It is not jobs or economic opportunity alone that inspire millions of immigrants to come to America illegally, but rather an unsustainable culture of complicity
By Mark Cromer
It’s an early spring night in downtown Los Angeles and I find myself poolside at the venerable Hotel Figueroa’s Veranda Bar, sharing a table and some cocktail conversation with a legal professional in her early 30s. Flashing a radiant smile, penetrating eyes and natural beauty, she might be something of a poster-child of the generational evolution among LA’s business class; blending a pseudo-bohemian edge (replete with strategically-placed tattoos) and social activism with power suits and a daily grind all rather seamlessly. Sequestered amid the candlelit tables with a cool breeze rolling in from the coast as searchlights frantically crisscross the night sky above the garish LA Live entertainment complex south of Olympic Avenue, our talk drifts from pleasant observations to the banalities of the obligatory resume recitations and my ears pick up as she ticks off her ‘social justice’ bona fides; including work in support of “the undocumented” and “paperless people,” particularly those that have run afoul of the law beyond their illegal immigration status, whether it’s a drunk driving or domestic violence charge.
“The immigration system here is fundamentally racist,” she says, proffering that indictment as casually as she might offer an observation of the weather. “It targets and punishes Latinos that come here to work. It is essentially a war against Mexicans.”
Intrigued, I ask her how is it that a ‘racist system’ that she feels reflects a ‘racist society’ that is waging a literal ‘racist war of hate’ against Mexicans, is in actual fact, responsible for the most liberal immigration policy in the history of the modern nation-state and one that continues to inspire and facilitate the migration of millions of people annually from the Southern Hemisphere. For all the wild-eyed hysterical hyperbole by mass immigration advocates that draw morally outrageous comparisons between today’s immigration enforcement measures like those in Arizona and humanity’s 20th Century nadir of the Holocaust, the hard historical fact remains that Jewish people desperately sought escape from the murderous clutches of Nazi Germany, while literally tens of millions of Mexicans dream of coming to America and every year millions seek to turn that dream into a reality.
Not many people are eager to run into a burning house, let alone risk humiliation, degradation and death to break into a country that ostensibly has declared war on them.
The incongruity of her one-dimensional description of the country and the sheer numbers of people seeking entry to our shores weighs on her only for a moment before she dismisses it with more casual aplomb, however contradictory it may be: “They come here to work. That’s the pull factor. If Americans don’t like it, then they ought to focus their energy on helping these people improve opportunities for them in their home countries. If these people had jobs there, they wouldn’t be coming here.”
I marvel at the almost Evangelical certainty with which she wields the crux of her position; the fine simplicity of it, smooth and undisturbed by any nuance that might lead to a different, less clear conclusion. Yet there is something quite alarming about listening to someone who knows better—indeed, someone who is practiced in the art of argument—reduced to cheap sloganeering not so much in pursuit of a valid point as in spite of not having one. There is a disturbing undercurrent to it, like watching educated people chant in unison at a political rally, offering mantras to whatever truism they need to have.
Of course, as the night wears on I find that my disappointment in her use of slogan-based arguments that are so simplistic they make Sarah Palin sound like Charlie Rose lost in digression to be increasingly ameliorated by her electric personality and beauty. The way it should be.
It’s time for another drink and to let the conversation drift into more universal pursuits. The way it should be.
It is now an article of absolute faith among those that support continued mass immigration into the United States that immigrants, both legal and illegal, come to this country for a better life; one that will be provided by employment here that simply doesn’t exist in their home countries. They tell themselves, even as they watch the unemployment lines grow deeper with citizens across the nation, that immigrants are merely filling jobs that Americans simply no longer want to do, from the fields to the factories. The ease in which immigrants, and particularly illegal immigrants, can find work in certain industries such as light manufacturing, construction, hospitality and landscaping is often characterized as the primary “pull factor” that lures, like a siren’s song, millions of men and women to risk their lives in an increasingly desperate effort to make it surreptitiously across the American frontier. And of course it is not difficult to see the powerful attraction that even minimum wage American jobs would have over workers in a country like Mexico and many others, where the average wage amounts to little more than five dollars a day; a literal pittance relative to what even a busboy can make in a single hour in the United States.
In late 2009, well into the Great Recession’s epic job bleed-out in America, a poll showed that one out of every three Mexicans—nearly 40 million people—wanted to move to the United States given the chance. Imagine what those numbers would be throughout much of the developing world; across all continents.
That mass exodus-in-waiting has nothing to do with job prospects alone.
There’s no question that the practical prospect of escaping the brutal grind of poverty and the dead-end of subsistence living that is its hallmark burns far brighter for immigrants than any poetic assurance that can be glimpsed in the torchlight of the Statue of Liberty, whose lamp now lights a golden door that many corporate executives seem to believe reads “Employees Only.”
But the suggestion that tens of millions of illegal immigrants have streamed across the Rio Grande and into many other ports of entry over the past generation primarily for jobs is a simplification in the extreme, a radical shoe-horning of reality into a more convenient narrative that discards wholesale a range of fundamental factors that motivate immigrants— and it verges on the very anti-intellectual charge that proponents of mass immigration all too frequently level at their critics.
The fact is that mass immigration into the United States, and particularly illegal immigration, is driven by a now well-established and pervasive culture of accommodation; of which the prospect of employment is only one element, and not even the determinate one at that, since being unemployed in America still offers far more ultimate promise than life with a meager job in their home countries. From subsidized healthcare, education, food and housing to a civic landscape that is largely free of the corruption that is endemic in their homeland, making landfall in America by any means necessary for most immigrants is to essentially find themselves in Oz—a vast, surreal land of immense wealth that has created an enviable middleclass and established a sense of functional order that they can hardly imagine existing in their home countries.
All things considered, the United States isn’t so much a land of mere employment opportunity as it is a tangible place of sweet deliverance from the dysfunctional and violent misery they are seeking to escape. And like a dream come true (as indeed immigrants often describe the services and opportunities made available to them as dream-like), upon arrival they are effectively feted in much of the media as the engine that is sustaining and revitalizing America—even as millions of American workers fall further into debt and despair—and ritualistically deified by a Latino pan-nationalist identity movement that seeks demographic hegemony at virtually any cost, including undercutting the most at-risk and in-need Latino Americans (along with everyone else) by exploding the labor pool and dramatically escalating demand for services. Central to the canonizing of illegal immigrants is the constant assertion of their martyrdom, the cult of their perpetual victimization which takes on a surreal air as illegal immigrants are effectively sheltered from the worksite to the college classroom and beyond while simultaneously being held up as a people under endless siege amid a racist nation that’s aligned against them.
The inherent and obvious conflict with reality that is rife within the popular illegal immigrant narrative matters not, as credibility is not the point. The story line just needs to permeate the media climate consistently enough to reinforce both a heightened sense of threatened cultural identity among immigrants (which is particularly useful to ethnic-identity groups that peddle “us against them” scenarios; whether they are white, Latino or black) and a sense of equity entitlement (i.e. if immigrants built this country you have an intrinsic right to come here regardless of any laws enforcing ‘capricious borders’); both of which in turn help fuel the cycle of mass illegal immigration.
Thus American citizens have become accustomed each spring to the spectacle of watching hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants take to the streets in major cities throughout the nation in May Day protests that accuse America and its people of the most heinous of racist crimes—all while vowing they will not leave and, actually, want in on the party.
Even among media outlets where the illegal immigrant story narrative is the most carefully managed news coverage, these protests sometimes result in the jarring images of cheering illegal immigrants waving Old Glory (which they had been given for the photo-op) while activists denounce as America as a vast corporate gulag populated by rednecks who enjoy nothing so much as a weekend of “hunting immigrants.” If their own estimation of the United States was accepted at face value, it is difficult to imagine just what pull-factor would really have to exist to tempt even a handful of immigrants to illegally cross our frontiers and risk attempting to build a life here.
But the stage show of mass protests are simply the street pageantry of a coordinated production aimed at reinforcing illegal immigrants’ sense of a cloistered community that is under constant siege and threat.
If only more reporters would more closely examine the world these immigrants return to when the protest is over. It is a world unlike anything they ever could have imagined in their home countries.
In Southern California, as in many other parts of the country, there is perhaps no better or immediate example of the immense benefits that are extended to immigrants in America regardless of their legal status than the public education system. It is a system that, in California at any rate, has seen its mission in many communities transformed amid the tsunami of illegal immigration from providing a quality education to serving as the delivery point for a host of subsidized social services; including providing meals, healthcare, daycare, English-language courses for parents and the ever nebulous “parenting classes” for people who have lots of children but seemingly few of the skills needed to raise or provide for them.
In but a generation California’s once vaunted public education system has become a frontline clearing house for services extended often almost exclusively for the benefit of immigrants here illegally; and it has collapsed in large part as a result of it. The near total academic implosion of not only the Los Angeles Unified School District (the second largest school district in the nation) but of numerous other large and mid-sized public school districts throughout Southern California is simply indisputable—no matter how heretical saying so has become. Public schools were simply overrun and swamped by mass immigration in the 1990s and the earlier part of the past decade. One didn’t need the gift of an oracle to see what was happening as the fine lawns and open spaces at schools built to comfortably educate several hundred students were suddenly filled with portable classrooms and trailers in a desperate effort to accommodate enrollments that swelled campus populations to triple their intended size. Classroom instruction suffered dramatically as teachers—even if they were bilingual in English and Spanish—scrambled to effectively teach their American students while at the same time helping immigrant students who frequently were multiple years behind their class level and came from families with functionally illiterate parents and a culture that placed little sustained emphasis on the importance of education.
Not too long ago, a childhood friend of mine who went on to become an educator in the Pomona Unified School District where we both attended public schools in the 1970s and early ‘80s invited me back to my old junior high school. More than 30 years after I had walked its halls, it was simply no longer recognizable as the school I once attended, from the most obvious distinctions to the most fundamental. The relative racial balance that Emerson Junior High School, and the district itself, had achieved by the mid and late 1970s between blacks, whites and Chicanos had been completely erased by the seismic demographic shift; with black and white students all but disappearing amid a student body that according to the California Department of Education (2008-2009) is now nearly 90-percent Latino, of which 91-percent qualified for taxpayer subsidized meals served at the campus. Half of the students are classified as ‘English language learners.’ These figures roughly mirror the entire PUSD, whose more than 17,300 students are 82-percent Latino, of which 77-percent are eligible for state subsidized meals, according to the National Center for Education Statisitics.
The number of students at Emerson Jr. High has close to doubled since I attended, now hovering around 800, according to district statistics and the school, a surge that was met by peppering its open space with portables. But perhaps the most stunning difference I was confronted with as I sat in on some classes and watched the students in the halls was the sense of low-boiling chaos that seemed omnipresent, running the gamut from lethargic disinterest to constant distraction. I asked one class of 8th graders what time they went to bed on school nights. The answers ranged from “I don’t know” to “It depends where I am staying” to “Midnight” to “Whenever I feel like it.”
Even accounting for the bravado of puberty, the reality of a constant level of relative chaos in the students’ home lives was immediately apparent. And for teachers it is an exhausting prospect, particularly as they struggle to help students who are dramatically below their assigned grade level.
“If I have a class of 24 students and perhaps three or four of them are a class level behind where they should be in their studies, I can handle that. I can successfully instruct the majority of the students in their course work and still help the other students catch up,” my friend said. “But if I have a class of 24 students and 18 of them are not one, not two, not three but actually four grade levels below where they should be, what the hell am I supposed to do with that? Baby-sit, that’s what. And that’s what a lot of us are doing here, baby-sitting. Providing daycare. We’ve got eighth graders walking in here from Mexico that are on a third grade level, maybe, and we’re supposed to meet the test standards? That’s a joke.”
But the joke has been on the American citizen, and particularly the working class, that has watched the public education system that once provided a pathway to a better future literally be overwhelmed at their expense. For middleclass families throughout Southern California, the tidal wave of immigration that crashed into the schools fueled their flight from public education altogether, resulting in an effective double taxation: taxes to support public schools they won’t send their children to—plus steep tuition fees for a private education. Either that, or they simply moved.
But what has been a long-running catastrophe for the American working and middleclass has been a Godsend for millions more illegal immigrants and their children. Despite the death-spiral of public education in California, at least by the standards of developed nations, the K-12 schools here appear like shining Taj Mahals when contrasted with what was available to the vast majority of illegal (and legal) immigrants in their home countries, which simply put was little to nothing. And the array of services made available to them through the schools—at no cost to them—is the gift that keeps on giving.
So there is no overstating the lush irony that hangs thick in the air of the ‘ethnic studies’ courses that are taught in public high schools today, classes that all too frequently serve more as ideological proving grounds for sociopolitical indoctrination than the legitimate curricula approved by districts. Two years ago, students at Jordan High School in Watts launched a series of protests in June after the LAUSD refused to renew the contract of Karen Salazar, an untenured English teacher at the campus. The LAUSD—not exactly a bastion of gold-hoarding, bunker-building Glenn Beck sycophants—determined that Salazar had veered wildly into blatant ethno-political indoctrination of her students. While Salazar presented a reasoned defense of her standards and practices in the classroom for the media, video footage showed her standing in front of the school clutching a bullhorn and declaring “Historically the school system has been used as a project of colonization to rob students of their identity.”
Her students were even more blunt.
“She goes out of the curriculum and teaches us our history,” one student said at the time. “Instead of that [expletive deleted] U.S.-centrism they teach us in our history class.” In another video clip the same student declares students are being “hunted down and treated like terrorists” at schools that are really prisons.
The reality that pubic schools are just one element in a network of services and benefits offered to immigrants regardless of their legal status—where millions of immigrant children and the children of immigrants in the country illegally are fed breakfast and lunch everyday on the taxpayer’s dime and plugged into a host of other services, along with an effort to actually provide an education—is either lost to them or cynically ignored. In high irony, the American people have subsidized the creation of entire academic departments that are openly hostile to them.
Perhaps most amazing of all, even as the public education system in California collapsed, even as tens of billions of tax dollars have been feverishly shoveled into epic failures like the LAUSD—Superintendent Ramon Cortines 2010-11 budget reported total annual funds from the years 2006 to 2011 ranging from $10 billion to $12 billion annually—it became a matter of not only policy but pride that no effort was made to even quantify the direct impact of mass illegal immigration on public schools, let alone staunch it.
To the contrary, it is accommodated and as such, encouraged.
Along with public education, the healthcare system in the U.S. has proven to be a powerful lure for illegal immigrants, another part of the benefit package. And like public education, it is one that has developed a self-perpetuating dynamic to it, like a flywheel that sustains its own momentum, albeit one at a devastating cost to public treasuries, particularly in states like California and Texas, where in some hospitals along the Texas-Mexico border, births to illegal immigrants now account for more than half of all babies delivered. The depth and consistency of subsidized prenatal care alone that’s offered in the U.S. is simply non-existent for most immigrant mothers and families south of the border. Mothers that might otherwise have given birth at home with no doctor or even a nurse-practitioner to oversee the delivery of the baby and all the attendant risks of childbirth are able to access state-of-the-art maternity wards in the U.S., as well as virtually the entire host of neonatal medical services available to the child once it is born.
A few years ago in Texas, a network news crew conducted a bedside interview with an illegal immigrant from Mexico who had just undergone a C-section delivery of her baby, who is an American citizen as a result of taking his first gasp of air on American soil, all covered by Medicaid payments. The mother had illegally crossed the border only months earlier, very pregnant, along with her husband and two other children. She felt no need to be bashful as to why she and her family took the risk of crossing the border illegally: she wanted to give birth in America. “I am very glad he was born here,” she said through a translator. “That is why I came here; so my children, my husband and I could have a better life.”
Not a better job, but a better life.
Emergency rooms and county clinics, which are rightly bound to treat people regardless of immigration status, ultimately offer a gateway into a broader healthcare system that while increasingly nightmarish for many American citizens is a dream come true for most illegal immigrants. And this not something that illegal immigrants discover through happenstance once they arrive in America, it is well known throughout the dusty warrens and shantytowns throughout much of the world, often simplistically—though with laser-like accuracy—reduced to the concept that in America it actually pays to have babies.
And as in the case of public education, the tidal wave of illegal immigration that slammed into public hospitals and clinics throughout the American southwest in particular did so with staggering costs of so-called ‘uncompensated care’ and with devastating consequences to the American working class and the native indigent that watched as funding and services designated for them—and often already stretched thin—was swamped by a seemingly endless tide of immigrants arriving illegally.
And like public education, the instinctive American reaction was one of total accommodation; even as the emergency rooms filled as they became de facto non-emergency treatment centers, all while county clinics closed and hospital administrators streamlined processes to admit and treat patients with no Social Security numbers, no valid identification and no ability to pay for treatment.
Despite the superheated rhetoric claims America is waging war against immigrants, the culture of accommodation has even metastasized throughout the criminal justice system, resulting in people who have no legal right to be in the nation frequently getting a pass that allows them to stay once they have committed some other crime.
In California, the stories of illegal immigrants that have been arrested and released only to commit some other horrific crime are so ubiquitous that they have lost some of their intrinsic power to enrage citizens for more than a few embittered passing moments.
Such was the case of Humberto Higareda Robles.
In the mid-afternoon on the Fourth of July in 2008, Robles, an illegal immigrant from Mexico with active warrants out for his arrest, was drunk and behind the wheel of a 2001 Ford Aerostar van as it sped across the streets of south Pomona. Robles slammed the van into another car, seriously injuring two people, then sped off into a residential neighborhood, where he lost control of the van again, causing it to jump the curb and smash into a utility pole, shearing its high voltage lines. Though Robles fled on foot, he was tracked down by police, arrested and transported to the hospital for treatment of his injuries. As he was being treated, police said Robles laughed when informed of the people he injured and cursed the officers, in English.
Booked on multiple felony charges and already carrying arrest warrants stemming from domestic violence charges filed against him 2002, Robles had an ICE-hold placed on him that prevented him from being bailed out and set the stage for deportation proceedings following the adjudication of his case. At least that’s what was supposed to happen. What actually happened was the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office chose to file misdemeanor charges against Robles instead of pursuing the felony counts, and as a result the immigration-hold was dropped.
One week later, Judge Judson W. Morris Jr., a veteran of the bench, sentenced Robles to 51 days in county jail after Robles took a plea deal on two misdemeanor counts. Less than three days later, due to overcrowding in a county jail system that has also been swamped by illegal immigration, Robles walked back on to America’s streets a free man. Despite being in the country illegally for years, despite being a repeat offender with active arrest warrants for domestic violence, despite nearly killing two people while driving drunk out of his mind, despite costing the American taxpayer almost certainly hundreds of thousands of dollars, Robles not only walked free, but he hardly broke a sweat.
Far from fearing even enforcement of the law—let alone the waging of some war of terror against immigrants—Robles displayed all the confidence that the system would actually work for him, not against him.
His confidence was not misplaced. The system; as administered by veteran jurists and prosecutors, did not disappoint him.
And there are thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of Humberto Robles roaming California today; from vicious gang members who deal death to rapists to drunk drivers—all seemingly unaware or unafraid that there is a war of oppression being waged against them, and all too often literally laughing their way through the system right back out on to the streets again.
The virtual collapse of immigration enforcement even among criminal suspects is a pull factor of the most ominous kind, with some of the most tragically deadly results.
It’s a Friday evening during peak rush hour as I make my way out of downtown Los Angeles, crawling east in the stop-and-go traffic along Interstate 10 as part of the now iconic daily mass commuter migration to and from suburbs that now stretch over the Cajon Pass into the high desert boom-and-bust towns like Victorville as well as deep into the eastern reaches of San Bernardino County. The mind-numbing, unsustainable insanity of two and three hour commutes by hundreds of thousands of single-occupant automobiles apparently remains beside the point during Southern California’s continuing implosion in 2011—it simply continues on its own momentum.
I have ridden and driven this stretch of freeway since the late 1960s and the spasms of growth and decay that have blossomed and withered along its corridor are engraved in my mind and each time I drive it I am confronted with some memory of what was that stands in sharp contrast with what it is—all in grim prelude to what certainly is coming to this megalopolis of 15 million people jammed into a desert.
It will make the inevitable ghost town fates of Phoenix and Las Vegas look like a matinee before the main feature.
My quiet marveling at the slow burn of teeming humanity that is so evident amid the epic sprawl of Greater Los Angeles from the air-conditioned confines of my Saturn VUE is brought to a sudden end with literal bang. In a single instant I hear a loud, sharp smashing crash and look up just in time to see the car behind mine hurtling into what I instantly know will be impact with my Saturn. Bang! My VUE is thrown violently forward but fortunately doesn’t strike the car in front of me.
What follows over the next hour in the aftermath of the accident perfectly exemplifies a small but critical piece of the larger culture of complicity that is now indeed the pull factor for millions of immigrants streaming illegally into the United States.
As the three cars involved in the accident limp over to the shoulder of the freeway, the car that triggered the accident by slamming into the car behind me, pulls ahead of us and the driver, a middle-aged Latino man, leaps out of the vehicle once it comes to a stop and runs to the passenger side of the car and gets in, settling into the passenger seat. The woman that had been in the passenger seat slides over into the driver’s seat, then nonchalantly gets out of the car, walks back to where I am standing with the driver of the car that was first rear-ended and hands us a driver’s license.
“Here’s my license,” she says without batting an eye.
“You weren’t driving the car, he was,” says Brenda, the middle-aged black woman that was first hit. “We need to talk with him.”
“No, I was driving the car. He doesn’t drive,” says the woman, whose driver’s license identified her first name as Lisette. “I was driving.”
“Look, the guy in your car was the guy behind the wheel, we all saw it, we watched you play musical chairs, now get him out of the car and tell him to come talk with us. We need his information,” I say, as Brenda begins to call 911.
“He doesn’t have any information to give you,” Lisette offers somewhat sheepishly. “He has no license, no ID or nothing like that. He doesn’t speak English.” She then informs us she doesn’t have insurance either.
As we wait for the California Highway Patrol to arrive, the guy finally gets out of the car and walks back to where Brenda and I are standing next to our cars. He lights a cigarette and moves around our cars looking at the damage, then says a few things to Lisette in Spanish. She looks at us and says “His brother runs an auto body repair shop and he says if you take it there he and his brother will fix your cars for you. That way we can get going.” I get the sense that he is thinking about splitting either way.
I remind her the cops are on their way, the accident has already been reported and I’d be going through my insurance company to handle the repairs. She relates this to him in Spanish, he shrugs, and walks back over to their car. A metro emergency tow truck arrives to see if we need anything. The tow truck driver, a middle-aged Chicano, asks us what happened, then goes up to the other guy and speaks to him in Spanish, and comes back to us shaking his head.
“You know the score,” he says to me. “No license, no papers, no nada. I see it all the time out here. Wadda ya gonna do?”
He checks with dispatch and inquires as to when the CHP officers may arrive. “They’re still on their way,” he says with a wave. “It’s busy out here tonight. Good luck!”
The CHP finally arrives nearly an hour after the accident, and the officer works the scene with a cool, proficient professionalism, taking each of our statements. I describe the accident and the musical drivers that played out in its immediate aftermath. The officer actually breaks into a bemused chuckle. “Yeah, I figured as much, but that’s not what they’re telling me of course.”
He finishes taking my information and statement and then lets me go on my way. As I merge back into traffic that is still moving little more than a slug’s pace, I get a final look at the driver of the car that triggered this three car collision, noting that he seemed remarkably cool for someone that was almost certainly in the country illegally. In spite of the relentless hysterical rhetoric from the proponents of mass immigration and the network that supports and sustains millions of illegal immigrants that America is waging a ‘war of racist terror’ against Mexicans—this illegal driver/immigrant seemed as cool as a cucumber. As if he knew he had little if anything to actually fear.
And by almost every measure, he doesn’t.
He seems to know, perhaps by previous experience, that he will not be taken into custody for driving without a license, registration or insurance. In all likelihood he was not arrested for providing false information to an officer at the scene of an accident. And even if the CHP officer did impound the vehicle and take him into custody, unless he has a previous arrest and conviction for a violent crime already in the system, he probably knows there is a better than even chance he is simply going to be released back on to the streets in a matter of days if not hours.
The result has been unfolding in real time across Southern California for years, as tens of thousands of immigrants climb illegally behind the wheel and head off to jobs (employment they have no legal right to hold either, but have learned they have about as much to fear at the worksite as they do in the driver’s seat of their car) in what in some neighborhoods looks like a cross between bumper cars and a demolition derby on the streets.
Throughout the past decade, law enforcement and emergency first-responders have reported surreal traffic collision scenes where they arrived to find smashed up cars abandoned. One officer I know described them as ‘Rapture crashes,’ where the cars collide and the people in them suddenly vanish. Motorists and passerbys throughout Southern California have long been witness to sporadic crashes that end with numerous people from one or more vehicles simply jumping out and running scattershot in every direction.
The long-term affect of this chaotic wave has been a slow, corrosive tide of attrition that has now permeated virtually every element of society in California, soaking it in a malaise of exhausted acceptance. As the tow truck driver noted with a shrug: “You know the score…wadda ya gonna do?”
The answer has consistently been “nothing” for a long enough time by local, county, state and federal officials—from the highways to the hospitals to the worksites to the schoolyards and everywhere else—that a logical, enforceable sense of order has simply been overrun to the point where it is now in many respects nearly erased, rubbed away to a new order of a culture that lives largely in the moment, and only from one moment to the next. It’s simply a world in which producing a license, registration and proof of insurance at an accident scene is, well, beside the point.
Those aren’t just cars that are crashing, but actual worlds that are colliding.
And as high irony would have it, it is the American cultural foundations of reliable order, accountability and responsibility that are being totaled and written off, one by one, a little more each day.
For the two Americans standing on the side of the freeway that evening; producing on demand the documents that we are legally required to have, it was a blistering indictment of a system that has collapsed into a cynical impotence that ultimately caters to the illegal immigrant. We pay thousands of dollars annually for insurance and to register our vehicles, fees that a now perpetually broke Sacramento legislature continues to jack up in endless efforts to staunch the state’s financial bleed-out. We play by the rules despite the continually escalating costs that we can barely afford; and yet at such accidents scenes we are treated to a front row presentation of the consequences—or lack thereof—of people who not only don’t play by the rules, but who in fact are encouraged to ignore them.
For us, it wasn’t just our bumpers that were crumpled and it was far more than our nerves that were shaken. No, the damage runs far deeper than that; and it is far more fundamental. For every American citizen involved in such an accident, or waiting it out in a swamped emergency room, or whose children have been crowded out of the neighborhood school, or who are waiting for their unemployment checks to run out even as they drive by worksites where only Spanish is being spoken, the lasting injury is the emotional one, the psychic wound that leaves us with a deep scar of betrayal.
These sorts of wounds are now festering all over the nation, deepening an already dangerous chasm between the working middle class in America—long its stabilizing social rudder and engine of its progressive programs—and a government that seems increasingly unresponsive to the demands of its own citizens.
It only takes common sense and an intellectual willingness to step outside the shouting matches, politically correct No-Fly Zones and the cultish sloganeering to grasp that the United States simply can’t continue to absorb the waves of immigrants that it has been accepting legally and otherwise over the past four decades while at the same time even pretending to offer a better future with more opportunities for its own citizens. Playing make-believe that endless mass immigration is what really fuels America’s economic growth (verses our ingenuity and exceptionalism), which in turn supports the entitlement programs for the nation’s seniors, will not make those hard facts and bottom-line limitations any less so.
Ultimately, the United States is facing the consequences of its own historically unprecedented success: never before has one nation offered so many people such real opportunity, prosperity and freedom for so long. The proverbial American Dream became a reality for enough of its citizens that the power of its global brand is now indisputable—and that is the ultimate pull factor. The proof is evident in the millions of people that are planning—not dreaming, but planning—to come here, legally or otherwise, even as you read this. The pull factor is not a job in a lettuce field somewhere outside of Bakersfield or an assembly line in Mississippi or a construction site in Pennsylvania. No, the pull factor is that America is a fundamentally benevolent, wealthy nation that simply offers more hope on its worst day than these immigrants’ home countries do on their best day.
It is simply delusional to suggest that illegal immigrants—a population that may well now number close to 30 million men women and children—are willing to voluntarily return to countries that many of them risked humiliation, extortion, dehumanizing brutality, kidnapping and even death in a merciless treks in order to escape. The vast majority of illegal immigrants harbor no intent or desire to return to countries where they had lost all hope. But before America can have an honest national conversation about how many people here in violation of our laws will have to leave, there first should be an open discussion as to how many more people can the country take?
If we wait until the quality of life in America—its true pull factor—has corroded to the point for the majority of its citizens that its glow has finally dimmed across the world stage and mass immigration begins to naturally decline in significant numbers, then the game will have been long over for most Americans, to say nothing of the legion of new arrivals.
California, once the window display of the success of the American way of life, from higher education to healthcare, should now serve as a three-bell fire alarm as the Golden State buckles under unsustainable mass immigration and growth while its tax base shrivels.
As daunting as the task may seem given government intransigency and the visceral attacks from some supporters of mass immigration that are rooted in a highly balkanized, stridently ethnocentric agenda; the challenge of staunching mass illegal immigration from its present flood to a trickle of insignificant numbers pales in comparison to the grim future most working Americans will face if we continue to accommodate it.