Our August 28/September 4 issue on immigration set off an avalanche of furious mail. We were lashed for using the term “nativist” to describe those who are anti-immigration, for not distinguishing between legal and illegal immigration, for criticizing CNN’s Lou Dobbs and for being out of touch generally with mainstream America.–The Editors
Nothing could better illustrate the left’s abandonment of the working class than your issue on “The New Nativism.” It is a long-established capitalist maneuver to pit groups of workers against one another to hold wages down and increase corporate profits. That is what is happening with the influx of undocumented workers allowed by the government’s neglect of immigration law. When I was a carpenter in the late 1970s, I earned $11.62 an hour. Now, if I wanted to, I could do the same work for $9 an hour, more than thirty years later! No, thanks.
By labeling concerns of American workers “nativism,” you dismiss those concerns as reactionary or invalid. Characterizing those concerns as racist or xenophobic allows you to ignore the economic impact on the working class while gallantly mounting your high horse in defense of the oppressed minority you prefer to focus on. You are playing into the multinational corporations’ agenda. Way to go.
I’m very liberal, and I know the liberal stand is to support immigrants. I do support legal immigrants. However, I can’t understand why The Nation defends illegal immigrants’ rights to enter this country, work here and receive the same rights and privileges as law-abiding American citizens and immigrants who have entered this country legally. I would have liked an article devoted to the failed NAFTA and CAFTA policies that have created the conditions that drive people to endure the perils and hardships of illegally entering the United States. Or you could have discussed how the corporate lobbyists have twisted government’s arm to keep minimum wages low and propose “guest worker status.” Or how almost nothing is done to force companies to be accountable for employing illegal immigrants.
Palm Bay, Fla.
As a longtime reader of your wonderful magazine I confess I am dumbfounded by your stance on illegal immigration. Your characterization of people who are anti-illegal immigration as racists is unfair and untrue. Like myself, most are just working stiffs. I’m a plumber, trying to hold on to my job and a way of life I grew up with. Like being able visit an emergency room without having half the people there not only unable to speak English but also not able to pay their bill.
DAVID L. BRANEN
All who oppose illegal immigration are not right-wing racist extremists. I myself am black. And those of us in the lower depths are definitely negatively affected–not only by the downward pressure on wages but by the fact that a requirement for many jobs now is the ability to speak Spanish!
The editors are to be commended for publishing “White Heat,” Bob Moser’s article on nativism in Tennessee. Moser lets people tell their stories. As a result, the felt reality and poignancy of the situations that help shape their views–however distasteful the views themselves–is permitted to emerge.
Bob Moser refers to me as a “self-described ‘white separatist.'” That is wrong. I made clear that I am a European-American separatist, which is very different. I have joined the great new American game of multiculturalism, where educational opportunity, influence, jobs, justice and identity all largely depend on ethnicity. I am very clear and specific about mine. “White” gets it wrong. “European-American” is right.
VIRGINIA DEANE ABERNETHY
Theresa Harmon has it right; it is about legal versus illegal immigration. Do we need more people who are disinclined to obey the law in this country? Farmers and builders get cheap and illegal labor while they facilitate the theft of my Social Security number.
Carol Swain has it right; we don’t need any more poor people in this country available for exploitation by the business interests. I doubt illegal immigrants are taking jobs that Americans won’t take. They are more likely taking jobs that Americans won’t take at the exploitive wages and working conditions that businesses offer. But for the pool of desperate illegal immigrants, these businesses would have to pay a fair wage and maintain reasonable working conditions.
Donna Locke realizes that uncontrolled illegal immigration is pushing this country toward Third World status. Having more people than can be sustained by the economy or the physical and social environment is a hallmark of the Third World. I feel for many of these people; they are desperate. The answer to that desperation is for them, perhaps with our help, to make their own countries viable places to live. Should we allow other countries to export their poverty and environmental problems to our country? Do we not have the right to control our borders?
I have lived for sixty-eight years in Indiana, would label myself a liberal, am a Nation subscriber and am telling you this: Folks working in New York need to travel across this country and discover the extent to which mainstream Americans are totally fed up with the exodus from Mexico that is moving into their communities and tearing the social fabric of our country. Listen to what progressives like Theresa Harmon are trying to tell you. Stop trying to equate this flood pouring across our southern border with past waves of legal immigrants from Europe, China and elsewhere.
What used to be middle-class jobs in the meatpacking industry now pay about half what they once did, and the same trend is now being seen in many construction trades. We’re not just talking about grass cutters and tomato pickers; we’re talking about a growing number of what used to be middle-income jobs.
Plus, while workers’ wages are being undermined by businesses that openly recruit illegals, the taxpayers are being asked to subsidize a wide array of social services for the families of the illegal aliens who are doing the low-wage jobs. I can see nothing progressive or liberal about policies that benefit corporate greed while worsening the lot of most working Americans and imposing additional tax burdens on everyone.
I am an avid Nation reader. I am also a staunch supporter of Lou Dobbs, who’s raising the issues that are important to Americans–the outsourcing of jobs, securing our borders and ports, preventing ownership of our airlines and ports by foreigners, our awful trade deficit with China and other countries, the horrendous national debt, e-voting machines with no paper trails and, of course, illegal immigration. I consider myself a moderate liberal, and you folks on the East Coast better get a grip and understand the feeling in that vast part of America located between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
Bel Air, Md.
My husband and I consider ourselves liberal Democrats, and we support Lou Dobbs in his effort to stop the demise of the middle class. The illegal immigration in huge numbers, combined with outsourcing, the loss of union jobs, wage stagnation and “free” trade are destroying the middle class. I doubt that many of you at The Nation are living with the hardships we–a registered nurse and an aircraft mechanic for a major airline that went through bankruptcy–now face. We have lost most of our pension, and college loans have put our family in debt. Our kids get less pay than they should, partly because of corporate greed, which is driving the exploitation of illegal labor.
I’m a proud Democrat, socially liberal, fiscally conservative. I hate George W. Bush and most of the Republican Party. I supported the civil rights movement and equality for women and gays. I am disappointed by the Democratic Party’s lack of backbone. I will vote for Democrats in the midterm elections and for a Democratic President. However, I completely agree with Lou Dobbs regarding the illegal immigrant issue. I wouldn’t care if every illegal immigrant was sent back to their own country. The America I grew up in had its faults, but was unique and wonderful. Now we are being Latinized until one day we will be called the Hispanic States of America. It makes me want to vomit.
I’m a longtime Nation reader who gets a kick out of Lou Dobbs. There is no one else on cable news who regularly savages Bush, scorns the Iraq War, skewers big corporations, rails against incumbents, cheers for the little guys and pokes holes in the conventional wisdom of both liberals and conservatives on national security and immigration. To be sure, Dobbs tries to disguise agitation as news, conducts absurd polls, has some unsavory bedfellows and is decidedly not a PC liberal. But neither is he a craven demagogue, despite his over-the-top “Broken Borders” shtick. The time is past for liberals to reflexively charge immigration reformers with racism. What makes Lou really mad is when the American government doesn’t work for American citizens. Maybe that’s nativism, but do you even know anyone who has lost not a menial but a middle-class job to outsourcing or the, yes, “importing of poverty”?
I greatly appreciated your piece on CNN xenophobe-in-residence Lou Dobbs. I’ve long found Dobbs to be boorish and irritating; but with his increasing malignance toward not only immigrants but indeed an entire world he seems to regard as hostile to “American interests,” I simply cannot bear to listen to a word he has to say. You have done admirable work pointing out the poor quality of research and reporting in what Dobbs attempts to pass off as respectable journalism. The fact that this tawdry little hate-peddler remains on the air renders ridiculous any claim by CNN to be “the most trusted name in news.”
MARK C. EADES
Wow, was I surprised to pull my Nation out of the mailbox and discover that I, grandchild of four teenagers who fled anti-Semitic Russia a hundred years ago, am a “new nativist.” The Nation speaks for me on virtually every issue, but while I have a higher opinion of most immigrants I meet than of many native-borns, I have difficulty with the word “illegal.”
Recently the City Council of Avon Park, Florida, narrowly defeated an ordinance that would have fined landlords who rent to undocumented people and punished businesses who employ them. Other states and cities are considering similar punitive initiatives.
For seventeen years I have been an advocate for migrant farmworkers and have responded to their calls for aid from Harvest of Hope (www. harvestofhope.net), my nonprofit foundation. Mostly our immigrant workers are humble, hardworking and family oriented. Yes, many are not here legally, but since 1996 there have been almost no legal mechanisms to change one’s status–especially if you are poor and from Mexico or Central America. Agriculture, housing construction, hotels, housekeeping, landscaping, meat processing and restaurants are heavily dependent on immigrant labor.
We are all beginning to feel the impact of the crackdown. Florida may not be able to harvest all its citrus due to a lack of workers. Georgia has an outrageous new policy denying medical providers reimbursement for undocumented patients with chronic illnesses such as cancer or kidney failure. I know of a 10-year-old boy who has leukemia, but no Georgia health facility will provide follow-up treatment. Nonprofits like ours, private organizations and churches are being stretched beyond our limits trying to close the gaps in service.
Contrary to popular belief, migrant and immigrant workers contribute a lot of money to our economy. Many pay taxes. Companies turn a blind eye to false Social Security cards and put a percentage of wages into our pension system, but those undocumented workers will never see any of the billions they have contributed. Furthermore, these workers’ hard-earned dollars are often spent at local businesses.
Doesn’t it make sense to have an immigration policy that allows undocumented people who are working and staying out of trouble the opportunity to come out of the shadows and become citizens? We can’t have it both ways–depending on their labor while doing everything we can to make their lives miserable and then trying to deport them.
When I get a call at night from a Texas migrant family whose car has broken down while traveling to Michigan to work the fields, I don’t ask them their legal status. To deny them assistance because they might be undocumented would be inhumane. To me, no human being is illegal.
Pie Town, NM
I don’t know if people coming across our southern border have a different attitude from those who came twenty-five years ago. As a longtime resident of the rural Southwest, I have heard enough firsthand incidents to believe it plausible. They surely have reason for a different attitude. People coming from Mexico seeking work a generation ago looked to bring back money for a pump to irrigate the cornfield back home, or corrugated metal for the roof of the shop and some Christmas presents.
Now, thanks to corporate penetration of Mexico’s economy, that farm or shop likely as not no longer exists. Mexican subsistence villagers were forced out to provide labor in the maquiladoras, placed on the Mexican side of the border as much to evade enforcement of basic health and environmental standards as for the cheap labor. Then those workers were squeezed out again when it became cheaper to move the factories someplace else. I believe people crossing our southern border in search of work are more culturally and economically displaced than a generation ago.
At the same time, thanks to the politics on this side of the border, yes, there is employment for Americans too. Former copper workers now work the 2 am shift at Wal-Mart, for a third the pay and no benefits. And construction and various service workers have lots more to do serving the proliferating yuppie market that has replaced a more self-reliant economy. Wages have doubled too. But housing costs have gone up tenfold.
Yes, racists and opportunistic demagogues do exploit the friction. But if ivory tower leftists can see nothing but racism and nativist reaction to social and economic stresses, their lofty righteousness only plays right into the hands of the divide-and-conquer priorities of that same politics of infinite greed.
Your October 2 issue quotes Ohio Democratic Senate candidate Sherrod Brown saying that NAFTA and CAFTA “are as bad for workers in Guatemala as they are for workers in Ohio.” Just the point. I hope The Nation will take another look at the immigration issue.
CORRECTION & CLARIFICATION
In Katha Pollitt’s “Subject to Debate” last week, the second and third sentences of the final paragraph should have read: “He forgets that people with money and status will do just about anything to keep them. (In fact, except in a few pockets of guilty liberalism, like English departments, they’ll go pretty far to keep their white-skin and masculine privileges too.)”
A sentence in Herman Schwartz’s “Legal Legacy” [Oct. 30] should have read, “nearly one-third of all Supreme Court nominations [not nominees] were rejected, withdrawn or otherwise not confirmed.”