”  This vision of what could be has been the fuel for the vast melting pot that this country has always represented.  Without this fuel, we have no ability to assimilate diverse cultures.  People are not assimilated because of anti-language or anti multi-cultural study laws.  People are assimilated by a common dream and a common vision.  We have always pointed our country out as a beacon for the forlorn and hopeless of other lands.  Are we going to give up on this role and the dreams that millions of people have for freedom, justice and prosperity?  Will we diminish ourselves by denying this dream to others?  What happens to such a dream if we do not share it with others?

 “Cruelty is all out of ignorance. If you knew what was in store for you, you wouldn’t hurt anybody, because whatever you do comes back much more forceful than you send it out.”  — Willie Nelson

 Time for Questions:

When did your grandparents come over? How were they treated? What if they were trying to come over today, how do you think they would be treated? What if you lived in a poor poverty ridden country, what would you do to escape or make your life better?  Documented or undocumented immigrants, should we have more opportunities for immigration to this country or less?  Why?  How much charity should we extend to people from other countries?  Can we extend too much?

 Life is just beginning.

 

 

 

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