Thursday, July 17, 2008

Send Immigrants home?

Would we ever deport 12 million Mexicans just because they living in this country illegally? Not a chance. Whenever ICE initiates raids here in Houston looking for undocumented workers, nearly every Mexican restaurant (and a bunch of others) shiver.

Author and TV star Anthony Bourdain is one of the few chefs who's been willing to speak frankly on the issue. He says the American restaurant industry would be in big trouble if all the illegal immigrants in this country were rounded up and deported. "The bald fact is that the entire restaurant industry in America would close down overnight, would never recover, if current immigration laws were enforced quickly and thoroughly across the board," Bourdain told me. "Everyone in the industry knows this. It is undeniable...I know very few chefs who've even heard of a U.S.-born citizen coming in the door to ask for a dishwasher, night clean-up or kitchen prep job. Until that happens, let's at least try to be honest when discussing this issue."

It's convenient to blame "Congress" or the "Guvmint" when in actuality it is we whose ambivalence clouds this issue. Yeah, we like low food prices that result from low-wage pickers and building costs kept low by "don't ask, don't tell" subcontractors, but we detest the idea that anyone who has done such menial work for decades be granted the same citizenship status as we who are lucky enough to have be born into affluence.

The work ethic that these people embody is often lost on our youth. Too lazy to pick up a few bucks mowing neighborhood lawns or bagging groceries, their insistence that "Mexicans are taking our jobs" elicits little sympathy. How many high schoolers really want to wash dishes all through high school and/or college?

Certainly, these immigrants put a strain on our profit-dominated health care system that shoves the uninsured onto the public health care system. Their nonresident status means that they are inclined to go to the more expensive Emergency Rooms that cannot turn them away than the much cheaper clinics that can. If a publicly-funded clinic tried to deal with these people, local talk show blabbers would have a field day "exposing" them while doing nothing for the problem except kept costs high. Lou Dobbs and other demagogues
neither explore the problem in any kind of sympathetic depth nor provide a workable solution other than bigger fences.

The contradiction between blatant profiteering and xenophobic electioneering in the formerly Republican majority is made clear when the President's former business partner while with the Major League Baseball's Rangers, Tom Hicks, scandalously employs Central American immigrant groups to his Swift Packing plants.

Today Salcido is a plaintiff in two separate class-action lawsuits against Swift. One alleges that the company wrongly terminated dozens of injured workers to save on workers' compensation costs, slashing them from $6 million in 2002 to just $600,000 two years later, and another claims the company deliberately and systematically replaced native workers with illegal Guatemalan immigrants in a scheme to depress wages. While Swift acknowledges that it fired employees who'd been on injury-related restrictions for more than six months, it denies any wrongdoing. The company also says it did its best to obey immigration laws during hiring.

Right. They probably just thought all these folks were from some big Guatamalan clan that lived near Nacodoches for the last century, but hadn't bothered to teach its children English.

Perhaps the best thing about immigrants is that they reflect so vividly what is wrong with us. We say we want democracy, yet are unwilling to participate in it; we want "universal" medical care, but only for those rich enough to afford it; we want justice, but only for the folks we like. If another country treated our citizens as badly as we do--allowed as many children to be undernourished, unsupervised, undereducated, and medically ignored--we'd declare war on them. Instead, we single out those least able to defend themselves and scream "wrong!"

I realize this is an overused quote, but the irony of blaming others when so often we fail to accept the consequences of our own actions/inactions cannot be ignored.

"We have met the enemy and he is US!" - Pogo

Failure to act when the consequences are minor lead to the overheated media events that surrounding the Jo Horn shooting. Much of the uproar had to do with the shooting victims' undocumented status.

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