If there is any piece of public policy that has been used more as a political football than immigration reform, it's hard to think of it offhand. Immigration cuts to the very identity of the United States, as we are essentially a nation of immigrants. The question of how we deal with immigration in a legal sense has taken a fairly brutal turn of late, thanks to the efforts of vigilante groups like the "Minutemen" and Republican ideologues like James Sensenbrennar (R - WI). A hard-line approach to immigration is not without its political costs, however.
From Marc Cooper, via AlterNet:
Saturday saw the largest political demonstration in the history of Los Angeles, and one of the biggest in recent American history.
A half-million people or more flooded two dozen blocks of downtown L.A. to give voice to some sort of rational, realistic immigration reform.
...[N]either party can properly get a hold of this issue. Demographics and global economics are simply racing ahead of any practical political response. The Republicans are deeply divided over the issue. Even as the half-million or so were marching in the streets Saturday, President Bush was on the radio more or less endorsing the protestors' two key demands: that a legal channel be created for the immigration already happening, and that some legal acknowledgement be given to the 12 million "illegals" already living here.
Legal acknowledgement is a good thing, so long as it does not continue to coalesce around the egregious idea of a "guest worker" program. Such has been tried before in the United States and it's a guaranteed way to create a permanent underclass of poor workers, a clear benefit to the corporate interests of the Republican party but not a positive for the workers consigned to such a system. The Republicans continue to either misunderstand or ignore the dangers of class stratification, to their and the country's peril.
My biggest problem with talk of immigration reform is the ugly racist underpinnings that tend to shade any discussion of it. For an anecdotal example, I've heard of complaints in my area about the influx of Mexican immigrants. Complaints seem to center around a fear of strangers, certainly, but also a kind of nativism, as though the Mexican immigrants are diluting the identity of these small villages. A misplaced nationalism seems to rear its head as well, in the form of complaints about the non-English speaking and the occasional display of a Mexican flag. These same folks who decry a Mexican grocery store flying a Mexican flag have no problem accepting a Norwegian general store flying a Norwegian flag.
The Latino immigrants in the United States, whether documented or not, have a place in our society, as should all who seek to make their homes here. While I fully support taking the time to make immigration as safe and productive as possible, it's clear that the current system is terribly broken. I find it immoral that Mexican immigrants seeking work in the United States should have to cross the border under the cover of darkness and secrecy. We should welcome those who wish to come here and contribute their hard work. We certainly should not make them criminals, as Sensenbrenner and his Senate contemporaries Cornyn and Kyle wish to do. Nor should we treat them as an underprivileged labor resource, fit only for exploitation by American businesses. Ripping immigrant families apart in the name of "not rewarding bad behavior" is profoundly cruel and a fair bit of hypocrisy from the "Party of Family Values".
The Republicans have stirred quite a hornet's nest this week, and demonstrations across the country do not bode well for Republican efforts to woo the Latino vote. The Republicans seem to have forgotten history (again); each wave of immigrants to America has faced opposition from those who have come before. The influx of Mexican immigrants is no different. Certainly, with open borders, certain criminal elements will exploit our free society. Once again, the price of living in a free country is that sometimes those freedoms are exploited. It's a cost most Americans, at least, are willing to bear.
The undocumented immigrants in the United States who are working and contributing to society deserve the security of recognition by the country they've chosen as their home. The Republican politics of walls and felony charges tarnish our American culture.