Friday, August 28, 2009

would you like fries with your security-burger?

I have never been able to decide if I dislike the rhythm of the word, its Machiavellian moral heart -- or both.

Either way, I should be pulling out my mea culpas because I have been boating on Schadenfreude Pond all day.

To dislike the wall that is being built to separate the United States from Mexico is morally simple. It is ugly. In the same way that Dorian Gray's portrait was ugly. It reflects some rather nasty ideas.

When my brother and I crossed into Mexico at Lukeville-Sonoita, we paused to look at the project that made Robert Frost a true prophet: "Something there is that doesn't love a wall,/ That wants it down!"

Just to prove I can contradict myself, last April in
high dawn in yuma, I wrote:

I should note that when you cross the border, you are faced with the monstrosity of a wall that stretches futilely over the hills -- attempting to repeal everything Adam Smith taught us about free markets. Some people see the fence and are reminded of Robert Frost or the Berlin Wall. I see it, and think of Krusty the Clown.

I still see Krusty the Clown. But, even my bizarre post-modern mind could not have devised a better Krusty-like moment than what I read in Thursday's newspaper.

There were many reasons for building the fence. And I will concede that every nation must defend its own borders. But one of the chief reasons was to keep out people who were willing to work for low wages to feed their families. The people who are sneeringly referred to as economic refugees.

Thursday's article reported that a group of industrious Mexicans decided, because the American economy was so weak, there was no reason to brave attempting to breach the fence. Instead, they decided to break up the fence and sell it as scrap metal.

Six men have been arrested and will be prosecuted by Mexican federal authorities. The first two were caught cutting into the fence on Monday. An accomplice was captured on Tuesday with 11 pieces of the fence. American authorities turned in three more.

I have not seen photographs of the fence, but I get the impression it now deserves a new sign: "Queso Suizo."

At the end of every war, one of the more melancholy events is watching noble warships being turned into scrap metal.

In the war against illegal immigration, it is ironic to see the people who are being shut out profiting from the device designed to exclude them.

An irony wrapped in a oxymoron inside a red clown nose.


Croft said...

Add to this the irony of having one of the fence contractors getting nailed for employing undocumented workers and we have the full circle of lunacy.

Constantino said...

The sad thing is that only benefits a small group of industrialists and their causes, not doing a thing for the cause or purpose. Why bother, when everyone except the decision makers fail to see the folly.

john said...

Mexican ingenuity in applying whatever is at hand to a given need just tickles me: a cut off plastic coke bottle for mixing paint, a garden spade serving as a comal. The defense attorney for the thieves should tell the judge they deserve rewards for redirecting that wretched fence to the benefit of the people.

Steve Cotton said...

Croft -- I missed that one. This project is one laugh after another.

Constantino -- There are some unions and politicians who will claimn victory with the wall's construction, as well. Even if it were a "solution," it simply cannot do what its supporters promise. Walls simply redirect traffic. They cannot stop it.

Christine said...

I heartily agree with all of you--just for the record.

Felipe said...

I am a wall fan. Alas, the distance involved makes it problematical. Many say a wall does not work. The Israelis beg to differ. It has worked well for them.

Many toss out the red herring of the Berlin Wall. But that wall was built to keep people in, not out. It was a prison wall. Quite different and totally irrelevant to the U.S.-Mexico issue.

The biggest reason I am a wall fan is that I know a living can be made in Mexico by Mexicans. The reason Latin America lags so far behind the U.S. is cultural, attitudinal. The potential for a higher standard of living exists here. Instead we hunt other (illegal) solutions.

I am also a fan of walls around prisons because that keeps the bad guys away from the rest of us. A wall, if it could be done effectively, between the U.S. and Mexico would keep people from becoming bad guys in the first place, i.e. becoming criminals simply by entering the U.S. illegally, a felony.

Steve Cotton said...

John -- Perhaps even more ingenious would be cutting it up into smaller pieces and bagging it. Tourists would flock to buy an official piece of The Wall. Maybe they could take it back to Des Moines and Helena -- piece by piece. Now that would be irony.

Christine -- Thanks.

Felipe -- I suspect, from your argument, you support the concept of enforced borders more than you supoport the wall itself. You are correct that the Berlin Wall and prison wall metaphors are faulty. But so is the Israeli example. That wall is smaller and has a far more limited purpose -- a purpose that unfortunately will probably fail (as the Gaza tunnels evidence). But you are correct that the best way to stop the flow north is for Mexico to continue to grow its middle class economy. The last two presidents have been trying to do that. Unfortunately, they were dealt some rough economic cards.

Calypso said...

John Woods wrote,"Mexican ingenuity in applying whatever is at hand to a given need just tickles me..."

Have to agree - they are often a very clever people ;-).

I don't like the wall - that is the libertarian in me.

Steve Cotton said...

Calypso -- Wouldn't it be fair to say you do not even like the notion that there is a border that requires enforcing? I am nearly there with you.

When I wrote this piece, I started calculating who would comment and what they would have to say. So far, I am batting almost 1.000 ("almost" because I forget to include some voices who have not spoken recently).

mdoneil said...

I am not really in favor of a wall, it simply seems futile.

I also don't think improper entry into the US is a Felony, I belive it is a Civil Violation. Immigration law is not my specialty, but I don't recall it even being criminal unless you have been previously excluded.

Islagringo said...

I find the whole concept of building a wall so offensive that I can hardly speak about it. When did America forget what is written on the Statue of Liberty?

Felipe said...

Mdoneil has a point. A little internet research reveals that it´s a felony sometimes and sometimes it is not, depending on how the crime is committed.

So I graciously retract the felony word and insert crime. It´s against the law any way you cut it, and people who commit crimes are criminals.

And when Israel built a wall along a lengthy stretch of particularly troublesome activity, the problems fell something like 90 percent. Walls work.

Mexico (and most of Latin America) needs to get its own house in order.

Steve Cotton said...

Mdoneil -- Even if the wall worked perfectly, Mexico needs to take some responsibility in shaking up (and shaping up) its economy.

Felipe -- The Israeli wall, of course, has a primary purpose (to establish a de facto border) and a secondary purpose (to create security behind that border). The first will work better than the second because the border will be determined by rational negotiation; the second will ultimately fail because muscles and shovels can overcome any barricade. Israel has a chance of prevailing because its government and people are committed to surviving. The American wall will fail for the opposite reason.

Anonymous said...

Israel has a chance of prevailing because they know if they go too far or get in too deep their sugardaddy Uncle Sam will be there to bail them out. They can run roughshod over their neighbors (and kill as many as they think necessary) thanks to the modern weapons paid for by all of us americanos. That is a terrible example of a successful wall. It is but a symbol of the brutal neighborhood bully with the powerful daddy, as ugly as all the other walls.

Calypso said...

"Calypso -- Wouldn't it be fair to say you do not even like the notion that there is a border that requires enforcing? "

Yes that would be fair to say ;-)

Leslie Limon said...

The U.S. is going to need much more than a wall to halt illegal immigration. I've heard many a Mexican say "Let them build their wall, we've already built tunnels". Crossing the desert and rivers is not the only way into the US. Many illegals drive across the border, sitting in the front seat of a car. Many coyotes pay the immigration officers a "mordida" for every car they let pass.

I agree with Felipe, Mexico does need to get it's own house in order.

Saludos to you, Señor Algodon!:)

norm said...

I am in favor of asking Mexico, Canada and the rest of Latin America to join the United States as an equal partner. We could manage 50 more states, instead of 600 elected people running the "states" we would have 1200 people elected to run the United States of America and it would indeed be the united states of the americas. As an old union man, what I saw was the money people playing the workers off each other, a person working here outside the law has no room to complain when the boss takes undue advantage. Look into America's meat packing industry and how they killed the union packing plants. It was a long time coming for unions to be legal in our nation, there are many today who would make joining one a crime today, if they had the votes. I have no problem with free trade as long as free labor is in the package. The freedom to work and live where we want is good for everyone but when its just the money and goods that have that freedom of movement then the people who work get squeezed. A political union of the Americas who be a world beater in the marketplace.

Steve Cotton said...

Anonymous -- How about playing fair with everyone else and add some sort of identification? Blasting off these political stinkbombs and using "anonymous" strikes me as being just a bit IRA-ish. Other blogs prohibit the use of anonymous postings. I have not done that in the past. But if you are going to use message board manners rather than blog manners, please add a signature line.

Calypso -- I guess I really went out on the limb on that one. I am expecting my own chapter in Profiles in Courage.

Leslie -- And that is where we should be putting our emphasis. Is there anything we can do to help instill liberal economic principoles in this great country of Mexico? It is brimming with potential.

Norm -- President Fox proposed a similar union between the big three North American states as a starter. It died a cold death abirthing. I thought it was worth discussing then. I thinks it's worth discussing now. Calypso and I have our border-erasing pencils at the ready.

Anonymous said...

Tare down that wall and build homes with it!


Steve Cotton said...

Rick -- Now there is constructive idea.

Anonymous said...

The wall is an outward manifestation of US culture's xenophobia. And as you note, it is ugly. Only uglier are the racist comments made by US citizens about the Mexican immigrants who risk much to find work.

The Palestinians should take a lesson from the Mexicans and start making holes in the obscene fence which attempts to separate Israel from the untouchable Palestinians, if only for the symbolic significance of it.

The walls are, of course, easy to see. The more insidious walls are the conceptual moral barriers which we humans often intellectually erect to separate ourselves from life unworthy of life. Nazi work camps. US eugenics movement. Slavery.

Scratch the surface of the beast and one gets a moral stench.

A Nony Moose

Anonymous said...

I understand the reference to Dorian Gray. I know who Robert Frost and Adam Smith are, but who is Krusty the Clown?


Felipe said...

I support both enforced borders and a sturdy wall, if needed, as a good way to do it.

But if I understand you, Señor Cotton, the fact that a wall is not foolproof means it´s a waste of effort and money to build it.

I imagine that means that prison walls are a waste of effort too because people escape prisons on occasion. Might as well tear down prison walls then.

But those prison walls are to keep people in, not out.

The walls on our homes are built to keep bugs and bad weather out, but they also are intended to keep bad people out. Yet burglaries happen. So why build homes with walls? They can be breached. Clearly, they are a waste of time.

But wait! People want homes with walls and prisons with walls because they work fine almost all the time. Imperfect but far better than the perpetual open door.

Sometimes one´s neighbors smell bad and/or look scary. Often they are scary. I like walls. I have a nice one around my home. It keeps the burros out, and God knows who else.

Mexicans love walls. We live behind walls far more than folks above the border. And with reason.

Steve Cotton said...

A Nony Moose -- If I did not know you better over these past 20 years, I would not recognize when you are posturing and when you are polemicizing. Come to think of it, I can't tell the difference now. But the comment is a good example why we are far better looking at what we can do to assist Mexico in building its own economy. Felipe makes a good point. As long as there is a labor safety valve, why should Mexico do anything to quell the flow? I just do not believe that a fence is the answer.

Steve Cotton said...

Irene -- Krusty the Clown is a marvelously-drawn character in The Simpsons. That is him at the top of the post. He is Bart's flawed role model.

Felipe -- My reaction to walls is historical, and, for that reason, often visceral. It is the same reason I have opposed hiring quotas and affirmative action. Anything based on race has a rancid taste to me because of our history. I experience that same taste when I see walls to close people out. And, yes, I react that way to Mexicans walls, as well. They sadden me because they are based on fear. It may be a fear born of experience, but it is fear nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

I definitely am in favor of tearing down that ugly, overbearing wall.

Who are we afraid of?

As I recall not one of the 9/11 airplane terrorists came from Mexico. Were they not from the middle east?

Are we supposed to erect a wall at the Atlantic ocean?


Steve Cotton said...

Mom -- No argument from me.

Felipe said...

It´s sad that so many people blame the United States for this wall, or what small parts of it have been built.

Mexico is the cause of the wall.

Anonymous said...

Frankly, it's never been clear to me why it's so threatening to have hard working people come here, and then trim hedges, build houses, wash dishes, or do any number of other frequently-disagreeable jobs.

Please! Bring on the threat! If labor were as mobile as capital, I'd bet you'd have more American entrepreneurs flowing into Mexico, and probably not many more Mexicans flowing north. In fact, if the news is correct, the giant sucking sound is all the Mexicans returning home due to lack of jobs here.

I work in a very high-skill industry, and yet have to constantly compete with Indians, Canadians, Chinese, and various others for my job, but I still manage to be employed. Why should gardeners, carpenters, and other tradespeople enjoy some kind of special immunity from competing with foreigners?

America should stop being so insular, and welcome in anyone who has the guts and determination to make it in legally or otherwise. Immigrating shows guts and drive. Simply being born doesn't.

That's what made this country great: immigrants. Let's keep up the flow!

Kim G
Boston, MA
Proud son of Danish immigrants.

P.S. A large surge of immigrants would also do wonders for the housing crisis.

Felipe said...

Kim, por favor, the issue is not "having hard-working people come here." The issue is there is a legal way to do it, and laws should not be ignored. The issue is LEGALITY. Emigrating to another country is not something an individual gets to decide on his own.

Hey, I think I´ll emigrate to France! Their quota is filled for this year? So what? I´ll go anyway.

Anonymous said...

To Felipe:

Here's the problem with the legality argument: It's virtually impossible, if not entirely impossible to immigrate as a Mexican to the USA just for a better life. In fact, it's often not even possible to come as a visitor. We've tried twice to get F a friggin' tourist visa, and he is simply denied. Why? They provide a stock reason, which is pre-printed on a card, so you can be clear that it has nothing to do with your individual situation: "insufficient ties to Mexico." This despite the fact that he has a job, owns a house, has traveled all over Europe without once overstaying a visa, and is pushing 40.

Furthermore, if new people in the country is such a problem, why can people just have babies at the drop of a hat without any kind of visa process to allow them into the country? You can't argue that babies are less of a drain on the economy than working adults. And then they grow up and take all the good jobs!

Why can any foreign company build a factory in the USA at will, but any individual can't come and sell tacos?

Why is it ok for someone in Massachusetts to lose out on a job to someone from California, but not to someone from a foreign country?

There is no good answer to those questions.

And that's my issue with the whole "legality" angle of this. The law is just arbitrary.


Kim G
Boston, MA

Felipe said...

Tell my bud, Señor Kim, that he mentioned, finally, the basic problem in his last sentence. The law is arbitrary. True, it is and needs to be changed. But till that happens, sneaking into the U.S. sans visa is a crime. And law-breaking is the issue here, not immigration, a red herring.

I would also argue that Mexicans have so much trouble getting visas in large part due to the rampant illegal invasion from Mexico over the past years. They (we) have brought it upon themselves (ourselves).

By the way, my wife had no trouble at all getting a visitor visa.

Steve, if you want us to take it out on the parking lot, do advise. Kim is younger than I am, but I have a tattoo.

Steve Cotton said...

Gentlemen -- Discuss away.

Steve Cotton said...

I am holding out for a duel with épées. I didn't watch all those Zorro episodes without building some realistic expectations.

Felipe said...

Alas, our Bostonian Kim has a romantic interest who lives in Mexico City, which makes this an emotional issue for him. We have to cut him some slack.

I, on the other hand, see this matter with a sharp clarity many others lack.

muycontento said...

Sr Kim your positon is based on pure logic and facts. That is not the way it is always done here, a habit our paisamos are happy to adopt when it suits their purpose. You have nailed it, but don't expect to convert anyone. The reponder with 'sharp clarity' probably does not have close mexican friends, probably does not spend much time amongst the working folks (the only way to even begin to understand their lives) and probably does not intend to. Ahh, being an expert is sooo easy.

Steve Cotton said...

Muycontento -- Felipe is perfectly able to (and probably will) defend his position. But I should point out that he lives and votes in Mexico, is married to a Mexican citizen, and has a passel of Mexican relatives. His viewpoint does not lack exposure to Mexico and its citizens. I suspect you may have missed Felipe's subtle sardonic tone in that particular exchange with Kim. But we will see if Felipe wishes to pick up the cudgel.

As for me, I would like to tear down that silly wall and allow a free flow of labor across the border. Perhaps Mexico could offer to allow foreign individuals and corporations to own property outright in Mexico -- no matter its location. After all, Porfiro Diaz is dead. The world has moved on. Now, there is a post in the making.

Anonymous said...

Well, I'm not so sure that "just-because-it's-a-law-we-should-all-follow-it-unquestioningly," is such sharp clarity. There are plenty of stupid laws that deserve to be ignored on the books, since few, if any, are ever written with sunset provisions. So any piece of legislation stands forever unless it is actively overwritten, or declared unconstitutional. Thus the books are littered with obsolete, irrelevant laws which are seldom if ever enforced, unless it becomes politically convenient to do so.

A high-profile example includes Mit Romney's sudden discovery of Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 207, Section 11, more commonly known as the 1913 law, which banned marriages in Massachusetts which would not be recognized in the couple's home state. Originally devised to uphold the miscegenation laws of southern states, Romney dragged it out to prevent same-sex couples from other states marrying in Massachusetts.

Should such a law ever have existed? Was it right? Should everyone have followed it to the letter? Does "sharp clarity" require the observation of all existing laws, regardless of however archaic, outdated, or simply forgotten they might be?

Are restrictions on immigration even consistent with the concept of freedom? Or are we all really just serfs, forevermore tied to the lands of our birth? I imagine that most readers of this blog rather cherish their freedom to be elsewhere.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where the only rapier we carry is our wit.

P.S. Your wife, Felipe, got a visa because she's married to an American already living in Mexico. Being Mexican was entirely secondary to that. In fact, if you wanted to move back to the states and take her with you, it'd be a complete snap, and she'd be on a fast-track to citizenship.

You both won the lottery when you met each other. So please don't begrudge the poor folk who risk life and limb trudging through the desert so they can cut our grass, clean our houses, and do all the other disagreeable tasks that native-born Americans don't want to do.

P.P.S. Muycontento, thanks for the kind words. But Felipe lives a more Mexican life than any of the bloggers I can think of. Spends his day speaking Spanish, and understands Mexico and Mexicans about as well as any gringo. I've met him, and he's a gentleman to boot. So this is just friendly sparring, nothing more.

Felipe said...

I´m a law-n-order guy who generally believes laws should be obeyed till changed. If we can pick and choose which law is dumb and can be ignored, we basically are endorsing anarchy.

I cut Martin Luther King Jr. some slack on that.

However, the U.S. immigration system is indeed in need of alteration and not because every wannabe Mexican gardener should be allowed into the U.S. but because many who really would benefit the nation are being blocked.

One must keep in mind that the U.S. (and a few other advanced nations) is unique in that many folks in the world would move there in a heartbeat given the opportunity, and the U.S. cannot support a large chunk of the world within its borders. A restrictive immigration law makes sense.

Just wanting to better yourself, regardless of your education and skill level, should not be sufficient to win a visa. Almost everybody wants to better himself.

Most Mexicans who sneak into the U.S. illegally are not doing so because of need, but because of want. Desires.

They can live okay in Mexico, and that is where they belong.

A good friend of mine who is a psychiatric nurse last week left a comment on one of my websites with an astute observation. He works in the trenches in the jail system of Arizona.

- - -
Can't tell ya how many starry-eyed Mexicanos I have the misfortune of meeting at the jail here in Az. They come not for opportunity for a better life, but for the lure of fast cash, fancy cars and loose and easy blond haired, blue eyed, white women.

. . . television is a source of inspiration, as well as glorified tales of their compadres from down south.

Harsh reality and long sentences in US prisons bring home the bitter reality of the fruits of their search for the sweet siren songs from the land of the gringo.

- - -
As I have mentioned before, I am related (by marriage) to current and former illegal aliens. I know others personally who have gone and returned. These are not hungry people looking for a better life. Sure, some of those exist, but they are the small minority.

And I´m not sure what Mitt Romney´s marriage opinions have to do with any of this.

Felipe Z
Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
Where most all my neighbors would love to move to the U.S.

Croft said...

In my limited time in Mexico I too have spoken to many Mexicans who had spent time in the USA (legally or illegally, I didn't ask) and who had returned home disillusioned.

The common complaint seemed to be that 1) they thought it was going to be a lot better than it was, 2) they could not make enough money to keep a residence in the USA and support their families in Mexico, 3) they could not come home to visit their families once in a while and were very lonely, and 4) they were treated like s**t up there.

They now realize they are much happier back home. Only one guy said he would go back if he had the chance.

I think their reasons for going are much like Felipe's friend points out. American TV beamed over the borders. The same TV shows that were beamed over to Cuba in the past. They suggest that all Americans have a convertible, a beautiful rich wife, an even more beautiful, young girlfriend and all the riches they could want without actually needing a job.

In the case of Cuba it was designed to encourage people to swim over to make Castro look bad but in Mexico's case the same Americans (at least the ones who do not have a $15 a day maid because of it) have this startled look on their face as they ask why their borders are being overrun.