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Immigrants in these United States

I am an immigrant. I grew up bilingual. My grandmother learned English in her fifties, and always spoke with one of those formidable accents that you hear in the movies. So I can’t get too worked up about people who don’t speak English, or who came over on the boat. I came over on a boat, and I still remember walking down the gangway, clutching my teddy bear. I was nearly six at the time.

Immigrants come here to survive, to make a living, or to make a fortune. I never met anyone who came over purely because they admired the Bill of Rights. This doesn’t make immigrants a particularly mercenary lot, but there are those who say that foreigners who don’t share our “values” should just go home. I don’t know about that. It might be hard to keep the country running with the few people who would be left.

If we start litmus tests for admiration of the Constitution, everyone except ethnic Amerindians should have to pass it, since we’re all rather recent immigrants. The outlook is not promising. Consider, for instance, a National Constitution Center poll done about ten years ago that found one in six Americans believe the Constitution establishes the US as a Christian nation. Freedom of religion was the whole original point of the country, and this is what we’ve come to. That was only one of a long string of depressing results, and things have not improved since. Recently there was a poll finding that 20% of Americans (one in five!) believe the Constitution guarantees the right to keep pets and drive cars. No doubt, the Bill of Rights refers only to the standard transmission cars available in the late 1700s.

I think the evidence shows that immigrants do share American values. Like most people, they’re not thinking too much about the Bill of Rights and they’re doing their best to get by.

I think the real objection to immigrants’ values is their inability to see the special value of Americans. Immigrants know other countries in a way that many Americans don’t, and they know that Americans are just folks. When you have grown up feeling that you’re one of God’s chosen, uniquely gifted to bring goodness to the world, it’s depressing to have people around whose very homesickness says that the US isn’t everything.

Immigrants are also supposed to be depressing because they take jobs away from citizens. Well, they do. Without an adequate social safety net in the US, there are plenty of citizens who would work at any jobs they could get. But they could also demand minimum wages. They could demand compliance with safety, health, and environmental regulations. They could, God forbid, unionize. This is not what (most? all?) employers want. Employers want voiceless, exploitable illegals. The job that “Americans won’t do” is hiring workers who can demand their rights.

While I’m on that topic, let’s talk specifically about the subset of immigrants who are illegal. The Immigration Reform bill currently stuck in Congress–the one that planned to turn illegals into felons, but ran into trouble because people noticed–will do almost nothing to allow illegals to become citizens. For illegals who’ve been here over five years (and I’d be willing to bet that means continuous residency, without any secret trips home over the long years to see family), they can get in line for permanent residency. So far, so good, but long-term residents are not the seething mass of border-crossers we’re supposed to be afraid of.

People who’ve been here between two to five years can go back to their home countries and apply for permanent residency there. I’m sure lots of migrant fruit pickers have the savings to travel home and then sit on their hands for several years in a country they left because they couldn’t make a living. It takes years to get permanent residency. This isn’t like going to the DMV and getting your driver’s license. It also takes unbelievable quantities of paperwork. My university-educated mother struggled with it, and it boggles my imagination to think of farmworkers having to deal with it.

Illegals who’ve been here less than two years could get temporary guest worker status. That would create a permanent class of workers who could not vote. They would have no recourse–none, zip, zilch–against exploitation. If they made any waves, like say asking for an extra bathroom break, they could be fired and sent home. Citizens wouldn’t care because it didn’t affect them. But soon, citizens who wanted better-than-slave labor conditions would find themselves replaced by guest workers. Guess who would benefit hugely from this. Guess who’s the biggest supporter of the “Immigration Reform.”

As BottleofBlog puts it so well:

That’s the ugly hilarity of Republicans proposing an immigration bill. It’s that simple. … These are people who get their jobs from scaring the bejesus out of you about open borders, when what they really want to do is pave a giant highway across the border. And these are people who earn a living by whipping up your ugliest emotions at people who are getting something on your dime, when really, you’re getting something on their dime–cheap food, cheap service, cheap whatever.

And the cost is spread out to all of us.

My take on the economics of illegal immigrants is that the sense of being ripped off is way overblown. Kids in schools and people in emergency rooms are easy notice. People forget what stuff would cost if illegals weren’t there to work for next to nothing, and to depress other menial wages. (In my books, the latter is not a benefit, but we’re talking about people who don’t want anyone to cost them anything.) It’s also hard to put a price on how much more our foreign affairs would cost if billions of dollars in remittances were not sent home, were not keeping whole populations out of desperation, and weren’t helping to prevent the resulting (expensive-to-Americans) revolutions, wars, sabotage, attacks, nationalizations of businesses, mass refugee movements, and all the rest.

Besides, if illegals require taxpayer-funded services, whose fault is that? If you, as a US citizen, have an employer who doesn’t pay the outrageous cost of health insurance, you too are one of the millions of citizens using emergency rooms. Would you be depending on charity if you had coverage? Of course not. So, is the situation your fault for getting ill? Or the employer’s for sloughing off costs this society expects them to shoulder? What we’re really complaining about is that illegals aren’t being paid a living wage and that some of them don’t pay taxes. They’d be happy to do both. Ask them, if you doubt me.

Moving on to arguments that might seem to have validity, what about the fact that illegal immigrants are, in fact, illegal? They broke the law. They shouldn’t break the law.

That is true. Nobody should break the law. This includes the US itself. As MaxSpeak notes, the US has made such a mess of Central and South America that hosting hardworking people is the least we can do. Not all of the mess we made was “illegal,” but some of it was legal only in the sense that slavery was once legal. Words were written on paper to sponsor criminality. That doesn’t make it legal in any real sense of the word. Look at US actions, including recent ones like the Nafta legislation that flooded Mexico with enough cheap agribusiness corn to kill whole corn-growing regions. Then look at immigrants who are crossing the border because they’d rather not starve to death. I just cannot get worked up about the criminality of the immigrants.

The other problem with sending all the illegals home is that it is impossible. The Amerindians did not issue visas. If the first settlers were illegals, so is everyone they brought in after them. (That is the current logic, I believe. The children of illegals are not supposed to have a right to citizenship.) So, the rest of us should just go “home”? And where would that be? On the other hand, if hanging on long enough somehow makes it okay, who’s to define what is “long enough”? It’s a bit convenient if long enough means I’m okay, but you’re not.

Another bugbear is security. After all, anyone could be among those undocumented millions flooding across the border.

That is also true. But recent terrorist attacks by foreigners in the US were all the work of legal foreigners. They were on student visas, or tourist visas, or otherwise quite well known to the INS. Terrorists need to have enough money to commit their terrorisms. They aren’t going to be paying some smuggler a couple of thousand dollars for the privilege of walking across a lethal desert for a week or two. They fly in. And they don’t pick fruit. Sealing the Mexican border to prevent terrorism is like searching Granny’s jogging shoes while letting whole container ships offload without inspection.

I’m not saying that countries have no right to control their borders. On the contrary, I think the current inhabitants of a country do have the right to object to mass immigration that would change their world into something else. Ethnic Tibetans have a right to object to the land grab by the Han Chinese. Ethnic Fijians have a right to find some way to preserve their culture despite the enormous number of Indians brought in by the British to work the plantations. (And, yes, I realize that gets into very thorny issues like the Palestinians and Israeli Jews, or the Dutch and citizens of their former colonies. I have thoughts on that, too, but that’s a topic for another post.) Cultures, especially endangered ones, have a right to preservation, even if it is not yet written into law.

The US, however, is one of the few countries with almost no claim to this right. It’s a nation of immigrants. US culture is mainly about doing your own thing. At the highest levels, that includes the Bill of Rights and it really is a contribution to the human story on our planet. However, that isn’t pegged to any single ethnic group or to any race. In the US, talk about loss of our “culture” by invading hordes from across the border isn’t really about culture. It’s about richer immigrants who want the poorer ones to shut up and work.

(Other links: Krugman. Brad Plumer: a series of good posts at the end of March-beginning of April with excellent links to the economics of the issue.)

Technorati tags: immigrants, immigration reform, illegal aliens, HR 4437

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I knew it

You knew it.

Now (April 18) The Guardian has figured it out:

“Bloggers and blog-readers are ‘influentials’ – the minority that pays attention to events outside of political and news cycles.”

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Get the Fashion Police out of politics!

I’m Caucasian, I’d never even heard of Cynthia McKinney until a few days ago, and I’m not a big fan of her chip-on-shoulder politics. I’m also disgusted by some of the discussion now swirling around her.

Some background: she’s the first black Congresswoman from somewhere in Georgia. Congressfolks don’t have to pass through metal detectors, and the Capitol Hill police recognize them as they beetle on by. Except in McKinney’s case, one didn’t recognize her, grabbed her arm, coming up from behind I believe, and she swung round and hit him on the chest. Major flap instead of just apologies all around.

That was El Stupido reaction #1.

Then the Capitol Hill police start talking about charges for assault, or something. El Stupido reaction #2.

The flap builds. McKinney apologizes for her part in it from the House floor. A good idea. Better late than never.

Then I see a news report somewhere (Scripps?) with a headline that it’s time for her to go. She should resign her seat and go back to Georgia, or something. Hello? This is the same Congress that has members like Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Duke Cunningham, and so on and on and on. But this is the first time I’ve bumped into a call for resignation almost as soon as the flap broke out. This is the same Congress that is selling the Constitution to make toilet paper, and the worst thing that has ever happened is an aggressive reaction on the part of a person caught by surprise. Give me a break.

Now–and this is what made me write this–I see a piece in the Washington Post examining . . . what? A history of similar incidents and people’s reactions? How the Capitol Hill Police have started “Recognize Your Congresspeople” classes? Why there was such an over-reaction to one person’s testiness? No.

The article is about how bad her hairstyle is.

Cynthia McKinney has appeared at a news conference with her “hair standing all over her head.” (Robin Givhan, Washington Post) McKinney’s spokesman was asked the penetrating question of whether the style had been done by a professional or the Congresswoman herself. “[D]ismissing queries about it seems a bit disingenuous, since so much of her public persona … has been based on her hair,” says the reporter.

(Yes, I’m sure. People in Georgia voted for her because they said, “Oh, wow, she has trouble with her hair too. Just like me. Send her to Congress.” Admittedly, people are supposed to have voted for Bush because he mangles words like a “regular guy,” so maybe there’s something in this.)

Apparently, McKinney changed her hairstyle and therefore the policeman didn’t recognize her.

Right. And all those black people look so much alike, y’know, I mean, how could you expect him to?

No larger issues here. Nothing to see. Move along. Talk about hair and clothes.

No wonder the Constitution is being shredded into waste paper.

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Of Cosmic Significance

I mean it.

1) Neutrinos have mass. This means we may have found a significant chunk (not all, but some) of that missing “dark matter” you were worried about. (Minos experiment at Fermilab by Dr. Lisa Falk Harris and others. Understandable explanation and links to the research at the BBC.)

2) A new fundamental particle may exist. Axions. These are sort of like photons with a tiny bit of mass, if I understand the gist, which I probably don’t. (Somewhat understandable explanation and links at physicsweb.)

3) The Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft, launched in 1972 and 1973, are not where they should be according to the known laws of physics. Something is holding them back. “Each year, they fall behind in their projected travel by about 5,000 kilometers (3,000 miles)” (Pioneer Anomaly, Planetary Society). Given that they’re out at the edge of the solar system where it meets interstellar space, and that they travel tens of millions of miles a year, the discrepancy is tiny. But it’s there. And it shouldn’t be.

4) Gravitons may have–finally!–been detected. Tajmar and DeMatos (European Space Agency) detected an effect around spinning superconductors that they say provides the first empirical evidence for a gravitomagnetic field. The size of the gravitomagnetic field that was induced can be explained if the (theoretical) gravitons are assumed to be much heavier than predicted by theory. The really neat thing about this is that empirical evidence of gravitons could ensue, and then actual study of the beasts. And then, at long last, we (well, pointy-headed physicists) could start to understand gravity.

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New Orleans, post-Katrina update

I used to live there, still have friends there, and even I didn’t know most of this stuff. Poppy Z. Brite provides a much-needed update. She’s an author, who writes wonderfully weird tales, so check out her site, while you’re at it.

The following quotes the blogpost:


Occasionally I’m asked by friends Not From Here, “New Orleans is better now, right? You had Mardi Gras!” or “Are you doing OK?” or some variation. Sometimes, particularly if they’re contemplating a visit, I even try to reassure them: it’s very possible to have a good, safe time here; the French Quarter is fine; lots of restaurants and bars are open. In truth, though, New Orleans and most of its inhabitants are very much Not OK. I present to you a baker’s dozen facts about life in the city seven months after the storm. Some are large, some small. I think many of them will surprise you.

1. Most of the city is still officially uninhabitable. We and most other current New Orleanians live in what is sometimes known as The Sliver By The River, a section between the Mississippi River and St. Charles Avenue that didn’t flood, as well as in the French Quarter and part of the Faubourg Marigny. In the “uninhabitable sections,” there are hundreds of people living clandestinely in their homes with no lights, power, or (in many cases) drinkable water. They cannot afford generators or the gasoline it takes to run them, or if they have generators, they can only run them for part of the day. They cook on camp stoves and light their homes with candles or oil lamps at night.

2. There is a minimal police presence, and most of it is concentrated in the Sliver. Homes in other parts of the city are still being looted, vandalized, and burned.

3. Many parts of the city have had no trash pickup — either FEMA or municipal — for weeks. Things improved for a while, but now there are nearly as many piles of debris and stinking garbage as there were right after the storm.

4. There are no street lights in many of the “uninhabited” sections, which makes for very dark nights for their residents.

5. Many of the stoplights, including some at large, busy intersections, still don’t work. They have become four-way stops (with small, hard-to-see stop signs propped up near the ground) and there are countless wrecks.

6. There is hardly any medical care in the city. As far as I know, only two hospitals and an emergency facility in the convention center are currently operating. Emergency room patients, even those having serious symptoms like chest pains, routinely wait eight hours or more to be seen by a doctor. We have, I believe, 600 hospital beds in a city whose population is approaching (and may have surpassed) 250,000.

7. Most grocery stores, many drugstores, and countless other important retail establishments are only open until 5, 6, or at best 8:00 PM because of the lack of staffing. This is only an inconvenience for me, a freelancer, but it’s crippling for people who work “normal” hours.

8. The city’s recycling program has been suspended indefinitely. We talk about restoring the wetlands that could buffer us from another storm surge, but every day we throw away tons of recyclables that will end up in the landfills that help poison our wetlands.

9. Cadaver dogs and youth volunteers gutting houses are still finding bodies in the Lower Ninth Ward. Of course these corpses are just skeletons by now — the other day they found a six-year-old girl with an older person, possibly a grandmother, located near her — and they may never be identified. The bodies are hidden under debris piles and collapsed houses. This is in the same section of town that some of the politicians are aching to bulldoze.

10. Thousands of people who lived in public housing were forcibly removed from their homes. It is now being suggested by much of the current power structure, including our very liberal Councilman at Large Oliver Thomas, that they not be allowed back into these homes unless they can prove they had jobs before the storm or are willing to sign up for job training. (Many of you may agree with this, and I did too, sort of, until I really thought about it. Hadn’t they already qualified for the housing? What about the ones who had jobs that don’t exist anymore? How can they find jobs in New Orleans if they don’t live here?)

11. There are still flooded, wrecked, and abandoned cars all over the streets, parked in the neutral grounds, and in many cases partly submerged in the canals out East. Now that it’s campaign time, Mayor Nagin is trying to come up with a solution for this, but he thinks maybe we should wait for FEMA to do it (!!!!!) and he claims the best removal offer he’s gotten so far was “written on the back of a napkin.”

12. Many of the FEMA trailers — you know, the ones costing taxpayers $70,000 each — have been delivered to homeless New Orleanians but cannot be lived in because the city doesn’t have enough people to come out and do electrical inspections, and the trailers need a separate hookup instead of being hooked into the house’s power supply, and a dozen other damn fool things. While these trailers sit empty, there is an easily constructed, far more attractive structure called a “Katrina cottage” that could easily be built all over south Louisiana. It costs about $25,000 less than the flimsy, uncomfortable trailers. FEMA refuses to use it because they’re not allowed to provide permanent housing.

13. A large percentage — I’ve heard figures ranging from 60 to 75% — of current New Orleanians are on some form of antidepressant or anti-anxiety drug. The lines at the pharmacy windows have become a running joke. When a visiting “expert” gave a Power Point presentation on post-traumatic stress disorder recently, the entire audience dissolved into hysterical laughter.

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