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Friday, April 30, 2010

Border Wars

Calhoun’s Can(n)ons for April 30, 2010

If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers.
                         Thomas Pynchon

Well, it’s now official. Arizona has lost its marbles. First, due to budget considerations, they closed highway rest stops so if you’re driving through Arizona and you have to pee, you’d better bring a can. Then they passed a new law that could effectively result in making it illegal to Walk While Mexican. So, Mexico – Mexico? – yes, Mexico, the same travel destination that is regularly the target of American travel advisories due to drug war shootouts and kidnappings and murders – has issued its own travel advisory warning Mexican tourists heading for Arizona that they may well get stopped and harassed, so they’d better keep their passports handy. Especially if they actually look, er, “illegal.”

Then other American organizations, city councils and various other politicos piled on, calling for a boycott of Arizona, which could cause real damage in a state whose current shaky economic health relies heavily on tourist dollars. (And all those “illegals” working in the tourist hotel/restaurant industry.) All of which was accompanied by the usual Maximum Righteous Outrage, which plays so well on TV and talk radio. And, naturally, the whole insane mess will head directly for the courts since it appears to violate some of our most cherished myths and mixes up state and federal authority concerning immigration laws.

All of which came about because this country refuses to get honest about what it’s been doing for years – which is running businesses on the backs of illegal immigrants because its cheaper to do so – no union wages, no health insurance, no pesky disability insurance, no income tax – just work “off the books” with unverified workers as much as possible. Higher profits for the business, cheaper products for the consumer, and the well-to-do get a Don’t Ask/ Don’t Tell gardener and nanny without having to worry about paying SSI taxes. So, everybody’s happy, right?

Well, no. When you live a lie, it’s impossible not to keep running into problems. Unless you reinstate a system of slavery or keep your illegal, off-the-books workers hooked into chain gangs housed in guarded compounds, each illegal worker will be joined by family. Now, instead of one single employee, your community suddenly has a wife and children. And children need educating, paid for by taxpayers. And families need health care which, if not covered by the employer, has to come from the taxpayers as well.

Multiply that a few million times and concentrate the numbers into a small geographical area (like Arizona) and you’ve got problems. It’s no coincidence that it was Arizona that passed this law, not North Dakota. North Dakota does not have a large influx of “illegal Canadians” putting a strain on public coffers and social services.

Toss in good old basic racism, which only complicates the issue further by making it an issue nearly impossible to discuss honestly without an ugly subtext, and you end up with a mess. And there’s nothing politicos love more than a mess they can demagogue.

Over the years our congresspeople have earnestly asserted that “Something Must Be Done,” while quickly tabling the “Something” because our dirty little secret is this: Our economy needs and wants and hires and relies on the very people we scapegoat and demagogue when times get tough or when politicians need an “issue” to stir up voters.

So, before any of this can be fixed, this country has to get honest about the role “illegal immigrants” play in keeping this country’s economy afloat. We could certainly try some version of the funny movie, “A Day Without Mexicans,” and see what happens. In an aging country filled with Baby Boomers who are rapidly losing the ability to pick their own lettuce, slaughter and dress their own chickens, mow their lawns, bus their own dishes or get services in a nursing home, the results of such a boycott would be interesting.

Or we could pass a federal law making it mandatory for every citizen to carry tamper-proof “papers” at all times. Then spend gazillions to beef up INS agents and start raiding businesses all over the country to frog march all the CEO’s who are employing these illegals right to prison and all the illegals right to the border. That’d solve the problem, but would empty out our farms and factories and slaughterhouses and hotels and restaurants and nursing homes and hospitals and gardens and construction sites.

Or we can get honest and admit that we need and like the benefits “illegal” low-wage workers bring to our way of life, then sit down to honestly figure out a fair and just way to deal with the liabilities such a wink-nudge system brings with it.

Or we can all just drive to Phoenix and get out of our car and walk around wearing “illegal-looking shoes” and a big sombrero and see what happens.

10 comments:

Ron said...

You know what'd be a fun protest in ol' AZ? (By the way, didn't that state lose the opportunity to host a Super Bowl a few years back, because they refused to acknowledge Martin Luther King Day? The answer? Yes.)

A fun protest would be for AZians to start wearing Toronto Maple Leaf hockey jerseys, drinking copious amounts of Molson beer, and start saying the word, "eh," a lot, and then see if they get stopped on suspicion of being an illegal immigrant.

Anne R. Allen said...

"If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about answers." Who knew Karl Rove got his ideas from Thomas Pynchon?

LOVE Ron's idea of impersonating Canucks in AZ (lots of "snowbirds" down there.) And the last time I was in Sedona, my hotel was full of Buddhist monks in saffron robes. How about if everybody started impersonating Tibetans?

Ann--you are so right on all counts. Nobody talks about how our food costs would soar without illegals.

And people forget illegals pay taxes too (and can't file for refunds.) I want to scream this at the TV during Steve Poisoner's "I'm more racist than Meg Whitman" ads that play every two minutes.

M said...

Since the illegals pay taxes and can't file for refunds, let's just give them all the jobs and take that money and give it to the white workers that can't find a job because they're all taken by the illegals. Go to a construction site some day and see how many white guys you see. Jobs that we used to get are not there anymore.
I can't even believe you're even talking about the benefit of illegals. Doesn't the word illegal have any meaning anymore?
Sincerely, M

Donna said...

i think a combination of ron's idea and ann's idea of becoming illegal canadians and mexicans and showing up in, say, phoenix, en masse, hundreds of thousands of us all wearing maple leaf hockey jerseys, drinking molsons, and saying "eh" or wearing "illegal shoes" and sombreros would be the epitome of a hilarious and brilliant demonstration. has a kind of Yippie quality to it. ok. who's gonna organize this deal?

Mike said...

...sounds like a job for our super heroes... Jeff and Julie, the "Moral" leaders of Los Osos...or is it Oceano...??? ...and maybe the rock can "hire" ron to cover the story...

Hey, we haven't heard from our AZ connection in a long while...have the AZ police deported him...???

Churadogs said...

M sez:"I can't even believe you're even talking about the benefit of illegals. Doesn't the word illegal have any meaning anymore?" and sez:"Go to a construction site some day and see how many white guys you see. Jobs that we used to get are not there anymore."

This is exactly what needs to be talked about honestly. Who hires these "illegals" and why? How many "white guys" do you see lined up waiting to work in chicken slaughtering plants, or picking lettuce in 100'+ heat for minimum wage? Are you aware that the huge meat packing houses legally "import" busloads of "mexicans" and drive them up to Iowa for contract work (and if they complain, or are worked into injury, they're back on a bus home)and so forth? That's where we need some honesty in just how we really run our economy. Construction "white guys" want union wages. Buyers want cheap houses. Developers want nice profits. Guess who gets the job to make that happen? Shoppers want cheap lettuce. Guess who gets the job and at what wage to make that happen?

Q we all need to ask: Are you willing to pay slightly higher prices for everything if it ensures the people who made the products you're buying have a decent wage/life? Is the company you're buying from willing to drop their profits a bit to ensure their employees have a decent life/wage?

These questions are ones we have needed to ask ourselves for the past 20 years as our collective "wealth" was drained away into the corporate bottom line. We now have a society that values Wall Street and damns Main Street. All dollars to Wall Street = GOOD. Fair Share dollars to Main Street == SOCIALISM BAD!

That's America's question now: What kind of society do we want to create and live in? How does this country compare with other "civilized" countries in terms of quality of life for its citizens? Answer, really crappy, and that's why: Demonization of The Commons. Pudding for the rich; stones for the rest of us. It's our choice.

And, yes, I love the idea of Molson swilling Cannucks running Amok in AZ!

Ron said...

Donna wrote:

i think a combination of ron's idea and ann's idea of becoming illegal canadians and mexicans and showing up in, say, phoenix, en masse, hundreds of thousands of us all wearing maple leaf hockey jerseys, drinking molsons, and saying "eh" or wearing "illegal shoes" and sombreros would be the epitome of a hilarious and brilliant demonstration.

Wouldn't that be GREAT!

Thousands and thousands of AZians, rockin' a Toronto Maple Leaf jersey, with a Molson in hand, and instead of saying "about," say, "aboot," and, instead of "sorry," say "soory."

So, when a cop stops to hassle them for being an illegal immigrant, they can say, "What's this all aboot, officer? Uh, no. I don't have my 'alien registration documents.' I'm soory, eh."

Oh, that'd SO fill up the jails in Arizona.

Governor Brewer's gunnin' for ya Canada!

Alon Perlman said...

"Aboot"? Yes Ron That was my first Canadican hint that I was no longer in Kansas, the rest seems more out of vintage Saturday night live, and the lovable McKenzie Brothers of the Second City TV. The Arizona un-equal-enforcement un-enforcable law? How does Citizens Arrest work there? (How does it work anyhoo?) Papers?

“Illegal shoes”? Ay, Viva Zapatos!

Churadogs said...

CRUEL, illegal shoes. Pace Steve Marin.

Watershed Mark said...

http://tucsoncitizen.com/the-cholla-jumps/2010/05/01/state-senator-sylvia-allen-responds-to-sb1070/


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