April 10, 2006
"La Gran Marcha" in cities across the country was certainly impressive, and it was a real eye-opener to see the constitutionally guaranteed right to peaceably assemble for the redress of grievances exercised by people who would probably be shot for doing the same thing in their own countries. Now there's an aspect of American civic culture I would be proud to export: ¡Qué viva la libertad! In one sense, it was heartwarming to see all those American flags and hear those chants of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" You would have thought it was a bunch of Bush supporters at a NASCAR race. At the rally in Washington (on C-SPAN) I also saw a few flags from Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Honduras, but NOT from Mexico! Whether the newfound sense of loyalty to Uncle Sam -- in sharp contrast to the Los Angeles protests two weeks ago -- reflects a deeply felt sentiment or is just a tactical shift of convenience for most of the rally participants is not really important. The big question is what policy makers and legislators will make of this awesome display of collective will. The smart ones among those running for election this fall will pay due attention to the voting strength of those whom the protesters represent -- which is to say, hardly at all.
Ironic tone aside (momentarily), I fully sympathize with the aspirations of all those hard-working undocumented folks who just want to come out of hiding and enjoy full rights as human beings. This is where the distinction between human rights (which apply universally) and civil rights (which apply to citizens) is so crucial. Unfortunately, the purpose of the rally seemed to be to blur such distinctions and to shift the debate from the realm of justice and logic to that of mercy and sentiment. Surely most of them must have some sense that they did something wrong when they snuck across the border. Don't they? The fact that many of the speakers at the rally in Washington were calling for "reform" was at least a sign that they are aware that the status quo must change. Hear, hear! I wouldn't expect such a gathering to yield a clear-cut comprehensive plan of action, but I thought some of the loudest slogans at least deserved a response.
"No human being is illegal!"
Well, some of us break the law, and if we get caught, we are duly punished for it.
"We are all immigrants!"
In a historical sense that is true, but by that logic, even the Native Americans are immigrants. The point is that some of us are here in accordance with the law, and some of us are here as a result of having transgressed the law. No way of gettin' around that one.
"Let my people stay!"
What a deliciously ironic twist on Moses! "Please let us be exploited!" If preferring to live here as a virtual slave or indentured servant rather than going home doesn't make clear just how bleak conditions are in most Latin American countries, I don't know what will. Too bad it doesn't occur to anyone that perhaps conditions and employment opportunities in those countries might be improved. But of course, free trade and capitalism are widely considered "evil" in those countries, so they will remain stuck in backwardness for years to come.
* For you folks in Rio Linda (!), "Sí, se puede" means "Yes, we can." It seems to imply that concerted, mass action can force the government to give in to their demands for quick, unconditional legalized status.
As difficult as this problem is, the solution isn't as tough as most people assume. We don't need new laws so much as more rigorous enforcement of existing laws. In other words, the fault lies primarily in the executive branch, not the legislative branch. Are you listening, Señor Presidente?
The motivation for former Navy Secretary James Webb to run against George Allen for the U.S. Senate seat in Virginia this year became a little clearer, thanks to an article from The Hill: Webb just happens to be old Navy buddies with a certain senator from Arizona who might end up as a rival to Allen in the 2008 presidential primary races. Hmmm... (Hat tip to Chris Green.)