Border Patrol Trouble

With the recent activity on campus addressing the issue of immigration as if it was a new movement, I figured I’d shed light on something we hear about all the time from pro-immigration activists. The U.S. of A. is founded by immigrants. What we tend to forget is that recognizable monument standing a few hours south bearing the slogan, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.” This great nation of immigrants has historically been discriminative against new ones.

A common argument used mainly by conservatives, but also stemming from all points on the political spectrum, is that we are a pro-immigration country only intolerant of illegal immigrants. It’s a polite response, I admit. Perhaps if the year were 1776, with the Declaration of Independence promoting immigration, then I’d buy it. However, the modern argument shatters to pieces when it’s put face-to-face with United States’ immigration policy.

Directly racially motivated laws were passed in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s prohibiting or limiting migration from specified countries. In 1882, the Chinese were banned from legally or illegally entering our country, a law which was extended indefinitely, but was revoked when China became a U.S. ally against Japan during World War II. A similar story goes with the 1924 Japanese Exclusion Act.

The Immigration Act of 1924, a slightly more subtle policy with quotas limiting mainly southern and eastern European immigration, was passed to preserve the “traditional” ethnic culture of the United States.

Now that President Bush has signed the bill to build a 700-mile fence along the M?exico-U.S. border, we are looking at a racially fueled approach to immigration. I won’t go ahead and call that racist, but simply a really cheap (or wait, not so cheap) solution to Mexican (and also Central and South-American) illegal immigration.

As economist Julian L. Simon holds, six out of 10 undocumented immigrants enter legally. That statistic by itself defeats the alleged purpose of constructing the wall. If anything, it will economically benefit smugglers, as prices will skyrocket, and it will encourage Mexican illegal immigrants in the US, known for being more likely than others to return home, to stay in this country and work toward family reunification.

A comprehensive proposal open to an increase in legal immigration leading to at least permanent residency would tackle Americans’ problem with illegal immigration, right? I’d like to think so. On the other hand, nativist sentiment seems to drive immigration reform.

“Being illegal is no picnic,” Rub?en Navarrette, a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist said to me after the debate held a couple of weeks ago.

Yet there is a fear of la reconquista, an idea that Mexicans leave hunger and poverty in M?exico to come and reclaim the southwestern region of the United States. As I mentioned in the Amnesty International panel I was asked to participate in last month, Latin-Americans, and Mexicans specifically, come with an unconditional work ethic and an urge for self-improvement. Working in Chicago with Mexican migrants, I never heard of such a thing as la reconquista. I find it to be a paranoid American idea.

At one point it was the Japanese and the Italians. Today the target is Latin America. It’s our turn; the Mexicans’ turn.