We have seen much hyperventilation of late about uncontrollable waves of less than fully white, non-English speaking immigrants inundating our southern borders, and hijacking not only our jobs, but our very culture.
The Republican Party finds itself seriously split on the issue. The religious conservatives say that it’s just wrong to allow these illegal immigrants to violate our laws with impunity. We must, they say, round them all up and send them home, and then build a huge wall along the border, manned by a massive force, to keep them out.
The business conservatives, on the other hand, realize that these people are doing real work that Americans won’t take at the miserable wages currently offered. We must, they say, have a formalized “guest worker” program that lets them legalize their status and gives them a path to citizenship.
The affluent across much of the country, especially in the border states and major metropolitan areas, may publicly deplore illegal immigration, but it’s their nannies, maids, and gardeners who are at risk. They would really rather continue the present, implicit, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.
The Democrats, naturally, have no position on this since they wouldn’t want to offend anyone.
Hispanics who are already citizens seem to be split between two diametrically opposed positions. Some say, “Keep the door open so they can come in and be successful, as we were!” Others adopt the more classic immigrant posture: “Now that we’re in, shut the door and keep the competitors out!”
Some of our most distinguished public intellectuals, such as Samuel Huntington, worry that Hispanic immigrants, unlike every other immigrant group, will be indigestible, and thus pose a grave threat to our civilization as we know it.
We know that almost all the immigrants crossing our southern borders have left their families behind and come north because they can’t make a living at home. What an affront to family values! All these peasants from bucolic villages who can’t sell their corn anymore because of competition from America’s subsidized exports are ripped from the bosoms of their families and drawn inexorably north to work American farms and flip American burgers.
Well, it’s time for some fresh thinking. Let’s take the money from subsidizing agribusiness, add the billions of dollars it will cost to build the Wall and man the ramparts, and JUST PAY THEM TO STAY HOME! Think of the millions of fathers and mothers who will get to see their kids grow up, the millions of sons and daughters who will raise their families at home rather than being lost forever.
“Well,” you say, “but how would that work?” It would be far simpler that building a wall that would actually keep them out. Anyone contemplating emigration to the US could fill out a simple application and confirm their identification with the national ID cards that are standard practice in Latin America, and the US Government would send them a monthly check. It needn’t be much: most of them are accustomed to living on a dollar or two a day.
“Well, but what if they take the money and come anyway?” Throw them in jail! We’re doing that with a larger part of our population than any other developed country anyway. Most people would rather stay home if they can, so the numbers of violators would be far smaller than what we’re currently dealing with.
“But this is like welfare! We’d be paying them to do nothing!” Not really, we’d be paying them to keep working 18 hours a day, seven days a week, the way peasants always do.
But if you insist that being a peasant isn’t a real job, then there’s always Plan B (suggested by my son): cut the cost of staffing the Wall by employing illegal immigrants.
John Peeler is a retired professor of political science at Bucknell University, specializing in Latin American and international affairs. His op-ed essays have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, as well as many in local papers here in central Pennsylvania where he lives. He has had letters published in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.
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