Monday, December 17, 2007

Convenient Targets

This past Saturday on About Face, my co-host, Dennis, ranted about the demonization of illegal immigrants by politicians. Immigration is not exactly a veterans’ issue but we don’t strictly our discussions to those issues. Dennis’ point was that politicians are attacking immigrants to further their own careers and organizational budgets. Nothing new here; demonizing others is a longstanding tactic that often works. It plays to our basic fear and insecurity. In this case, we are made to think that our jobs and culture is at risk and that only (fill in politician’s name here) can protect us. Immigration is a big issue in Arizona since most illegal immigrants pass through Arizona at some point in their journey. Needless to say, the discussion turned lively with callers challenging Dennis’ perspective, asserting that the United States must protect its borders, economy and culture from a Mexican onslaught.

The responses largely missed Dennis’ point–dehumanization and the cynical use of the issue by politicians. Clearly, the growth of large undocumented underclass is bad for America. This underclass is largely unprotected, has few alternatives and is willing to work for less than native born Americans, much like the Irish, Italian and Chinese who came to the United States in the 19th Century. Like their immigrant predecessors, Mexicans and other Latin Americans come to the United States in a desperate attempt to support themselves and their families. They cannot do so in their home countries and resort to mankind’s oldest remedy: move on to greater opportunity even at the cost of personal hardship. As a nation of immigrants, America should have learned by now that the long term result of immigration is a stronger, more diverse and vibrant nation. Apparently not, since the populace responds so eagerly to the politicians who decry immigration and demonize the immigrants.

My take on the whole thing is that demonizing immigrants attacks the symptoms rather than the cause, which is a world economic system that favors corporations over people, that favors profit over social progress. In the process, people are turned away their traditional means of living and left to sink or swim as best they can. And swim they do, all the way to the nearest opportunity, which for Mexicans is the United States. Demonizing immigrants conveniently ignores the real perpetrators, corporations seeking to find the lowest costs and exploiters who take advantage of a group with few legal rights and a precarious legal status. Demonizing immigrants strips them of their humanity, thereby making them targets for our hatred and fear and deflecting attention from the real culprits.

Where this issue resonates with me is in the similarity to the dehumanization necessary to attack and kill others that is the sine qua non of military culture. Killing others is wrong, we all know that. Yet our country often asks its soldiers to do just that. To do so, we have to think of the adversary as something other than human–a fucking gook or raghead, or wetback--a threat to be eliminated. Once we make that transition, we can kill. It’s that simple. Killing is wrong, so we just alter our perspective to remove our targets’ humanity and open up our big guns on them. The bullets can be real, they can be public policy or just individual animosity. Whatever their nature they are aimed at the weakest among us and usually fired by the least advantaged and most fearful of us.

As long as Mexicans cannot support themselves and their families in their home country, they will come north. It’s as inevitable as gravity. That’s why an effective policy must deal with the economics that prevent Mexicans from earning a living in Mexico. And the issue is not just limited to Mexico which is just one society displaced by the global economy. Wherever people are dispossessed, they will try and move toward opportunity. Americans should know that. The concept is part of our national myth but apparently, it only applies to white-skinned people.

Throughout most of human history, migration has been the key to opportunity. The rise of the modern nation-state eliminated that opportunity by drawing lines and creating borders to prevent migration. If you look at the Earth from outer space, however, you don’t see any lines, only a single planet in the vastness of space. We are, in fact, a single population: the human race. We spent the past few centuries ignoring that fact. In the 21st century we ignore that fact at our peril.




Blogger Neil Fleming said...

I"m Mark's brother. See my post at

5:41 PM  

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