People – especially men – like to draw lines and create borders separating my side from your side and friends from enemies. Who belongs here and who doesn’t is at the heart of the immigration conflict that may soon be coming to a boil under new policies coming from Washington.
It’s estimated that 11 million people are in the U.S. illegally, with about 3 million in California. Most are from Latin American countries with a majority of those from Mexico, although there is an increasing influx from Central America. There is also a rising issue with people from all nations – and especially Asia – who overstay their visas and are therefore “unauthorized immigrants” in the term used by the Department of Homeland Security.
How much of a problem is this? Many of those wanting a crackdown on illegal immigration into the U.S. contend that it takes jobs away from citizens and puts a burden on society. They want deportations, a bigger and stronger border wall and other sanctions against the offenders, especially along our southern border.
On another side – so to speak – are those who feel that most of those people are refugees from an impoverished and crime-wracked nation, and that the demand for legal status under current immigration quotas from Mexico far exceeds the supply. They may not pay income taxes, but pay other levies and stimulate the economy with their purchases.
There is a third side that may hold the balance of power. I tend to consult “cue bono,” a rhetorical Latin phrase meaning, “who benefits?” Put another way, why would millions of people risk the dangerous – and often expensive – task of coming here unless there was a benefit that clearly outweighed the downside?
The answer does not require a degree in demography. Look at your street on a Wednesday morning. Who are the people mowing the lawns and cleaning the houses? At the risk of belaboring the obvious, do they appear to come from Denmark? Are they speaking French?
Bus boys, cooks, hotel maids, laborers … the list goes on and on. These are the hard-working bus-riding people who are here because American businesses are hiring them. Those businesses are employing folks who either don’t have a green card or who have a facsimile of one, purchased from an entrepreneur.
Personally, I find it hard to condemn people living in grinding poverty in what is close to a failed state taking extraordinary measures to feed and protect their families. On the other hand, the open breaking of the law is a strange way to enter the Land of Opportunity.
During the Great Recession of 2008, immigration – both legal and illegal – dropped sharply. Why? Because there were few jobs available, even the lowest-paying unskilled kind of work. If employers simply stopped hiring desperate people for the purpose of reducing labor costs, you would see a new virtual wall rise on all our borders, a barrier which would not cost Uncle Sam a dime.
To me, the real border divide is not between those who want to build a wall and those who want to build a bridge or even between Trump voters and those who cannot abide the man. It’s between those businesses – and their customers – willing to wink at a brazen flouting of the law in order to pay a little less for labor or a cheeseburger and those who are willing to take a serious look at why we are in this situation in the first place.
Jim Tortolano’s Retorts column appears on Wednesdays, usually.