Sunday, November 13, 2011

Death Train

Last night I watched a documentary on Current TV about the people maimed and killed on Mexican trains, mostly Central Americans. These migrant workers knowingly taking this serious risk because, as I pointed out in my last post, the certain slow death by the grinding privations of poverty compel them to take those risks. I don't know what it will take for Americans to get the gravity of this situation through their thick skulls.

What's even more puzzling to me, is that this kind of willingness to risk (literally) life and limb for a chance at building a better life in America IS EXACTLY WHAT WE TEACH OUR CHILDREN MAKES AMERICANS GREAT. There is nothing going on in this country truer to our founding ideals that the brave men, women and children willing to face predatory violence, maiming accident, and repeated setbacks (literal setbacks, as in back to where you started from) for the opportunity to work their rear ends off in hopes of a better life.

They hypocrisy of the right wing on this subject, wiping away tears and waxing eloquent about our brave pioneer ancestors, who came to this country with nothing but determination and a willingness to work hard, astounds me. Not the part about honoring our ancestors. I'm all for that. It's the part about refusing to acknowledge the same qualities in the thousands of Latinos re-enacting our cultural myth right in front of our eyes.

These immigrants are amazing. I have nothing but respect for the vast majority. The pejorative of "law-breakers" or "illegals" is disingenuous. We Americans know how laws are made, repealed, and changed. We of all nations know that something is only illegal when the legislators say it is. Laws can be rewritten when they are counter-productive and unenforceable. Our immigration laws certainly fit that description.

I have been a conservative all of my adult life. I still am. What passes for conservative these days does not fit the definition I grew up with. Conservatism, as I understand it, is very pragmatic. It is not anti-change, but it is slow to act. It is not hopelessly trying to hold onto the past. Conservatism was always about moving ahead deliberately, weighing all the options.

In my beginning political life, conservatives were more populous in the GOP. The GOP had not yet been taken over by fundamentalists. We could still civilly discuss and advocate for the legalization of marijuana, legal recognition of committed gay relationships, and debate how to frame and respond to the obvious and unstoppable phenomenon of human migration patterns.

The GOP I grew up with is dead and gone. The current slate of candidates for office is embarrassing. I shrink in horror to think of any of them being responsible for foreign policy. I doubt if any of them are electable. Still, the way they have shifted the political climate in this country is bad for America. It is, in my opinion, un-American, and if I ruled the world they would be heavily fined for every American flag they dare to wave, fly, or hide behind.

It is un-American to treat our current laws as if they were handed down to us by God on Mt. Sinai. They were not. When a law is counter-productive to American interests, as our current immigration laws ARE, we have the ability and the moral obligation to change them. Creating new, more deadly barriers to these unstoppable, thoroughly American immigrants looking for a chance to work and build a better life here in the "land of opportunity" is inhuman.

I can't imagine a solution less intelligent or more embarrassing than the idea of a giant human-zapper stretched across the border to electrocute the people forced by starvation at home to migrate no matter how serious the consequences when they fail. That is not only un-American, it's inhuman. And it's not only inhuman, it's incredibly stupid.

Where are the conservative who were able to soberly face facts and readjust failed policies? American's current immigration policies are an epic fail, and it is NOT because our enforcement is lax. It's because enforcement is impossible. No conservative worth his or her salt can possibly not see this.

Where are the clear thinkers who can face the facts? Where are the orators who can explain them in ways the general public can understand? Have we really morphed into a country of arrogant, redneck blowhards like the people to which the GOP presidential candidates are pandering?

This is ridiculous. Why aren't the think tanks pointing out to our politicians, "Hey, look at this new demographic trend! Central and South Americans will face any danger, any risk, for the chance to live and work in America. Trying to fight this trend is costing us huge amounts of money, putting a burden on our social assistance programs in some states, and putting the good citizens of our border states at risk from the ongoing criminal enterprises meeting this market demand. Why don't WE meet the market demand, by opening new venues for legal migrations, making the process quicker and more equitable to all willing to work when they get here, and charging them local annual worker permits to offset any local costs in social services?"

Conservatives, indeed all business-minded Americans, used to encourage innovative solutions to sticky problems. There was a time when a person who could come up with a creative win-win was celebrated! Peacemakers were honored as the sons of God, like the Bible urged.

I want that country back. I want back the country of good will, innovation, and hard work. I want back a country where consensus and compromise are valued. I want that America back. I want to be part of that proud tradition that Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, Clara Barton, and Jane Addams carried on. I want the America that Emma Lazarus wrote of, at the turn of the last century:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

I don't want a wall; neither an electrified one nor one patrolled by armed guards. I want a port of entry, a new Ellis Island, and a country that continues the tradition of welcoming hard working immigrants as new Americans. Anybody know how I can get that?


  1. where's the blogger "Like" button?

  2. I feel like I'd need to brush up on my historical facts before I can say much of anything about this, but my mind is flickering in my memory bits about political unrest, outright discrimination, fighting in the streets, and more during the time you idyllically describe above. Of course, maybe I'm mixing stuff up. If so, I'm pretty sure things didn't go too smoothly when Europeans first landed on American soil. Death was rampant and things weren't pretty. Same when people headed west.

    I'm not saying that we shouldn't be smarter about how we think about immigration. I'm not saying we shouldn't have better policies and practices that promote the things our nation stands for. I'm saying we should, and to do that, we'd need to look at history and decide if we really want to return to the "good old days" of, say, Chinese immigrant workers building railroads in horrible conditions. And if not, how do we plan to do things differently today?

    Our current society does not allow for many (most?) of the practices common to early pioneers. Our laws forbid claiming property as your own, for example. And so things have changed. These kinds of things are important facts to consider as we seek to think clearly about this issue.

    ...or maybe not. It's been a long time since I studied American history, and--come to think of it--we didn't discuss these kinds of issues in high school or college. So I'm drawing on information I picked up about 20 years ago. That's a long way back, so--as I've said couple times--maybe I'm totally mistaken.


  3. We already have immigrant labor exploitation, Luke, and no one can complain about it because they are here illegally. The reason that we have illegal immigration here is because the business community likes it that way.

    All these currently undocumented workers find work when they get here. They do not keep coming because there is no money to be made. The process we have in place now--letting coyotes and gangs rob people desperate to get in, letting workers and landlords exploit the people who make it across the border--favors the power brokers or it wouldn't be in place.

    A good read I put in my home school economics course was Nickle and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich. It's a bit dated now, published in 2001, but if anything economic prospects at the bottom have gotten no better and possibly worse. Sonlight might want to add it into the mix somehow. =)

    Migration is a fact of life. We can try to harness it and direct as best we can, but we can't stop it. Right now, as much as it sucks at the bottom rung in this country, it's a darn sight better than watching your kids starve to death, or join gangs to get by.

    Current TV is the channel running the documentary if you want to watch it.

  4. I agree with your post, but remember reading lots of books about the pioneer days and how the Irish, for example, were treated horribly and excluded from jobs, taken advantage of, forced to live in awful conditions, etc. It seems every generation has a different wave of immigrant and each wave eventually becomes part of our mythos and what we love about our country, but unfortunately during the process it is hard and often bloody. I wish we could learn to be nicer - it would sure help make us all richer if we were, too.


  5. I guess I just can't wrap my head around the idea that our government- or any of us, for that matter- can say "stop" and the world will just comply. The government officially has been saying "stop" for all of my adult life. I think this is mostly to pacify conservatives. On the other hand, they have been unwilling and/or unable to stop immigration. I think both.

    The only humane way to stop the flow of people would be to make conditions in their own countries workable for them. Of course we can't do that. So that leaves the inhumane ways to try to stop them. Policing the border hasn't worked. Michelle Bachmann and Herman Cain want to just kill them; fry them on electric fences with a no-man's land in between. Is it safe to assume sniper towers are part of this plan?

    The will to survive is greater than power can end by fiat. Reality shows this to be true. They will keep coming as long as there is a better chance of survival here than in their home countries.

    It's not a matter of do you want to let them come. They have come, they are coming and they will come. A wise policy would be to try to direct the immigration that has proven unstoppable, and alleviate any local burden on social services with entrance fees/workers permits. You could even write the law so that their employers have to pay the fee.

    The things you each mentioned, new immigrants being "treated horribly and excluded from jobs, taken advantage of, forced to live in awful conditions" with the exception of being excluded from jobs, is happening now. And since they are undocumented workers, they have no legal recourse whatsoever.

    ps New fact I learned today, the insult to the Italian known as "wop" stood for "without papers". It seems we don't much act like Jesus without the Jane Addams of this world in our face, huh?