This story in today’s Washington Post has the full cast of characters in what passes for debate on the issue of illegal immigration:
The throng of Latino immigrants gathering outside the 7-Eleven in downtown Herndon looking for a day’s work has been the most noticeable part of this commercial district of shopping plazas and fast-food restaurants for almost a decade.
For those who live in a hot housing market, this is a common sight. Many of us (myself included) have used these guys to help out with home improvement projects, or we know someone who has. They often do good work, and–since they have no idea who you are or who you know–they do it honestly and don’t steal (much). But of course they’re still a bunch of dirty, scruffy brown guys loitering in a parking lot. Nobody wants to see that, much less have it right next door. So:
…town officials consider a plan to spend about $170,000 in taxpayer money to move the workers to a designated site in a residential neighborhood and staff it with social workers and English tutors
Now that’s an enterprising solution to the problem. Well, except that they apparantly want to put it in the middle of a residential neighborhood. I’d bet money someone came up with that idea to make it more convenient for people to go get a few Mexicans for a day to help build their decks. But of course that also means having something that looks and feels a lot like a gang of young hispanic men hanging around next to houses occupied by young white girls all day. You know that goes over like a lead zeppelin.
“We are being really crushed by these Central American people,” said Ruth Tatlock, 77, who has lived in Herndon for 31 years and supports the project. “It’s a big influx in a small town. . . . But we have to be able to coexist somehow and do it on a decent level.”
Philip Jones, 44, of Herndon, a single father of two teenagers, views the day laborers as an additional threat to Herndon’s once close-knit community. Every day, he said, he drives by the 7-Eleven and sees them catcall at women, drink and behave in unruly ways. His children are afraid to go into the store.
Now he fears that could be the scene near his home.
Well, and then there’s also the part where, you know, these guys are here illegally. Oh yeah, that.
The town appears evenly split between those who are galled by the idea that their taxes would go to services for people in the country illegally and those relieved that the town is finally dealing with the issue.
Hundreds of residents flooded Town Hall for a public hearing on the proposal last week. Those in opposition wore white paper stars bearing anti-day laborer slogans on their shirts and picketed outside. Even more residents are expected to be in attendance when the Planning Commission votes on the issue Aug. 1.
And here’s as good a place as any to toss in a jab at silly statements in news reporting:
Once a farming hamlet, Herndon is home to the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any jurisdiction in the Washington region
“Once” being c.1833, before the railroad came through and it became Herndon Station, an industrial-era transshipment point for northern Virginia agriculture products. But hey, newspaper circulation is dropping, you can’t expect them to pay the salaries that educated people demand.
But let’s get to the meat of the problem. The [il]legal status of the immigrant day laborers.
“There’s probably no other issue facing local governments that is more complicated than day laborer” sites, O’Reilly said. “There are constitutional issues, the right of assembly. There are national issues. There are local issues. It is very complex, and it brings out a lot of emotion in people.”
Well actually, there are no constitutional issues since as ILLEGAL immigrants these people have essentially the status of refugees. That’s defined by international law, not the US Constitution, as the Constitution applies only to US citizens. But give the Mayor some credit. Like all suburban politicians, his richest single constituency is the building industry, which is also the largest employer and beneficiary of illegals. When hizzoner says it’s complicated, he means Til Hazel at al. need the cheap labor to build the next subdivision. Which at least opens the door to a legitimate public interest debate, since the rest of us need Til and his cronies to have that cheap labor too, or else the price of a new house instantly goes up another $100,000 or so.
But why confuse yourself with substantial issues when you can jazz it up by calling this and that person a racist?
Complicating the issue for Jones was when people accused him of racism at last week’s hearing.
“To be called a racist is unnerving. To have someone tell me to ‘shove it’ in a public forum, that’s unnerving,” Jones said after he finished speaking. “These day laborers are scary. They are unkempt. They swarm on top of you. They grab your car competing for work. . . . Why is it bigotry if I don’t want that in my neighborhood?”
Well, it’s not, but we seem to be way beyond arguing that point. Here’s my favorite passage:
While he was speaking, eight day laborers walked into the municipal center. Jose Luis Arce, 46, who recently emigrated from Peru illegally, signed up to speak about the abuse he and his colleagues face at their jobs. After warily eyeing the placards and people wearing the white stars, he decided not to wait for his turn. But in an interview, he expressed concern over how immigrants are treated.
“We are qualified hands,” he said in Spanish. “It’s not important whether we have [immigration] papers or not. It’s what we do and who we are as people.”
You and I might think that an hour or three after the morning edition came out, Mr. Arce would be sitting in a cell waiting for transportation back to Peru. But then if that were likely he wouldn’t have agreed to be interviewed on the record and have his name and place of residence appear in the article. Which also points to a key part of the immigration issue, immigration law enforcement so lax that private citizens have had to take up patrolling the Mexican border in their spare time. We could toss out some jokes about donut shops in southern Texas, but the real reason is the influence of people who think like this:
Some longtime residents supporting the day laborers are angry that immigrants don’t feel more welcome in Herndon. They say the town should take pride in the thriving ethnic businesses downtown and the town’s new diversity.
“I’m ashamed to see what’s happening here,” said Abby Reyes, 31, who grew up in Herndon. “It’s shocking to see what xenophobia and insecurity can bring.”
But not as shocking as the cognitive dissonance (or intellectual dishonesty) that lies behind a statement like that. As Mr. Jones found out, speaking against illegal immigration doesn’t change many people’s minds, but it does get you called a racist. By people who probably keep in touch with La Raza (“The Race” in Spanish) in their spare time.
In the spirit of kicking these fools in the teeth, I won’t bother disclaiming my motivations before I state my position on the matter: we’re a civilized society, governed by representatives executing a body of legislated law. All people found inside our borders are bound to obey these laws, including south American day laborers. If anyone doesn’t like the applicable laws, they’re more than welcome to work for change. They’ll probably be surprised at my level of sympathy for their efforts. But until then, the law says what it says, and I will ask and expect that everyone who wants to come here obey it. Doesn’t seem like such a difficult concept.