Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Not Dead Yet. Not Doing So Well, Either

The collapse of the immigration reform bill in Congress tells me that government failure in America may not be limited to the Executive. All these years the nation and the world has marveled at the inability of the World’s Only Superpower under CheneyBush to seemingly get ANYTHING right: 9-11, Iraq, Katrina, IRAQ!. Now comes Congress, unable to agree on how to deal with the pressing national and international problem of immigration. This setback follows the even more disappointing Congressional cave-in on funding the war. Congress’ great function is debate, compromise and consensus. Congress is also responsible for declaring war. These tasks are not always easy; our history includes times of failure and disappointment. The nation even went to war when Congress, along with the Executive failed to resolve a pressing national issue. Immigration may not be a matter of war (although it looks much like war along the border) but it is an important issue with great consequences for millions of people.

So the Senate’s failure to invoke cloture means that legislators must continue to work on the issues in other venues to craft the legislation needed to create a workable immigration policy. The issue is not going away. I was pleased to see that Arizona Senator Jon Kyl, formerly hard-core “no amnesty” vote, joined with Ted Kennedy to offer the compromise proposal. I would not have expected that from him and even stopped by his office to thank him. (He wasn’t in; a well-scrubbed Young Republican took my message.) I expect the Senate to continue the debate. The matter was only tabled. Like the Executive, however, Congress also appears capable of failure. Congress failed its first test on the war. Losing an opportunity for meaningful immigration reform would be tragic. If the US government cannot address an important social and economic issue, what the fuck good is it?

My own humble plan for immigration reform is simple. Let labor flow to where it is needed at a fair and reasonable wage that affords the opportunity to live in dignity. Ensure that anyone who works in this country has the full protection of American legal rights. Remember, one of our founding documents declares that “all men are created equal”. I would secure America’s borders by investing in Mexico. Not just money but ideas and reform. CheneyBush rants about “fighting over there, not here” and about “building democracy” as a way to lessen threats. Yet on America’s ACTUAL BORDER is a failed state, a state with the forms of democracy but a long tradition of corruption and political control, a society that cannot support it’s population, which then seeks opportunity where it does exist, in the US. It’s like water flowing downhill. Neither the United States nor Mexico can really afford to ignore what is happening.

US intervention in Mexico is always fraught with danger and great suspicion in that nation, with good reason given our shared history . But the ideas of democracy and economic justice do not belong to the US alone. They flow from universal principles, many of which are evident in Mexico’s own history. They did have a revolution in the early decades of the 20th century but it ossified into the cumbersome oligopoly of modern times. I would like to think that the Mexicans will change their own country in the interests of all rather than the few and the corporations. The United States should use its influence to promote regional cooperation and internal reform in Mexico (and throughout Central America). This is our neighborhood. What happens here affects us as much as anything in the Middle East. Economic and social reform are part of any long-term solution. Under the current administration in both countries, fine words about reform and opportunity are about all we are likely to get–nothing real or meaningful. Neither is likely to do anything that harms the profitable (for some) status quo.

I doubt if many of Jon Kyl’s former allies recognize the value of economic justice in addressing immigration issues. For them, the world is simple and those who fail to comply will be punished. They look at America’s southern border as something immutable that must be recognized by all. I recognize another border as well: pre-1848 Mexico, a cultural border that allowed seasonal migration in Mexico’s former lands during much almost eight score years since the US annexed them. I also recognize America as a haven, a place of opportunity and hope, a nation of immigrants. In many respects, our willingness to share our good fortune with others is a step toward balancing the injustices committed by the European occupation of North America.

The United States is not responsible for Mexico’s problems but we are affected by them. Moreover, as the “indispensable nation”, we have resources and influence that can indeed contribute to solutions. If only Congress can see far enough to find those solutions.

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