Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Close Encounters With Mark Hyman

Conservatives claim the marketplace does a better job than the government when it comes to shaping society.

Most of the time.

An exception is immigration, where at least some conservatives think the answer is big government and (presumably) more taxes.

Mark Hyman doesn’t say he wants big government and higher taxes in
his recent editorial about undocumented immigrants, but he might as well have. The “serious overhaul” of the immigration system, complete with a “lightning fast deportation process” would necessitate spending billions upon billions of dollars that have to come from somewhere.

But maybe that’s a price we should pay for security. At least, that’s what Hyman suggests at the beginning of his editorial. He frames his commentary by pointing out that 70,000 undocumented immigrants have to the U.S. from countries other than Mexico. He adds cryptically that “It is unclear if aliens from states known to sponsor terrorism” are among them.”

But remember that this is the same Mark Hyman who equated undocumented workers with al-Qaeda terrorists, so you know that as much as he tries to suggest that the pressing issue is security, race will play a role in his comments.

And so it does. Although Hyman’s comments early in the piece are about non-Mexican immigrants, the video that accompanies his remarks is entirely of Hispanic individuals.

Then, toward the end of his comments, Hyman lays his cards on the table and says that the threat to America posed by undocumented immigrants isn’t simply from “possible terrorist activity,” but “includes criminal activity and the economic pressures caused by illegal aliens using taxpayer-funded services.”

To this, add the words Hyman uses. In the 250 words that make up his editorial, Hyman uses the possessive pronoun “our” five times (as in "our borders" and "our nation"), often stressing it in his delivery. The word “aliens” is used eight times (always preceded by the word “illegal”). He refers to our “porous” borders as a problem that “plagues” the United States. The word “plague,” which suggests an invasion of the body by a malignant organism, along with “porous,” creates a metaphor of unwanted bodily penetration by an unknown “Other.” Couple this metaphor with the droning use of “alien,” and you get an interesting rhetorical tableau (insert your own UFO/anal probe joke here).

Hyman’s personal hang-ups/fantasies aside, the picture he paints of undocumented immigrants as threatening contaminants who will drain our precious economic fluids is simply wrong. In fact, virtually all male undocumented immigrants are part of the U.S. workforce (96%). Many undocumented workers are contributing to Social Security, even though they aren’t eligible to receive it. Without undocumented immigrant labor, the economies of several states (California in particular) would come to a screeching halt.

This doesn’t mean nothing should be done. But it does mean that any approach to undocumented immigrants that simply takes the position of “let’s lock ‘em up and/or ship them back home” is shortsighted (to say nothing of immoral).

Currently, there is bipartisan legislation sponsored by Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy that has the backing of both business and immigration groups that would allow immigrants to stay in the country, work jobs, and take steps to becoming full-fledged American citizens if they so desire. This approach, which encourages immigrants to get “on the books” helps everyone involved. Alternative legislation (of the sort favored by folks like Hyman) that would focus primarily on arresting and incarcerating those entering the country illegally would cost a huge amount of money, and even then they would not likely be successful. The free market being what it is, workers will go where there is work and income to be had, and employers will hire those who are willing to work for the lowest amount.

Far right conservatives like Hyman often mock progressives for suggesting that government has a duty to step in and attempt to make right aspects of the free market system they feel are morally undesirable. But that’s exactly what nativists like Hyman are doing. What’s worse than the hypocrisy of this stance, however, is the fact that their idea of moralizing the free market is in fact anything but moral: it punishes (largely on the basis of race) those who are the most recent incarnation of the determined immigrants that nearly all of us claim in our collective ancestry.

And that’s The Counterpoint.


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