Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What Would a Smart Country Do?

A new immigration study by the Center-Right Manhattan Institute has findings with mixed implications for low-skill, undocumented Mexican immigrants. While finding that today's immigrants assimilate faster than those of earlier times, it also reported this:

The overall assimilation index also masks big differences between immigrants from certain countries. Mexicans, for example have an index of 13, while Vietnamese were at 41. And although immigrants who arrived as children tend to be nearly identical to their U.S.-born counterparts, apart from their lower rates of citizenship, those who come from Mexico are less assimilated and have higher incidences of teenage pregnancy and incarceration.

A major reason for these disparities in assimilation levels may be the high percentage of Mexican immigrants who are in the country illegally, Vigdor said. When only cultural factors are considered, Mexicans score almost as high as Vietnamese and higher than immigrants from countries such as India and China, which tend to have a high rate of immigration to the United States.

"If you're in the country illegally, a lot of the avenues of assimilation are cut off to you," he said. "There are lot of jobs you can't get, and you can't become a citizen."
Almost certainly the Right in Arizona and nationally will interpret this as reason to pursue round-ups and deportations, while the Left will interpret it as reason to allow residents to pursue legal standing. I vote for the latter.

The reasons? One, as I noted earlier, the New York Times reports today that the nation is already experiencing markedly negative economic repercussions from the Republicans' slash-and-burn approach to Latinos crossing the border illegally. That's true in spades for Arizona.

Two, the obvious implication is that the USA needs low-skilled Mexicans, and not just to perform construction, agriculture, entertainment-industry, and other jobs that native-born workers will not do--or do not do successfully.* We also need their tax, Social Security, and consumer contributions, and because they are a younger cohort than the American average, we need them to help fund our imperiled retirements. Our own self-interest says to change course.

Three, the massive detention industry that is growing fat from profiteering on Hispanic immigrants (not necessarily only undocumented ones) poses a direct threat to our constitutional way of life. But there's something already hideously embarassing and disgusting about our country's having the highest incarceration rate in the world. In fact, it beggars pretty much every cliche we bleat about our way of life.

To add the fact that it's a rapidly-growing for-profit industry that is coming under fire for predictable profit-driven and other abuses to its inmate population is revolting. More important, it is profoundly alarming for those of us who actually believe in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Why? Politicization of our churches leaves us wondering what part of the sermon is partisan agenda and what part is, well, faith-based. Similarly, privatization of prisons for profit leaves us wondering who's in charge. The very structure undermines the notion that incarceration is a function of our Justice system. It leaves us wondering exactly what percent of the inmate population, and exactly what percent of "discipline" options such as time added, have to do instead with somebody's bottom line.

We already know that humans debased by profit uber alles are not pretty creatures. Do we need more really grotesque demonstrations of just how bad that can get? Because if we do, private, for-profit prison ventures underwritten by pillaged tax dollars and unaccountable even to immigration lawyers and members of Congress, much less public watchdogs like ACLU, are just the ticket.

I don't really think we need to transform ICE and our law enforcement, judicial, and prison systems into a whole new pipeline for a whole new form of human trafficking. Plus this: Combined with our penchant for imprisoning everything that moves and the powerful Far Right's capacity to define a difference of opinion as treason (therefore imprisonable if not whackable), the prison privatization thing may well be our own demise. It's a nasty and slippery slope.

Four, corruption corrupts. We're seeing this played out now in the Iraq war, in secret US torture pits, in private detention facilities, in the person and office of the Maricopa County sheriff, in the operation of the US mortgage/credit and energy industries, and even in our elections. Reversals in economic and labor regulatory policy and abandonment of fundamental constitutional principles to forward ideological and profiteering goals just aren't working for anybody. Well, except a handful of well-connected owners and investors like BushMcCainCheneyGoodhair. The rest of us are either co-opted, or reeling with disgust and fury, or paralyzed by a parade of abuses we once thought could never happen here.

The point is that immigration is giving us a whole new way to interpret "doing unto others." We have a decision to make, now. We can either continue as we are, proving ad nauseum that being poisoned by fear and driven crazy with vengefulness and greed isn't working, or we can use common sense.

We can aim for a high-wage worker-respecting econony worldwide instead of the global opposite, and we can treat our immigrant populations for what they are: like us, they're the hearts and minds of the country's future, politically, psychically, and economically. Abuse them and lose them.

What would a smart country do?

*From the employer's viewpoint, according to recent testimony before a House Commerce Committee hearing on immigration and the native workforce.


Liana said...

I think we need to be very careful to distinguish between "low wage" and "low" vs "high" skill workers and not attach low skill labels to persons of a particular country of origin: it perpetuates the myth that Mexicans (per the blog) have a lower capacity to do highly skilled work, when in fact, jobs such as home construction often require skilled labor and are paid pitifully low wages. Also, many of the workers who end up coming here to fill these low wage jobs bring professional skill sets with them, such as doctors, lawyers, teachers, but they obviously would not under the current system be able to work in those fields here. Don't feel like you need to post this comment, just wanted to make it.

PICO said...

Great point, and I'll be more careful. Thanks.