May Day U.S.A., 2006
All across the Fruited Plains, undocumented workers are boycotting stores and workplaces to back up demands that their "rights" be respected. What is unclear is by whose authority those "rights" are derived. The action was orchestrated in part by the League of United Latin American Citizens, whose President Hector M. Flores explained the basic reasons for the boycott: showing "opposition to HR 4437 and expressing how important their worker's contributions are and the value placed on their employees." Under the status quo, ironically, illegal workers are getting paid less than legal workers, that is, they are clearly undervalued. That situation simply cannot be sustained. To me it sounds more like a blunt threat of "Do what we want, or you're going to regret it" than an earnest plea on behalf of justice. I'm still waiting to hear a coherent argument from the pro-immigrant lobbyists.
I heard a good quote from one of the activists calling in to Sean Hannity today: "We didn't cross the border, the border crossed us!" The same person blamed poverty in Latin America on free trade and capitalism, revealing the real underlying agenda of many of the activists. If Americans do not have enough confidence in their own system to emphatically reject the absurd claim that poverty in Latin America is our fault, obliging us to open our doors to everyone out of misplaced guilt, then we deserve to lose control of our own country's destiny.
While this emotional debate rages on, let us try to remember one thing: Whether a given person is good, decent, or hard-working has little or nothing to do with whether they should be allowed to live in the United States. Bad behavior can disqualify someone from citizenship, but good behavior alone does not entitle anyone to become a permanent resident or citizen.
We should also remember the occasion of May Day: In most of the world, especially in socialist countries, it is the day for honoring working people. During the Soviet Era, there was a big parade in Red Square every May 1, featuring ballistic missiles, tanks, and large formations of troops. Maybe we should conform to the rest of the world, at least in a symbolic gesture, by switching Labor Day from early September to May 1.
Unlike President Bush, who is just a little bit too eager to demonstrate firm resolve to his conservative base, I see no big harm to singing the National Anthem en español. (For the lyrics, see Washington Post.) This amusing "side show" is, in part, an "in-your-face" expression of assertiveness by the immigrant community. It also illustrates, sadly, the extreme reluctance by most Latin American immigrants to learn any more English than is absolutely necessary to get by in the United States. Indeed, why bother, when the gringos bend over backwards to make essential information available to the public in Spanish? To an extent, the reluctance also reflects the prevailing disdain for American culture many of them hold, reinforcing the existing unhealthy tendency for them to remain in their own cloistered communities, isolated from mainstream society.
Today's Washington Post renewed my worries that the various factions within Republican Party may be unable (or unwilling) to work out a reasonable bargain on the immigration issue. On April 24, Pres. Bush declared,
A person ought to be allowed to . . . pay a penalty for being here illegally, commit him or herself to learn English, which is part of the American system, and get in the back of the line [for citizenship].
As long as that last clause is emphasized, I wouldn't have a big problem with that approach. Like me, however, Rep. Sensenbrenner is skeptical of the President's commitment to uphold the law, and he flat-out refuses to consider anything that smacks of "amnesty." What if they take my suggestion and call it "probation"? What I do know for sure is this: If the GOP leaders in the House, the Senate, and the White House don't get their act together soon, it would let an issue that is of great concern to a majority of Americans slip through right their fingers. In an election year with a discontented electorate, that would be unforgiveable.
In fact, this scenario reminds me a lot of what is happening in Richmond right now, with the Republicans in the state Senate and those in the House of Delegates working at cross purposes on transportation funding and taxes, to the benefit of the Democrats and Gov. Kaine. Just split the %#$&*@ difference, for cryin' out loud!
2ND UPDATE: You Don't Speak for Me!
Lest everyone think that all immigrants from Latin America are radical sympathizers who make excuses for lawbreakers, the Federation for American Immigration Reform held a forum at the National Press Club today, promoting the efforts of a group of American Latinos called You Don't Speak for Me. It's sort of a "Silent Majority," you might say. As one who deeply sympathizes with immigration on the legal path, it was very moving to watch this gathering on C-SPAN. Retired Col. Al Rodriguez, Mariann Davies, and Miguel Cruz (Peruvian!) made it clear that a large number of immigrants from Latin America believe in the United States, its values, and its laws. Two members of the Virginia House of Delegates, Jack Reid and Dave Albo (both Republicans), insisted that American businesses must be held accountable and duly punished for flaunting U.S. labor laws by hiring undocumented workers, which is by definition exploitive. Perhaps this movement will catch on in the American mainstream after all...