The immigration issue in the U.S. is a complicated one, even for someone like myself, a Mexican-American who has an active interest in the issue. Just to be clear, my Mexican-American ancestors have been in the U.S. for generations. As my family members like to say, we didn't cross the border, the border crossed us.
It was decades ago that I first heard the conspiracy theory that Mexico was intent on taking over California, and that immigrants were the stealth means of takeover. Back then, the idea of an immigrant invasion was mainly advanced by the John Birch Society, a conservative political group that originated in Southern California.
It's sad to see how this nut-wing racist theory has become entangled with people's legitimate concerns over national security after 9/11. I know some people look at the Minutemen and see patriots volunteering to do the security work they think the government should do. But to me, the Minutemen are a security problem. I wonder why the public isn't more concerned about a private army camped out across a good portion of our southern border. Why doesn't that ring any alarm bells?
The core issue in the immigration debate is economics, not culture or even race. That's why you'll find Republicans who are pro-immigration, like George W. Bush. His "guest-worker" program is really designed to give business what they want: reliable access to cheap, disposable labor. In fact, some industries in the U.S. are so reliant on this cheap disposable labor that they bring nonlegal immigrants into the country on the sly. It's called human trafficking, and it wouldn't be the first time it's happened here.
You may have noticed I used the word "disposable." A few years ago I was looking through a Latina magazine and it had a quiz, "How Latina Are You?" One of the questions was, "Do you have a relative who has lost a body part to a machete or knife?" You got awarded more points for a hand than for finger on the quiz. That's because both legal Mexican-Americans, like my relatives, and nonlegal immigrants, like those protesting today, have traditionally worked in industries that are hazardous. So much so that we even joke about it among ourselves.
Some people say that nonlegal immigrants are taking jobs that would ordinarily go to U.S. citizens if they paid better. And while that is undoubtedly true in some instances, this is not just about industries avoiding the minimum wage. It's about industries that shirk safety regulations and other protections for workers that are required by law. It's about a business climate in the U.S. that urges, even demands, for businesses to seek the bottom in relation to its workers.
So should we allow immigrants in, and how many, and what do we do about the ones who are already here? I don't know the answer to that. But I do stand in solidarity with those thousands who ask us today to consider the obligation a society has to those who provide it with their labor.