Thursday, August 16, 2007

In praise of immigrants

"Kitchen worker on break," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Coming up from the subway in Union Square this morning I grabbed my free Metro New York , as is my habit, & glanced at the headline. "Terror from within" was spelled out in big black & red screamer type. Below was a grim photo of a cop in a military helmet holding an automatic rifle. The subhead was: "NYPD: 'Unremarkable immigrants can become terrorists.' " (The story is here. The Times version is here.)

Call me paranoid, but this is hardly news. And, though the New York report primarily discusses Muslims new to the U.S., it conflates seamlessly with the ugly strain of anti-Latino nativism that recently doomed immigration reforms in the Congress. Last week on the campaign trail Rudy Giuliani -- formerly mayor of a proud city of immigrants -- tried to distract voters from Iraq & other debacles by talking tough about "aliens" who sneak across the border. Meanwhile the Department of Homeland Security and the Bush administration did everything but pound their all-American chests announcing a new crackdown on undocumented workers & those who hire them.

These and other pols clearly smell a red meat campaign issue. I wish it would work to just say to them,"Get real." The idea that immigrants -- with or without papers -- are here for the welfare or are bent on stealing something from our society -- is just crazy. Immigrants are here to work. That is especially true of the illegals, who do the scut work Americans don't want to do themselves.

The guy who handed me my Metro New York this morning may have been illegal. Some of the men who drive for the car services my family takes are illegal. The people who cook the food I eat in restaurants are illegal. The guys rehabbing buildings in my neighborhood are illegal. The women who clean the houses & push the strollers there are illegal. Not all, of course, or even most, but anybody who rides the subways in from the boroughs like I do every day knows what I'm talking about. Who are they trying to kid?

"Fruit stand worker in winter," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

Get real. Illegal or not, immigrants are arguably the best workers in America. They are loyal, dependable, honest & competent -- as anyone who employs them will tell you. And, like the waves of immigrants who came before them, they in fact really do embody the "family values" Republicans like Giuliani (whose family is a mess) love to prattle about.

So how is this nasty scapegoating getting sold? You may not be shocked to know that Karl Rove wrote the manual. Locate the fear & with the complicity of a greedy media, magnify it, he taught. Convince the demoralized & distracted public your party is the only one strong enough to make the fear go away. Vilify as a traitor anyone who disagrees. So speaketh Bush's "Boy Genius."

It should be noted that Rove, though perfectly willing to demonize Muslims, took care to lay off Latinos during his tenure because he saw them as a potential new constituency for Republicans. It's a measure of how power has shifted in the party that this political judgment is now being ignored ( Rove quit last week). Still, it's his playbook.

Rove's strategy worked perfectly to get us mired in the blood & despair of Iraq & at home the endless War on Terror. As it happens, Herman Goering, who also had considerable success with the same strategy, explained it perfectly in 1939: "Naturally the common people don't want war... That is understood. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along ...That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Lately, the War on Terror isn't working so well for the get-tough crowd. It's necessary to gin up a new dimension to this so-called War (how can you keep focusing hatred on bin Laden when you've known exactly where he is for 5 years but can't manage to do anything but growl threats & shake your fist at him?). It's necessary to muster the troops against a new Evil Other.

"Flower shop worker on watch," Tim Connor, All rights reserved

American citizens have two ways to go, it seems to me. Either we can once again believe Karl Rove & his historical mentor Herman Goering. Or we can believe the evidence of our own eyes.


JEC said...

Illegal immigration

is the new

gay marriage

The Republicans are banking on it.

Tim Connor said...

Gardengal responded on Flickr:

great observations, sir.
i thought of dulce pinzon and her "superhero" series while reading it, are you familiar? it's really inspiring and amazing.

Tim Connor said...

Zellie, Thanks for the link. You're right, the Superheroes are "inspiring and amazing."

Reposted said...

Chuckwheat says on Flickr:

That Dulce Pinzon link is great, thanks for posting!
It's probably a fair comparison, equating illegal immigration as
the 'new gay marriage' boogyman for the Repubs to chase after
with torches and pitchforks.
Immigration regulation is so backlogged, I don't see any fair and equitable solution coming up.
Nobody rides for free, so all that cheap(er) labor has come home to roost.
I think it'll get nastier, and messy; human nature being what it is.

Christine (CA) said...

You said it all.

Nancy said...

I hate most politicians. The fact is, most of the countries in the western world are stagnating with their populations. Demographically, America has a better chance of renewing its younger population as an unintended consequence of seeking cheaper labour. The really galling fact to me is that it is exactly this group of people
( young immigrants and Latinos ) that will be supporting the Roves of this world in their old age !

Lionel said...

Well done!

Let us not forget that the except for 9/11 the worst terrorist attacks in recent times were done by non immigrant Americans.

McVeigh and Nichols were responsible for the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma, the snipers Williams and Malvo held Washington DC in terror for 22 days and the anthrax terrorist, someone with high security access to biological weapons grade bacteria, were all home grown.

Immigration legal or illegal is not just an American issue; it is an issue of western developed nations.

We just handle it badly in our own politically motivated inept fashion.

Switzerland is now one of the most favored of all European destinations for immigrants, who make up a steadily increasing 20% of this alpine country's population, and this alarms the Swiss. The populous recently voted to cut the ratio of foreigners back to 18%, which means the expulsion of thousands of legal residents is imminent. Like the rest of Europe, and in particular those countries in the European Union (which Switzerland is not), Switzerland is scrambling to cut back on immigration, both legal and illegal.

Most of Western Europe is suffering from a lack of labor for low-paying jobs, as well as a gap in the technology pool.

"Last year," Romesh Ratnesar of Time reports, "the 16 million legal immigrants in Western Europe earned more than $460 billion." In the European Union, the number of self-employed foreigners has risen by some 20% in less than a decade.

In some countries, immigrants make up a substantial portion of the labor force, or even have higher average household incomes. All of that equates quite simply to spending power. But the notion that a certain amount of immigration is a good thing has yet to catch on in Europe let alone here in the US of A.

Bruce Grant said...

Goering seems to be the model for more than one member of the current administration. Read his cross-examination testimony at Nuremberg ( and tell me you don't hear Dick Cheney's voice.

Bruce Grant said...

Hmmm. The link got truncated in the previous comment. Here's a shorter one that will work.

Tim Connor said...

Bruce, What a chilling read! They are both bullies to whom blunt ruthlessness has become a sort of twisted virtue.

Thanks for the link. Wow.