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Martin LeFevre: "Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor...”

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

"Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor...”

There is a titanic debate raging in America right now over immigration. As the only issue emitting some energy in this moribund land, it pits national security “protect our border” xenophobia against the corporate and middle class need for cheap labor.

Immigration, legal and illegal, is an issue that is playing out across the globe. In one sense, it is the sum of all contradictions in the 21st century: On one hand, borders mean less and less in a completely interconnected global society; on the other hand, the haves are desperate to protect what they have from the have nots.

Overlay raw economic issues with the American fetish for national security after 9/11, and the friction is at last producing some heat. President Bush is in Mexico for a few days of meetings with President Vicente Fox and Prime Minister Harper, the new guy on the block from Canada. Bush is pushing a “guest worker” program that he hopes will allow him to continue to have it both ways —satisfy his Right Wing base that wants to criminalize “illegal aliens” and those who hire them, while continuing to have cheap labor for “jobs Americans don’t want to do.”

Throwing a bone to his base, Bush puts on his game face in Cancun and says, “I don’t believe someone should be able to sneak into our country and go to the head of the immigration line.” Then, he tosses a bone to Vicente Fox: “one of the things I’m most proud of [as President of the World] is the stability of the Mexican economy.”

The phrase, “broken borders,” is the mantra of the ultra-nationalistic CNN commentator Lou Dobbs, who harps on the peril “illegal aliens” pose to American security and economy every day on his hour-long show. Dobbs is also in Cancun, though he won’t be interviewing Bush, since the jingoistic ‘journalist’ is a mouthpiece for criticism from the Right that Bush has been receiving on the immigration issue.

After months of working himself up into a mouth-twisting fury on a daily basis railing against “the Mexicans pouring over our borders,” Dobbs was asked today by other CNN hacks what kind of reception he was receiving. “Very welcoming,” Dobbs intoned, “but I’ve never for a moment expected any other kind of reception from the Mexican people.”

Why is that, you may wonder? When I lived in Mexico for a short while in the ‘90’s teaching English, I asked a group of high school students the question: why are Mexicans so nice to Americans who come down here and treat them like second-class citizens in their own country?

Three reasons, they said, matter of factly. First, Mexicans are a warm and hospitable people. Second, we need your money. Third, Uncle Sam would invade in a heartbeat if American interests were threatened.

Back in the USA, the largest protest in Los Angeles history took place last weekend, as a half million Latinos marched peacefully under the banner: “Nosotros no somos los criminales” (We are not criminals). Across the country, huge rallies have been held in the past week, as Latinos, who provide much of the farm labor, cannery work, hotel and restaurant work, housekeeping and childcare, gardening services, and construction labor in America, pour out into the streets. They are protesting draconian laws such as the one just passed in the House of Representatives, which would indeed criminalize undocumented workers and those that hire or help them.

Republicans, who have held power since Bush was elected in 2000, are splintering over this issue. After the Dubai port deal debacle, Bush is again being hoisted on his own petard of national security. His rabid base rants and raves about innumerable threats to America, even as the economy continues to do well and no attacks have occurred on American soil since 9/11. They show what mean, shallow, stupid people they are, but for now at least, they continue to hold the levers of power.

As far as “the silent majority” of Americans, they see services being cut after Bush has wasted billions of dollars in invading Iraq, and teeter on the edge of holding him and Republicans responsible, or making scapegoats of illegal immigrants.

The words reflect the worldviews. Are the people who risk their lives in perilous crossings of desert and ocean “illegal aliens,” or are they “undocumented workers?” Are we, in America and beyond, going to allow fear and loathing of the great unwashed other to rule our hearts and halls of government, or will the realization take hold that we are all inextricably part of the same chaotic, suffering world, and that solutions no longer lie within national borders, but in new concords of cooperation between peoples?


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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