A Republican Interpretation of the Brown Within

Mike Delph is a member of the state Senate of Indiana. I don’t know to much about him, other than he has served in the position since 2005, he is from Indianapolis, he is a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, he has a penchant for showing up, and he is a Republican. I will give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he is a genuine public servant.

Recently, this state politician has emerged front and center as part of Indiana’s recent investigation into the statewide “immigration problem.” His proposed legislation would seek to further punish employers of “illegal immigrants” in the hopes of saving state funds.

The general trend of state and local enforcement of the “illegal immigration problem” is problematic in itself. The notion that immigration of any kind costs more than it benefits states is largely disputed by those who research such topics in a thorough way, and hardly proved by those who do not. All immigrants pay taxes (sales and other) and undocumented pay ones they can never and never do take back out in social benefit (social security). These kinds of economic realities, in addition to the difficulty in measuring certain needed factors to make accurate calculations (how many illegal immigrants are there?), make definitive conclusions difficult. Regardless, even immigration restrictionists like George Borjas acknowledge the economics of the whole situation are too difficult to tease out and that, probably, they are a wash.

Even more problematic, the current trend (like the ones in the 1930s and 1950s in the Southwest) express an undercurrent of tension coming from an unstable economic life coupled with an unstable cultural one–the visible growth of Latinos in places they had previously been invisible. Indiana and a host of other places are becoming “brown” not only as a result of “illegal immigration.” Legal Latinos are moving to places in the U.S. other than California, and that is shocking and confusing to a lot of people living in these places. That it comes at a time when people are further feeling the declination in manufacturing (begun in the 1950s), the declination in stable union jobs (begun in the 1960s), the declination in regulation (begun in the 1970s), and the growth of the “global economy” (begun in the 1400s) makes it difficult to trust.

The most problematic aspect of these efforts is the way people pursue them from a position of assumption more than fact. In the face of complexity Americans turn to assumption a lot, because we are a “common sense” kind of people. Confusion and complexity are uncomfortable to us, and to our politicians. A lot of our “common sense” assumptions are knee-jerk; people have been so indoctrinated to think of things in one way they don’t even realize it when they are doing it.

Here’s where Mike Delph comes into the story. He wrote a recent op-ed piece for the Indianapolis Star in which he justified the need for his propose legislation. It reflects both the complexity of the current situation as well as the knee-jerk deployment of assumption. Here it is with some analysis on my part:

Illegal immigration exposes security gaps

By Mike Delph (Posted September 18, 2008)

According to Rakesh Kochlar with the Pew Hispanic Center, 80 percent of immigrants entering the United States from Mexico are illegal. That highlights the frustration of many Hoosiers regarding the federal government’s constitutional performance as Washington continues to claim tougher border enforcement. The much-anticipated summer study committee on illegal immigration began its work this month.

Law professors told us how immigration policy is strictly in the domain of the feds. Demographic experts told us that Indiana is becoming an “emerging Hispanic state” and that the vast majority of illegal immigrants living in Indiana enter through Mexico. A longtime Hoosier patriot of Mexican descent defended the value of “undocumented workers” to the diversity and economic vitality of Indiana.

What’s lost in the discussion is the rule of law and the immediate national security threat to our state and nation from not knowing who is in our country and for what purpose.

It’s a good beginning. He’s drawn the reader in by quoting a expert that is part of a reputable organization who’s research studies often provide conclusive evidence that is Latino-favorable. He summarizes some of the testimony, but then, without confronting any of it, moves on to his own point.

Then, it turns sour. He invokes two constructs–two loaded, fluid, and largely unspecific ideas that have a lot of power in knee-jerk assumption land: rule of law AND national security threat. Now hold on…

In 1986, President Reagan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act giving amnesty to all illegal aliens who had remained underground for four years or more. It was billed as the “most comprehensive reform” to meeting the problem of illegal immigration.

The country was told that it would be the last amnesty program ever needed as it placed the burden on employers to validate the status of current and future employees. It attempted to hold employers accountable for knowingly and willingly hiring illegal workers. However, the only real enforcement of the law was the blanket pardon given to those living underground.

I’d argue that the law also created a system that could not possibly regulate employer behavior but that certainly could (and did) provide them with plausible deniability. It also did nothing to address the formal legal and economic mechanisms which allowed key “illegal-employing” industries to continue their unfettered access to a near limitless supply of dislocated foreign labor. But all that is part of the complexity.

Today the problem has not been solved and, in a post-9/11 world, Americans are at risk because of the complacency and incompetence of Washington. President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, no friend of the United States, continues to develop ties with Middle Eastern enemies. Al-Qaida continues to exploit the playbook of Hezbollah and Hamas in recruiting men and women in economic despair. And a hemisphere of potential recruits goes unnoticed while human rights are exploited in the unquenchable thirst for cheap labor and higher profits.

Now its gets juicy. He has now associated immigration with terrorism and 9/11. It is simple common sense to him, even without going through the impossible steps of proving it. Border security against hypothetical terrorism and border regulation for immigration might seem like the same thing because they both relate to government presence on “the border,” but that is a stupid as me saying saline and heroine are the same because they both go in my arm through a needle.

According to a recent congressional report, “a nuclear, chemical or biological weapon in the hands of terrorists remains the single greatest threat to our nation.” Hoosiers are a welcoming people and admire hard work and achievement. However, in a post-9/11 world, we have to be very careful and mindful of our surroundings.

I have never known of any immigrant from Mexico who came to the U.S. to blow it up. Have you?

I talked last year of the exploitation of human beings for profit and of the real cost borne every day by Hoosier taxpayers in health care, education and social services. This year I will continue to do so, but I will also try to get my fellow citizens to think about the security of our state and country. Thomas Jefferson once said that “the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” If our state and nation are to continue to prosper, then we have to enforce the law. We have a right to set the rules by which others become citizens. We have a right to know who is in our country and for what purpose. And we have a right to hold those governments and people accountable for violating our laws.

What an ending! He ties it all together about as tightly as a tossed salad here, invoking the broad spectrum of political positions he wants us to consider. He’s for human rights and protecting these poor immigrants, but then he thinks they are an economic drain. He invokes Tom Jefferson, though I think Jefferson’s quote reflects more on growing government attempts to limit human liberty than he wants it to. Finally, he spread a heavy layer of the most powerful and unquestioned assumption: rule of law.

Laws are as human created as any social construct. Slavery and many incomprehensible horrors in U.S. history were legal. Declaring us as a nation dedicated to the rule of law suggests that the legal is somehow more pure, more “out there” and absolute, than it actually is. And anyway, who isn’t a nation of laws?  All nations are in existence only because of the ways they are elucidated in laws.

Most importantly, Delph is espousing the very kind of analysis that is pushing Latinos in droves from the Republican right to the Democratic center. The Republican mantra on immigration–largely constructed to win over votes from their base–is doing little to meaningfully and truthfully address the problems at hand.  And, it might even be shaping a future where the Latino electorate becomes the Democratic bloc the equivalent of the African American electorate.


2 thoughts on “A Republican Interpretation of the Brown Within

  1. For the record the possible terrorism that Senator Delph eluded to was not from Mexico but places like Venesuala and Columbia, places with high levels of hate for our country. He has worked and lived in this region and is well aware of this hate. Get your facts straight.

  2. Actually, by using all these tropes in the same opinion piece about immigration from Mexico (this is the content of both the hearings and the proposed legislation) he purposefully does not assert any “facts” and instead relies on innuendo to associate them all together.

    That is the main point of my argument.

    You are more than welcome to your interpretation, but it’s a bit myopic to think of it as “factual.”

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