By R. D. Flavin
you got to let me know
Conflating St. Marher (Plantagenet era, fl. 1200) and Ben Franklin, one could offer a portmanteau proverb of “Time waits not and you shouldn't want it to.” Change is unstoppable (as per our current understanding of physics), yet to what degree change affects is dependent on individual persons, topics, and circumstances. Like most things, change can be a little or a lot, though usually the result is somewhere in between. America is a nation of immigrants (var. "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"). No disrespect intended, but even the Native Americans immigrated from northern and north-central Asia at various times (though the term 'migration' could also be used, as there is some evidence of sporadic return). America's immigration laws are in dire need of change and they will, though to what extent remains to be seen. Who can predict the results of such an important societal action or the ramifications of political inaction? Regardless, weathering whithering is something America is good at. Maybe, too good. We'll survive and end up ...where we end up.
always tease tease tease
America has always been a nation of immigrants and emigrants. We promote the “American Dream” and are enriched by newbies (the numbers of foreign-born American doctors, scientists, and engineers are staggering – ranging from 35-55% depending on specialty). Legal immigration has remained an insurance policy towards a healthy and growing America with a million new legal permanent residents (“green card” holders or LPRs) and around 700,00 “naturalized” citizens meeting requirements and passing tests each year. Yeah, there's a lot of work and student visas issued, and legal migrant workers come and go as well. And, tourists? Let's estimate more than 64 million a year... America has been and will remain an expanding family and, like all families, there are problems. Illegal immigration has been a sensitive issue for many years, especially after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, the Immigration Act of 1990, and 1996's Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (which allowed the deportation of criminally convicted LPRs). Though to be fair, Pres. Reagan's 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act implemented tough penalties on employers who knowingly hired illegal immigrants, but also granted amnesty to roughly three million illegal workers at the same time. America, as a family, has had its share of demographic Guess Who's Coming to Dinner moments, but the current illegal immigration debate is different. Many illegals are already 'family' and have been for years.
I stay or should I go now?
Deportation has never been cheap for either America or the deportees. During the early 1950s, Mexico experienced a severe economic depression, which resulted in more and more unemployed Mexicans illegally crossing the border for the hope of a paycheck. I'm sure it cost mucho roberto diniro when the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service deported over one million Mexicans from California, Arizona, and Texas during 1954's infamous “Operation Wetback.” With several state and federal agencies assisted by the military, Pres. Eisenhower approved “police-state” tactics which included the random questioning of anyone who looked Hispanic (racial profiling), door-to-door requests for residential and citizenship authorization (“Papers, please...”), farm raids with the goal to seize undocumented workers at the rate of a thousand per day,” and subsequent deportation via trucks, buses,trains, and ships deep into Mexico, not just “over the border,” but as far as 600 miles into Mexico. The panic and fear which spread throughout the Mexican-American community, helped out by the Media, compelled over a half of a million illegals to voluntarily return to Mexico. Intimidation and harassment were commonplace throughout the operation, but so too were the beatings and other forms of abuse (Bosworth & Flavin 2007, p. 126). America was shamed by its brutal “solution” and eventually discontinued the mission. “Operation Wetback” deported Mexicans who were abandoned hundreds of miles away from their native towns and communities, faced the difficulties of travel, basic-needs, and, if they managed to successfully return “home,” returned to the same economic despair they'd tried so hard to escape from.
indecision’s bugging me
Contrarily, regarding immigration, during the late 1970s Cuba and the United States were starting to get along with “Interest Sections” mutually established in Havana and Washington D.C., Cuba released several political prisoners as a sign of good faith,and then began to allow Cuban exiles to return “home” to visit relatives. However, despite the shared progressive spirit of Castro and Pres. Carter, Cuba underwent a sudden economic downturn and many Cubans (over 10,000) began to seek political asylum in the Venezuelan and Peruvian Embassies (later, also the Spanish and Costa Rican Embassies). Things got dangerously messy very quick. With his usual unpredictability, Castro then announced that any Cuban who wanted to leave could safely and “legally” exit from the Port of Mariel – on condition that somebody was there to pick them up (as Castro didn't want to give up any Cuban boats in the offer). And, so began the “Mariel Boatlift” which lasted from April 15 to October 31, 1980.
At first, Pres. Carter instructed that the Cubans arriving in Florida be granted immediate refugee status and public opinion was in favor of anything anti-Castro and anti-communist. American government response soon soured when it was revealed that Castro had purposely included criminals, mental patients, and other undesirables (homosexuals, liberal reactionaries, etc.) in the mix. The media described it as Castro emptying the jails and mental hospitals, but a 1991 Congressional report estimated that only about 25% (still, a high and nasty percentage) of the 125,000 refugees were criminals and mental patients. In May of 1980, the U.S. Navy was called in to assist the Coast Guard (as some ships stalled at sea and had to be towed and then there were the many homemade rafts that didn't quite complete the 90 mile trip from Cuba to America), and shortly thereafter the Marines were put in place to assist the Immigration and Naturalization Service with security, translating, and general humanitarian aid. Soon, with numbers increasing daily, the Army was assigned to manage the security of the several refugee compounds that were set up around Miami. As difficulties presented themselves with the “unsponsored” or those with no friends and relatives in America, as well as the quickly revealed nature of the criminals, transfers were made to Fort Chaffee, AR and Fort Indiantown Gap, PA. And, because it's America, the tragedy at the refugee compounds in Miami soon served as the backdrop for the story of 1983's popular film, Scarface, starring Al Pacino, written by Oliver Stone and directed by Brian De Palma. As an ironic coda, of sorts, because of a riot at Fort Chaffee (and a raise in Arkansas's motor vehicle tax), first-term Gov. Bill Clinton lost his 1980 bid for re-election. He won a second term in 1982 (Arkansas's gubernatorial term was only for two years, at the time), and the rest is, as they say, is history. The “Mariel Boatlift” had little impact on Miami's unemployment figures and economy, though it did boost the Cuban-American community on a local political level. All in all, it seems to have been one of those situations that easily could have turned out much worse.
As is well known, America changed after the September 11, 2001 attacks by al-Qaeda. And, the fact that they got in through Canada and drove to and flew out of Boston still saddens and embarrasses me. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security and many of the policies that were put into place during the Cheney/Bush regime remain as unbelievably surreal as a bad science fiction novel. We went to war against Islamic extremists, invaded Afghanistan, took out a couple of al-Qaeda linked Filipino groups, and then went after Saddam Hussein and Iraq for the exercise. It's a war that has spread to Africa and other regions around the world and won't be over any time soon. And, even good science fiction (like Frank Herbert's Dune series) projects it will never end. The “War on Terror” (var. The Overseas Contingency Operation), according to Cheney/Bush logic, had to begin at home with stronger border defenses. In and off itself, that is to say “on the surface,” it didn't seem illogical, though it soon became apparent that security was not the main reason to focus on America's border with Mexico, but rather the “War on Terror” was combined with the long-standing “War on Drugs,” and economic factors (those illegals are stealing American jobs) were added as an adjunct.
Dutifully delusional, there arose in Maricopa County, Arizona "America's Worst Sheriff," Joe Arpaio. His story as sheriff is disgusting and I've got to force myself to focus on illegal immigration and fore-go, for now, any description or commentary on his cruel and despicable behavior. Arpaio is a media-whore who enjoys as much publicity as he can get, so in 2010 and the passage of Arizona Senate Bill 1070 (“The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”), he created an armed volunteer posse to enforce Arizona immigration law and celebrity has-beens, actors Lou Ferrigno, Peter Lupus, and Steven Seagal, were first in line to volunteer. Fortunately, the day before the law was scheduled to go into effect, a federal judge blocked several of the law's more egregious aspects. And, finally, on June 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that three of the laws provisions were too much – Arizona wanted to allow the arrest anyone solely on the belief that they'd committed a crime which could lead to deportation, to make it a misdemeanor for immigrants not to have their registration documents in their possession, and to make it a separate crime for an illegal immigrant to try and get a job. Arpaio has dodged many court cases against him, though the United States Department of Justice is still after him for unlawful discriminatory (racist) conduct against Latinos (i.e. Mexican-Americans and Hispanics). The radically sad truth of the matter is that Maricopa County is forty or so miles away from the Arizona and Mexico border.
Now, as to the America's border with Mexico, we've got a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico and we've been attempting solutions since Congress created the U.S. Border Patrol in 1924. Our current dilemma concerns the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (Public Law 109-367) which authorized the construction of 700 miles of fences at different points from California to Texas. Also, it encouraged the Department of Homeland Security to invest in the latest high-tech imaging devices (cameras, infra-red, etc.), use satellites and drones, and basically spend whatever it takes to ...”make our borders more secure.” Well, the money has run out, 613 out 700 miles of fence have been put up, but it's supposed to be a double-fence and work hasn't started on the second layer, ...as there's simply no money for it. Besides, the fence is wrecking havoc on the environment (natural animal migration and such), the determined are either climbing over the fence, digging under it, or ...walking around it, and then there's the drug-smuggling aspect which the fence hasn't apparently slowed down in the least. I'd compare it to the shoplifting problem in a big store – one can try their best at prevention, and should, but ultimately accept that some theft will occur regardless of the best efforts.
I stay or should I go now?
In my 9-30-08 column, “The Other Gulf War,” I attempted to draw attention to Mexico's horrible struggle with drug-lords, beheadings, corrupt police, and such. I believe that Mexico could have a wonderful economy ...if only the country wasn't at war with itself. Just a guess and an opinion, for what it's worth, but I'd like to believe that more Mexicans would choose to stay in Mexico if ...things were better (i.e. safer).
Recently Pres. Obama issued an executive order requiring the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to immediately cease deporting illegal immigrants younger than 30 who arrived in America before the age of 16, pose no criminal or security threat, and were successful students or served in the military. Instead, the order directs the young illegals be granted a two-year deferral from deportation. Pres. Obama knows it's just a small step, but it's better than doing nothing...
Last week, The Miami Herald newspaper published an early draft of Pres. Obama's “Legalization of Undocumented Individuals” bill. Instead of going all Wikileaks crazy, Obama calmly commented to a Spanish-language TV network, “Leaks in Washington happen all the time.” The draft of the bill outlines judicious requirements and a waiting period for “green card” status which could be up to thirteen years. It's said that most of the provisions could be accepted by both Republicans and Democrats, though the up-and-coming jerk, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), complains there isn't anything in the draft about completing the fence... It really is true, you can't please all the people all of the time. But, damn, Pres. Obama's proposed bill reads like a good start to reasonable and fair immigration reform!
I stay or should I go now?
From "Should I Stay or Should I Go" written by Topper Headon, Mick Jones, Paul Simonon, and Joe Strummer. Combat Rock, The Clash; 1982: Epic Records and Universal Music Publishing Group.
Bibliography:Bosworth, Mary and Jeanne Flavin. 2007. Race, Gender, and Punishment: From Colonialism to the War on Terror. Critical Issues in Crime and Society series. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
[Note: I regret not discussing Ellis Island, my Irish immigrant ancestors, and the many current non-Mexican illegal immigrants in this country. Perhaps in another column...]