Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Some readings on the immigration issue, or get educated before you talk

Thomson Gale's Spanish Community News for June 2005 has a set of small informative articles on the issue of illegal immigration, which seems to be constantly on the spotlight as of late with groups like the Minutemen. Patty Sandoval Sralla has provided a three part series that provides a summary of anti-immigration efforts, gives a brief history of the issue, and then proceeds to dispel common myths about illegal immigration. The second article makes an interesting and reasonable argument as to why the situation is not bound to change anytime soon, and that is economics. The people in this country are hooked on cheap labor, primarily on the cheapness that labor provides in terms of services and products. Let's be honest, I would love to see someone out there say they would be willing to pay double or more the price on their strawberries or other produce if those picking the fruit were paid a decent living wage. People in this country can complain about illegal immigration all they want, but as long as they want a cheap nanny or cheap fruit, the powers that be will holler about the problem while winking at it to maintain the labor flow. The author writes:

"And it’s not only corporations. It’s the individual consumer.

'This country has become hooked on cheap labor,' Republican Rep. Tom Tancredo of Colorado, chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said when Fox News Channel talk-show host Bill O'Reilly recently asked why Congress doesn't order the president to secure our borders. 'A lot of pressure is put on individual congress people to not do anything about the borders for fear of impeding the flow of cheap labor.'

Employers — from factory owners to large-scale vegetable farmers to families seeking a nanny or a gardener — want the cheapest labor they can get. 'The problem is that Americans are not hooked on cheap labor as much as they are devoted to cheap prices. Illegal immigration is attractive because cheaper labor leads to cheaper prices for goods or services,' wrote Boston Globe columnist Clarence Page."

The author of the article points to both employers as well as consumers as part of the problem: employers want the cheapest labor possible (and who can blame them?), and consumers want cheap goods (again, who can blame them?). It seems like a blend of human nature at its worst with a willingness to ignore exploitation for convenience. One the one hand you have corporations that lay off American workers to go to the Third World for cheap labor, to avoid paying living wages. Then you have them here hiring immigrants for the same reason. On the other hand, you have consumers who don't want to pay more for certain products and services. It is a vicious cycle, and one that is likely hard to break. Given that I make a humble living myself, I would likely go for the lower prices when I can; it's practicality. In my case, yea, I may be willing to pay a bit more for a good product made in this country by workers earning a good living, but I get the feeling I am in the minority when it comes to that. Convenience seems so much easier. And scapegoating seems easier as well, which at the end of the day, is what all the anti-immigrant rhetoric does: it is scapegoating to avoid confronting the serious issues.

The article on dispeling myths is a good summary of arguments to use the next time someone says that "those illegals or are taking our jobs." The case is actually quite the contrary, but I invite readers to hop over, read the items and then decide.

On an example of someone who may not be as educated, a politician of Hispanic roots out in Idaho has been labeled as a traitor for his harsh antiimmigrant positions, even though his grandparents came to the U.S. from Mexico. La Voz de Houston, a weekly Spanish supplement to the Houston Chronicle featured a report during the week of June 29th on Robert Vasquez. As a note, the webpage to La Voz does not seem to be working very well, so I will provide a little summary of the article. According to the article, Mr. Vasquez is a local commissioner now running a Congressional seat. The article explains that he has lbeen labeled a traitor to his roots given his attacks on immigrants. He claims (and I am translating from the article) that "his people are those of the United States ["estadounidenses," i.e. Americans]. I have in my office the American flag, not the one with a chicken and a worm or whatever" referring to the Mexican flag. (I think I can see why many people of Mexican descent would be most unhappy with this man. Yes, those are the actual words. The quote in Spanish, in case anyone wants to verify it is: "He tenido colgada en mi oficina la bandera estadounidense, no la del pollo y el gusano o lo que sea.")

The article goes on to point out that Vasquez has stated he has little financial support from the Republican Party, and he has accused the Idaho delegation in Congress, all Republicans, of collaborating with the silent invasion of Mexicans into the United States. Hispanics are the fastest growing minority in Idaho, according to the Census Bureau. In Canyon County, where Vasquez resides, the Hispanic population has risen by 19 percent. Canyon County is a beet sugar area, and many of the Hispanics in the area are Mexicans that come to pick the crops. Vasquez has attempted, among his measures as commissioner, to bill the Mexican government for prison and medical costs incurred due to immigrants. This effort failed. Recently, he has hired a lawyer to look into using RICO laws to go after local business owners that hire illegal workers. Members of a local PAC are infuriated by his tactics.

In my humble opinion, it sounds like Mr. Vasquez needs to have some myths dispelled in terms of immigrants. However, what really bothers me is the cavalier and rude way in which he dismisses his heritage and insults the flag of his ancestors. While it is fine to embrace the American way of life as one's own if one is born and raised here, it looks bad when you disrespect your heritage and that of your grandparents. My mother used to remind me that whereever I went I had to remember where I came from. She also told me that he who sells his country (fatherland, "patria" is the Spanish word), sells his mother. It is kind of sad he feels a need to turn against his people to further his political career.

Readers wanting more information on Vasquez can find his campaign page here. World News Tonight with Peter Jennings had a report on June 21st that featured a bit about Mr. Vazquez here (I got the link from a Google search; it is a Lexis-Nexis transcript, hope it will work, but the usual caveat of expiring links and such applies). In addition, a search on Lexis-Nexis under Idaho news sources provides a few good results. I recommend typing just his last name (for some reason it would not work with the full name). Here is another plug for readers to visit the local library and have a librarian look these articles up for them out of the database.

There is also an article out of Smithsonian I wanted to highlight for this post, but this post is getting lengthy, so I will do that on a later post.

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