Monday, January 30, 2017

Can We Talk About Immigration?

Editor's Note: This story is moving fast... the administration has backed down on the issue of Green Card holders- even backing off on the whole 'case by case' language that was so noxious over the weekend. It's also gratifying to stumble across articles like this. I'm going to leave the original post as it is though, the overall sentiments still seem real enough to me.

On the one hand, it shouldn't be surprising. Nativism, xenophobia, racism- whatever the hell you want to call it- the whole general mish-mash of anti-immigration and anti-immigrant sentiment is, sadly, a tradition as American as apple pie. A century ago, the Irish and the Italians and the Germans were spoke of in such terms. Now, in this century, it's the turn of the Muslims and the Mexicans. "We won't apologize for keeping America safe." Safe from what, though? Safe from whom? We still do business with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. We still send them money. Don't you dare talk to me about the threat of Islamic terrorism while still asking me to support aid and succor to two of the biggest exporters of chaos and jihadism. While this immigration mess was just beginning our government approved a half billion dollar sale to Saudi Arabia.

But green card holders are okay now. They weren't last night...  last night the ban- and yes, it is a ban. Not a pause, not a stay, not whatever semantical bullshit is the current flavor of the hour- included green card holders. Who have a legal right to be here to begin with. But now, 'they're going to be subject to additional levels of scrutiny.' Or let in on 'case by case basis.' What a fucking disgrace that is...  green card holders are legal, lawful residents of the United States and should be treated as such. Any scrutiny should have been done before they got their green card, not after.

Once, when I was a teenager, the Parentals sent us back from the UK early. Mom was staying later to visit family, so we kids were stuck on a plane and sent back. I didn't have my citizenship then, so while my siblings got to cruise through the 'easy, fast, 'Merican' line, I had to patiently wait my turn in the 'Non-'Merican' line. I handed my passport to a lady who looked like she had both her sense of humor and soul surgically removed when she had begun her job and she of course asked me the usual question: "What is the purpose of your visit to the United States?"

"Well, I live here!" I said with bright, teenaged enthusiasm.

"And how do you do that?"

"I, um, have a green card and stuff."

And that's when she flipped through my passport took a glance at my green card and said, "Well, this isn't valid."

Turns out that the INS never bothered to tell my parents that my picture needed to be updated when I turned 14. Obviously, she let me back into the country and I got my citizenship, but there was a moment of pants-shitting terror there that I was about to fall into the clutches of the byzantine labyrinth that is the utterly broken immigration system of the United States of America. I'm a straight, white, male- and while I was alone and probably fit the profile of a terrorist, that single instant was pretty fucking scary- and I'm a straight, while male. Now, imagine if you're poor, brown and trying to get to a place of what you think is relative safety. Imagine if you've already been in this country. You pay your taxes. You've jumped through a million fucking hoops and dotted every 'I' and crossed every 'T' and you have the green card and now someone's looking at it and saying, 'Well, you're from Syria. We can't let you in.'

Fuck that.

Ideology makes for terrible policy. No one pauses to consider the long-term ramifications of their actions any more. The Post 9-11 power grab the Executive Branch made probably made sense in the moment, but it begat governance by the pen under President Obama and President Trump. Congress has abdicated any attempt at being a check against an Executive run amuck. Until that problem is solved, we can expect things to continue as they are.

So no, I don't care that this list of countries was drawn up by President Obama. It's President Trump who's implementing this order- albeit in a totally awful way.

It's not like we haven't realized that the immigration system is broken. There's some truth to be found on all sides of the debate. Yes, tighter immigration controls leads to a tighter labor market which drives up wages for American workers. Yes, in a global economy, we need to be able to compete for the best and brightest from around the world to make our economy better. We should make legal immigration, fast, easy and cheap. In the age of UBER, passport control and screening shouldn't be as cumbersome as it is now. Walls are idiotic. Bans are even stupider.

As an immigrant, I have to stand up and say 'No.' This isn't the America I was raised in. This isn't the America I want my children to grow up in. We'll have to see how the bills shake out next month, but if there's money left over, I'm going to send some to the ACLU. If there's anything that nine days of a Trump Presidency have convinced me of, it's that protecting the civil liberties is going to be very important indeed.

There's that scene in Lethal Weapon 4 that springs to mind, when Murtaugh is looking at the boatload of Chinese refugees and the immigration guy is bitching about them all and he says, 'What happened to give me your tired, your poor, your huddle masses yearning to be free?" And the immigration guy says, 'Now it reads 'No Vacancies.'

You never wanted to believe that, but now it's true. Now the sign really does read 'No Vacancies.'

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