Why Bush Needs "Illegal" Immigrants
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A week ago, President George W. Bush did his best job at feigning earnestness. Say what you will about the man's intelligence, he knows how to fake sincerity. That, if not much else, explains why Americans (allegedly) made him President twice.
The President did his best to push for some form of amnesty for the 11 million (give or take) illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American states. Bush put a surprisingly pragmatic face on the issue, one many American do not wish to hear.
"Some in this country argue that the solution is to deport every illegal immigrant, and that any proposal short of this amounts to amnesty," said Bush. "I disagree. It is neither wise, nor realistic to round up millions of people, many with deep roots in the United States, and send them across the border."
Nevertheless, that is exactly what many Republicans, in their wettest of dreams, wish to do because that is what their constituents want.
How nutty have things become?
Maricopa (Ariz.) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio runs what can be charitably called a concentration camp in the deserts outside of Phoenix for the petty criminals of his county. CNN went there last week and Arpaio's convicts, in 19th century striped prisoner garb, milled about.
Arpaio has decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and waylay any motorist breaking the most minute motor vehicle law. If his deputies discover the driver is an illegal, they get charged with a felony, put in Arpaio's tent city and deported. If Maricopa deputies capture them again, they go to prison -- for years.
A CNN crew asked some of Arpaio's inmates if they supported this home-grown fascism. They did.
"They're taking our jobs," said one prisoner.
Let that sink in. Slowly.
So here we are on the morning after Bush's treacly plea for amnesty and MSNBC's Don Imus' is interviewing Tim Russert, another pundit who, like Imus, orbits the stratosphere of American life, serenely isolated from the pain and struggle of real people.
Russert tells Imus that Karl Rove, of all people, was stressing the word "compassion" as a major factor in Bush's proposal to half-step militarize the border on one hand while offering amnesty on the other.
Rove. Compassion. Someone wake me.
Compassion, of course, has nothing to do with it. The pernicious form of American Capitalism married to an unholy alliance of election year racial politics does.
Here's what Bush said last Monday night:
"For decades, the United States has not been in complete control of its borders. As a result, many who want to work in our economy have been able to sneak across our border, and millions have stayed."
Here's what Bush wouldn't admit: that the gang of which he's a charter member, wanted those porous borders. They wanted them because the flow of illegals drove down real wages across the board in the United States in agriculture, the building trades, the domestic trades, the food service and hospitality trades and a whole host of other industries that counted their fortunes on Wall Street while their labourers worked harder for less and the minimum wage remained stagnant since 1997.
Now having outsourced enough American labour to be noticed, the Capitalist gang has a problem and it's not economic -- it's good old fashioned American racism.
Thanks in part to journalists like CNN's Lou Dobbs, guys like Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) and J. D. Heyworth (R-Arizona), have put their finger to the wind and correctly assumed that the pictures of thousands of illegal immigrants swarming through "our broken borders" could be used to whip up traditional American xenophobia and become a great election year wedge issue.
And televised demonstrations by pro-immigrant activists waving Mexican flags in downtown Los Angeles played right into their hands.
The invasion is on! the pundits scream. We have met the new enemy and it is Jose!
And so the Republican Party is between a rock and a hard place with Bush having to play referee, a role, as a lame duck, he is not well suited for.
Business Republicans wax nostalgic for the good old robber baron days of the late 19th century before the do-gooders (and that damned man in the White House -- FDR) ruined everything -- for awhile. The globalization of cheap labour, of which an influx of undocumented Mexicans have played a major role, has done much to undo decades of labour progressivism in the United States. The modern robber barons saw this and proclaimed it good.
But what they have sowed they must now reap. For the alter ego face of the GOP's business side was always the nativist strain now rearing its ugly head. While the economic policies that have spawned this brave new world of the global economy have swelled the fat cats' wallets, it is the ugly nativist side that is a sure vote getter.
After all, those fine patriotic rock-ribbed folks who are working longer for less, whose kids are fighting and dying in a war of economic hegemony in Iraq, have to find someone to blame for the gradual erosion of the American Dream happening right in front of their eyes.
And they've been well trained to never look at the man behind the curtain -- the man at the Fed, the man who serves as the President's economic adviser, the man who serves as the CEO in the corporate boardroom with a direct line to the White House, and the lobbyist talking head on the Sunday morning chat shows who waxes poetically about the great American economic machine which serves so few with the sweat of so many.
No, like the convicts in Arpaio's concentration camp they are trained to look instead at the external "enemy" -- the desperate victims of the economic policies of the U.S. directed World Bank, NAFTA and GATT, who swim the Rio Grande nightly to feed their starving families in the land of el Norte.
Ordinary Americans must believe that those unfortunate people are "the enemy" who are "taking our jobs."
Not that Bush feels the pain of these aroused Americans, although, again, he puts up a good act. On one hand, his iron fist sends 6,000 overtaxed National Guardsmen to the border to be virtually invisible (so they say) in their support of overtaxed Border Patrol agents.
Bush's velvet glove shielding the iron fist implores the aroused Americans to consider the case of Master Sergeant Guadalupe Denogean:
"Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean came to the United States from Mexico when he was a boy. He spent his summers picking crops with his family, and then he volunteered for the United States Marine Corps as soon as he was able. During the liberation of Iraq, Master Gunnery Sergeant Denogean was seriously injured. And when asked if he had any requests, he made two: a promotion for the corporal who helped rescue him, and the chance to become an American citizen. And when this brave Marine raised his right hand, and swore an oath to become a citizen of the country he had defended for more than 26 years, I was honoured to stand at his side."
Bush finishes his American fairy tale thusly:
"We will always be proud to welcome people like Guadalupe Denogean as fellow Americans. Our new immigrants are just what they've always been -- people willing to risk everything for the dream of freedom."
To people like Dobbs, Tancredo, Sean Hannity, et al, that was then, this is now. Whether Master Gunnery Sgt. Denogean entered the US legally, Bush cagily does not say but the baying hounds of the xenophobic right might want to know.
Not surprisingly, Bush made good use of Master Gunnery Sgt. Denogean as a rhetorical prop before -- in a speech on July 4, 2003:
"At a hospital in Washington, I met Master Gunnery Sergeant Guadalupe Denogean, an immigrant from Mexico who has served in the Marine Corps for 25 years. In March, he was wounded in combat in Basra and sent back to America for treatment. When I asked if he had any requests, the Master Gunnery Sergeant had just two. He wanted a promotion for the Colonel who rescued him. And he wanted to be an American citizen."
Hmmmmmm. Perhaps shedding blood for Uncle Sam in a time of declining enlistment will continue to be seen as a carte d'entree for future citizenship, eh?
And isn't it disingenuous for Bush then, to trumpet the case of a person like Denogean, who would nowadays be a guest worker more likely to serve in Arpaio's stalag than your local Dairy Queen?
Thus we watch an issue play out that has the potential of not only tearing the Republican party apart (just ask Grover Norquist but America itself. The sad and sorry truth of this whole dispute, however, is that whichever side wins, America loses.
An amnesty program locks in a low-wage paradigm in which both immigrant and native born must conform, benefitting only the ownership class and their modern myth of upward mobility -- the new immigrant dream capped off at managing a McDonald's. And guest workers have a tendency not to leave -- ask the Germans.
And a robustly sealed border punishes the truly desperate, reinforces the worst aspects of American nativism, and does nothing to solve the problem of wage inequity in the U.S. or the collapsing domestic economy.
Perhaps, I misspeak. In the end, the business interests still win, for the American people will either blame the Mexicans or the President but never the economic system that perpetuates this Punch and Judy show of pitting classes of working people against each other to see which group of puppet masters will gain the temporary advantage in either profit or power.
And we hear little from the Democrats about this fact of American politics. Sad, isn't it?
Keith Gottschalk has written for daily publications in the Midwest and was formerly a radio talk show host in Illinois.