scapegoats

About a week ago I was listening to NPR’s All Things Considered when commentator and economist Russell Roberts made a few remarks about his New Years’ wish that Americans would refrain from believing every piece of alarmist rhetoric spewed by the media, presidential candidates, friends, family, etc.

Amid his cautions against believing the economic sky is falling, he mentioned that immigrants are indeed, not ruining America. We don’t hear that very often, even from a “liberal” media outlet like NPR, and it sure was refreshing. Our country, Roberts went on, is comprised of immigrants — the constant influx of melding cultures, hard-working people and change is what has made us a great nation.

These comments have stuck in my head the last week as I’ve read year-end wrap-ups, struggled to write anything about immigration and listened to campaign coverage from Iowa. But a spark of reason can’t slow the waves of anti-immigrant sentiment. I haven’t written much lately because I’m pretty depressed and cynical about the whole issue.

A LOT of people show up on I2US asking – ‘should I file a petition for my undocumented spouse, or should I wait for the laws to change?’ A year ago, there was tenuous hope, on our forum and others that support the rights of immigrant workers. But these days, just about everyone replies – ‘a change in the laws that will help your spouse??? Keep dreaming – it’s not going to happen this decade.’ Sad? Yes. Cynical? Yes. True? I think so.

Listening to the presidential coverage does not help my outlook. During NPR’s Morning Edition this week, (I should wear a nerdy badge that labels me an NPR junkie, yes, definitely), hosts Renee Montagne and Steve Inskeep have been “traveling” across the southern United States via I-10, interviewing people to find out what issues matter to them, how they feel the nation’s prospects are for 2008 and what they think of the presidential candidates. Yesterday morning I heard this gem of an interview with Cindy Sanders from Sonora, Texas:

When asked what issues mattered to her, Sanders said: “the immigration issue.”
Montagne pressed her to develop that comment.
Sanders: “They make it so hard for us born and raised Americans who are in struggling to get welfare.”
Montagne: “So, you feel you are competing with illegal immigrants…. (for services)?”
Sanders: “Oh, yeah, you are.”
Montaine: “Although that is your experience, there are studies out there that show that illegal immigrants don’t actually use those services.”
Sanders: “Oh, I’m sure there’s some of them that do. You’ve got all these families driving nice cars, but yet they’ve always got food and money in their house. I make too much money for my two kids to get them on Medicaid, so my kids don’t have health insurance right now.”

Of course Ms. Sanders’ opinion is just one person’s opinion, but the purpose of these interviews is to get the pulse of the nation. I realized as I listened that Ms. Sanders hit the new American attitude on the head: immigrants are the ultimate scapegoat — responsible for just about everything wrong with America.

So now, if you don’t qualify for welfare, it must be because undocumented immigrant workers are filling all the welfare rolls! (Okay people without valid social security numbers CANNOT qualify for welfare). If an immigrant has a nice car, it must be because they get welfare to feed their kids and then went and spent all their money on wheels! And how do they get all that money? They got it because Mexican ‘alien’ Juan Garcia walked into a factory that once employed 20 high-paid Americans and as soon as the boss saw Juan, he fired all the Americans and hired Juan and five of his amigos for half the money and no benefits! Juan probably smuggled some drugs while driving drunk across the border as well! Andale! And OMG, terrorists are streaming across the southern border, right? Mexicans are terrorists, right? They must be!

It couldn’t be that immigrants tend to be extraordinarily hard-working and choose to spend their disposable income on a nice car rather than clothes or dinners out. It couldn’t be that undocumented people actually commit LESS crimes on average than U.S. citizens. It couldn’t be that people of different cultures have different priorities, right? It couldn’t be that most people’s problems have to do with themselves, right? And not anyone else? Ultimately, you are responsible for you, and I’m responsible for myself.
I’m just disgusted, and the cynicism and disgust just perpetuates. Lately I feel that even if we get a solid forward-thinking liberal president in a year, we’re still going to have the same loud xenophobes and narrow-minded hawks blaming our problems on others and restricting the freedoms once so important to our country.

It would probably help if I listened to less news and tried to distract myself with spirits and frivolity like good Americans do on New Year!

Ahh… maybe tomorrow.

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3 Responses to scapegoats

  1. lois bruss says:

    Thanks for your thoughts Laura.

  2. Jeff says:

    Do you think the conflict of interest that exists within the Democratic party (how can you be a strong pro-American Union candidate and still support immigration reform?) is more to blame for the lack of any positive steps toward a real solution?

    The blame game is the media’s favorite game. Facts don’t matter – emotions do. The media plays the same game over and over. Don’t gather, analyze and present factual information – instead find skewed and emotional opinions of biased individuals and present them as support for a position that would never be back up by facts.

    It doesn’t matter that the immigrant worker is working multiple jobs and is living beneath their means (saving money). It must be their fault (immigrants) that the Americans cannot live within their means or are willing to work more hours or jobs to support the lifestyle they want to live.

    I’ll try to find that badge for you…..

  3. laurafern says:

    I think the conflict of interest is partly to blame, although it’s not very well-reported, and at least pro-immigrant sorts I encounter on the ‘net, etc, are very strong union supporters as well.

    Just looking at the AFL-CIO site’s immigration statement as an example, it’s very favorable toward comprehensive reform AND a path to legalization for undocumented people here now. They are very much against a guest-worker program though, and while I see the issues with that program, I think the actual immigrants who would benefit such a thing (low-skilled people who genuinely want to enter the U.S. to work for a few years – say in agriculture – and probably not stay permanently) would be totally in favor of a system that allowed this,even without an easy path to permanent residents.

    Ultimately, I think the fact that immigrants are an easy target for the many Americans angry about the economy, security, gas prices, etc is creating this very hostile atmosphere. I’m very curious to see how the ‘crackdown’ that started this week in Arizona will play out. They’ve instituted extremely tough measures on employers who hire undocumented workers and their workforce is supposedly 10% illegal…

    Anyway, that’s totally true about a lot of media…

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