Thursday, January 3, 2019

On the 10th Day of Christmas: Walls, Immigration & Leaping Lords

On the 10th day of Christmas Ten Lords are Leaping, which seems an appropriate metaphor for the first day of the new Congress with its change in House leadership.  

The government is shut down, the result of a bullying power play by a childish president who wants his Wall no matter how much damage his ploy causes for the nation.  This three year old’s temper tantrum has been confronted by Democratic opposition determined not to give in to such behavior.  Reasonable Republicans, if there are any, stand on the sidelines going Tsk-Tsk, but offering no help.  We’ve all seen something like this played out in the candy aisle of the local grocery store, where there is always someone who shares their wisdom about the right way to handle it. 

Well, here I am.  Think of me as the fourth wise man heading to Bethlehem but distracted by the hubbub in the candy aisle, which is why only three made it.

Being seduced by the tantrum is to ignore legitimate issues.  Southern border security needs attention.  But there is no invasion of bad hombres.  Drugs and human trafficking have many ways to avoid fences and walls.  Illegal immigration is on a downward trajectory, and illegal immigrants are largely the product of unworkable laws and regulations.  (Source: Pew Research Center, June 2018). 

Members of Congress have long howled about the broken immigration system.  Except for the Freedom Caucus and friends, they know perfectly well what needs to be done, but have preferred rhetorical posturing over serious legislative work.  We need a relatively simple immigration system that allows quick and easy admission to the United States under terms and conditions anyone can understand and follow.  Xenophobes of one kind or another will try to mess it up, claiming to want only highly skilled or well educated immigrants, and refugees under circumstance almost impossible to meet.  It’s thinly veiled racism, as has been the case for nearly all past and present immigration laws.  Not giving them the headlines would be a good idea, but pressure to gin up controversy for the sake of reader and viewership is likely to prevail. 

Just a reminder that immigration laws in the modern sense began with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not finally repealed until 1943. All those legal immigrants through Ellis Island so many are proud to claim?  They were permitted under another 1882 law.  Most immigrants entered before that by getting off the ship and walking down the street, some freely, some as slaves.  Under the new law all were admitted, if not welcome, as long as they weren’t “lunatics” or carrying an infectious disease.  Literacy was added in 1917.  It required new arrivals to read a sentence or two in their own language.  It also added restrictions on immigration from other parts of Asia.  More ethnic quotas came in 1921 and were expanded in 1924.  The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 revised the ethnic quota system, which always gave preference to northern Europeans, even when it pretended not to.  It got replaced in 1965 by legislation giving quotas to needed skills and family reunification rather than ethnicity.  Then things got complicated.  

All these legislative changes were racially motivated, encouraged by fears that undesirables would take jobs from real Americans while undermining the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture that dominated American politics, established social standards others were expected to emulate, and dictated what it meant to be American.


Immigration is one thing.  Border security is another, even though the current argument tangles them into a snarled wad.  Southern border security has its own special needs, and some form of barrier more extensive than what we already have may be needed in some places.  So be it.  Fund border security to meet performance standards, and leave the means to do it to competent experts with on the ground experience.  Fund it not to satisfy racially motivated fear mongering about imaginary invasions of bad people, but about the need to secure a very porous border that yet demands easy, controlled access to accommodate huge flows of traffic in both directions. 

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