December 2, 2005


Enforcing the border to hide the war

by Patrick Dobson

George Bush is lying again.

In Denver, at the end of a two-day scoot over to the southwest borderlands, George Bush stood up and said it was time “to enforce the border.”

It’s a dirty lie. He has no intention of “enforcing the border,” a statement that acknowledges the artificial and arbitrary nature of the U.S./Mexican border. It’s open when we need it. It’s closed when we don’t.

The origin of his newfound love for anti-immigration was this: He’s got us in wars that have turned into grinding, low-level misery. He’s used government to increase business opportunity and saddled the middle and working classes with the costs — stagnant wages, increased tax burdens and deep cuts in benefits. He’s made the poor less of a burden to wealth and power by abrogating any social responsibility the upper class has to the source of their wealth. He’s promoted religion as means of social control and lackey of capital. (After all, a submissive worker who accepts his or her place in the hierarchy trusts that suffering here accumulates savings in the afterlife bank account is the best worker.)

But the Bush Administration is getting found out, so it’s time to beat up on the immigrants.

It’s pretty easy to do, too. Illegals inhabit a place all too familiar to a society living by the exploitation of others. Immigrants seem to work without complaint because they fear for their jobs. They show up to work on time and will work just about any length of day under the threat of having their jobs go to other workers just as exploited as them. They accept substandard living standards and are fiercely competitive because they often feel as if their lives depend on that work. They do increasingly more work for stagnant or decreasing wages. They get no health care, childcare, pension or 401k.

In other words, immigrant workers are just like working Americans, and it’s not something people want to see.

So, just when the Bush administration needs to deflect attention from its wars — Iraq, Afghanistan and that most amorphous and unjust of all wars, the War on Terror — it starts beating up on the immigrants.

(It’s still cracks me up to hear someone speak seriously of the War on Terror, since the War on Terror has become bald justification for coercive control of American civilians. The American state has become comprised of government and capital working together to extend the power and reach of both. The War on Terror helps that in all sorts of ways. It’s even funnier that Americans have bought the War on Terror without questioning its validity. Americans have, after all, avenged the 3,000-plus deaths on 9/11 by killing of over 120,000 Afghan and Iraqi civilians. Oddly, all these dead people and over 2,000 American dead have not made one dent in terrorism.)

Not that immigrants don’t need to be beat up on from time to time. It’s easy to forget illegals are not a set of same-faced drones. Each one has come to the United States for their own reasons. Not one reason, but a complex matrix of promise, despair, hope, money and family. Most times they, as a sociological group, behave. Sometimes individuals among them pee on the yard. Some disrupt quiet business with all that gathering-on-street-corners stuff. A few are even criminals, and these are probably the ones we need to beat up a little in a kind, gentle, arrest-arraignment-trial-by-jury sort of way (not in a George Bush-CIA-FBI, dark-basement sort of way).

But wound up in anti-immigrant rhetoric, we forget that not long ago corporations moved their manufacturing facilities into small towns and rural areas to take advantage of low wages rural people would work for. The reason American factories have disappeared from the small town landscape is not because the factories became obsolete but because American workers wanted to earn wages that reflected their contribution to the bottom line.

The white-collar worker is next in the sights of American business. The same process that decimated the blue-collar worker in the manufacturing economy is now underway with information, customer service and computer tech employees in the service economy. If there’s anything American business doesn’t like is smart workers who want to get paid.

So, to keep Americans from thinking too much about their declining fortunes in war, money and health care, there’s Mexicans. Blaming them takes a minute off our woes and distracts us from the fact that we are dealing with real people as varied as any of us (citizens).

I used to live three houses from Sacred Heart Parish. My neighbors and I took part in a frequent ritual. In the night, men and women would come to the doors of our houses. They had just jumped from the Kansas City Southern trains coming up from the border. Many of them had just dodged the ugliness of railroad cops. The bloody ones had not.

Most of the men and women who came in the night couldn’t speak English. Some didn’t even speak Spanish very well but one of Mexico’s indigenous languages. Some were from as far south as Guatemala and El Salvador. We gave what food we had and milk jugs full of water. We’d give them a minute to take a breath. We even put blankets and pillows out in the backyards.

Some of these men and women were grateful. Some stole from us. But the kind of order we were after was one in which we did what was right. What other people did was their business. There was no contract, no reciprocation. No one was hurt or threatened with bodily harm, and the things stolen didn’t amount to anything more than what a scared person believes they need — blankets, pillows, kitchen utensils. It was just right to relieve human beings suffering.

Americans can’t stand that sort of thing. There must be a predictable give-and-take or things fall into chaos. But the disorder immigrants bring may just be a different order. That’s hard to see when you have equated immigrants with terrorists. When the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps look like a group of hearty defenders of national security. When white, allegedly liberal former suburbanites move back to the city their mothers and fathers had abandoned, and find men on corners, drinking and talking.

And yet, when I see some of those men at the day-labor shelter in our neighborhood, I notice a moment of recognition. Only sometimes they wave or smile. Most times, it’s just recognition that they once were desperate. To expect more is to rob them of their dignity.

What’s sad about Bush distracting us with immigrants from his wars is that he’s chosen a target he can’t do anything about. He can’t really talk in terms of individuals because then the stereotype of the dirty illegal doesn’t work. He can’t really stop illegal immigration because too much of America’s comfort and wealth depends on it. He can’t stop immigrants because business needs cheap labor and thrives from exploiting working Americans.

Bush and his cronies are doing to Mexican immigrants what they did with Islamic and Arab Americans just yesterday (and in 1991 and 1979) — not really defining any real, underlying problem or trying to solve it. They want a scapegoat and the politically weak make perfect scapegoats.

What the Bush Administration is really doing by scapegoating immigrants is increasing the amount of misery Americans inflict on one another. Bush joins with the fringes to create the enemy and re-create Americans as victims. They exploit a fundamental American fear of alien culture to convince Americans that Hispanic culture will overrun, overthrow and mongrelize American purity and culture.

Americans have to fall into line. They cannot dissent. They cannot unionize. They cannot stop the trends of increasing health care costs, fewer benefits and stagnant wages. They cannot stop the corporations from taking more and returning less.

Bush and his pals create the enemy and its American victims so they can look like heroes. In doing so, Bush, his pals, the Minutemen and conservative mouths on TV and radio are using the Mexicans to use Americans. With the dirty immigrant as a threat, Americans are more likely to remain good, patriotic, loyal Americans from whom their corporate masters can extract even more wealth.

What makes things worse is that this is a problem as old as the United States. We should know by now that each immigrant brings something very human, very American to the table: An independent personality. A set of dreams, hurts, joys and loves. A way to change America for the better. Making illegal immigration a political problem hides the fact that no one immigrant is any more virtuous or criminal, moral or immoral, loving or hateful than any American.

That immigrants are humans is easy to forget when the president parades around making political hay from hard-working people and making sure no one pays attention to economic and diplomatic decisions that are wrong-headed, misguided and utterly mistaken.

Americans should remember that it’s easy to be manipulated when the immigrant becomes the enemy, when he or she loses a face and gains a stereotype.

Patrick Dobson can be contacted at


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