Solving the immigration problem

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Richard Aguilar. John Robinson photo. Richard Aguilar. John Robinson photo.

Last week in this column, I admitted to rarely taking a position on local news cuts or delving into national issues, because I’m interested in a more open conversation about the place we live than editorial argumentation generally yields. That said, when logic is exhausted, when self-interest is not a motivating factor for the majority, and when partisan viewpoints obscure the complexity of a problem, I think it’s the responsibility of editors to take a side.

With the exception of our country’s treatment of Native Americans (which isn’t wholly unrelated), I don’t think we, as a country, have collectively acted with such a concerted disregard for history or exercised our coercive authority with a greater spirit of contradiction than in the case of our immigration policy, particularly with regard to Mexican-Americans, and by extension, their Latin American neighbors. The border between the U.S. and Mexico has been a source of tension since it was created, a moving, semipermeable membrane separating colonial rivals. As the fortunes of the two countries diverged in the 20th century, a power dynamic solidified, and Mexicans came to be seen by the United States as a source of cheap labor. In 1942, the country instituted its first official policy of importing large numbers of seasonal migrant workers through the Bracero Program. By 1954, in Operation Wetback, we had conducted our first mass deportation of undocumented immigrants, with Eisenhower’s administration expelling an estimated one million people, mostly in the Southwest, over a calendar year.

The spigot approach to migrant labor, set in place 70 years ago, represents a callous reduction of a human issue, but, more to the point, it shows how unwilling we are to solve a particular economic equation.  The people who reject the idea of a separate solution for Latin American immigrants, who think we can deport our way out of the current problem—which is that we have between 11 and 12 million undocumented people in this country and as many as a third of them are related to U.S. citizens—are almost without exception reliant on the system of goods and services the immigrants provide. There is no partisan divide where the employers of undocumented immigrants are concerned; Republicans and Democrats like cheap labor about the same. Immigration is a national issue and a local problem. The people affected work in your houses, your restaurants, your fields, your clubs, your offices, and they get paid with your money.—Giles Morris

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