Xenophobia ‘R’ U.S. | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Xenophobia ‘R’ U.S. 

Don’t worry about the immigrants. Keep an eye, a careful eye, on those who would exploit this issue for divisive ends.

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Conversing with your airport shuttle driver at 4:30 a.m. is no easy task. But ask even the simplest of questions about immigration, and you’ll get a litany of grievances. Make that a long litany if your driver’s destination is Arizona’s Tucson International Airport.

Perhaps it was the early hour, but his voice never rose. He never took a hand off the steering wheel to shake his fist. And he never once resorted to a racial epithet. But after more than 15 years of living in the Tucson area, owned by Mexico before the Gadsden Purchase of 1853, he spoke about immigration almost as if he were instead talking about a beloved sibling lost to drug addiction. He was weary, but adamant in his opinions.

Humble enough to admit he had no solutions, he took a certain joy in listing off complaints. “The desert is full of trash left by people trying to cross the border,” he said. “And the Catholic Church has got to reverse its policy on birth control if this situation is going to improve. Still, I know it’s a myth that these people take jobs away from Americans, and employers can’t be expected to solve this problem all by themselves.”

To the best of my early morning memory, anyway, that’s what he said. But why listen to a shuttle driver, or anyone else, on the issue of immigration for that matter? Depending on where you stand on the issue, that’s either reasonable rhetoric, or alarmist hogwash. But don’t delude yourself for a minute that, where this issue is concerned, the opinion of everyday people on immigration doesn’t matter. Of course it does.

The fact is both sides of this issue spout their share of hogwash. I’m particularly fond of how the immigration debate turns raging free-market capitalists into borderline xenophobes or even outright racists and left-leaning socialists into shameless capitalists. Some on the right wouldn’t dare think of raising this country’s minimum wage, then, in an about face, argue it’s wrong for us to either exploit illegal aliens or that the presence of these people keeps wages artificially low for America’s high school drop-outs and other unskilled workers. They argue this, of course, all in the aim of keeping Mexican nationals in Mexico.

Meanwhile, leftists who wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of Nikes or other sweatshop apparel point to all the benefits our economy accrues from all this affordable, unskilled labor. My personal favorite was a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece last December that trumpeted the “indispensable” work migrants provide, then lambasted NAFTA as the reason Mexico cannot provide enough jobs for its people. To suggest that the disastrous financial policies of past governments under Luis Echevarría, López Portillo or Mexico’s rampant corruption might share blame is the height of political incorrectness.

But does any of this matter? Hardly. We always have, and always will, share a border with Mexico. Mexicans went north to the States in 1910 during the Mexican Revolution. They came here again in the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s as “braceros,” or day laborers. Anyone who knows history knows that the forced repatriation of thousands of people back to Mexico during the ’30s was a disaster.

The 12 million undocumented workers of today aren’t going anywhere, and the Great Browning of the United States is underway. Fortify the border with Minutemen, throw every HR 4437 or similar proposal you want at Mexican immigration. It won’t make a jot of difference.

But opinions still matter, because people use them for divisiveness. That’s especially dangerous stuff when times are hard. Hyperinflation and rampant unemployment during the Depression made it easy, but not excusable, for Germany to point fingers at Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and communists before the outbreak of World War II. That in mind, it’s disturbing, to say the least, that any American would point fingers at undocumented workers when our unemployment rate hovers below 5 percent.

And what sort of nation fears the outsider, or playing host to millions of hard-working immigrants? A very weak and selfish one, it would seem. Sealing our borders is all the rage given our post-9/11 paranoia, but isolation leads nowhere. Nations, like individuals, don’t exist in isolation. And those who favor sealing our borders, or argue against legal residency and eventual citizenship for immigrants, must answer the question of why a world with more American citizens would be such a terrible thing.

James Madison gave us a stern warning, along with a prescribed solution, in Federalist Paper No. 10: “So strong is this propensity of mankind to fall into mutual animosities that where no substantial occasion presents itself the most frivolous and fanciful distinctions have been sufficient to kindle their most violent conflicts.”

Counterbalancing division in society, Madison wrote, requires government in the form of a republic. As strong as our republic was in the past, it didn’t stop racial divisions, and it won’t stop some from exploiting immigration for devious arguments and purposes.

Why not let the rest of the world play miser with citizenship, while we soak up those ambitious enough to make their way here? According to the Migration Policy Institute’s Website, citizenship the world over is harder to acquire as everyone hunkers down in fear. The U.K. did away with its Commonwealth Citizenship provisions in 1981. Two years ago, Ireland voted to deny automatic citizenship to children when both parents are not Irish. “Second-generation children born in France of two non-French parents cannot become French citizens until they turn 18,” according to the site, “provided they have resided in France for at least five years.”

And we’re so much better, more generous, than the French. Aren’t we?

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