This county is no more awash in illegals than it was at another time â€œawashâ€ in Italians, Irish and Germans. If it is awash in anything, itâ€™s in racist and dangerous rhetoric contrary to the highest principles on which it was founded.
Occasionally, this column has joined the attempt to inject some simple sanity into the increasingly polarized debate over this countryâ€™s policies and attitudes about immigration.
And as the presidential election nears, and the hyperbole and the hate speech jacks up, the need for a little clear thinking is waxing.
Credit Marisol JimÃ©nez McGee, advocacy director of El Pueblo, who, with a child due in a little more than a week, recently gave a powerful, laser-sharp analysis of what has become this nationâ€™s key conflict.
It was, in my mind, the single best speech, talk or utterance Iâ€™ve ever seen on the subject and the points she made are worthy not just of repeating, but ought to be inscribed on a set of handy, wallet-sized cards for anyone looking for how to knock down some of the blunt, extremist arguments you hear cascading into mainstream dialogue.
Speaking last week before an audience of progressive Democrats at Chapel Hillâ€™s Community Church, JimÃ©nez McGee offered an analysis of the new â€œwar of attritionâ€ against immigrants.
Quoting the leaders of this new movement (coming soon to a community college, a social service agency, hospital or an employer near you), JimÃ©nez McGee said that since â€œloading them up on boxcarsâ€ isnâ€™t practical, the idea is to starve them out â€” to deny the undocumented access not just to social services but to the basics of our society, like a sound education and equal protection.
Such efforts, by tradition, require a bit of â€œdehumanizingâ€ of The Other, such as a popular online game that allows you to assume the role of a border patrol vigilante shooting drug dealers and/or â€œbreedersâ€ â€” the icon for such being that of a woman with children in tow.
Meanwhile, the federal governmentâ€™s push to make local police and sheriffâ€™s deputies enforcers of immigration laws pushes people farther into the shadows, making them reluctant to report crimes and allowing criminals in their communities to flourish unchecked by the safeguards enjoyed by the rest of us.
The system is broken, JimÃ©nez McGee said plainly, but it wonâ€™t self correct.
The way the laws are crafted now, someone whoâ€™s been here and wants to â€œget legalâ€ would have to return to their country and get in a line roughly 12 to 15 years long.
And now that the federal government has decided to simply walk away from immigration reform, state legislatures that had been on hold while waiting for the feds will cut loose. It is, after all an election year.
Like the civil rights movement of the last century, which by necessity is still, well, necessary, resolving the moral and legal issues around immigration wonâ€™t wait for politicians, business leaders and polite society to work things out. Like the civil rights struggle, law and economics and the basic guarantees of human rights are in profound disagreement. Just as it was under Jim Crow, an underclass has been created, one full of individuals who are only permitted limited participation in society and are disenfranchised politically just as hardily as they are exploited economically.
This era, probably this election cycle, marks a turning point for our political parties and institutions.
For the Republicans, this is the partyâ€™s Voortrekker moment, its wagons circling as it embraces an apartheid that would institutionalize the underclass for the sake of their friends in the corporate class.
Like apartheid, it comes at a heavy price for both the dignity of the oppressed and the soul of the oppressor.
For the Democratic party, this is a pivotal moment. Buying into the rhetoric, even a bit, means turning its back on its social justice past and returning deeper into its history â€” to its darkest days. This is not, as one party official recently opined, â€œa second-term issue for a Democratic president.â€ Thereâ€™s a war on. And its time is now.