All politics aside – or most of it, anyhow – President Obama’s decision to stop the deportation of young undocumented immigrants was long overdue. It was a cruel policy that diminished all Americans. And hopefully this move is the beginning of a long-term trend toward a sane immigration policy. By “sane” I mean one that judiciously bars the door to some, opens it at least part-way to many, and offers a pathway to citizenship that Americans can be proud of and makes us a stronger as well as a better country. Yes, stronger.
People who didn’t come here by choice, but as children; people who earn degrees and hold jobs and obey the law – should be fast-tracked to citizenship. And on even the stingiest definition of what is fitting and decent, people who serve in our armed forces should be handed passports with their discharge papers.
Shame on a country that doesn’t do that.
The sane policy-set referenced above may be some time coming. The opposition to reform reflects a jingoism with deep roots in our culture and history. We’re a nation of immigrants who, having crawled into the lifeboat, too often want to bar or kick out more recent aspirants. It also reflects one of the sadder aspects of contemporary conservatism, namely, a confluence of meanness with stupidity.
The stupidity is based on these basic facts: demonizing and marginalizing groups of people living peacefully within our borders is bad for us as well as for them. It doesn’t remove the toxin; it is the toxin. Like it or not, we are basically one.
Conversely, making it easier for the undocumented to become citizens is good, not bad, for the entire body politic. The inequalities that conservatives work so fervently to preserve, and which a shadow-class of undocumented workers epitomizes, are bad for the entire country for the same reasons.
Give people jobs and security from deportation and we increase production, consumption, tax revenues, education levels, and social capital in general – the degree to which we help each other and our communities and society. At the same time, we spend less money on law enforcement and detention and drug rehab and on and on.
It’s an enduring paradox that the right never acknowledges: laissez-faire capitalism is bad for capitalism. It’s like letting the engine run too fast, so that it starts to fly apart. Punishing the children of illegal immigrants is self-punishing. (It’s also bad for democracy – but I’ll save that argument for another day.)
Conservatives are about to pay a steeper price for their intransigence on immigration. I’m not just talking about the antics of maniac sheriffs, or the millions of lost convention dollars to Arizona because of its Wild-West notions about conducting American foreign on the state level. (We’ve always had me-firsters and shoot-firsters and America-firsters, and always will). Yes, my conservative friends, your simple anti-government solutions work well on the campaign trail. Many Americans prefer a cowboy to a professor. You may even win the upcoming election battle, which looks to be a close one. But as the desert southwest continues to turn blue, you will lose the war.