The Panic Over Hispanics


Anybody who is nobody was at City Hall last week.

It was a display of ethnicity so diverse it seemed like every nationality in the world was there. They converged on lower Manhattan in their thousands to protest the toughening of the US immigration laws. Crowds of onlookers cheered from windows and sidewalks and for the unsuspecting tourist, it was the best show on Broadway.

Along with a million marchers in 50 other cities, New York’s illegals went public. In doing so they risked their jobs and their freedom. There are an estimated 12-15 million undocumented residents in the USA today who are in danger of becoming felons under the new law. Whilst many Americans broadly support the legitimisation of existing aliens, it is in the detail where discomfiting decisions have to be made before the legislation goes to the Senate.

While for years they were tacitly accepted and often facilitated, uncontrolled borders have now become a critical political, economic and, for some, a convenient security concern. Elected officials frantically navigate around options for dealing with illegals ranging from amnesty to deportation coming up with a dazzling array of positions. Immigration is no wedge issue and it is hard to imagine what the final legislation will look like. None of this bodes well for any kind of answer that will benefit the nation let alone the 12-15 million illegals who would be transformed by Bush’s laws into ‘temporary guest workers.’

Placards promising ‘Today we march tomorrow we vote’ warn that even California was once a red (or Republican) State until the Hispanic vote changed the balance.

But the economic and social implications of the current situation are inescapable. Wages of even the poorest paid American workers are being driven down as illegals do the jobs that Americans won’t do. Or more realistically, illegals do the jobs that other Americans won’t pay a decent wage for.

And while the modest social welfare benefits are being exhausted by the growing underclass of underpaid workers, even the most liberal commentators agree that the much-vaunted, open-door immigration policy of the past is no longer sustainable in today’s America.

The last nationally coordinated rally I witnessed was at the time of the 2004 Republican Convention when protestors were locked up and kept for days in disused warehouses, and when police were on a mission and helicopters hovered over Union Square. That was a time where the Patriot Act shrouded New York and the Bush election victory was deployed as an instrument of intimidation.

It’s different now. There is new resistance. The Bush Administration has been sprung, and respect for its judgment and integrity has evaporated. Bush, now a mere bystander on Capitol Hill, knee-jerks his way through the program like a marionette with tangled strings. People are sick of listening to the lot of them. They want their voices heard again, and they have seized upon the immigration debate as their platform.

Thanks to Clay Bennett

A few nights after the City Hall protests I dined in New Jersey with the Yiddish Sopranos.

Grandma Yiddish Soprano loved the idea of Bush’s batty ‘guest worker’ compromise to the immigration dilemma. She surveyed the 20 visitors seated at her dinner table. ‘How will we cater for our guests without them?’

On 1 May, her poignant lament will reverberate from sea to shining sea when a general strike of illegals dubbed ‘A Day Without an Immigrant’ afflicts America.

But the night of my dinner in New Jersey, the service and conversation were plentiful and lively. (By the way, the new immigration laws also propose that employing an undocumented worker will be a felony.)The generous donations to the Bush campaign paid off for the Family. Nathan had been appointed to direct a State commission and Harold had just returned from a successful business trip to Camp Anaconda in Iraq, visiting his expanding building interests.

The largest military base operated by Halliburton, Anaconda is a beacon of Western enterprise plonked right in the middle of the Sunni Triangle. It accommodates 35,000 soldiers and civilian contractors and offers fast food outlets, theatres, and leisure activities including dancing lessons.

Conspicuous and brazen, Anaconda showcases the $US10 billion worth of outsourced business Halliburton has won in Iraq.

Harold describes Anaconda as an ‘oasis of freedom.’

In spite of the mounting and irrefutable evidence of corruption and unprecedented abuse at the highest levels of the Administration and armed services, Halliburton continues to be awarded coveted new contracts. Like the current $US1.25 billion for logistical support for US troops in the Balkans doing their washing and ironing, cooking, fixing roads and building houses. Another good one was the $US30 million for improvements to the prison at Guantánamo Bay. David Hicks will, no doubt, appreciate the new fittings in his cell in solitary confinement.

At the City Hall rally, one demonstrator’s placard read, ‘They are there because we are here,’ referring to the hundreds of US permanent military bases in about 130 countries. Back in New Jersey, Harold argued, ‘Outsourcing warfare avoids conscription, you should be thankful,’ addressing the younger members of the family. Sara took up the baton: ‘It also removes it from arena of public scrutiny.’ Her mother implored her to show some respect, reminding the table that the President himself had telephoned Grandfather to wish him a speedy recovery from his recent surgery.

José drove me back to Manhattan in the family limo. We sang ‘Guantanamera’ several times together because it’s the only Spanish song I knew and because he had very little English. I imagined that his wife and children were still somewhere south of the border, that he had endured hideous deprivation to come to America and that he was working illegally for a 80 hours a week in the hope that one day they would be reunited.

He teared up, made the sign of the cross and said, ‘Son santos,’ when I mentioned the Yiddish Sopranos’ name. At home I checked my English/Spanish dictionary. There it was, indisputably, ‘They are saints.’

Go figure.

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