Something there is that doesn't love a wall

On Thursday, as the U.S. Senate was about to vote on its new immigration bill, scholars and political experts at New York University were busy "Rethinking Global Migration: New Realities, New Opportunities, New Challenges." (Click here for conference program and webcast.) The main conclusion (for anybody who was paying close attention) was how ridiculous and inadequate are the Senate's gestures. The only thing that can be said for the Senate bill is that it is not as punitive as the bill in the House, but none of these measures addresses the real problems in a realistic way. To wit:
• The Senate proposal would permit 200,000 "temporary workers" per year (the House bill would permit none), but we've got 500,000 crossingly illegally each month, according to Cristina Rodríguez (NYU). So the numbers are totally inadequate both for the emigration pressure from Mexico and for the labor demand on the U.S. side of the border, which is immense.

• The Senate's bill does not envision any reciprocal process in Mexico, such as "We will admit x number of workers legally if you (Mexico) commit to reducing illegal emigration from Mexico by that amount" -- an idea broached by Jorge Santibáñez (President, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, Mexico).

• People will keep coming, even at the risk of their lives, as long as survival opportunities in the U.S. are so much greater than in their own countries, no matter how high or long or thick the fence. Most of those who come illegally don't even cross by land anyway, according to several the speakers.

• U.S. labor demands, for example for highly trained nurses from the Philippines and elsewhere, are making conditions even worse in the sending countries -- by diminishing services -- and thus stimulating emigration. That's not going to stop with the proposed legislation, but there could be negotiated ways of relieving pressure on the sending countries.

• The biggest issue -- implicit in the others -- is one emphasized by Saskia Sassen, enriched by her comparative studies of European immigration policies: No immigration policy will be tenable unless it is worked out in negotiation among both sending and receiving countries.
In short, we can't "secure our borders" on only one side. Nor would it be enough to enter a treaty with Mexico. The northward flow of migrants is regional, with great numbers from Central America and South America illegally entering Mexico just to cross it and get to the U.S. border.

This is just a start for my thoughts on the question. We still haven't talked about "assimilation" of immigrants, whether and how fast they will learn English and adapt to the "American way of life." One thing is obvious, though: a "guest worker" program just inhibits assimilation, by telling people they can never become U.S. citizens anyway. And of course letting 11 million or so people remain "illegal" isolates them, from services, police, and schools, making their assimilation almost impossible.

When in "Mending Wall" Robert Frost quoted another farmer saying, "Good fences make good neighbors," it was because he found the statement ridiculous. He went on to reflect,
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
"Why do they make good neighbors?...
Before I built a wall I'd ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offense.
Something there is that doesn't love a wall,
That wants it down." ...
In the 21st century, that "something" is globalization, the unstoppability of information, money goods and -- though at greater risk and cost -- people, regardless of borders. They only way to regularize the flows for the greatest benefit and least harm to all parties is through frank, honest and serious negotiations. A good place to start would be with Mexico and the countries to its south.

Good neighbors can make good fences.


Immigration: preparing to enter the debate

I know, I know. My participation is long overdue. After all, I did write a book about it, and more recently (2003), an op-ed on a the growing census numbers. The huge demos last March caught me by surprise -- I was in Spain and, frankly, had not been closely following the politics of what I had called the Hispanic Nation. I don't want to just give an opinion; this question is too important for pundits. Rather, I want to come up with some hypotheses, and maybe even a proposal, that will help us understand and deal with all the conflicting issues. Big job. A job for a sociologist.

Here are some things I've been reading to get back up on it, in rough order of interest:
• Nina Bernstein,100 Years in the Back Door, Out the Front, NYT Week in Review; also, click on Bernstein's link to see her other articles on the issue -- serious reporting.
• E. J. Dionne Jr., Divisive In Any Language (washingtonpost.com)
• Alicia A. Caldwell, Security plan worries N.M. town officials (AP, boston.com)
• Shikha Dalmia, No Free Ride (Knight Ridder, Tom Paine)
• Sandi Burtseva, Yes, We Know They're Illegal (Tom Paine)

To know the truth-- you have to try!

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The truth must not be told

Borjesson, Kristina. 2004. Into the Buzzsaw: Leading Journalists expose the Myth of a Free Press. Pp. 453 + index. Amherst NY: Prometheus Books.
"The government has the legal authority to prosecute journalists for publishing classified information, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales said yesterday," reports Adam Liptak deep inside today's NYT (p. 14). The article goes on to say that Gonzales repects the right of the press under the First Amendment, "But it can't be the case that that right trumps over the right that Americans would like to see, the ability of the federal government to go after criminal activity."
And if it is the government that is committing the crimes? That's just the case in many of the stories told in Into the Buzzsaw, a collection of first-hand accounts of suppression of important news stories and attempts to silence the journalists who reveal them. Among the suppressed stories: CIA involvement in drug trafficking (chapters by Michael Levine & Gary Webb) and murder (J. Robert Port); excesses and even atrocities by U.S. forces in Iraq (Ashleigh Banfield) and 50 years ago in Korea (J. Robert Port); evidence that TWA Flight 800 may have been brought down by U.S. Navy missile in 1996 (Was it? I don't know, but the crime is suppression instead of investigation of testimony that suggests it was), and much more.

The suppression of stories inconvenient to the rulers is the oldest suppressed story in the world, and much of the time it has probably worked -- how many of those clay tablets from ancient Sumer were deliberately smashed by the king's censors, and what did they say? When Atahualpa defeated his half-brother Huáscar to become the Sapa (or "Supreme") Inca, he ordered the destruction of all previous history, which in the Andes was recorded mainly in a complex system of knotted cords called khipus (or quipus), decipherable only by the khipu-experts or khipukamayuqs. The only reason we even know this is that Atahualpa was captured and slain by the Francisco Pizarro's Spaniards before he could consolidate his power and erase all memory of the event.
In a gathering convoked by viceroy Cristóbal Vaca de Castro (c. 1600), the ancianos “explained that prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Atahualpa had attempted to revise Inca history by burning all the khipu he could find and killing the khipukamayuqs.” (Brokaw, Galen. 2003. "The Poetics of Khipu Historiography: Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala's Nueva corónica and the Relación de los quipucamayos." Latin American Research Review 38:111-147.)
So regime change is one way we can find out about suppressed news. But what came next in the Andes was even worse. Subsequent to Atahualpa's overthrow, the conquerors introduced a new official story and a terrifying way of sustaining it: the Inquisition. So revolution or other regime change is no guarantee of freedom of information.

The only guarantee is some system where competing power-groups sponsor competing narratives, which is what has worked for the U.S. for the past two centuries -- unevenly, of course. The Alien and Sedition Acts were ultimately undone by Jefferson's Democratic Republicans, McCarthyism hit its major snag when the senator from Wisconsin took on the Army, Johnson's war in Vietnam ran up against not only massive street protests but eventually even the establishment press when the NYT decided to go with the Pentagon Papers. And that is the kind of competition that worries Gonzales and his boss in the White House. Whether they are right in every detail or not, the reporters in Buzzsaw help keep open a little more space for further competing narratives. And as Jefferson, Lincoln and other American heroes stated over and over again, that is the only way to forestall the new American Inquisition.

Drawing by Guamán Poma de Ayala of a khupucamayuq displaying his work. Click to enlarge.