The Rules

[“Immigration raids terrify kids, House is told” — San Francisco Chronicle]

You know, it’s such a gift to have had ancestors who had the foresight to emigrate to the United States while the doors were wide open. I’m not saying that everyone involved in the melange of immigrants that led to me qualified as wretched refuse, but I’ve seen where most of them came from. There are a lot of rocks strewn across the fields they worked. There is plenty of wind. There are long winter nights to contemplate the season to come and how to keep the cold out. For the people who left there, nothing was in short supply but level ground, cash in hand, and a prospect that things might change for the better.

But they crossed, they did, and they were welcome to try what millions of others had tried. They farmed. They mined coal. They worked in the stockyards, taught school, ministered to parishes, and worked in banks. If any of them got rich, I never heard about it. They did something far more important: They made me and everything I know possible.

The country kept the door wide open back then, but that should not be mistaken for an act of warm-hearted generosity. The country needed willing hands to help realize its manifest greatness; those forebears of mine and the millions like them were more or less willing.

I have to wonder how they would fare today. The door is still open, but just the slightest crack. Yes, lots of people slip over, under, or around it. Once they do, they seem to embark on the same path those forebears of mine did–they are today’s willing hands, and in slaughterhouses and construction sites and farm fields far and wide they are building something that only their children and grandchildren will get to see.

Or maybe not. These new immigrants aren’t following the rules if they fail to wait their turn at the door (a door, it should be noted, that is unlikely to ever open for their ilk–poor, uneducated, unable to speak our language). The rules–that’s another thing I have to wonder about. In the debate over immigration today, descendants of yesterday’s immigrants’ are careful to point out what honorable, law-abiding rule followers their ancestors were. Without subjecting anyone to a historical treatise just now, let’s just say that the bar for entry for most of these huddled and rule-following masses was a lot lower than it is today–unless, of course, they were Chinese or Japanese or from some other group loathed by the rule writers.

So, many of our new immigrants aren’t waiting their turn. Today’s immigration rule writers have decided this behavior is a danger to the country and are taking steps to punish the rule breakers. What form does the punishment take? See the article linked above. It talks about immigration roundups. I know most of us know this is going on, have heard stories about workplace raids, and probably put the whole business out of our minds.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend who teaches nearby told me about a student, one of the brightest in the class, who had come to school with his mother that morning. The mother was weeping. Why? the teacher asked. Because immigration agents had pounded on her door at 7:30 p.m., swept through her small apartment, and taken away three relatives. It was a shattering experience.

So this is what we’ve created to safeguard our bastion of prosperity–thug tactics in which a certain sector of the population is freely targeted and virtually without legal recourse. Oh, yes, none of this would happen if the affected people had just followed the rules, and we are, above all, a nation of rules. But there is a human cost here in the dismantling of people’s lives, the destruction of their sense of security, and in sowing emotional trauma. And for those who have got ours already, the sons and daughters of past generations of rule followers, there’s a cost in building the kind of apparatus that treats people as if they’re so much garbage to be thrown out. I’m all for rules–I’m not a fan of anyone coming into my house and taking my stuff, and I hate people who cut in line–but the rules need to have a humane edge. At our best, that’s the kind of rules we’ve written.

(Oh, and my solution for the illegal immigration issue: Amnesty, education, and citizenship.)

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7 Replies to “The Rules”

  1. Excellent essay, indeed, Dan. I suspect you may get a little beaten up for uttering the amnesty word, though.
    I just want to make a personal observation, and this is not in any way scientifically backed: Except for the few immigrant raids where the raidees were involved in something specifically illegal (i.e., stealing or using stolen social security numbers), the raids I’ve seen where I live involve those who had entrepreneurism in their blood. As in, they came here, began a business, rented or bought workspace, hired employees, started to prosper, etc. (as opposed to just working at the slaughterhouse). And then they get busted and sent back home. I think there’s something there. I’m still trying to figure out what it means.

  2. Hey, if “amnesty” is good enough for George W. Bush, who has gotten a pass on every large and small misstep and foul up he’s committed from his career as a Yale man right down to his Decider days, it’s good enough for people sneaking across the border.

  3. In general I would agree: being humane is always a better way to be human. I don’t approve of terrorizing anyone and if it’s true what Marie says then the raids are dubious indeed. Which leads me to my first issue with what you wrote
    “thug tactics in which a certain sector of the population is freely targeted and virtually without legal recourse”
    I guess in a manner of speaking it is free targeting. But everyday I drive down El Camino and see at least 30 day workers (who I know are not by definition here illegally but tend to be) who are not being harassed.
    Second, the amnesty thing. I agree with the historical analysis but at what point do you draw the line
    ? If we give the people here amnesty do we open the gates and let anyone in who wants to be because there’s enough to make China look like a sparsely populated country. So do we limit the amnesty to Mexicans?
    I know it’s not a black and white issue but there’s my two cents.
    Not to mention we aren’t the only country that has immigration issues. We just happen to be the one that the largest number of people want to come to.

  4. It’s interesting how these immigration raids seem to bypass the Irish bars and French bistros.
    No, it’s not a black and white issue; it’s a brown and white issue. I have a hard time believing the Minuteman Project would have risen up to combat an influx of gardeners and maids from Canada and Western Europe.

  5. Judy wrote:
    “No, it’s not a black and white issue; it’s a brown and white issue. I have a hard time believing the Minuteman Project would have risen up to combat an influx of gardeners and maids from Canada and Western Europe.”
    There is definitely racism involved here. As there always is when divisive issues cross racial lines. But I think it’s unfair and inappropriate that racism is always thrown about. The Minuteman Project may be racist but that does not mean that anyone opposed to undocumented immigration is a racist. Also I think if the same number of French or even Canadians moved to the United States as Mexicans have (undocumented) then there would definitely be a backlash. Dislike doesn’t fall along color lines only. It just happens that color is an easy target.

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