Thursday, May 31, 2007

Citizens and Legal Residents "Being Caught"

I just said goodnight to an old friend with whom I collaborate on agoraXchange. Zeljko's working on an installation that's going up at UC San Diego in a couple of weeks and I was picking him up at LAX. I'd picked up another friend last week and the experience left me on edge.

She had text-messaged me from the plane that she had arrived and so I pulled up to the curb to wait. I was sitting in my car and noticed an officer on a motorcycle pull up to the car behind me and start writing something. Anticipating that I would be next for this unwanted fate, I buckled up, turned on my left-hand turn signal and before I could pull out I was stopped by the motorcycle cop, who had darted in my path to prevent me from leaving.

"Why are you stopping me?"
"You're not supposed to stay here."
"But I'm not staying here. I was waiting for my friend who just messaged me that she's here. And then when I saw you pull up to the car behind, I started to leave."
"Cars are not allowed to stand here."
"Isn't this the passenger pick up area? What are you supposed to do, drive real slow so your passenger can jump in?"
He asked for my drivers' license and said that they were writing these down for anyone whom they stopped for stopping (and for having been stopped even though one was presently moving at the time of being stopped for stopping).

As he wrote down my driver's license number he explained how generous he was being, since he could have given me a ticket. Sitting there, furious that I was being either legally or illegally stopped--I can't decide which is worse, that our legislators would criminalize picking people up at the airport, or a cop pretending they would so he could collect private information--I said the f-word. "Doesn't this seem fascist?" I asked him.

"What did you say?! Can you please repeat that? Do you want a ticket?"

I was silent.

"You said something. What did you say."

"Nothing." Pick your battles, I thought, knowing that a police officer whose ticket-writing discretion could be swayed by some extemporaneous political analysis would win if I brought the fantasy First Amendment case I was contemplating. There is no "right" not to have a ticket written by a cop because he hates to be questioned.

When I returned home I told my girlfriend what happened and she said the same thing had happened to her, which was especially galling because she'd been robbed of her laptop at LAX a couple months earlier and the police there had no clue as to how to apprehend the person who did this. The security cameras were dark in that area (the outside curb!) and all they could do was join us looking in trash cans. But somehow they were planning to nab major terrorists by taking my driver's license number.

Zeljko and his friend Alexander were exactly where they said they would be in the message, waiting on the curb in front of the Delta terminal. Their first story was about the horrors of security. Alexander had to go through twice in Atlanta. Zeljko was not allowed to carry a bottle of liquor in his hand luggage and had to somehow track down his suitcase and pack it there. For my part, I often think, as I'm figuring out which is the 4 oz (illegal) carry-on bottle and which is the 3 oz (legal) bottle for my shampoo, one day people will tell their children about not being able to carry hair care products on the plane to the same bemused looks now directed to the "duck-and-cover" educational film footage instructing children on going under their school desks in the event of a nuclear attack.

And meanwhile, the country was radiating itself into the current slow death now underway. Global warming and an irradiated food chain, beginning in the ground water, to name just two current crises among dozens that were beginning fifty years ago while the government was spending most of its budget on the military, especially building a nuclear arsenal. New Orleans has vanished and tritium is now showing up in Washington State salmon and strawberries. Meanwhile, our government has no plan to prevent the loss of more major cities, or clean up the tritium, but has decided to spend billions of dollars on copying down the driver's license numbers for everyone stopping to pick up a passenger and making sure people use 3 oz and not 4 oz bottles.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Foreigners Being Caught

I was late to work this morning and doing my best to make up for lost time. I was on my usual route up the Pacific Coast Highway and it was a familiar routine, including the film crew setting up on the northern end of Malibu. I had just driven through the one odd bit that began after I noticed a patrol car behind me. I lifted my foot off the gas, shifted to the right lane, and the patrol car passed me. The other cars also caught on and for a few miles we were all driving in a nervous caravan at the unnaturally slow speed limit of 50 MPH. At one point the patrol car turned on all the flashing lights on the roof and moved over to the right lane, sandwiching himself between a white van in front and a truck behind. The lights went off and the patrol car did some serious tailgating of the van. The driver was sticking at 50 MPH and the patrol car was right on his tail.

After a few more minutes like this the game ended. The patrol car, which turned out to be from the Los Angeles Sheriff's department, turned on all its lights and was pulling the van over. I passed the van and saw man who appeared to be Latino, around 30 years old, wearing that defeated smile when you know something unpleasant involving a traffic officer is about to happen. He was in a gray sweat jacket and his hair was still wet; the van also was clean and seemed spotless. I drove by him with trepidation. Why was he being pulled over? Did the sheriff pull up close to examine the registration dates and discover they'd expired (I've been stopped by LA sheriffs for this)? Did he call in the license plate number and discover it was the escape vehicle for a bank heist?

Or, my bet, was this one of those increasingly routine pullovers to indicate "concern" and make an identity check on the driver's legal status. I first learned about the "concern" excuse associated with racial profiling practices when I taught at the University of Michigan. During a discussion on the topic an African-American woman was distraught and I asked what she was thinking. She explained, "I live in Detroit and drive a BMW. The police pull me over without giving me tickets, but they say it's because they're 'concerned' about me and want to check to see if everything is okay." I asked her how often this happens and she said all the time. I asked the White students in the class, "Has anyone here been pulled over by police and then told it was because the police wanted to see if everything was okay?" Not a single hand was raised and the student shook her head, sort of like the guy driving the van.

Later, in a colleague's office, I listened as an exchange student who had been caught cheating (turning in the same work for two different classes) explain that he never thought his two professors would figure this out, on the hunch that we wouldn't talk to each other, a really great guess under normal circumstances. The other professor teaches in a different department and still believes the Bush administration went into Iraq because of weapons of mass destruction; the only time we've talked was during an argument that began at a workshop meeting in the library and ended in the parking lot. But what the student didn't know was that my colleague has a nose for finding cheaters. He had a suspicion that this student might be pulling a stunt like this, had his schedule pulled, saw another independent study course on it and shot me an electronic version of the same paper I'd just been reading.

I mulled over the two events, wondering about the fate of the man in the van, if I had a nose for Sheriff misconduct or the Sheriff really had a legitimate reason for his actions. I called the Los Angeles County Sheriff's office in Agoura Hills and when the voice mail message I left wasn't returned, I stopped by on my way home, off the 101 between the exits for Liberty and Lost Hills.

I pulled into the empty parking lot and walked into the building, which was small, like a post office mini-station. There was dark glass behind the desk and I could see a shadow that moved when I approached. When the sheriff on duty appeared I explained the event I'd witnessed and asked for a report. "Why would I give you this report? I don't know who you are." I offered to show the sheriff identification, but that wasn't really the problem. Tomorrow I'm supposed to call the Operations Manager. (This is the same place where Mel Gibson was booked for drunk driving on the evening of his anti-Semitic tirade, duly noted by an officer and then publicly released. If Gibson were born in Australia and not the USA, then S. 1348 might mean his deportation, since 3 drunk driving convictions and you're out, literally.)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

My Girlfriend's Editor's Ex-....

was thrown into a detention center a couple of months ago in Batavia, NY after being grabbed off an Amtrak train when he was unresponsive to a question about his nationality. He knew if he lied he might be thrown out of the USA forever so he just didn't say much, although his English is fluent. He was on his way here (Los Angeles) , but when the train arrived, the editor returned from Union Station with only his friend's luggage.

A colleague who teaches with me at UC Santa Barbara told me that he sees more trucks with day-laborers pulled over on the side of the highway lately, as the police line up the occupants and closely search the vehicles with a brutality more appropriate for Al Qaeda suspects than for a few guys about to do some leaf-blowing.

And today I heard a local report on the NPR affiliate KCRW about a van that was being pulled over for a supposedly routine stop, or perhaps a DWM (Driving While Mexican). The driver, aware of the new role southern California police are eager to play in apprehending undocumented workers, took off and the car crashed. At least some were injured and perhaps there were fatalities as well. (I cannot find any documentation of this event on the internet just now but will update this post when that becomes available.)

This isn't Nazi Germany circa 1940, but it is pretty damn close to what things looked like for Jews in 1935, when the population was required to carry identity cards that used their nationality, i.e., Israelites, for determining their possibilities of employment, education, housing, and so forth. Today's actions are unlikely to result in genocide, but the nativist anxieties and rhetoric of victimization, also similar to that of the Nazis trying to rally Germans from their World War One malaise, is leading to an imperial military policy and domestic punishments that are being normalized in ways that are shocking and even obscene. Anyone who drives by as the police are arresting undocumented aliens, taking possession of their property, severing them from their communities without notice or legal counsel, because of the belief that the outsiders are taking their jobs and wealth, gets to know what it was like for the "normal" Germans in 1935. (The image is from a site devoted to a French resistance fighter who gave people false papers.)

Monday, May 28, 2007

Why not Spanish?

Senators Kennedy and Reid were not content to let the Republicans discriminate against foreigners. They also gave their imprimatur to a provision that discriminates against US-Americans, namely Section 765, ENGLISH AS A NATIONAL LANGUAGE, which for the first time would prevent any legal claim by citizens to official information in a language other than English:
"Unless otherwise authorized or provided by law, no person has a right, entitlement, or claim to have the Government of the United States or any of its officials or representatives act, communicate, perform or provide services, or provide materials in any language other than English."

Not only that, the bill has two additional sections on English. Section 767 DECLARATION OF ENGLISH is just one sentence: "English is the common and unifying language of the United States that helps provide unity for the people of the United States." Yes, except when it doesn't, as when non-English speakers are harmed by such a declaration. Section 768 PRESERVING AND ENHANCING THE ROLE OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE requires the government to "preserve and enhance the role of English as the common and unifying language of America." What exactly does this look like? My guess is that after this passes, the nativists will not wait long before clamoring for an official dictionary.

As the purpose of these measures has no bearing on immigration per se, it appears to be another so-called compromise, meaning Senators Kennedy and Reid have traded away the civil rights of their non-English-speaking constituents for the tenuous ability of a group of aliens whose interests the bill fractures (military against civilians, sheep-herders against goat-herders, 911 survivors against gang crime survivors) to remain here . In other words, alien rights per se are not being represented but rather are receiving a pseudo-representation by a Democratic leadership that has no genuine commitment to their well-being, or even the well-being of their own constituents.

The English as a national language provision is a slap in the face to the 19% of the country's population whom, according to a finding in section 722 of S. 1348, do not speak English at home. And why should they? This is not the United States of England, but the United States of America, founded during a period at which the largest portion of the contemporary territory was occupied by Spanish-speakers. The image at the beginning of this post is Mission San Xavier del Bac, Arizona, built in the 18th century. This is what today's country looked like in 1772:

In 1776 the portion left of the Mississippi was not settled by English-speakers but by people who spoke either languages of the Indian nations, or Spanish and French. This is the area that covers the vast majority of our country's current territory and it is to be expected that descendants of this population, as well as those in adjacent territories immigrating after 1776, would not speak English but these other languages.

Frederick Detweiler, in his 1938 article "The Anglo-Saxon Myth in the United States" in the American Sociological Review,

Despite the Mexican-Spanish zone that reaches from Los Angeles to San Antonio and leaps over to Saint Augustine, despite the profound influence of the American Indian on our early development, the pioneering in the Mississippi valley and the northwest by French and French-Canadians, the ten percent contribution to the population made by Negro and mulatto, and all the weight of 39 million Foreign white stock in the country, there are still some who repeat the shibboleth and call us an Anglo-Saxon nation.

Since the USA is no longer a British colony, and in fact fought a war for the right to its own self-determination, there is something especially preposterous in insisting that its national language come from a country whose expatriates occupied the smallest mass of today's national territory at the time of the country's founding. What next, a Queen? map from the Norman B. Leventhal Map Collection; mission image from, Architecture of the United States

Friday, May 25, 2007

The High Costs of Paranoia

The findings section of S. 1348, the version of the Immigration Bill that the Senate passed yesterday, offers eight reasons justifying the massive expenditures contemplated for tougher border control. Seven of them provide vague statements about the need of the government to control the border, defended on the tautological grounds that the government needs to control the border. Just one finding offers a concrete dollar amount as evidence of the allegedly high costs on the U.S. government imposed by undocumented aliens immigrating:
"Border communities continue to incur significant costs due to the lack of adequate border security. A 2001 study by the law enforcement coalition United States-Mexico Border Counties Coalition found that law enforcement and criminal justice expenses associated with illegal immigration exceed $89,000,000 annually for the Southwest border counties."

Ah, but this is only law enforcement costs. What about all the other costs, including welfare benefits, health care, education? An eminent scholar on this topic, George Borjas, explains in the online Encyclopedia of Economics that that because of taxes, the economic impact of immigration is revenue neutral:

Many people believe that because a comparatively large percentage of immigrants goes on welfare, the costs to native American taxpayers wipe out the gains from immigration. But this has not been the case in recent years. The numbers show why. The present value of cash welfare benefits (such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children) received by the typical immigrant family over its lifetime is $8,700. With 6.4 million immigrant households, the total cost of assistance programs for immigrants is about $56 billion.

But immigrants also pay taxes. The present value of lifetime earnings for the typical immigrant man is $380,000. With 7.6 million working immigrants (both men and women), total earnings of immigrants are at most $2.9 trillion, of which about 40 percent, or $1.2 trillion, are paid in taxes of all forms. Because 3 percent of total revenues are allocated to cash welfare benefits, immigrants pay about $36 billion ($1.2 trillion times .03) in taxes to fund welfare programs. Comparing the $36 billion that immigrants contribute to welfare to the $56 billion they consume, immigrants consume $20 billion more over their lifetimes than they contribute. Thus, the welfare system causes U.S. natives to lose about $1.1 billion per year (in present value terms). Subtracting this $1.1 billion from the $5 billion annual increase in national income, the United States benefits from immigration, but the economic gains are small.

Of course law enforcement officials would argue that these macro figures ignore the special law enforcement burdens imposed on their local jurisdictions. Leaving aside the self-interested character of the group cited in the Senate and House versions of the Immigration bill, self-described as a coalition "comprised of the County Judges, Commissioners and Supervisors of the U. S. counties located on the border with Mexico... to address challenges facing county governments located on the U.S./Mexico border"--and that the report does not assess the revenues from immigration--once you add it all up, it's clear that the federal government would be much better off simply transferring funds to state governments, as opposed to making far higher expenditures for the purpose of preventing entry. The easy back-of-the-envelope calculations below, based on official U.S. data reports, reveal the dire consequences of Congress's apparent math illiteracy. (For more, see this.)

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the costs of implementing the various policies offered in S. 1348 at $17 billion for the period of 2008-2012, or an average of $3.4 billion/year, of which just 4% would be for additional Social Security benefits, meaning $3.27 billion would be spent on enforcement bureaucracies, technologies, vehicles and weapons for the purpose of preventing immigrants entering. Assume that the national figure for law enforcement and criminal justice costs from undocumented aliens presently is at $890 million annually (ten times the Texas, California, Arizona, and New Mexico costs), which is on the high end of an estimate since the costs outside this region and a few others is close to zero. (The Act itself states that at least 50% of the funding must go to the "10 States with the highest percentage of foreign-born residents" Sect. 756 (7).) And assume that Borjas is right and the economic impact of immigration is revenue neutral. And, finally, accept the Congressional Budget Office estimate that the impact on Social Security is revenue neutral (because of the increase in payroll taxes).

Hmmm.... That means Congress, by its own accounting, wants to spend $3.27 billion of federal funds on law enforcement each year to prevent aliens from entering so that they can save states and counties $890 million each year in their law enforcement costs from aliens entering.

Over the course of the five years, this means that the government will be paying $11.9 billion to indulge its paranoia.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

If Only the Mexicans were Irish...

One curious development in the immigration law debates is that Senator Edward Kennedy, one of the few remaining spokespersons for civil rights and justice in the U.S. Congress, has given his imprimatur to a piece of legislation that will deprive millions of the right to participate in democratic institutions that govern their homes and workplaces; require extortion payments of over $5,000 from the poorest members of our society to keep from being thrown out of the country or thrown in jail; and that makes special provisions for aliens who survive hurricanes or make apple cider, but has nothing to say about aliens who survive tornadoes or make pear juice.

The initial 360 page bill is filled with detailed instructions as to increasing the number of border agents (by 3,000), helicopters (at least 100) , boats (at least 250) and even police cars to be purchased (1 for every three agents to be replaced within 3 years--GM seems to have been at the table for this one), but has only the vaguest language when it comes to enforcing provisions that would prevent employers or government agents from exploiting and harassing those in their purview, citizens and aliens alike.

Moreover, the bill is presently being amended in ways that all are making silly piece of legislation even sillier and more harmful. For instance, the initial bill, introduced May 9, 2007, would have provided guest worker status to aliens for three years, renewable once. The amended bill requires guest workers to leave after two years, spend a year elsewhere, work in the USA two more years, return for one year, and work for two final years before being required to permanently leave. Later this week I will discuss other amendments that are being taken up.

With the enthusiastic support of Senator Kennedy, supporting two measures introduced by other Irish senators, Irish undocumented workers were quickly legalized and the country that was alloted the highest number of green card lottery slots in the 1980s and 1990s was ... Ireland. A report published in the journal International Migration states:
During the severe Irish recession of 1980–85 a resurgence in Irish outflows resulted in a large undocumented Irish population in the US. Most of this population was later legalized as a result of special legislation that targeted the Irish.

And, according to researchers Ruth Wasem and Karmen Ester:

From FY1992 to FY1994, the State Department conducted a lottery for 40,000 immigrant visas that were available to natives of countries that have been “adversely affected” by the 1965 amendments to the INA that ended the country quota system. According to §132 of the 1990 Act, 40% (16,000) of these “transitional” diversity visas each year were earmarked for natives of Ireland.
Kennedy's role was in this legislation was crucial. Here's what the Christian Science Monitor editorial said of the immigration program in 1991:
"It is largely the creation of Sen. Edward Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts, at the instigation of the Irish lobby. As Irish applicants will receive 40 percent of the lottery visas for the first three years, the scheme can be regarded principally as an amnesty program for illegal Irish immigrants." October 21, 1991 (p. 20), from Lexis-Nexis

Why is Kennedy not urging the same system for Mexicans, giving the undocumented workers here the right to remain without penalty in disproportion to their present numbers? Why is Kennedy supporting a Draconian and unworkable plan to harm today's undocumented workers? Now that his previous legislation has already given legal status to Irish workers here illegally, now that Ireland has had a period of terrific economic growth and people are moving from the USA to Ireland, Kennedy seems to have decided that economic migrants are a bad idea. It seems pretty obvious that if the Mexicans were Irish, Kennedy would never have supported this bill.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Senate to Debate Rating System for Religious Propaganda

This posting is inspired by "The Coolest 8-year-old Talks about Religion," a brilliant 2 minute sketch on youtubes, put together by the band "The Bastard Fairies." The young monologist scolds Bill O'Reilly, informing him that violence has been around a lot longer than video games, especially the violence caused by religious zealots since the Crusaders, including the KKK.

Indeed! And to extend the insight: how about rating religious iconography encouraging bigotry and slaughter, just as music companies rate violent lyrics on CDs? It seems reasonable that if Congress wanted to contain violence, then the place to start would be the fire-and-brimstones nonsense spouted by the Judeo-Christian-Islamic traditions. Of course some sects are more prone to this than others and in the spirit of freedom of religion, Congress might require a simple self-monitoring ratings system. Perhaps a scale of 0-5, with 0 being Buddhists and 5 being the army of the USA, or any other government or group that fights in the name of its religion. Army recruitment ads would be prevented from being aired during times when children watch television. The Bible would have a caution on its cover, indicating that portions are inappropriate for children. Libraries would have to remove the Hebrew, Christian, and Muslim founding texts from their shelves.

Why hasn't religion been completely wiped off the face of the earth, when it has proven to be not only sheer nonsense but deeply harmful? For the same reason that nations, families, races, clans and castes exist: to provide a pseudo-protection against mortality. Too bad that pretend immortality leads to actual fatalities.
image from, altered by adding an X

Friday, May 18, 2007

The Too-Easy Compromise

Yesterday's compromise on immigration reform means that it is likely that some bill will pass before the end of President Bush's term. The White House wants guest workers and a wall; the Democrats want to legalize all workers and end the segmented labor market that's been taking jobs away from citizens and driving down wages; and the nativist nuts were at home calling Lou Dobbs. Finally, the program Bush was announcing in joint meetings with Mexican President Vicente Fox, just before 9/11, is back on track. The bi-partisan agreement, said to be 360 pages, is supposed to allow 400,000 guest workers, legalize everyone who is now here, change new entrance criteria to favor skills over family ties, and prevent anything from happening until the border between Mexico and the USA will make the Berlin Wall look like a quaint Lego project.

The problem with all this is that there is no principled spokesperson in the Congress and even in the human rights community who will stand up for free movement. A couple of weeks ago I was watching a woman from the ACLU on Bill O'Reilly's show debate him on the legalization of alien residents. He said something like, "So, what's your position on a wall? I bet you're opposed to that, too, and think it's okay for anyone to come into the country." The correct answer is, "Yes, of course that's what I think; walls are for medieval kingdoms, not 21st century democracies." But the nervous lawyer avoided repeated prompts on the topic and instead repeated the ACLU's official line on legal status for aliens.

Of course this is a position that will lose them support, but not from the nativists, who are not exactly card-carrying ACLU members. And at least a principled statement on behalf of cosmopolitanism might educate some liberals about the limits of their tolerance. What is liberal about allocating the ability to make the simplest choice about where to live a matter of birthright?
(image from Steve Fazio)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The first one

Used to be people were detained at the Canadian border for car searches. Now it's Google searches. Here's what happened a few days ago when a psychiatrist who had the nerve to write about his experience with psychedelic drugs tried to enter the USA to pick a friend up from the Seattle airport, according to an article in the International Herald Tribune: "A guard typed Feldmar's name into an Internet search engine, which revealed that he had written about using LSD in the 1960s in an interdisciplinary journal. Feldmar was turned back and is no longer welcome in the United States, where he has been active professionally and where both of his children live." Sign #34124 of the USA becoming a banana republic. After my teaching assistant Brian sent this link to me and I forwarded it to everyone I knew, I thought it was time to finally start the blog.
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