Immigration reform is in the news again, second in importance only
to the Iraq War. It would be wise to review the major, although
often distorted, activist arguments in favor of amnesty and/or
citizenship for illegal immigrants. Not only will I show certain
arguments to be erroneous, questionable, or intimidating, but I
will also prove that the Hispanic community is more diverse than
the amnesty arguments would suggest. Rather than argue the pros
and cons of amnesty/citizenship, I will pursue intellectual
honesty and historical fact in my analysis of the
In Part I of today's
essay, I will explain the slogans used at immigration reform
protest marches. In Part II, I will comment on a speech by
Cardinal Mahony, Archbishop of Los Angeles, in which he advocates
for illegal immigrants. It will become clear that no matter
what kind of reform legislation is passed, the attitudes of
illegal immigrants toward one another and toward mainstream
America might require social adjustments for generations to come.
Reform Protest Slogans
(1) We did not
cross the border, the border crossed us
requires that we go back in history to the time before and during
the presidency of James K. Polk. Present-day Texas was then a
part of the Mexican state of Coahuila-Tejas. The Mexican
government had invited settlers to that area. In 1835, the people
in the northern section of Coahuila-Tejas revolted against the
Mexican government and, in 1836, after winning the Battle of San
Jacinto, declared themselves the Independent Republic of Texas.
Polk was president
from 1845 to 1849. Polk and the Congress wanted to include Texas
in the United States. In fact, Congress had made the decision to
annex Texas even before Polk was sworn into office. There were
various reasons for wanting Texas. (1) There was a fear or
expectation that Great Britain or France would claim the territory
if America did not. (2) American settlers were already moving
westward by wagon trains. Some settlers, especially those in the
Independent Republic of Texas, assumed they would one day be a
part of the United States. (3) The concept of Manifest
Destiny--that America was destined to extend from ocean to
ocean--was used to justify the acquisition of more land.
agree that Polk manipulated Mexico into war over the ownership of
Texas, and that Mexico had a weaker military and a disorganized
government. However, Polk had offered to purchase Texas and the
present-day areas of New Mexico and California (in the manner of
the Louisiana Purchase), but Mexico turned down the offer. Nobody
can blame a country for defending its borders but, in trying to
understand current illegal immigrant attitudes, it must be
stressed that Mexico could have avoided war and loss of life.
War was fought from 1846 to 1848. It ended with the Treaty of
Guadalupe Hidalgo. America obtained present-day Arizona,
California, and New Mexico; as well as sections of Colorado,
Nevada, and Utah. And, the Texas border was extended to the Rio
Grande River. These lands represented 55 percent of Mexico's
territory. What seems to be overlooked by illegal immigrant
advocates is that America also paid 15 million dollars to Mexico
for war damages incurred by Mexico.
historical fact is the American acquisition of the Oregon
Territory under Polk's presidency. Polk was able to negotiate a
treaty with Great Britain in which present-day Oregon and
Washington were brought under American jurisdiction.
immigrants, most of whom never graduated from high school, really
understand the details of the Mexican-American War? Or is this
history, or some version of it, common knowledge in their culture?
Or is the protest slogan being fed to them by politically astute
activists and protest march organizers? What about illegal
immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, or Ecuador? The United
States did not conquer or purchase any lands from those countries.
The border-crossed-us slogan can be applied only to Mexican
illegal immigrants. This creates a political and social division
between two types of illegal immigrants: Mexican and non-Mexican.
Or, it cancels out the legitimacy of the slogan.
Were it not for the
availability of jobs in America, probably nobody but political
radicals would object to the Southwest as American territory. If
this area were still desert wasteland, or if Mexico had won the
Mexican-American War and this area became as poor as the rest of
Mexico, nobody would want to live here legally or illegally. What
makes the Southwest an attractive place to live is the fact that
Americans developed it economically. What about protest marchers
carrying the border-crossed-us signs in New York City or
Chicago? If they are claiming the Southwest as their rightful
homeland, then it follows that illegal immigration should be
restricted to the Southwest only.
Now, if illegal
immigrants living in the Southwest became American citizens
through reform laws, would they regard the Southwest as belonging
to America or to Mexico? Would they join with Mexican-American
political radicals to secede the Southwest to Mexico? Would they
then demand Mexican citizenship, or form an entirely different
country on that portion of land? Or would they show loyalty to
America and accept our geographical boundaries?
There are not any
citizens of Great Britain illegally immigrating to America and
attempting to claim rights to Oregon and Washington. This alone
should expose the absurdity of the border-crossed-us
(2) We Are
"We Are America" is a coalition
organization whose purpose is to obtain citizenship for illegal
immigrants and then register the new citizens to vote. The
coalition was formed in 2006. They use protest marches as a
source of power. They believe in non-violence, and wear white
tee-shirts at protest marches to symbolize peace and unity. They
are against a border fence.
immigrants are not America or Americans. This is fact. They are
citizens of foreign countries and they are working and living in
America illegally. They carried flags of various foreign
countries at the immigration reform protest marches. The American
flags were added only after outrage was expressed by American
citizens. Compassion for illegal immigrants should not be based on
distorted or hidden truths. Any advocacy should be based on
intelligent reasoning and not on inaccurate or misleading slogans.
It is possible that
some illegal immigrants feel American, or merely want
legalization, because they have jobs here. They have settled.
They have families. They drive cars, go shopping, attend church,
and even cross the border back and forth to Mexico to visit
relatives. America's immigration laws have not been enforced,
and employers have openly exploited them for their labor. After
so many years of the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, illegal
immigrants have grown accustomed to America as their permanent
There seems also to
be an assumption that illegal immigrants will eventually become
legalized. Most reform politicians are not calling for any kind
deportation. Even those who object to illegal immigration are not
calling for forced and massive deportation. If the American
government forcefully rounded up millions of illegal immigrants,
such action would be reminiscent of the forced relocation of Native
Americans and of Japanese Americans during World War II. There
would be human misery, resistance through sanctuary, and probably
violence and death.
Now, if illegal
immigrants have permanently settled, and if there is an
expectation of eventual citizenship, then they cannot criticize
the westward expansion of the early settlers in America.
Remember, the settlers in Texas and other parts of the
Southwest expected that one day they would be part of the United
States. Many of the settlers, like today's illegal immigrants,
needed work and housing. This comparison should finalize the
outcome of the Mexican-American War. Or, it cancels out the
legitimacy of the slogan.
human is illegal
Right. There is no such thing as
an illegal human. But some humans have broken America's
immigration laws. This is fact. Again, if illegal immigrants, or
the self-appointed leaders of the immigration reform protest
movement, want compassion from American citizens, then they must
present their situation honestly. They broke the law. They knew
what they were doing. Admit it. Explain it. Advocates should
help everyday American citizens to understand the illegal
immigrant perspective, rather than to demand satisfaction.
Communication is blocked because the illegal immigrant situation
is presented foremost as a political demand.
There is perhaps a
hyper-sensitivity to the word illegal. Illegality is not
a judgment on human worth. Legalization will not necessarily
increase the self-esteem of illegal immigrants or their
descendants. The desire to assimilate and the process of
assimilation through education and upward mobility will provide
the path to overcoming this 'inferiority complex.'
Immigration laws have been broken by
both illegal immigrants and their employers (the employers are
both citizens and criminals). Many illegal immigrants have
also committed identity theft. This slogan seems to suggest that
citizenship would eliminate their illegal status and therefore
the so-called necessity to commit identity theft.
The concept of
criminality seems like a dramatic exaggeration of the illegal
immigrant condition. Yes, they broke America's laws and should
accept responsibility for this. But no one is putting them in
the category of people who have criminal personalities. No one is
saying they are hardcore and incorrigible scoundrels. (Of course,
some of them are indeed criminals of various sorts: rapists,
wife beaters, child molesters, drug dealers, etc.).
The concept of
criminality is also possibly a reaction to the attempt to make
illegal immigration a felony crime rather than a misdemeanor.
Since the immigration laws are so seldom enforced, it does not
seem that illegal immigrants would have been in peril. Again,
as with the improbability of forced and massive deportation as a
solution, it is also unlikely that the American court or prison
systems could accommodate millions of new felons. If felony arrest
were a real concern, an alternative would be not to enter or stay
in America illegally but to abide by immigration laws.
(5) Today we
march, tomorrow we vote
The Hispanic vote has the
potential to affect election outcomes. According to the Illinois
Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights: "...there are
14.25 million potential voters among legal immigrants who are
currently eligible to naturalize and the 16 - 24 year
old U.S. born children of immigrants. This includes 12.4 million
potential new voters who can be eligible to participate in the
This slogan feels
like intimidation. There is an assumption, or warning, that all
Hispanics will vote according to one criterion only: whether or
not the candidate or the political party supported citizenship for
illegal immigrants. Many politicians also seem to assume that
Hispanics will vote as a bloc and not as freethinking individuals.
There are different
political opinions among Hispanics in America. Cuban Americans,
for example, are very different from Mexican immigrants. Cubans
fled to America to escape a dictatorship government. Although
many continue to live within Cuban American communities in Florida,
they seem not to be politically isolated or manipulated. They
tend to have an older population than the Mexican immigrants, and
they appreciate America. In contrast, some Mexican immigrants and
Mexican Americans seem to maintain nationalistic Mexican
preferences as evidenced by the territorial claim to the Southwest
and a refusal to speak English.
also keep in mind that some Hispanics do not favor illegal
immigration. The protest marchers are the most vocal group but
not necessarily representative of the majority of Hispanics in
America. It really cannot be predicted how legalized immigrants
would vote, because not all are identified with activist politics.
The voting power of Hispanics would depend on various factors. (1)
Voter registration. (2) Voter motivation to go to the polls. (3)
Voting for Democrats would probably require a perpetual underclass
of working poor who view Republicans as anti-immigrant and racist.
(4) Conversion to evangelical religions (a current reality in
America and also in Latin America) could give a large slice of the
voter pie to the Republicans. (5) Extremist Mexican factions
could usurp the Democratic Party in localities with large
immigrant populations. (6) Extremist Mexican factions could form
their own political party or parties. (7) Mainstream Americans
could vote as a bloc and counteract an immigrant swing vote. (8)
Successful middle-class Hispanics would be more likely than
protest-marching illegal immigrants to vote conservative.
families, our America, our vote
Although I tried to
research this slogan, I could not find its origins. So, I will
offer my interpretation. The reality is: their families, their
vote, and their political version of America. This is an
extremist view of multiculturalism. It means that illegal
immigrants are not expected to adopt American values. Citizenship
would legalize their presence in America and give them the right
to vote. But extremist factions could continue to express hatred
of America and re-arrange America to reflect Mexican nationalism.
America, however, cannot belong exclusively to any particular
ethno-political or racial group. America is a democracy with a
As for our
families, illegal immigrants send approximately 17 billion
dollars annually back to their families in Mexico. This money
greatly boosts the economy of Mexico. An overlooked fact is that
the upper class in Mexico is white, while the poor people who flee
to America are dark-skinned. Which country is racist?
by choice, not by chance
This slogan implies that
citizenship by naturalization is better than citizenship by birth.
The slogan is obviously flawed, since many Hispanics are citizens
by birth. The child of an illegal immigrant, for example, is
automatically an American citizen because the child was born in
America. According to this slogan, César Chávez was
a citizen by chance. Personally, I regard myself as a citizen by
choice. I could leave America if I so chose. I choose to
Sí, Se Puede!
This slogan (Yes, We Can!) was
adopted from the farm workers' movement led by César
Chávez in the 1960's - 1970's. Chávez was
born in 1927 and died in 1993. He was a third-generation American
citizen (of Mexican-Basque descent) and a U.S. Navy veteran. He
was a proponent of non-violence and an admirer of St. Francis and
Mahatma Gandhi. Chávez organized the United Farm Workers
union, and conducted strikes and boycotts to obtain higher wages
for grape and lettuce workers and to eliminate the use of harmful
against illegal immigration. He understood the economic dynamics
of supply and demand. An excessive supply of workers means a
reduction in wages. When farm owners tried to use illegal workers
as strike-breakers, Chávez would report the illegal workers
to the I.N.S. Chávez protested the hiring of illegal
workers, and was joined by Senator Walter Mondale (also vice
president under Jimmy Carter) and by Ralph Abernathy (successor to
Martin Luther King, Jr.). In addition, Chávez' brother and
U.F.W. members actually patrolled the border to prevent illegal
workers from crossing.
An overlooked fact
about Chávez' non-violent perspective is that he was a
vegetarian. He believed that animals should be protected and not
used for food, clothing, or scientific experimentation. He was
also against rodeos and bullfighting.
Just as it is
questionable whether illegal immigrants really understand the
details of the Mexican-American War, it is also questionable if
they know the details of the life of César Chávez.
Apparently, they believe that if Chávez were alive today,
his sense of compassion would extend to the current illegal
immigrant situation. Although the amnesty/citizenship movement
has adopted Chávez as their role-model, they do not adhere
to all of Chávez' ideals. As an animal rights advocate,
it is doubtful that Chávez would approve of illegal
immigrants working for meat-packing companies.
some jobs Americans won't do
According to an article
by Thom Hartmann (author of What Would Jefferson Do?), the
Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are currently 7.6
unemployed Americans--not including 1.5 million who are considered
long-term unemployed. There are many other Americans, perhaps
5 to 10 million, who are employed part-time or are under-employed.
It appears factual that illegal immigrants work for lower wages,
for more than 40 hours per week, and longer than 5 days per week.
Are Americans less willing than illegal immigrants to accept this
kind of employer exploitation?
would not do agricultural work. It appears a fact, however, that
illegal employees have driven down wages in jobs such as
construction, meat-packing, and in the hospitality industry.
The real question is: if Americans are refusing to work for low
wages, how are they surviving? Have they made career changes?
Are they among the unemployed? Are they eligible for welfare?
Are family members supporting them? How does anyone remain
unemployed on a long-term basis? Although I accept as fact that
illegal immigrants have driven down wages, there needs to be a
study to prove that this is correlated with unemployment rates.
Perhaps of greater
importance is the future of America's middle class. Let's say
that American meat-packers used to make $17.00 per hour, whereas
illegal immigrants are willing to work for $9.00 per hour. The
profit is passed on to the company executives, and the consumer
benefits very little, if at all, in terms of the price of meat in
the supermarket. It takes only a basic knowledge of arithmetic
to see what is happening here: a greater gap between the rich and
the working poor.
immigrants become American citizens, will they continue to work
for $9.00 per hour? Will there children have opportunity for
upward mobility? Or will an underclass of working poor be stuck
in low-wage jobs? If there are more workers than jobs, then
employers will not raise wages. If there are more jobs than
workers, then the flow of immigrants, legal or illegal, will
continue across the border and employers will not raise wages.
Will portions of America start to look like Mexico?
None of the above
slogans can stand up to scrutiny. None express love of America.
This observation should alarm American citizens, the American
government, and any illegal immigrants who want to assimilate
into American society. The amnesty/citizenship movement seems to
want to portray itself as deserving compassion for its plight, yet
as a powerful force capable of making demands. The movement also
seems to want to give the impression that all Hispanics are
unified under the cause of amnesty.
amnesty/citizenship movement a workers' movement or a political
movement? Their slogans are aggressive. There is an emphasis on
the power of the vote, and the potential to use that vote to
reject any political candidate who does not agree with their
cause. Is this democracy, or threat of a coup? The slogans
distort historic events and persons. Is this done in ignorance,
or with the intention to sway? How much of this is done by
illegal immigrants, and how much by political activists who are
seeking potential voters for their own ambitions? The mere
distortion of facts and meanings, as boldly displayed by the
slogans, is enough in itself to arouse suspicion regarding the
ultimate purpose of the amnesty/citizenship movement.
(Written 05/30/07: bibliography available.)
Until we meet