Thursday, February 16, 2017

Going Without

Today was to be "A Day Without Immigrants." I didn't notice it, personally. Not because I don't work with immigrants, but I'm in the tech sector, and the immigrants I work with on a regular basis are all making salaries in the upper-five to six figures. They're not feeling the heat in the way that restaurant workers and other people lower down on the income ladder might be. Not, to be honest, that it appeared that any of the immigrant-run restaurants I drove by this evening appeared to be closed.

There is a difference between "A Day Without Immigrants" and "A Day Without Immigrants From Latin America Who Are In the United States Illegally." And I don't know that it does anyone any good for those two groups to become conflated in the public consciousness. Immigration policy in the United States is, and will always have to be, based more broadly than the interests of Latin Americans. Programmers, managers and other white-collar workers have different interests than "cooks, dishwashers, busboys, cleaners, carpenters and delivery workers."

I'm typically unimpressed with street protests, mainly because I understand protest to be the last resort of the politically powerless. And when we're talking about those people who are in the country without documentation, they are more or less by definition politically powerless, since they cannot vote or run for elected office. Therefore, they have no way of influencing the system from the "inside." This necessitates that they attempt influence from the outside. And while I understand the goals behind the protests, I don't know that I think the tactics are the best ones.

If we don't produce, if we get deported, and don't show up, what's gonna happen? This country will collapse, because who's gonna do our kinds of jobs? No one.
The problem with this sort of thing (which mirrors the problem I have with "No justice, no peace") is that it is, at it heart, extortionate. And I'm not sure that is a good way of making friends and influencing people. The bluff is unlikely to be called; the United States is a very large nation of people who don't get along all that well in a lot of things - I can't see the nation as a whole saying "Okay. Challenge accepted. Show me what you've got." But even so, threatening people and effectively calling them out as weak strikes me as an unlikely path to convincing the public that they should either continue to tolerate the blind eye that's often turned to immigration or opt for another Reagan-style reset. I also think that it seems likely to alienate people who came to the country legally, who generally speaking, couldn't bluster their way in.

Hostility to immigration tends to be a pocketbook issue, at least in perception. The understanding is that the large pool of immigrant labor lowers wages and leads to job losses for "natives," without doing anything to materially aid the displaced. The fact that one might be able to buy berries at 50% of what they would otherwise cost is slight consolation to someone facing long-term unemployment. The fact of the matter becomes that many Americans are not compared to compete with many of the world's poor people on standard of living. Trinidad Macias may be convinced that most Americans would not do the jobs that immigrant workers perform, but the simple fact is, that to the degree that she's right, it's because the work is poorly paid, and many Americans would be unwilling to sacrifice the America Dream enough to make the math work out. I don't know that rubbing their faces in that will drive the impetus for change.

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