We're pleading here for straight talk on both sides of the illegal immigration debate, so we'll start this party with some brutal honesty:
Illegal immigration isn't necessarily good for Latino Americans, and many of us don't always welcome it. Why would we ask for the clock on our U.S. assimilation be set back to zero as new, hungry people come searching for work — often for our jobs, ironically. Even Cesar Chavez had his period of opposition to the undocumented. There's not much in it for us.
At the same time, we see clearly the inherent, anti-Latino racism in the anti-illegal immigrant movement:
Illegal immigrants come in all flavors. We happen to know more who are Asian and European than who are Mexican. Really. But rarely do they draw the kind of send-them-back fervor accorded to brown people.
So, yes, those of us with South-of-the-border blood tend to get defensive when overwhelmingly white protesters target the undocumented from Latin America, particularly when they're innocent, defenseless children.
They are our cousins, indeed, and you insult us when you claim they bring disease and ruin our economy.
That's typical of the lie-dependent fervor that has overtaken the far right in America. To close the door on any rational discussion about illegal immigration, the immigrants must be demonized. The Nazi regime perhaps did this best with its dehumanization of the Jewish people. “The Jews are aliens in Germany,” read one school text of the 1930s. Sound familiar?
Do you blame American-born Latinos for being wary of this anti-illegal immigrant hate? So our ethnic brethren allegedly bring disease, are inherently illicit beings, mooch off our public resources and cause our economy to tank? And people wonder why the right-side political movement is in a demographic bind?
The truth is, of course, that the undocumented have infused the American economy with productivity and enlivened depressed communities with their commerce. Anyone who has seen the evolution of parts of Los Angeles into solidly immigrant neighborhoods can attest to their new-found vibrancy. L.A. in the early 1990s was no boomtown.
Studies have also found that illegal immigrants have provided a net benefit to taxpayers. That's certainly debatable and, like we said, we want to encourage straight-up honesty here. But some folks on both sides get the facts so twisted that they create an unnavigable chasm.
Some of the people who showed up in Murrieta to block the delivery of Central American children to a federal facility that has been there for years had some pretty outrageous claims. Let's have a look at some of their protest signs and media quotes:
“Obama invited them here … “
The federal government employed more border patrol agents than ever in 2011, under Obama's watch. Apprehensions have waned, yes, but so has illegal immigration. The immigration slowdown has been blamed on the Great Recession and on the militarization of the border.
Desperate, hungry families and organized crime smugglers who read the fine print in a Bush-era law (see more on that below) have apparently influenced this latest wave of underage undocumented people. But at no point did Obama send out invitations.
In fact many defenders of the undocumented are none too happy with Obama. Some Latinos believe that while he had promised immigration reform, he has turned out to be an anti-illegal immigrant president in disguise. Sure, at one point he promised real reform — but he chose to spend his political capital on healthcare instead. Our immigration laws remain a mess.
“Stop the invasion of illegals.”
What invasion? Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza, has dubbed President Obama the “deporter in chief.” Illegal-immigrant deportations under his watch had reached the 2 million mark by March. Using a monthly average, he is deporting far more undocumented people than George W. Bush did.
In fact, the number of undocumented children caught crossing the border has decreased significantly since the days of George W. Bush's presidency, from 8,143 in 2008, to 1,669 last year.
Now, yes, the U.S. is facing an influx of children. But the reasons for that are complicated: A 2008 law signed by Bush allows illegal immigrant children to see an immigration judge before being deported. Some are blaming that law for today's child-immigrant crisis.
The theory is that smugglers figured out that law could change the situation in the U.S., and encouraged sending desperate kids northward as a result. The law also means that the number of children in this wave, which is not reflected in the stats cited above, will only grow bigger as kids wait for a judge's decision.
“We immigrated legally! Please do the same.”
It's a little more complicated than that, isn't it? Native Americans were slaughtered in the European conquest of America, and the Southwest was ceded to the United States by Mexico following its bloody defeat in the Mexican-American War. What for some is being touted as legal immigration for others amounted to a prolonged home invasion.
Meanwhile, most African Americans descend from people who were forced to come to this land. Plymouth Rock landed on them. How legal is that?
And: Not all those once “dirty” Irish and Italians from which many of the frothing protesters descend came here on the up-and-up, either. Nor did they escape allegations that they, too, brought disease and lowly customs with them. They, too, didn't always speak English.
Finally, let's look at that fine burg of Murrietta, which didn't even achieve cityhood until a generation ago, in 1991. For those of us growing up in San Diego, Murrieta was considered the sticks (my mother had a much worse name for these kinds of places), farmland that was once part of the Rancho Pauba and Rancho Temecula Mexican land grants.
It was the very definition of exurb, a community so far from any workplace that you'd have to be truly desperate to live there.
So, we ask, who are all these new people in Murrieta? Surely they can't all be natives to this land.