“Illegals” hysteria & the place I can’t go

I had doctor’s appointments most of the day, and while I was in the car I kept switching around on the radio. I pulled up Rush and couldn’t listen more than a few minutes. What I heard was a disappointing, strange, paranoia-feeding rant on how the “moderate Republicans and Democrats in the Senate” have a deliberate plan afoot to “enlarge the number of victims and people who will need welfare services” so as to “enlarge government…”

It’s all a plot and a conspiracy, you see…nothing could possibly simply be about stupid and lackluster career politicians trying to finally, finally, finally do something about an issue no one has wanted to touch for 30 years and doing it haphazardly, fearfully and imperfectly, and with the usual suspects trying to add their own flourishes, which must always be batted down, whether the issue is illegal immigration or almost anything else.

No, no. It’s a plot! It’s a conspiracy, meant to bring down America and put the conservatives in their place! To create a permanent underclass! To enlarge government, create more victims and raise our taxes! (what nonsense…we’re in a freaking war and spending more than ever, yet our revenues are growing thanks to the tax cuts…it’s funny how, when it suits a need, suddenly taxes will have to be raised…)

Maybe I should launch a conspiracy theory of my own…say…oh, something silly, like maybe this hysteria is just the conservatives doing everything they can to foment enough discord and discontent to create the “demand” for a third party candidate.

Which worked out so well for all of us in 1992. Hey, one conspiracy theory is as good as the next, isn’t it?

Now, I grant you, some of what is in this Senate immigration bill is objectionable and must be striken – it makes no sense at all for illegals to have better job-protection and benefits than American citizens. Social Security entitlements? I don’t think so. The idea of giving Mexico veto power over a fence or barrier idea is ludicrous.

But…for heaven’s sake, the thing is going to go to Congress, it’s going to get cleaned up and turned around – what has come out of the senate will not be the thing that (assuming anything actually gets passed) will be passed. There is some evidence that something workable may actually emerge from all of this ‘initial’ hoo-ha.

I know there are different opinions on the issue of these illegals, and everyone, on every side, “has a point” but I was extremely disheartened by what I heard on the radio, and by some of what I am seeing in blogs and in my email. I had to turn Rush off – there was something so insideous about the “ship them all back,” rhetoric flying between him and his callers that it was making my flesh feel crawly. “Round them up and ship them back, devote a whole law-enforcement team to it, we can get rid of all of them in 7 years, Rush!” Stunning. Appalling. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Aside from the legal and moral ramifications of trying to “round them all up -” I got out of the car thinking, are they forgetting that we are talking about human beings, here? Many of whom have been here for years, initially through legal means, and who have created lives? People with lives and families who – like how they got here or not – are HERE and are mostly contributing to society in positive ways? Honestly, the folks on the radio sounded extremely narrow and over-the-top. The humanity of the illegals seemed as unmentionable to them as the humanity of a baby-in-utero is to a feminist.

And funnily enough, I didn’t hear anyone complaining about the annual influx of illegal Irish immigrants who come in via Montauk and stay. But they’re charmers, aren’t they? Good senses of humor, they work and they don’t ever cause trouble…right?

Build a wall, by all means. Make sure you build it deep, so tunneling is difficult. Arm it and stand guards. I’m all for it. But this overheated rhetoric, this astonishing willingness by too many to keep blowing on the flames until something erupts…this is not good.

I cannot buy into this idea that suddenly America will be overthrown unless 11-12 million illegals are “shipped out, no matter what the story is…” I also cannot buy into the idea that there is a conspiracy afoot to create a socialist state, anymore than I buy the idea that this brouhaha is a conspiracy on the right to form a third party. But what do I know? Maybe everything is a grand conspiracy, after all. In which case, everyone is working at cross-purposes and all of this sound and fury may signify nothing…

I still believe angels ride in whirlwinds.

I also believe that Hispanics are the upcoming huge voter bloc in this nation, and that most of them (not the A.N.S.W.E.R. rowdies or the useful idiots who exist in EVERY ethnic group) are fairly conservative types of folks, and the conservatives are doing all they can to convince the Hispanics that they will never be welcome in the GOP. I have emails from Hispanics who have worked on GOP campaigns and contributed to GOP causes and who are dazed and feeling very much like they are not welcome. One fellow – Mexican/German – of immigrant parents, has gone from supporting the initial idea that immigrants should be encouraged to come here legally to deciding that the conservative tone has crossed a line where he cannot follow.

I am concerned about people running so hot on this issue – with the heat being enhanced by the bellows blowing on it via talk radio and some blogs – I am concerned that someone is going to get hurt. I’m concerned that people are losing their heads over this.

“Oh, Anchoress, the whole nation is going to be hurt if we don’t ship them all back and seal the borders and blah, blah, blah…”

Are we? I have a plumber friend who owns his own business, and he can’t find young white or black men to come learn the trade under him. “The black kids all want to be rappers and athletes, and the white kids think the sweat is beneath them. The Asian kids are all going to college to become doctors.” But the Hispanic kids want to learn. They want to work and support themselves, they want to learn the language so they can enter the marketplace. I hear a lot of sneering about the “jobs Americans don’t want to do” line…but the truth is, while the line may be just a line…it has some (limited) basis in fact.

70 or 80 years ago, my own ancestors were coming in, legally, and learned to hang drywall and fix automobiles and fight fires. Yes, they were legal…the nation had well-run, functional programs to handle a huge influx. Had such a program not been in place, they would have come, anyway…and they would have been illegal!

I wonder why it is that we do not, today have a well-run, functional immigration program to handle the huge influx of people who wish to live here. Why aren’t we WORKING on creating such a program? Why isn’t that part of any immigration bill – the reform of the INS?

We’re going to need our immigrants as the boomers retire and weigh heavy on our SocSec system and their children barely reproduce at replacement levels. Why can’t we bring back the idea of Ellis Island – create an Ellis Island West (or “Islands”) of strategically-placed processing centers, so to speak — which would prevent the “illegality” of our immigrants?

That might be helpful, you know? Make ‘em legal, get ‘em paying taxes…Sure, some people called my grandfather a “filthy wop” and my other grandfather a “lazy mick” and they bitched because the carousel at Coney Island suddenly played Italian hurdy-gurdy instead of genteel songs from the gay 90′s, but everyone adjusted. The nation grew stronger.

Alexandra has a good post up on the issue, and she ends by linking to this very interesting partial transcript of an interview between Rush and Tony Snow. Radio Equalizer also has a partial and some thoughts. California Conservative said conservatives should be proud of the debate and he’s probably right about that.

Once I finally got a chance to listen to the exchange between Limbaugh and Snow, (thanks to a pal) my sense was that Rush was not convincing in his arguments and he knew it. He sounded tentative and uneasy the whole time, and I came away thinking Snow got the better him and had been entirely too convincing for Rush’s liking. And I am not a Rush-hater by any means. I’ve often admired his skill and enjoyed his humor…but lately…but, I could give him the benefit of a doubt, too, and suggest that perhaps Rush, who has always struck me as mannerly, was simply being deferential to Snow.


I wrote a few days ago something that I think Tony Snow (with his “speeding ticket” remark) was trying to say today, although his analogy was not a good one:

The right has a disproportionate number of Christians in its tent, and Christians are supposed to know a thing or two about forgiveness and second-chances. By the light of Christ, a whore is not forever a whore and a thief is not forever a thief. Are we conservative Christians going to forget our own second chances – some of them known only to God and ourselves – and declare that while we might not always be wretches,
“an illegal is always an illegal and there is no mercy, no chance to be something more…”

I can’t believe that. Can’t accept it. Won’t be part of it. Our Lord demands more from us than a shrill dehumanization of what He has created, some demagoguery and a quick look-away as we shout, “ship ‘em back! Bad! All Bad!”

There are no negatives in Christ.

I also put forth my own admittedly simplistic and probably unrealistic idea:

Maybe the answer is something I’ve been thinking about for a little while – a sort of registry in which a “guest-worker” who has been here for a while and has demonstrated his peaceable intentions would register and pay a recurring fee (not a tax, which would give rise to demands for representation and votes, but a fee – a usable source of revenue for the local government) and in exchange have the “right” to work without being harassed or having to look over his shoulder all the time. Perhaps these registration centers would offer classes in English for nominal fees, to help them in their assimilation. Such a registry might even be able to eventually offer affordable group health insurance to take some of the burden off of the hospitals (and the rest of us). Okay, maybe it’s a stupid or naive idea. I never said I was brill. That’s why I’m not a community leader. But someone, somewhere has an idea that will work.

I seem to be losing friends over this issue which is not my choice – but there you go. I cannot get on the train with the people who are spitting mad and convinced that the nation is utterly doomed, and will die quickly unless their EXACT RECIPE is followed. There is just something really wrong with that – with the whole mindset. And there is an undercurrent of something – not among the friends I am losing so much as in the blogs and on the radio – I can’t put my finger on, but I don’t like it. I can’t embrace it.

If your convictions demand that you no longer read me, that you de-link me, that you consider me unfit to be a friend, a conservative, a woman, a Christian, or whatever…well…I’m sorry to hear that, but so be it. I agree with some of what you say, I support some of the measures you propose…but I cannot go where you want me to go, and I cannot fume and boil and roil and churn as you clearly wish I would. And I cannot embrace the hate – yes, real hate – that I am seeing roll off some of you like fog off the sea. Nothing good ever comes from embracing the hate.

Here I stand, I can do no other.

UPDATE: Some commenters directed me to this piece by Big Lizard on some polling data done by Matt Dowd. I never give much credence to polls outside of elections, but this is a little heartening, I admit! :-)

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About Elizabeth Scalia