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Immigration: The Policy of Deliberate Ignorance

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James Brett
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One of the subjects that is given short shrift in public school history classes, and even in undergraduate college courses, is the history of immigration policy in the United States. One of the reasons is, of course, that there are almost endless opportunities for inadvertently teaching prejudice and discrimination and racism in this subject. But, we did learn about the great waves of immigration from Ireland, eastern Europe, southern Europe, China, and in the latter days of the 20th century, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, not to mention the illegal immigration across our southern borders from and through Mexico.

The history of immigration is also the history of people fleeing from oppression and oppressive religious and economic conditions, so the histories dodge around the epithets that the source countries richly deserve in favor of giving the new immigrants a "clean slate" upon which to write their new narratives. And, surely, immigrants do that pretty well, having virtually abandoned centuries or millenniums of old habits, cultural folkways, and suppositions about the world.

Less well taught are the commercial interests that come into play in the great "recruitments" of immigrants by railroads and agricultural interests, not to mention the rapidly growing industrial sector in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Still less well elucidated are the pressures brought to bear by agribusiness throughout North America, whose needs for pickers, packers, and alway low income wage labor has been a constant for the best part of a hundred years.

Immigration plays into foreign policy in a significant way that schools and colleges give scant attention to. In the case of Mexico and Latin America you cannot understand our immigration policy without also understanding the governmental structures and stabilities of the regimes from which immigrants are departing. In the case of Mexico, I have asserted that the plantation structure of Mexican politics, although is is changing slowly, represents the very sort of stability that American economic (and political) interests want and will pay for ... preferably with other people's money and efforts.

So, it is more than of "passing interest" that the Democratic governors of the states last weekend met in Boston and tried to explain to President Obama's people that suing Arizona was a really bad idea on political grounds alone. Not only is the principle involved subject to vigorous debate, but in most areas, the ACLU loud-mouths and certain ultra-liberal, knee-jerk sectors excepted, the American people approve of the Arizona law. Indeed, it is expected that most states will have SB1070-type laws under consideration by the end of this year!

It strikes me, as a closely affected observer, that the boycotts of Arizona were deployed much too rapidly to represent much more than the ultra-liberal point of view. The boycotts hurt in this shambles of an economy, and Arizonans like me are asking that, unless you want Arizonans to respond in kind in your direction, including cutting off the electricity to Los Angeles, you should reconsider your decision to never see the Grand Canyon or never play golf year round.

The will of the people will be heard in this matter. So far, the Obama administration has muffed this issue so badly that it makes the up-coming mid-term election look like the opporunity for a blood bath and for the likes of man-tan Boehner to become Speaker of the House ... a real tragedy if it occurs, since John Boehner of Ohio is among the least capable of politicians in Washington and so distant from being a towering intellect as to suggest precisely the opposite.

The Democratic governors are correct. Obama needs, in addition to sacking Rahm Emanuel forthwith, to back off this position before Labor Day. I believe that he should give Hillary Clinton the advantage of leading this retreat and see how she does. Clearly, if the Democrats take a bath in November, Hillary may be the option we want in 2012, if Howard Dean does not want it and can squelch the resistance in the press.


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James R. Brett, Ph.D. taught Russian History before (and during) a long stint as an academic administrator in faculty research administration. His academic interests are the modern period of Russian History since Peter the Great, Chinese (more...)

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