MARIN COUNTY'S NEWS
MONTHLY - FREE PRESS
(415)868-1600 - (415)868-0502(fax) - P.O. Box 31, Bolinas, CA, 94924
Manufacturing Our Immigrants
By Edward W. Miller, M.D.
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
(Inscribed on the Statue of Liberty)
There must be a strand of tribal nature stuck in our DNA which, throughout history, has made it easy for politicians and leaders to set one human group, one race, one religious order against another. This DNA remnant is playing out in Washington today as Congress jousts over immigrant issues. Some politicians, as well as the media, picking up on racial rhetoric, and substitute "illegal aliens" for "illegal immigrants."
This racial game played out early in our political history, when in 1798 the Federalists in Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts; Three of the four "Acts" self-destructed, but the ALIEN ENEMIES ACT is still in force and has been quoted by the Bush Administration to legalize their shipping so-called "Terrorists" overseas for imprisonment and torture in foreign countries.
In the three centuries since 1789, history records bitter campaigns against one immigrant group after another: the Irish, the Polish Jew, the Chinese, and the Japanese whom our government during WW II ordered into prison camps (60% were American citizens.) Back in 1882 it was the Chinese Exclusion Act that banned immigration of all Chinese males. (Chinese females had already been excluded.) In 1902 Congress excluded all Chinese "indefinitely," a ban not lifted until 1943.
In the 1980s, responding to complaints from organized labor that immigrants "lowered the prevailing wage." President Reagan' joined the "Free Jobs for Americans" campaign, ordering some 6,000 illegal immigrants forcibly seized and deported and their then-available jobs widely advertised. However, when Americans who applied discovered working conditions were ($3.25/hour for a 50-hour week), they walked away in disgust.
In times of depression when jobs are scarce, some politicians have resorted to racial immigration issues, which have threatened to bring our "melting pot" to a boil.
In the mid 1990s, various political groups, championed by Governor Pete Wilson, bombarded Californians with a campaign of lies to support Proposition 187 which undermined both medical and educational programs for immigrants. Prop 187, never fully implemented, was followed by Washington's miserable Immigration Bill and an equally vicious Anti-Terrorist Bill. A 1995 study by the Washington National Immigration Forum and the CATO Institute, and signed by more than 20 interest groups reported the following statistics:
1) The average immigrant family at that time was receiving $1404 in welfare services in its first five years in this country. Native-born families on welfare received $2279 in the same period.
2) Immigrants on the average had a year's less education than natives of the same age. Unchanged since the 19th century.
3) New immigrants represented a young labor force and were contributing considerably more to the public coffer than they were drawing out.
Since the beginning of history, peoples have emigrated to foreign lands to escape wars, famines, religious persecution, economic depressions or just to give themselves and their children a better life. Religious persecution brought us the Pilgrims. A potato famine and English colonialism, the Irish, while economic and political upheaval in Europe before and after WW I brought the Polish and Russian Jews. The US military devastations in Korea and then Vietnam, and our bombing destruction of those ancient kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia forced thousands of these people to seek asylum in the United States. Our ongoing drug war against the indigenous Indians of Columbia (including pesticide spraying, a replay of Vietnam's Agent Orange) is driving those people north into the US. Our past depredations in Central and South America when our CIA brought down duly-elected governments in Chile and Guatemala, while aiding US companies, such as United Fruit to drive peasants off their land, encouraged these then-landless to seek jobs in the US.
Children of illegal immigrants, born here in the US are US citizens. Some children, rendered parentless by ICE's violent family separations are flown to orphanages set up in Mexico. KPFA (Flashpoint) recently reported one Mexican orphanage in the State of Sonora presently houses some 6000 ICE-orphaned children, many US citizens.
Both NAFTA and the Agriculture Bill now being debated in Washington will affect immigration from south of our borders. Congress' bonuses to American farmers (corporate welfare) have been repeatedly offered since the great depression. American farmers, like other businesses have no right to such largesse and most don't need this support. The millionaire agri-businesses, such as Cargill and Arthur-Daniel Midlands, which get the biggest bonuses, dump their corn, soybeans and other products in Mexican towns, underselling the indigenous farmers. As John Ross, writer on Mexican-US relations, pointed out this week (FLASHPOINT KPFA) over 1.2 million Mexican farmers, forced out of business, have made their way north, to find work in the US. Some have died in the mesquite or been shot by our border patrols. Over 400 immigrants died in 2006. With an average Mexican family of five, this farm loss has forced over 5 million Mexicans into abject poverty.
NAFTA, which forbids countries as Mexico to protect their people with tariff barriers, is destroying other economies in Central American.
The idea that we can change history and exclude from our shores those seeking a better life here is insanity. We have thousands of miles of shoreline plus extensive borders with both Canada and Mexico. Today, San Diego County's fifteen foot steel fences topped with razor-wire, patrolled by police and the military, with dogs, helicopters, infrared detectors and even satellite surveillance have shifted the border crossings east into the Arizona desert where those who don't make it die of thirst amongst the mesquite.
While Coast Guard patrols pick up container cargoes of bodies dead of heat and oxygen, in our north.
Before the wealthier EU nations admitted poorer Spain and Portugal to their Union, EU invested more than $200 billion to raise the living standards of these poorer two, so that with their EU open border policy, richer nations would not be inundated with economic refugees. It worked!
In addition to taking the Agri-Business millionaires off corporate welfare and canceling NAFTA, perhaps a Marshall Plan offered Mexico, with an enforced "living wage" for Maquiladora workers, might prove less expensive in terms of dollars, human lives, and relationships with our neighbors, than our hunkering down behind a failing Maginot Line, supported by voluntary militias and exhausted US Reserves.
The Golden Rule is not only a humane but also an economic statement. Americans might turn off the light in Miss Liberty's torch and inscribe on her base: "I've got mine, to hell with you," until we relearn our lesson.
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