Tuesday, May 02, 2006

“A Day Without Immigrants” Was Like …

… a day on which we encountered much less traffic on our late-afternoon drive home. Or so it seemed.

Despite the exertions of the sentimentalists and hype artists in the local media (especially the television stations) to elevate Monday’s boycott into a colossally influential and meaning-packed event, the entire to-do was much less than advertised---a negligible impact, you might say, unless you owned a restaurant or were among the footloose souls who had the time and inclination to dine in one on a Monday.

Proving again, for those who haven’t had the epiphany, that life isn’t like the movies.

Why was that? For starters, the protest attracted only a small percentage of the area’s illegal workers. Many had to work, or preferred to work, or were afraid not to work. Others---and this is pure speculation on our part---may have been put off by the anti-Americanism that oddly percolates around the edges of the “immigrants’ rights” movement.

We suspect that most decent citizens, in their hearts, have a good deal of respect and sympathy for the workers. These are people you run across every day, at least in Houston, and in our experience they’re just like everybody else---most are good (even the masses who for some reason don’t grasp the concept of littering), some are bad and best avoided. But these various protests and walkouts and boycotts, staged mostly for the benefit of the excitable and soon-to-lose-interest media, have wholly missed their intended targets, if they ever actually had any.

It wasn’t just the Mexican flags, now nowhere to be seen, or the goofy Spanish-language rewrite of the Star-Spangled Banner (a more tortured composition than the English-language original, apparently), or the other emanations of separatism and confused allegiances. What’s been most off-putting is the chest-beating and foot-stamping of the so many would-be Subcomandante Marcoses who’ve pilot-fished on to the, uh, movement---the academicians, tacticians, journalists and other professional chin-strokers, comfortable citizens all, we suspect, who are taking advantage of their First Amendment right to wave their rhetorical Che banners. (Take this speaker, conveniently left unidentified in a Houston Chronicle story on a Saturday forum on immigration at TSU, who characterized the United States as a “hellhole.”)

That is, of course, their absolute right, just as it’s our right to point out that it’s all a bit creepy.

But the entire issue has become so blurry that it’s hard to tell what the issue is anymore. Is it “immigrants’ rights?” Or a simple desire for amnesty? A general demand for recognition, self-validation? In the meantime, the debate appears to have moved hardly at all.

Practically speaking, it’s hard to envision any change that does not include some form of amnesty---at the risk, as critics have warned, that it will only encourage further illegal immigration, as the 1986 amnesty did. And it will be a thumb in the eye to immigrants who have entered or are trying to enter legally (we recommend this near-poignant commentary from a green card-holder that we heard this morning on NPR).

The one sure way to deter future illegal immigration would be to impose crippling fines on businesses that hire workers sin papel. It is argued that such would be unfair to employers, effectively shifting the burden of enforcement to them. On that premise you could also argue that businesses shouldn’t be required to withhold Social Security or income taxes.

But it’s time to move on. We understand the national “Day Without Gasoline” is up ahead, and that’s really gonna be a bitch, gringo.

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