Friday, January 28, 2011

Washington state joins "patriotic project" of "cleansing" country of "vermin"

I came across the following declaration while surfing the Internet recently:

“Cleansing the USA of diseased illegal vermin is a huge, patriotic project that SHOULD be unifying the Left and Right in the USA.”

This was not on a white supremacist or even a Tea Party website, but one of those Yahoo question and “best answer” pages; the question went something like this: “Who will we blame for the country’s problems when we can’t blame illegal aliens anymore?” Except for one or two who wanted to blame “liberals,” most of the responses seemed completely oblivious to the question.

The sentiment seems to be catching fire, with Arizona-style paranoia catching hold even in an alleged “blue” state like Washington—where Democrats in the state legislature are telling themselves “Hell, if it works for Republicans, it can work for us.” The Seattle Times reported on this the other day, Lou Dobbs-fashion. I always thought the wrong daily newspaper in Seattle folded; maybe people with an inordinate amount of swell-headedness confused the Seattle “Times” with the New York “Times.” Despite the fact that the Times print version has shrunk to little more than a scandal sheet largely dependent on their “network” partners for hard news, it has managed to survive, with local coverage largely pandering to (or attempting to) the right-wing and “populist” segment of its perceived audience; although Latinos represent 10 percent of the state’s population, they are largely ignored, because that would mean some consideration of their opinion on certain matters—such as the Times habit of pounding them into the ground with stories that “substantiate” the prevailing stereotypes and popular prejudices—things it avoids assiduously in regard to the black community.

And so the story in the Times on Thursday concerning the state legislature’s apparent “plan” to “fix” the state budget crisis by denying undocumented workers the ability to obtain a driver’s license, is in reality part of the cynical scapegoating theme based on unproven hysteria and very little common sense. But you’d never know by what the reporter chooses to report as “facts.” I actually expected a story like this from this reporter (who is black); I once or twice questioned her via e-mail concerning what I regarded as anti-Latino bias in her stories dealing with that demographic, and she revealed herself by regrettably falling into the black vs. brown trap. Between black and white is a hard place indeed. Mainstreaming hate against one group tends to legitimatize it against other groups down the road, but that's for another day. In Washington, Latinos have little political or social clout, so it is easy for cowardly, hypocritical politicians and media to pick on them.

According to the story, the driver’s licensing issue is partly about “national security,” and also about money: “‘Illegal aliens are able to obtain Washington driver's licenses and from there they can gain employment, public benefits and other taxpayer-funded benefits,’ said Craig Keller, who heads a group called Respect Washington, which is preparing to back an initiative for the sixth straight year to discourage illegal immigration in the state.”

The “national security” issue, of course, has little application to a Latino farm laborer, but a great deal to do with all of the terrorists in this country who were either U.S. citizens, legal residents or had come into the country with valid visas. And, as usual, the reporter and the Times refuse to talk to anyone who disputes the claims that undocumented workers are a drain on public services or—in the opinion of most economists—that immigrant labor has historically been necessary for the continued economic growth of the country; setting aside the question of being illegal or not for a moment, most of these people of working age are actually here to work, are consumers contributing to the economy, and pay the same sales and property taxes as everyone is required to do. It is not their fault that they can find work and while others whine and bellyache on the sofa that there are no jobs they are willing to do. Undocumented workers are also generally younger, and thus are less apt to use health care services. Study after study by non-partisan groups have revealed that undocumented workers use fewer services than legal residents, and their tax contributions outstrip the services they use. But this simply doesn’t play to the masses for any positive benefit for politicians, apparently of either party at least in this state.

"We are attracting a population to the state of Washington that distorts the state budget, makes teachers scream about overcrowded classrooms and absconds with congressional seats" the story goes on. A Pew Foundation study found that 62 percent of 643,000 Latinos in Washington state in 2008 were native-born citizens (I know, shocking), 47 percent are homeowners (meaning they pay property taxes), and all pay state sales taxes. They account for 14 percent of students in K-12. It is absurd to blame Washington’s multi-billion dollar deficits on the “Mexicans,” and if classrooms are over-crowded, it’s because 3,000 teachers are laid-off because of education budget cuts; “screaming" about kids says more, by the way, about the quality of teacher than the kids. The state and its voters blind refusal to cut tax exemptions or approve an income tax on the wealthy who pay a fraction of their income compared to what the poorest in the state pay comes closer to understanding the real problem in this state, not blaming undocumented workers.

Several months before the Tucson massacre, the Tucson Sentinel published an op-ed that decried the “emotionalism” that clouded the immigration debate. “History is full of appeals to fear, anger and prejudice that have poisoned public discourse, divided communities and fueled violence…emotionalism has not fared well among political philosophers. As one writer put it, emotion is often viewed by scholars as ‘mysterious, inarticulate, thoughtless, blind, impulsive, intractable, extreme, biased, and selfish’…Voting or otherwise acting on the basis of emotion has even been considered by some as a failure of true citizenship…This poses challenges in forming public policy, which typically arises within a framework of laws and procedures that rely heavily on pragmatism, reflection, compromise and the neutral evaluation of empirical data. Considered in this light, Arizonans' fixation on illegal immigration has been excessive. While undocumented immigrants do increase costs and service demands for the state's institutions, there seems little factual basis for blaming illegal immigration for all or even most of Arizona's woes.”
Whether-or-not rationality has come to Arizona after the massacre is uncertain, and even if it does, it will likely be but a brief respite.

The Sentinel went on to say that “Many undocumented Arizonans work — or did until the recession — and thus contribute to the state's economy through their labor, consumption and tax payments. The importation of Mexican laborers is a long-accepted practice in the United States, dating back at least to a 1909 agreement between President William H. Taft and Mexican President Porfirio Diaz.” The Sentinel also pointed out that effective policy-making is hampered by the anti-immigrant forces use of “faulty evidence, highly contested evidence or no evidence” at all. As for crime, “border officials and other law enforcement authorities have repeatedly stated that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants have no connection to drug smuggling and are not criminals; crime, in fact, has been dropping in Arizona.”

The right-wing libertarian Cato Institute, meanwhile, has pointed out that much of the labor that is seasonal and short-term is most efficiently filled by immigrant labor—provided that a common-sense work visa program is instituted, instead of the current non-functional one. One reason why we don’t have one is businesses and private persons were perfectly happy to have labor that seemed available whenever they needed it, so why change the law? Those who resent this ultimately have only themselves to blame, because they sit around waiting for jobs to come to them instead of taking the ones that are available—because they “don’t do that kind of work.”

If Arizona’s immigrant “problem” is greatly exaggerated, then what can we say about the “problem” in Washington? It is clear that both parties are beating on undocumented workers for cynical political purposes; even Democrats, frightened by the Tea Party “express” which will likely run out of steam given sufficient time to expose their empty--if bombastic--banality, are trying to attract that bigoted voting demographic, feeding its search for a minority group to scapegoat for the state’s self-induced problems. That these problems are entirely the fault of a gutless and incompetent state government backed by an equally blind electorate suggests that this state continues to be mired in the backwater “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” days.

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