Sunday, June 25, 2006

6.1 Is America on the road to our own Final Solution?

America has always been a nation of immigrants. Millions came for over a hundred years with few impediments, other than the ocean and the means to cross it. We had virtually no laws restricting immigration at all until the mid-1900s. Nearly everyone I know in America is descended from an immigrant, and since I became an attorney for Spanish-speakers, I have come to know hundreds of recent Mexican and Latin-American immigrants. Many of them are with expired visas or lacking a work permit. One would think that they’d make great Republicans. They are mostly socially conservative, entrepreneurial, deeply religious, obsessively devoted to family and hard working beyond imagination. In fact, many have crossed through deserts and risked their lives simply to work and send money back to their families. For many, their family survives solely because of them. These are the kind of people we should want in our country.

And yet, what blanket statements do we hear coming from pundits and politicians about these people? Illegals come here and take American jobs. They broke the law coming here and therefore they are all lawbreakers, therefore they are all criminals. They are bringing diseases into America. They refuse to learn English and if we don’t stop them, we’ll all have to learn to speak Spanish. They are a drain on America because they are overwhelming our healthcare system. They are taking advantage of America and taxpayers by coming here and overwhelming our prisons, our schools, and our welfare systems. Not only do they not care about our laws when they come here, but then they use fake IDs and stolen Social Security numbers to get work. Regarding the nation-wide immigration rallies held this Spring, how dare these illegals come to our country and then waive Mexican flags in our streets?

And the ugly distortions, stereotypes and flat-out lies keep coming, day after day. And the solutions to The Illegal Immigrant Problem? In the 1990’s, California’s Proposition 187 would have made it mandatory for public schools and hospitals to report undocumented individuals to Immigration. (It was later ruled unconstitutional.) Around 2000, Kansas prohibited giving drivers licenses to immigrants without proof of a valid SSN or legal presence. Several other states did the same, and last year the federal Real ID Act prohibited any state from allowing undocumented individuals from getting licenses. Without a valid SSN and state-issued ID, most individuals cannot get a bank account, cannot have access to any credit or financing, cannot get car insurance, and cannot get the car titled and registered. Of course, without good public transportation, they have to drive to work, and are thus both required and prohibited from following the law. When I recently got married, I discovered that, at least in Jackson County, Missouri, they cannot even get a marriage license. If they are fired, they are not eligible for unemployment, and in fact, if the employer finds out they are undocumented, the employer must fire them. Many are hired into construction jobs and misclassified as independent contractors so that their employers do not have to pay for Workers Compensation, do not have to withhold taxes for them, and when push comes to shove, those employers often simply refuse to pay them at the end of a project assuming (mostly correctly) that the workers will have neither the means nor the time to take legal action against them. In almost all sectors of life, when they come into conflict with a U.S. citizen, the citizen will threaten to call immigration on them as a means of scaring them off.

Missouri’s legislature recently proposed to allow its State Troopers to receive training from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, with the intent that they would help apprehend and deport any illegal immigrants they come into contact with. One town in Pennsylvania recently proposed prohibiting anyone in town from renting an apartment to or otherwise contract with undocumented individuals. And the biggest piece of anti-immigrant legislation which resulted in protests across the country by millions—HR 4437. This bill, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, would have made being in the country without proper documentation a felony (which, by definition, is punishable by a year or more in prison). Moreover, it would have made harboring (i.e. living with or renting to) an illegal immigrant a felony. It would have made transporting (i.e. giving a ride to) an illegal immigrant a felony. The ability to appeal deportation would have been dramatically reduced, including revoking one’s right to have an attorney represent them in deportation hearings—meaning legal residents and even citizens who were falsely accused could also be affected. Almost any violation of the law—even a first DUI—would be grounds for removal of even legal immigrants. While this bill was not passed in the Senate, and it looks like no immigration bill will be agreed upon between the two houses of Congress, this is said to be the new big issue for mid-term congressional elections in November.

I have also heard suggested on talk radio that any money made by an undocumented individual while working here should be taken from them as profits of illegal activity. Many advocate that we should amend the Constitution so that U.S.-born children of undocumented individuals are not automatically citizens. I have heard that we should deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants by any means necessary as soon as possible.

And everybody’s favorite—building a wall or series of fences along the southern border with Mexico. Even though no Al-Qaeda or other terrorist has ever been caught in Mexico or crossing the southern border (and several Al-Qaeda operatives have been arrested in Canada or crossing the northern border), the idea of building a giant wall is being touted as a matter of national security and part of the War on Terror. Apparently Mexicans are also possible terrorists or might decide to help terrorists. Apparently history’s most famous walls—The Berlin Wall, the Iron Curtain, the barriers between black and white in Apartheid South Africa, and the walls surrounding the Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw—have not sufficiently horrified us to learn from the past.

Just as the road to the Final Solution by the Nazis could not be justified without attacking and distorting the character, value and humanity of Jews, none of the above laws and proposed policies can be justified without arguing and believing in the ugly distortions, stereotypes and lies about Spanish-speaking immigrants.