He's right. Heck, even Republicans are doing it. Republican strategist Frank Cagle writes:
Much has been made of the work ethic of illegal aliens and the fact that they will do jobs Americans won't do. That is true. If someone has the gumption to leave a home in Mexico, wade the Rio Grande and find their way to Iowa or East Tennessee to work, it demonstrates ambition. However, I recall that both my grandfathers and their friends were known for their work ethic. They hit the fields at dawn and worked until dark. They did jobs no American today would want to do. Sharecropping cotton was as close to slavery as any system that has existed since the Civil War. Their good work ethic was reinforced by the fact that if they didn't do it, their families would starve. They didn't have food stamps, welfare and TennCare.
The Mexican workers in this country are in the position of average American working people 50 years ago. We have 21st-century labor standards for Americans and 19th-century standards for illegals. In fact, the situation of illegal Mexican workers today is more like the condition of African Americans in the South before the Civil Rights era.
Grainger County farmers, construction companies and landscapers don't pay bad wages. One of the reasons they employ Mexican labor (like meat packers in Iowa) is that those workers have few choices. They show up for work on time, and they work while they are there.
It is true that the American economy benefits from illegal alien labor. Employers have a pool of people who do not talk back, are afraid to be late to work and have no other options. It's an employer's dream.
See? The big question I have is why more Democrats aren't doing this. Part of the reason may be labor unions not doing what you'd expect, and trying to keep out workers who have no other options. That's because the unions see opportunity:
There were lots of signs for the Service Employees International Union, the Laborers Union, UNITE Here, and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees. The various coalitions listed as organizers of the event, like the National Capital Immigration Coalition, appeared to have a lot of union involvement. At the rally, I ran into Harold Meyerson, the liberal, pro-union writer and columnist, and asked him why organized labor was so active in this cause, given many American workers' fear that the presence of illegal immigrants drives down wages. "During the mid- and late 1990s, the unions that were actually still organizing people were realizing that increasingly they were organizing immigrants, many of them illegal, many of them undocumented," Meyerson told me.
Maybe they want union members without any other options as much as the employers want employees without other options.
But though labor unions have a lot of influence within the Democratic Party, they don't have the votes anymore. Just as Republicans are caught between their business-oriented constituencies (who want cheap labor that doesn't talk back) and their grassroots constituencies (who don't like illegal immigration), so too are the Democrats caught between two constituencies of their own.
The more I think about it, the more this looks like fertile ground for a third party to emerge. Who will it hurt more? The Republicans, or the Democrats? I'm not sure. Perhaps it will shake things up in general.
Party lines and borderlines
I spoke yesterday with Rep. Harold Ford, Jr. (D-TN), who's running for the Senate seat that Bill Frist will be vacating. (You can hear the interview here directly, or via iTunes here. There's a dial-up version here. Background is here.) Ford is a strong supporter of the Sensenbrenner immigration bill, which is the toughest of the proposals out there. Ford, an African-American from Memphis, is probably representative of sentiment in a large part of the black community, though perhaps not of other black members of Congress, as this article from the AP notes. This is certainly an issue that has the potential to divide the Democratic Party in the same way it's dividing the Republican Party. I suspect that means that it offers a real opportunity to a third-party challenger in 2008.
Over at Slate, Mickey Kaus notes that the politics of this issue are getting confusing:
Daniel Schorr on NPR, explaining why Bush might want to change the subject from his administration's ongoing troubles by blustering against Iran, noted that even as Bush addressed the issue at Johns Hopkins immigrants were "massing around the country against his immigration policy." ... Er, weren't they massing for Bush's immigration policy (and against the House Republicans' policy)? Just askin'!
Yes, folks like Schorr assume that if there's marching in the streets, it must be against Bush. But Bush is pro-open-borders and pro-amnesty. Ford, a Democrat, is on the other side, as are quite a few other Democrats. (And some Republicans like Bill Frist.) As I say, it doesn't divide neatly along party lines.
Meanwhile, the mail keeps coming in:
Hometown: New York, NY
As a past illegal immigrant, now naturalized citizen, I'll say this: Yes, we do come here largely because Mexico has problems - namely our government (talk about an understatement). Regardless, we come here to work, not for the rule of law. The rule of law makes it possible for people to get ahead here, but understand, most of us have no intention of staying when we cross the border. We stay, in my case particularly, because we come to feel an attachment to this society. We don't stay for the welfare and the food stamps everyone keeps talking about. We stay because our kids join the baseball team, because we buy a house, because we start a business, because we have careers, because we have something to give back knowing that no one will take away what we earn (well, except Uncle Sam, come tax time). I realize most people reading this don't believe we contribute anything to this society. Everyone seems to think the last immigrants who contributed anything came at the turn of the last century. But, please consider that some of us arrived less than twenty years ago and have forged a business, a profession (and a serious resume), a community and a 401(k) and tax contributions at the top bracket. Some of us don't do as well and therefore contribute less. Nonetheless, the question of whether people should be coming and if so, how they should arrive, is largely irrelevant. We are coming and will continue to do so. Yes, Mexico has to take more responsibility for its people, but its people are becoming your people, whether you like it or not (seriously, legislation and a giant wall aren't going to stop the will to survive). The only relevant question is: how do we help those arriving to become the most productive members of society they can be? Are you going to let us get an education, pay our taxes and become a part of your community? No? Then what - you'd rather ostracise us, keep us uneducated in menial jobs where we'll earn next to nothing, send all of our infinitesimally small paychecks back to Mexico and teach us to hate you? We come from a broken country and are attempting to become part of one that is allegedly whole, if you break this one out of hatred towards us, it makes us no worse off - ours is already broken, remember? If you want to divide these United States, so be it - after all, this was your land before it was mine.
Name: Ray Thomas
I don't think you live in Texas where the immigration issues far exceed the "jobs" issue... As for our politicians and government.. they should think about who they represent and who pays their salaries... US citizens or illegal immigrants... The rest of us should think about that fact that our public schools and facilities are being used by "law breakers" to demand their rights... Whose rights should come first.. the citizens or the law breaking non-citizens.....
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
I am a legal immigrant and the illegal immigration rally angers me. My path to citizenship was very difficult, and it took eon and ample of sacrifice. Now the government is going to give away citizenship for law breakers simply because they "demand" it? This is totally wrong and unacceptable. Back in the 1986, amnesty was given. But did it solve illegal immigration? Apparently not, and actually, it gets worse.
Glenn writes: People seem to think that the anger on this issue comes from economics or race. I think it comes from anger at politicians in Washington.
My modest proposal to "annex Mexico," meanwhile, has found a supporter:
Name: Don Meyer
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Essentially I agree. I love Mexico and have traveled extensively in it. Its government is something else. What's amazing is how indignant it can sound -- including Fox -- when criticizing U.S. immigration policy. Mexico's politicos are the cause of the millions of their countrymen trying to get here any way they can. So it seems that any immigration reform to benefit Mexico should come with U.S. demands to push the oligarchs towards a more open and competitive and JUST system.
Name: Roman E. Ruiz
Hometown: Mesa, AZ
Glenn - you are finally saying what I've been saying for years. It's time we hold the Mexican Gov't and the Mexican Elite accountable for their systematic plunder of Mexico and for the human suffering that it has produced. I am an American of Mexican decent and I can identify with those that enter into our country from the south and I care deeply what happens to them. But, what I really think they need more from us than our support for their legal status, is for every one of us to pressure their country for change so that they can for once enjoy a quality life in their own country.
Name: David Vrooman
Hometown: Albany, OR
Re: Annex Mexico? Amen! I have been saying that for years. Let's face it, the only people who will win if we keep murkying up our immigration and border policies are the immigration lawyers. Instead, let's make two clear cut options: 1. Seal the border completely, allowing only legal immigration, and no more from Mexico than any other country. Or, 2. Open the border completely. Force Mexico to allow American investment. Mexico's natural resources are astounding, and there is no reason they should be poor. If Mexico allowed Americans to do in Mexico what they want us to allow Mexicans to do here, you wouldn't recognize the place in ten years. I love Mexican people. I'd love to see this border debate handled correctly, as in enforcing the law, but at the same time I do not believe you will find warmer, more hospitable people on this planet than Mexicans. If Mexico was inhabitable, and Mexico the 51st state, we would be free to come and go to Mexico as we pleased, and they would be free to travel around the US.
Glenn writes: The Mexican elite have been using immigration to the United States as a political safety valve for decades. They may encounter some blowback in the future.
Annex Mexico?One difference between the demonstrations in France and the demonstrations in America: The French are demonstrating for the right not to work hard, while the demonstrators in America mostly want to work.
And most of them, I think, really want that. Yes, there are loonies -- more than the standard Big Media treatment would have you believe -- who think that the Southwestern United States should go back to Mexico. But I suspect that most illegal immigrants don't want that. If they wanted to live in Mexico, they'd have stayed in Mexico.
In fact, they're leaving Mexico because its corrupt and thuggish political culture stifles economic growth and opportunity. The people there are smart and hardworking, after all, and they tend to do just fine when they get here. They're leaving because being smart and hardworking is enough to get you ahead in the United States, but not in Mexico. And I suspect that if the Reconquista advocates somehow did get their way, and the Southwest United States became a new Northern Mexico, we'd soon have illegal immigrants crossing over into Kansas and Oklahoma for opportunity, because the Mexican political culture would have ruined things in Arizona and Texas just like it's already ruined them further south.
So maybe we've been thinking about this the wrong way. Instead of worrying about Mexicans invading America, maybe what we need is for the United States to annex Mexico.
Oh, we don't need to turn Mexico into a state, or several. At least not right away. But as part of any immigration deal, the United States needs to demand reform in Mexico. Serious political reform, and serious economic reform.
And reciprocity. If we're going to make it easy for Mexicans to come to the United States to live, work, hold property, and get public benefits without too much paperwork trouble, we need to make it easy for Americans to do the same in Mexico. Right now, as several people have noticed, the environment there is considerably less friendly to foreigners than America's is.
But as the Mexican government has been free to express opinions about how the United States should set immigration, economic, and educational policy, it seems only fair if we do the same for them.
It's an interdependent world, after all. And that works both ways.
It's been immigration all week, and I managed to get Bill Frist on a podcast interview this morning. (Direct link here, dialup link here, iTunes link here). Frist was quite strongly against amnesty for illegals.
So where are we headed? I don't see the people who are angry about illegal immigration being satisfied with this compromise. That means it's likely to be a contentious issue going into the 2006 elections, and possibly even the 2008 elections. I suspect that we might see a third-party challenger in 2008, which would probably spell disaster for the GOP, though I suppose he/she could pick up some disaffected Democrats too.
As I've noted below, I'm somewhat conflicted on this issue, but the tendency to ignore the "illegal" part of illegal immigration seems like political dynamite to me.
Or maybe I should just sneak into the Senate chamber and start voting as an "undocumented Senator," one who's willing to "do the jobs American Senators won't do." It could be fun...
Immigration and anger
Judging by my copious e-mail, lots of people are upset about immigration issues.
Name: Alan Myers
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Oh, this is a hot button issue. I've been through the whole battle to get a legal green card from U.S. Immigration authorities. It's an absolute nightmare of insolent clerks and impossible hoops to jump through. The latest outrage is that I paid $200 for a green card to the Vermont immigration office. They cashed the check immediately but said don't expect a response sooner than ONE YEAR! It has now been six months and no reply. What I'm saying here is only the tip of the iceberg. I was wondering when someone was going to report our plight. I am a veteran who has never gotten more than a traffic ticket, paid my taxes on time, and my government treats me like a criminal when I try to get a green card for my wife legally. Meanwhile illegal immigrants are given the green-carpet treatment.
Name: Joy Cassell
Hometown: Apopka FL
Amen, as a legal immigrant who refused to accept any work "under the table" until my status was finalized. Who had to stand in line in pitch darknedss at 4 AM to be seen by what was then the INS. I feal like a DAMN sucker. I should have flown to Mexico and hiked accross. And all because the GOP wants to lock up the hispanic vote. I am a citizen now and can vote! So they need to be more worried about people like me.
Name: Manny B
Hometown: San Jose, California
The illegal immigrants want to come here because we have a nation of laws. But the first thing they say is that they are above the law. I am a naturalized citizen and served in the U.S. Army as required of young men at the time. I applied for a visa to come here waiting for two years. Later I applied for citizenship and suffered the long lines and had to have perfectly filled up and documented applications. We did the same thing for my wife. We followed the law and provided every thing required by INS. Bending to political pressure now will encourage the next group to say they are exempt from the law. We should have ensured our borders are respected and should have done a good job of articulating why it is important to us as a nation. We should ask the countries who have citizens who violate our borders for their cooperation. Then we should enforce the law without exception. Those who come to the U.S. should be required to assimilate, i.e., learn English or any other language we chose as the common language, learn our Constitution and way of government, and require them to show tney want to be part of our country and our way of life. If they chose not to comply, then they should be deported.
Glenn writes: I keep hearing stuff like this from legal immigrants, as I mentioned. And it is unfair. We should treat legal immigrants better, while tightening up on illegals.
My family passed through Ellis Island, they did the right thing. My question is what moral values are we showing are children? That it is OK to break an immigration law, but not any other law? What other laws will be broken by the people that crossed illegally? I am not talking just Mexico, what about India, Philipines or other Central American countries? I would be a hypocrite in the face of my child if I supported amnesty for immigrants, yet told my daughter to respect the laws of our society!
If 10 million Americans illegally went into Mexico it would be called an invasion and there would be protests around the world. The illegal immigrants may be taking the lower wage jobs now, but when their children take your children's jobs, how will all the bleeding hearts feel then? If we don't enforce the law equally for all, then there is no democracy. Those individuals who try to come here legally should be given preference over the 10 million who came here illegally. Which one would you want as a citizen and neighbor? Someone who broke the law to enter the country or someone who came in abiding by the laws?
Glenn writes: Bush should ask the Mexicans to make it legal for Americans to live, work, and own property and businesses in Mexico on the same basis as Mexican citizens. That seems fair. Or at least fun to watch.
Some people don't think the problem is very hard:
Name: Tom Folk
Hometown: Lock Haven, Pennsylvania
Glenn, It's not really rocket surgery or brain science. Most people are not against immigrants, they are against illegal immigrants. Their part will be to walk back across the border fill out the applications and you're back in. Our part will be to screen out criminals and increase quotas and make it easier to be legal. Just don't sneak in on the sly. Breaking the law isn't a good way to start your new life in the USA.
Glenn writes: Easy to say, hard to do, apparently. Stay tuned.
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