The GOP’s biggest problem with the undocumented aliens — illegal immigration — problem, whatever you want to call it, is that someday it might be solved. After all, the current legislation was put in place by a GOP President, Reagan. The last GOP President couldn’t get immigration “reform” passed when his own party was in control of the Congress because bunches of them voted against his proposals. No, the “immigration problem” is one of the GOP’s favorite “dog whistles” to use Truthout’s William Rivers Pitt’s wonderful term — the ways they have dreamed up to camouflage their fundamental racism. They simply don’t want it go away and they will do everything they can to make sure that it doesn’t. For them it is the gift, created first and foremost by one of the GOP mainstays, corporate agribusiness indeed back in the 1980s, that keeps on giving.Screaming and yelling all sorts of falsehoods and distortions, the GOP in Arizona managed to pass the Fourth-Amendment-violating “Show Me Your Papers” law (now being challenged by the Administration on entirely the wrong grounds — Federal pre-emption rather than violation of the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment). However, in a recent issue of The New Yorker, William Finnegan shared some interesting facts about the “immigration problem” with us: “Apprehensions by the Border Patrol are down 60 percent since 2000 (although the number is still staggering: 550,000 in 2009). The border with Mexico is “better managed and less porous” than ever.”
Violent crime, although rising in Mexico due to President Calderone’s totally wrong-headed “War on Drugs,” is down along that border on the US side, but not the Mexican one, where illegal guns exported by US gun dealers are fueling a continuous murderous rampage. “According to F.B.I. statistics,” Finnegan tells us, “the four safest cities in the United States — San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso, and Austin — are all in border states.” But you would never know this listening to Arizona GOP politicians, the leading GOPers in the Senate (now including the former leading reformer John McCain), The Propaganda Channel (otherwise known as the Fox”News”Channel), the Propaganda Webmagazine (otherwise known as NewsMax), Beckoning-Savagely-Le-vin-itating-O’RHannibaugh and etc.
Now let’s see. The proportion of illegal immigrants to the US population, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson Center tells us, has not changed since the mid-1980s. Yet all of a sudden there is a hue and a cry emanating from the Republicans about the issue. Why now, one might ask. Well, duh, it’s an election year (again). This time, given the totally lackluster Democratic Party leadership in the White House or the Congress, they will definitely pick up seats. According to some observers they are in a very good position to retake the House and maybe even the Senate. They do have a very clever strategy: use their almost total, totally anti-democratic, control of what legislation can get out of the Senate to make sure that virtually none of the legislation that could make the Obama Administration even partially successful ever gets to his desk, and then blame him totally for the outcomes of such failure. Pounding away on immigration, which they make sure to present in a racist way — “it’s the browns, you know” — while making sure that no legislation that could possibly pass the Congress ever gets to a vote, is an essential part of their strategy.
But why would the Republicans want to use this particular issue? After all, the principal supporters in power of illegal immigration are those corporatists who make wide use of very cheap illegal immigrant labor who happen to be major GOP financial supporters. They are among the very last people who want any change in the present situation. For in addition to working cheap, the undocumented aliens can’t vote, and so can be exploited without fear of political repercussions. For the most part, they work hard (so we are told) and will be the last to report unsafe or exploitative working conditions to any authority. Contrary to right-wing propaganda they do pay taxes in the form of sales taxes on the goods they buy and (indirectly) real estate taxes on the property they rent. So the GOP corporate base likes them. But the GOP leadership knows that facts matter little to their base. Thus reciting the above facts to them would mean little. They know how red the immigrant issue red button is. So they can have it both ways. They can fan the flames of xenophobia, racism, and classism without any worries that the situation will actually change.
The rhetoric used by the anti-immigrant crowd is fascinating. Patrick Buchanan is one of their “intellectual” leaders. He loves to talk about how immigrants (and he doesn’t seem to distinguish between the legals and the illegals) are “destroying the American tradition,” “undermining American values,” “totally lacking in any knowledge of American history and its meaning” (this latter from a man who routinely refers to the Civil War as the “War Between the States”). “They aren’t Americans,” Pat tells us, and cannot ever “become like us.” Continuing to admit immigrants is a guarantee that the “nation as we know it” will eventually be destroyed. This is precisely the language that the
jingoistic “Know-Nothings,” White Anglo-Saxon Protestant to their core, used to denounce the Irish immigration of the 1830s (when most of the Irish immigrants happened to be Protestants, but what the hey, it was as unfair to confuse Right-Wingers with facts back then as it is now), 1840s and 1850s (when they were primarily Catholics fleeing from the misnamed “Potato Famine”).
When in 1940 Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed a gathering of the Daughters of the American Revolution, a strongly anti-immigration organization at the time (especially in regards to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazism), he began his address with words “Fellow Immigrants.” And his Dutch ancestors had arrived in the Hudson Valley in the 17th century, well before those of many of the ladies gathered for his address. One wonders how many of his audience got the point. Actually, the only North American inhabitants entitled by history to truthfully use the words “immigrants will destroy the nation as we know it” are the Native Americans, not themselves immigrants but rather first arrivers.
And now the GOP is going after the children of the undocumented, according to the clear wording of the Fourteenth Amendment, U.S. citizens:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
They want to hold hearings in the Senate as to “what the 14th really means.” (Would that they would want to hold hearings on what the Preamble, with its “general welfare” clause, or Article Six, which makes all treaties (like the UN Convention Against Torture] part of the supreme law of the land, or the Fourth Amendment, with its probable cause requirement, “really mean.”) And then there is the supposedly “reasonable” Senator Graham, from the First Secessionist state, calling for repeal of the 14th, without even waiting to find out “what it really means” (which is fascinating for a “strict constructionist,” “literal meaning” type).
Now there’s a really interesting one. Right now there is no way that a repeal measure could get two-thirds of both Houses and three-fourths of the states. BUT, the GOP could conceivably win the Congress and then could conceivably get enough of the scared Democrats left to vote with them on that one (and Democrats, as we know well, just don’t filibuster). And then, if they win enough Governorships, and do enough gerrymandering, maybe in a few years three-fourths of the states would be in their sights. Now, would making non-citizens out of present citizens and telling future illegal immigrants that any of their children born in the U.S. would not be citizens do anything to solve the illegal immigration problem? Of course not.
(See also Chapter Four of “The 15% Solution: A Political History of American Fascism, 2001-2022, for a similar, projected, take on GOP immigration policy.) But boy, they would have gotten rid of several much more pesky parts of the 14th, like the equal protection clause which, among other things, guarantees the rights of gays to access to the civil marriage law in all 50 states, and the equally pesky application of the due process provisions of the Fifth Amendment to the states. But that’s another matter.
No, the only real solution to the illegal immigration problem is to enforce the law against employing undocumented workers. If the jobs dried up, the illegals would stop coming. They may be desperate for work, but they are not dumb. If the word were to get back south of the border that there are no jobs, the inflow would stop straightaway. But A) as already noted those employers are big GOP contributors, and B) the last thing the GOP wants is to rob itself of this highly emotional “dog whistle” of an issue. It ain’t going to go away any time soon.
(Certain limited parts of this commentary are drawn from a previous BuzzFlash Guest Contribution of mine that appeared on April 26, 2006.)
Steven Jonas, MD, MPH is a Professor of Preventive Medicine at Stony Brook University (NY) and author/co-author/editor of 30 books. In addition to being a Columnist for BuzzFlash, Dr. Jonas is also a Contributing Author for TPJmagazine; a Featured Writer for Dandelion Salad; a Senior Columnist for The Greanville POST; a Contributor to TheHarderStuff newsletter; a Contributor to The Planetary Movement; and a Contributing Columnist for the Project for the Old American Century, POAC.
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