Sunday, August 24, 2008

An Open Letter to Partur

Partur sent this comment yesterday to a post I wrote some time ago, called "Belatedly, AZ Republic Blasts Immigrant Suffering":

"Wow. I hardly know where to begin.

"First, I want to make it clear that I don't wish death upon any of the people crossing the desert in search of a better life. I admire that kind of determination- we all want that for our families, and death should never be a result of our efforts to do so.

"However, breaking the law should never be a part of that mission, either.

"With that in mind, I pray tell, what is the answer here? Whose responsibility is it to prevent this sort of thing from happening? Is lack of compassion really the issue, or is it the fact that the people who died crossing into Arizona made that choice and took that risk on their own? Why is it up to American citizens to open wide our borders and our pocketbooks for those who made the foolish choice to evade our laws in the first place? No one who upholds the sovereignty of our borders thinks these people deserve to die- believe it or not, we are capable of compassion- but we do see it as a natural consequence of MAKING THE PERSONAL CHOICE TO ILLEGALLY CROSS THE ARIZONA BORDER VIA THE SONORAN DESERT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER. It's like anything else in life- when poor choices are made, the consequences can be very, very painful.

"On another note, as much as I disagreed with your 6/17 post "Should This Man be Our President," it was good reading. Interpretation is tricky business. I try very hard to understand the liberal viewpoint and criticisms of the conservative movement, and it definitely helped me see how those opinions are formed. We may not see eye-to-eye on most things, but I appreciate your blog nonetheless!"
I'm answering Partur here because this dialog is too detailed to bury in comments to a months-old post.

Dear Partur,

First, thank you for writing and for your kind comments. Second, please excuse my typo in my brief "redirecting" comment at my original post. I know your alias is Partur, not Parfur!

(1) Tragically, there's a huge "data divide" separating conservatives and progressives on this and many other issues. Conservative commentators such as Lou Dobbs, conservative legislators such as AZ's Russell Pearce and CO's Tom Tancredo, and conservative websites such as Free Republic rely for immigration information primarily on ten organizations. All of them were founded by one man, John Tanton.

You can test this for yourself by noting the names of the organizations that Dobbs and the others cite or invite. Then you can research John Tanton and decide for yourself what to make of his enterprise. For instance, see what the highly regarded Southern Poverty Law Center has to say, for starters. Check its sources.

Check the righthand column on my blog, under "Heads Up." You'll find a number of immigration-related links. These are the data sources progressives rely on.
The chief differences are that the latter are not generated by organizations founded by one person, are regarded as nonpartisan and academically reliable, and report findings that are widely replicated by researchers in a large variety of institutions, including the President's own Council of Economic Advisors--hardly a bastion of liberal thought.

I encourage you to take the time to compare the findings of the two groups. It's not that Americans are "interpreting" the same data differently. It's that we're operating on two entirely different sets of data. (I don't know your background. If you've got a degree in any research-based field, you will know the basic rules for evaluating whether a given study by anybody is credible or not. If you don't know these guidelines, email me privately and I'll dig them up for you.)

(2)To say that immigrants "choose" to come here is like saying the people at the World Trade Center "chose" to go to work that day. It's technically correct, but only in the most restricted, grossly misleading, and self-serving sense. Please bear with me. I don't want to insult you, but you asked my take and I'm laying it out. I invite you to do your own wide and deep research to test whether I'm telling the truth or not.

On the one hand, Mexican and Central American low-wage workers are being forced out of their own countries by impossibly harsh economic conditions. On the other, US agribusiness, construction, meat packing, landscaping, roofing, hotel, restaurant, and other industries are still actively advertising jobs in the US, luring them here to provide a cheap and docile workforce. And so they come. These are facts, not opinions. We can dispute opinions, but you'll agree that it's insane to dispute facts.

Economic realities are what's driving Latino/a low-wage workers out of their own countries. If you haven't already, please consider reading informed critiques of NAFTA and other global "free" trade policies. I'd strongly recommend Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine for a general overview. It's well researched, carefully documented so that readers can evaluate her sources for themselves, and very readable. It's not "opinion." It's fact. (For instance, there's no rational question that the Chicago School of Economics exists, or that it masterminded Pinochet's 9-11 coup in Chile or that Milton Friedman is conservatives' all-time favorite economist, or that Friedman espoused what Klein says he espoused, or that what happened in Chile and the other laboratory countries she deals with actually happened.)

After The Shock Doctrine, it would be worthwhile to read critical exposes of Monsanto's genetically engineered seed enterprise and its effects on indigenous farmers in Latin America, the US, and Canada, just for starters. Also look into water privatization initiatives in 3rd World countries globally-- e.g., Bolivia. (There's a new book about about Monsanto that conveniently packs a lot of information in one source.) All this can be dismissed, of course, but pretending it isn't actually happening won't mean it isn't actually happening.

The point is that fair-minded people who live in a reality-based world dig into the causes behind illegal immigration, and consider who benefits from the status quo.

(3) For decades, US administrations of both parties have collaborated with US industries in several sectors to ensure a steady supply of cheap, docile labor. You know that's a fact. Why this goes on and who benefits is pretty obvious. I recommend a book called Nobodies, just for one tiny case study.

Yet at the same time, US immigration policy sharply restricts the number of slots open to low-wage workers from Mexico and Central America. Immigration policy is available online. See for yourself. Despite steady appeals from US business to increase the quotas, it doesn't happen. Therefore, the fact is that vast majority Latino/a peasants driven from their own countries and lured north by promises of green cards and good jobs can't come in legally. However, having gotten as far north as the border, they've then got two practical alternatives: go back to starvation, which they can't do and can't afford to do, or cross illegally. I know that if you were in their shoes, you'd do exactly what they're doing, which is why conservatives' moral indignation about this is so galling.

(4) Who's responsibility? Not the peasants', IMHO. They're caught between the corruption in their own countries and the corruption in ours and in multinational businesses. They can't control US immigration policy or stop global "free" trade. But to say that they "choose" implies that they have some alternative, when the reality appears to be that they don't.

To me, it doesn't take a vast empathic capacity to understand that nobody sane "chooses" to walk across the Sonoran Desert any time of year, let alone in the summer. This is obviously driven by sheer desperation. If you doubt it, talk with the Humane Borders people, and talk with some immigrants themselves. You'll then be in a better position to judge them. And you do have the option to talk with these experienced sources. You don't have to take my word for it.

(5) If conservatives and Rightwingers were as vocal, organized, outraged, and militant about, oh, say, drunk driving, the $billions fraudulently disappeared in Iraq, Medicare fraud, tax evasion, contruction companies that repeatedly ignore safe crane regulations, Wall Street thieves, crappy levee construction, Pentagon purchasing scams, wife beating, unsafe FDA practices, ignored mine regulations, and so on, I'd be a lot more persuaded by their concern over the lawbreaking aspect. I'm sorry, but I don't buy the crocodile tears of outrage, and even if I did, nothing justifies Postville, IA and what's going on here in AZ. Nothing. We're supposed to be civilized, democratic people who believe in much higher values.

(6) This belated fixation on illegal immigration: It's been going on for decades, even longer. Our cities and towns and we ourselves have benefitted from it and still do, or you can be sure that it would have been ended. So why the sudden frenzy?

My conservative paratrooper WWII fighter father taught me to follow the money, never trust government, not to believe everythng I'm told, and do my own homework. My progressive mother agreed. So I ask myself whether there's any possible correlation between the explosion of for-profit privatized prisons that are reimbursed on a per capita basis and the sudden frenzy of immigrant roundups. It doesn't seem far-fetched to me. I ask myself whether there's any possibility that focusing America's attention on a pretty-much made-up crisis might have anything to do with diverting its attention from the systematic destruction of the US middle class. It doesn't seem far-fetched to me, and it sure isn't unprecedented. So, more suggested reading: Top Heavy, The Great Risk Shift, The Global Class War. We report, you decide.

(7)Last but not least, and with all due respect, the piety of US conservatives is profoundly disturbing to me. Not that you expressed piety yourself. To your credit, you didn't. But you will grant the heavy emphasis conservatives give to their reverence for Christianity, I'm sure. For that reason, even though you won't like it, I'm calling your side of the aisle on your own widely trumpeted "Christian" values.

See, to me, immigration directly calls up "do unto others," the Good Samaritan parable, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus' repeated cautions to the pharisees about narrow fixation on legal technicalities, "if you do it to the least of these," and many other explicit Christian values I learned in church and at home from parents who were each the child of a minister.

The thing is, I was taught that these are meant to apply to real life. But from conservatives' and Rightwingers' behavior and writings about immigration, I gather that Leviticus and Deuteronomy have been far more influential in your lives than Jesus.

It's not that I think my side of the aisle is perfect. Not hardly. It's just that I NEVER see conservatives founding or staffing or supporting groups like Humane Borders. Instead, I see them slashing the tires of Humane Borders' water trucks (I can provide documentation) and threatening to kill "illegals." You know I'm not making that up.

I'm saying, among other things, that this is a hugely complex issue that takes a lot of time to research. It's not a question of rhetoric and pumped-up outrage. There aren't easy answers and the bad guys are everywhere, including us.

If it were up to me, I'd rengotiate NAFTA and all the rest of these disastrous trade pacts. Then I'd employ our vast economic, trade, and diplomatic power to force source countries' corrupt elites to create stable, fair working conditions for their people. Then I would ensure that US businesses adopt living wages and decent working conditions for ALL workers, both to attract native born labor to jobs they (sanely) won't take now AND to keep greedy corporations from playing off cheap foreign labor against US workers. I would go after what I consider to be predatory capitalism a la Monsanto and Coca Cola. Then I would enact fair, enforceable, and comprehensive guest worker programs, not the Braceros kind or the kind being proposed by Napolitano and other US governors now. (This is too complex to go into here. Do your own homework.)

Your mileage may vary, Partur, but one thing's for sure: You'd do exactly the same thing in the shoes of these immigrants and you know it. I wonder what that simple moral truth suggests to you about your own next steps.

Thanks for writing,


Morning Angel said...

Our U.S. policies force them out of Mexico (don't forget the violence of the U.S. sponsored drug war--not just the trade fiasco), then we "lure" these people over the border with jobs, then in some insane, perverted twist of logic, we arrest them and send them back, costing us millions of dollars, as well as, our moral integrity. O, AND let's spend more money on a fence! A fence? A fence! Maybe we can hire illegal immigrants dirt cheap to build it. If the Sonoran Desert isn't an adequate, physical barrier, a fence won't be!