Tag Archives: Illegal immigration

The Grass is Not Always Greener: Tex-Mex Fears

16 Nov

The fierce yin and yang of America’s divergent relationship with its two borders is embodied in two provincial border cities: Buffalo in the north, and El Paso in the south. Here our concerns are greater engagement with Canada, the easing of border restrictions, developing an economic plan to build off bi-national trade. Here our elected officials (the incoming county executive, for instance) call for using the border as a business engine. Here we regularly cross north for weekends in Toronto and chinese food.

There, in El Paso, the prime concern is safety from Mexico, enforcing strict border restrictions, and shutting down the most profitable of cross border trades (mules carrying drugs, guns and workers). There elected officials call for ranchers to arm themselves from spillover violence among and between drug cartels and federales. There vacation cross border traffic stopped a long time ago.

The last time I wrote about El Paso after a visit, I said the smell of burning garbage, intense desert heat, and sounds of gunfire in the distance reminded me of Iraq. Last week I returned again, but as we stayed in a hotel north of the city and further from the border, I didn’t get any unwanted flashbacks this time.

While I was there I heard news of a poll, asking Texans to rank the top challenges for Texas and the country as a whole. Like much of the rest of the country, Texans rank “the economy” as the United States’ chief concern. But locally, they are more worried about “immigration.” While to us Blue State northerners this may conjure images of xenophobic Red State racists, talking to actual Texans (not surprisingly) yields a far more nuanced picture. New York may envy Texas’ economic engine, but certainly not the border issues. 

In places like El Paso and Laredo and Corpus Christi, large Latino populations predate the United States or State of Texas; the border moved, not the people. With families split by the river and an open relationship between the two countries, people and goods moved back and forth unofficially, under the radar, but mainly peacefully. A rancher I spoke to, who grew up in south west Texas, remembers fondly the days of mutually positive relationships between land owners and migrant workers; days that are now as far away as the old timer’s childhoods.

That less-than-legal but tacitly-accepted easy relationship has been replaced by fear and anger. Not fear of “immigrants,” and the jobs they may take or strain they put on social services (Texas is not California), but fear of violence: murders and kidnapping. The anger is almost exclusively reserved for the Obama administration, perceived as ineffectual at best, and purposely and dangerously ignorant at worst.

First, the situation. Some 40,000 odd people have died in Mexico since 2006 as a result of the war between various drug cartel factions and the Mexican government. In the last year, the violence has increased in both volume and scope: more deaths than ever, and more gruesome methods (car bombs, chainsaw beheadings (I’m not linking to it), targeting of social media reporters). To Texans, this violence is not academic – the majority is happening a couple of miles away, especially on the border town of Ciudad Juarez, and is crossing the border in under-reported ways. The reported murder rate for Americans in Mexico is up 300%, but that figure only includes voluntary reports to the State Department, not reports from Mexican officials. American gangs are increasingly linked to Mexican cartels. Locals will tell you that while the vast vast majority of bodies are found on the Mexican side of the border, the general suspicion is that at least some are killed here and dumped there.

In response to this trend, Texan and federal government officials have mostly squabbled. Texan politicians feel like the feds aren’t taking the situation seriously, as evidenced by President Obama denying a meeting on the issue with Governor Perry. In Washington, officials are uneasy about the scope of the response already: fences and border patrol and deployed national guard. When the Obama Administration does act, it does so incompetently – a major story down south (and mostly ignored this far north) is the bungling of FBI/ATF Operation Fast and Furious. That firearm sting operation sent 2000 functioning and untracked weapons to Mexico, 1400 of which are unaccounted for. When locals take efforts into their own hands, tragic mistakes inevitably follow.

Fear and anger. Beneath the failed Birther rhetoric that creeps into the vocal frustration is a basic human fear of violence. Fear for one’s family. Fear of a way of life taken, not by economic force but physical force. Anger that a Border Patrol agent was killed by an errant gun from the Fast and Furious operation, and no one in the federal government (especially AG Holder) has taken responsibility. Frustration that a war is happening a mile or two away and the rest of the country doesn’t know or care. STRATFOR, the Austin-based private global intel company, has declared Mexico is nearing failed state status. Is anyone paying attention?

What’s Spanish for “Gastarbeiter”?

27 Apr

There are books’ worth of statutes, regulations, procedural rules, and background information on the issues of police stops. Generally, a cop can briefly detain you and ask you questions if he has a reasonable suspicion that you’ve committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. Definitions like “reasonable suspicion” get litigated because they’re open to so much interpretation.

The legalities and constitutional issues surrounding these types of police interactions are what separate us from police states. Nothing can be done arbitrarily or with impunity.

But Arizona recently passed a law allowing state law enforcement to detain and demand proof of citizenship from people who they reasonably suspect may be in the country illegally.

In other words, it’s a license for police officers to stop, detain, and investigate someone who “looks” or “acts” like an undocumented immigrant. There’s no question that it’s directed towards illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America, so it will exclusively be affecting the day to day lives of Arizona Latinos.

I guess this law is a whole lot easier than cracking down on people who illegally employ undocumented immigrants. It’s the lazy, unconstitutional way out. Unconstitutional because at its essence it requires Hispanic people present in Arizona to keep proof of citizenship on their person at all times and subjects them – and only them – to a “papers, please” police state reality. This law makes it a crime for a Latino person in Arizona to not always carry their immigration documents – Green Card, Passport. It’s not just a 4th and 5th Amendment problem, it’s also a massive equal protection issue. Irish immigrants, I suspect, won’t be subjected to these rules because…well, you know.

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What other ethnic group will we single out for especial treatment? The Republican Party makes occasional progress with Latino voters because they tend to be more socially conservative, but then they pass and support laws like this ones and drive them into the waiting Democrats’ arms.

Megan McCain leaves this thought in her piece:

Arizona is ground zero for the wingnuts. There’s a problem with illegal immigration and no one wants to do anything constructive about it so you get crap like this.

It’s no surprise whatsoever that the teabaggers, given a direct and palpable example of what an unconstitutional police state looks like, remain silent. Because it’s only bad when Democrats do it. Especially Democrats from Africa or Chicago or California who “pal around with terrorists”. Even George W. Bush recognized the need for comprehensive immigration policy reform, but was thwarted by those in his own party who are more narrow-minded (!) and refused to go along with anything that could be called “amnesty”. Because “amnesty” is an epithet, I guess.

First American Latino who gets detained will sue, and this law is not long for this world. It’s a shame that the United States’ immigration policy is mired in the 1960s, but God forbid we make tough decisions and change things to stem the illegality. A reasonable guest worker program would be completely acceptable, document the undocumented, permit these immigrants doing menial work you won’t do to do the work, send money home to Mexico, and be taxed on all of it.

Just over 30% of Arizona’s population is of Hispanic origin – twice the national average. 1/3 of the state’s population now has to carry citizenship papers on their person in their own country. Because some people of Hispanic origin are doing something bad, the lazy and stupid solution is to criminalize the entire population.

It beats thinking. Or problem-solving.

Sometimes, it’s not unlike the Buffalo mentality – see how everyone else does it relatively effectively, and then do the exact opposite.

There will be a march in Buffalo for immigration reform on May 1st, starting at Goodell and Main at 2pm, ending up at MLK, Jr. Park. Immigration is an important issue, and we’re hurting our own economic growth by keeping skilled people out. We’re also hurting ourselves and turning our backs on the Constitution when we single out particular ethnic groups for special police scrutiny.