Wherever you think you stand on the current hot-button issue of immigration in the USA, I'd ask you to consider this: why is this happening now? What specific event brought this issue to the public arena in this time? Prior to the run-up to last year's midterm elections this issue wasn't particularly visible, and certainly wasn't generating the widespread public discussion we see currently. The next time you get into a conversation on the street or in your homes about illegal immigration ask yourself 'why is this important right now?'
I'd like to address a few misnomers and irritating misconseptions that are bandied about a lot in this time period. One of them being the idea that mass quantities of foriegn people "sneak" into this country. This is an image many Americans accept, largely because of what's reported in the media, and the inescapable characterizations made by political figures.
Last year, just one day after CNN polls showed that most Americans believed that more border patrol agents were a better choice than building a 700-mile fence across the US/Mexican border, the "Secure Fence Act" passed both houses of Congress with a sizeable majority (283 to 138 in the House, and 80 to 19 in the Senate a couple weeks later). Down payment on the fence project was 1.2 billion dollars and thanks to Michael Chertoff's September 2005 complete and total waiving of the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, construction of the fence is not subject to any laws. Americans voices were ignored. The midterm elections were only weeks away.
Much of the rhetoric surrounding this whole thing focused on issues of security, with frequent allusions included that gave rise to the idea that not only were foriegners "sneaking" into the US to work in our resturaunts and construction sites, but that the evil doers who would wish us harm can also expoit our weak borders. Fear, fear, and more fear. Now with the current run-up to the presidential primaries, and the ongoing attetmpt to create "comprehensive" legislation on a new immigration policy the discussion has shifted strongly away from issues of security and towards issues of control; of numbers, of cost, etc. Meanwhile, the numbers don't support the assumptions about, well...anything related to this discussion. For example, it's a well-known fact among thse who study immigration, and the govenment officials whose job it is to understand and analyze what is going on, that the vast majority of illegal aliens in this country enter the US legally, and then overstay their visas. It's a simple fact. Between October 2003 and May 2004, 660,390 people were reported detained by the US Border Patrol for trying to cross illegally. That seems like a staggering number, but they were caught. But what could be seen as a success story of the Border Patrol is painted instead as a cause for alarm. Meanwhile, the cause for alarm is that there's no incentive for these people to stay in their native countries, not that there aren't sufficient deterrants against entering the US. The reward vs. risk is remarkable. They come for the same reasons many Americans' families came to this country, to escape oppression, poverty, failing economies, or worse.
Clearly, we've seen that laws don't stop people from coming here. Stricter laws will only make matters worse by making it harder for those who would like to immigrate legally to do so, giving them incentive to break the law. It's no different from one of the other great failed American policies, the Drug War. Laws don't stop ANYONE from doing drugs. Someone fleeing poverty and agricultural ruin in the 3rd world doesn't give a damn whether the fine for overstaying their visa is $2000 or $5000. The punishment is not much more than the costs of getting a green card for most. If you are of the opinion that we need to stop these people from coming here (have you guessed by now that that's not my position?) then perhaps you ought to think about what might be done to improve the situation in Mexico, in El Salvador, in Columbia, in Afganistan, in China. Bring us your tired, your huddled masses, but they'd beter not be poor.
Again, think about this: nothing has HAPPENED. The terrorists of 9/11 didn't sneak into San Diego through the desert in the dark of night. Meanwhile, my musical and personal life in New York has been hugely enhanced by my friends from Canada, Israel, Japan, Germany, to name only a few, and I can only imagine what goes through their heads during idiotic times like these. Fortunately, the current immigration bill on the table is stalled. Not that its proposals were anything new, just a reiteration and slightly more strict version of what we already have today: laws that mean little to the ones they would punish, and mean everything to those who would like to manipulate law and public opinion for their own gain.