More Insincerity?

Let me start by saying that I know a little about immigration.  My wife is an immigrant, and even married to a soldier, the hoops through which we were forced to leap and the fees we paid seemed outlandish as we prepared to move to Texas from Germany.  It was simply another brief hardship we happily faced together in our young marriage.  After I left the Army, we concluded that Texas would make a great home, and it was here in Texas where we came face-to-face with our national crisis in illegal immigration.  In the time we’ve lived here, what we have learned is that both parties tend to ignore the problem and downplay enforcement.   On the Democrat side, there is a tendency to see illegals as more votes, since Democrats aren’t picky if even the dead vote, so non-citizens voting isn’t really a problem in their view.  Some Republicans turn a blind eye for another reason, and it’s simply this:  Illegals are frequently paid in cash, under-the-table, and for jobs in agriculture and construction, they thereby hold down the cost of labor.  This increases profits on any job, and it’s on this basis that many otherwise law-and-order conservatives refuse to rock the boat or challenge the status quo.

This has been true with Democrats and Republicans in the White House, and in charge of Congress.  It’s been true whether Texas had a Republican or Democrat governor and legislature.  Nothing seems to make much difference, and many Texans in either party are in a hurry to sweep the issue under the carpet.  As Texas has grown and its illegal immigrant population has ballooned, is it also true that our economy here has continued along better than most, in part due to our competitive advantage with other states.  Part of that competitive advantage owes to illegal immigrants.  Rick Perry enjoys pointing out how many jobs have been created during his tenure as governor, but the truth is that many of them are low-skilled, low-wage jobs, and many of those are filled by illegals with stolen social security numbers.  Everything has a cost in the real world, and while you may gain an advantage one area, somewhere, somehow, the cost are being borne by somebody.

Let me state plainly that I don’t blame anybody born elsewhere who concludes that their best bet for prosperity lies here in the United States, particularly when measured against the conditions of their home countries.  I understand, because I’ve been abroad to places where I wouldn’t have wanted to raise my child, or build much of anything, because freedom is so sparse and opportunity is so rare.   Let none misunderstand what I’m saying to be some sort of anti-immigrant bias.  Often, I think immigrants more readily appreciate the opportunities this country represents more thoroughly than some fair number who were lucky to have been born here.  It was certainly true of my mother’s grandparents.  For them, America was the greatest opportunity they had dared ever to imagine, and they set out to make the most of it.

With this in mind, let me state it quite bluntly:  You cannot build a nation that provides such freedom and opportunity without defending the rule of law on which these precious commodities had been based.  This means that we must require people to enter legally, and to obtain legal documentation to work.  Who can claim that it’s too much to ask?  If a nation is defined by geographical boundaries, and a common base of governance and law, who can argue that it may be maintained by ignoring its laws or its geographical boundaries?

My first personal experience with illegal immigration consisted of rescuing a young Mexican fellow who had been treed by a neighbor’s young bull.  Clinging to the trunk of an old Live Oak, standing on a stout limb some ten feet from the ground, he was in this predicament because he had wandered into our secluded property, and when he saw our dogs, he flung himself over the barbed-wire fence that separated our property from our neighbor’s pasture.  Landing in that pasture, the young bull came to investigate the barking dogs, and upon spying the young man, gave chase, with the poor fellow seeking refuge in the tree.  I managed to move the bull away, long enough to get the terrified young man down, which was difficult because he understood almost no English.  Once down, I led him to the gate and tried to discover what he had been doing there.

Another neighbor, having spied the goings-on, had called our local constable who was a fluent Spanish-speaker.  The constable arrived, and asked him a question, and all I could make out was that he’d asked for a green card.  The young man lowered his head, and shook it signaling “no,” and the constable loaded him in his car, and thanked me for rescuing the young man from his predicament before departing.  He explained that the young man was working his way north, looking for work, staying off the highway where he might be picked up by law enforcement.  I couldn’t help but feel bad for him.  He looked to be no older than 18 or 19, and he surely had experienced hard times well before he walked into my yard and then leaped from the frying pan into the fire.  My dogs might have scared him, but the young bull would have hurt him.  All this, he risked for work.  Being in Central Texas, if he had walked any part of the distance from Mexico, he’d been on foot a long while.  The term “economic refugee” played in my mind, and I knew what it must mean to people who come here from Mexico and elsewhere.

The next experience we had with illegal immigrants came when we had an occasion to go to the emergency room.  An incident with a bucking horse resulted in a trip to the ER, where Mrs. America was diagnosed with a broken hand.  While we were in the waiting area, a broken hand being relatively lower priority, we encountered a number of illegal immigrants who were there for everything from early labor to children with fever, to more serious conditions.  In short, the place was swamped with them.  You might wonder how I could know their status, but it’s really as simple as this: The lady who was checking us in and verifying financial responsibility took my wife’s insurance card, and said “Praise the Lord! A paying customer!”  Naive as I was in those days, I asked her what she meant, and as she shoved forms in front of me to complete, she explained that most of the people in the crowded waiting area were people who would never pay.  I commented on the fact that it seemed terribly busy for a Tuesday evening, and she remarked that this was turning out to be a slow day.  I asked her bluntly: “If they’re not paying, who does?”  She laughed at me and said: “Dear boy, that’s Medicaid. Most of them are illegals, and we’ll wind up filing for payments from the State. It’s called Indigent Care.”

As I returned to where my wife was seated, cradling her hand, I pondered what all of this must cost us each year.  As I looked around the room at the scale of the problem, I became dizzy with the implications.  My education had only just begun.  Next came the schools.  This is where I learned that in my daughter’s classroom would be children who were receiving an education for which we all pay, but whose parents don’t pay any taxes beyond those unavoidable ones on sales.  Slowly but surely, this all began to add up to something, and then one day, years later, I saw two people walking across my back horse pasture.  I wondered what they might be doing, when one of them inadvertently made contact with one of the electrical strands.  There was an eruption of cursing in Spanish, and I walked out to see who they were and what they were doing.  Like the young fellow of more than a decade before, these two didn’t speak much English.  They seemed harmless enough, but they asked me if I had any work.  “Work” was approximately the extent of their English.  I told them I hadn’t, but I could see they had been walking many miles.

What I realized as they left my property and onto the next was that they probably would avoid detection, and so large is the problem that even a law-and-order conservative like me had no particular concern about it, and had shrugged at the futility of it all, simply returning to the task at hand.  I too had become thoroughly desensitized to it.  Of course, if you live for any time in Texas, particularly in rural areas, you become accustomed to all this as an ordinary part of life, and therein lies a serious problem:  We’ve become accustomed to law-breaking on a wide scale, and no politician here or in Washington seems the least bit interested in addressing it.  Their answer seems to be to simply legalize the former illegality.

Rick Perry is just one more in a long parade of politicians who have done little – virtually nothing really – to discourage all of this, and the problem is that so long as we shut up and pay, that’s how it’s going to be.  Don’t misunderstand: I don’t blame only Rick Perry, not by a long-shot, but the truth is that every time somebody in our legislature has raised a ruckus and offered a bill on the subject, Perry has been there to shoot it down.  More, he’s been happy to sign things into law that effectively act as encouragement, and I can’t endorse any part of that, including the bill that gave in-state tuition rates to the children of illegals.  I realize that politicians also feel stuck between a rock and a hard place on this issue, but after all, for whom do they work?  The answer to this question may contain the key to a larger  universe of issues in which our government is intransigent in the face of our demands.  In too many cases, the answer may well be that they’re not working for us, but for other interests upon whom they rely in order to maintain their power, and as a result, we pay, often in more ways than one.