December 08, 2005

No, No, Noonan

I know this is one of those fault-line issues that is predicted to cause the temblor that will bring down the conservative coalition, and I will no doubt cheese off some of our readers by even bringing it up, but the fact of the matter is that I find Peggy Noonan's anti-illegal-immigration rant this morning downright offensive. Her thesis is that illegals coming across are simply incapable of becoming True Americans:

What does it mean that your first act on entering a country--your first act on that soil--is the breaking of that country's laws? What does it suggest to you when that country does nothing about your lawbreaking because it cannot, or chooses not to? What does that tell you? Will that make you a better future citizen, or worse? More respecting of the rule of law in your new home, or less?

If you assume or come to believe that that nation will not enforce its own laws for reasons that are essentially cynical, that have to do with the needs of big business or the needs of politicians, will that assumption or belief make you more or less likely to be moved by that country, proud of that country, eager to ally yourself with it emotionally, psychologically and spiritually?

When you don't earn something or suffer to get it, do you value it less highly? If you value it less highly, will you bother to know it, understand it, study it? Will you bother truly to become part of it? When you are allowed to join a nation for free, as it were, and without the commitment of years of above-board effort, do you experience your joining that country as a blessing or as a successful con? If the latter, what was the first lesson America taught you?

I'm not actually arguing here about what the proper U.S. immigration policy should be, what the Mexican government should do to improve economic opportunities at home, or any of the other broader issues. Instead, I would just point out to Peggy that the border isn't being overrun by poli-sci wonks engaged in meditations on the meaning of citizenship. Rather, it's being flooded by dirt-poor peasants who are fool enough to think that if they can manage to get to that great land of prosperity to the north, they and their families can somehow get in on it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: If I were in their position, I'd be doing the same damned thing. (And for what it's worth, I grew up 150 miles from the border. I knew plenty of people who were the children or grandchildren of illegals. They were proud as hell to be Americans.)

Also, Peggy seems to think that illegal immigrants don't "suffer" to get here. Does she have any idea of how appallingly dangerous the conditions are on the border? The deserts? The heat? The lack of food and water? The gangs of bandits and slave-traders? And once they get here, to have very little legal recourse if someone wants to take advantage of them? Please.

UPDATE: Again, let me clarify that I'm not arguing for a specific policy one way or the other here, either flinging the borders wide open or building a fortified line of pillboxes and minefields. What I'm objecting to specifically is Noonan's suggestion that a person's illegal entry ipso facto makes such an entrant unfit for or unworthy of U.S. citizenship. This is nonsense and does discredit to legitimate arguments about border control and law enforcement.

Posted by Robert at December 8, 2005 09:56 AM | TrackBack


Posted by: Kathy at December 8, 2005 10:10 AM

Dangerously multicultural of you there Robbo. That time living among aliens in West College must have gotten to you.

I wonder how the ancestors of someone named Noonan got into this country. There were a flood of illegal Irish immigrants in NE around the 1900's (they needed slaves to build golf courses). South Boston is still awash in them (drank a lot of beer with them when I lived there). Does she need to be deported because her family doesn't respect immigration laws?

Posted by: LB buddy at December 8, 2005 10:28 AM

Sorry to disagree, but she has a point. The fact remains that crossing the border without permission is illegal, and established a precedent for behavior that doens't bode well, especially when our lax enforcement efforts convey a message that when you break our laws, you're going to get away with it. Furthermore, while it's quite a romantic image, and I'm sure it gives you warm fuzzies to entertain it, not all of the illegal immigrants coming across the border are simply hard-working but good peasants who want a better life here. There's a significant portion of that population who are criminally inclined, were so before they crossed, and continue to commit crime here. Here in Oregon we've had a series of highly publicized crimes committed by illegals, most of those crimes drug related and/or violent in nature, and often involving sex with minors. In one case, a Mexican national, in this country illegally, was arrested on drug charges, deported, snuck back into the country, and was arrested again after he picked up a minor girl in Portland, gave her meth, then took her across the state line into Washington to have sex with her in a motel. I don't care if his grandson become PResident, HE didn't deserve to come here in the first place, and he certainly doesn't belong here now, except in a prison.

Posted by: Brian B at December 8, 2005 11:15 AM

I think the illegal immigration needs to be stopped, but in a sensible, coherent, and humane manner. I think there needs to be a formal guest-worker program. And if you've been here for ten years and are employed, then there needs to be an amnesty process not much more complicated than mailing in a form.

The problem all the "militarize the border" folks aren't recognizing is the sheer scope of it. If you schedule 10 million deportation hearings, that's going to tie up the court system until Doomsday.

I think we need to fix it at both ends. Guys who are already here, with no criminal records, and who are working need to be able to get a work permit that leads to permanent resident status, and then eventually to citizenship. Guys who commit violent or antisocial crimes need to be deported with no chance of reentry. Guys in Mexico who are trying to find work need to be able to get temporary work permits that allow them to cross the border without dying in the desert.

And we need to be able to get these people to pay taxes.

As for the assimilation argument, I also don't buy the notion that people from Mexico and Latin America can't be good Americans. That's horseshit, plain and simple. They used to say the same things about the Italians, the Slavs, the Germans, and the Irish. Half my ancestors came here speaking only Slovak; more than a few died fighting in two world wars for this country a generation later.

I also think that military service ought to be weighed in. You come here, join the Army, do 4 years and get honorably discharged, then you're a citizen. Automatic. Combat veteran? Purple Heart winner? Automatic. Anyone who sheds blood for us is an American.

Posted by: The Colossus at December 8, 2005 11:30 AM

I can clearly see both sides of the issue -- hell I even worked for immigration attorneys! (All the more reason to do it the legal way. . .)

But I have one suggestion to see her point: live in a border town for a while, Robbo. I respectfully suggest that you might have a different perspective thereafter. She's stating what a lot of bordertown folks are thinking.

Posted by: Margi at December 8, 2005 12:02 PM

(I just saw that "150 miles from the border" thing. Oops.)

150 miles from WHAT border? When? Because I went back home a few years back to El Paso and was stunned at the New Juarez portion of my hometown.

And even back in the 80's -- I could not get a job digging ditches without speaking Spanish.

Posted by: Margi at December 8, 2005 12:05 PM

I lived in San Antonio. The people who lived across the street from us (Hispanic themselves), kept a number of workers in a shed out back to supply themselves domestic labor. I've visited Larado a number of times, so know something about the ebb and flow right on the border as well.

I am not romanticizing here - of course there are plenty of villains coming across. But Noonan's contention seems to be a blanket condemnation of every illegal, which I refuse to accept.

Oh, I meant to mention that P.J. O'Rourke wrote a great essay on the subject that highlights the cross-currents of policy, economics and human nature surrounding the issue. The title is "Border Idyll" and I believe it's contained in his book Holidays in Hell.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at December 8, 2005 12:25 PM

I also think it is telling that the outrage tends to be about brown skinned immigrants. No one is talking about the hoards of Russians and Poles in Chicago or Irish in Boston. Let's assume the distribution of honest v. criminal is the same in those groups.

Posted by: LB buddy at December 8, 2005 12:26 PM

Illegal immigration is a tough issue, but I think it's a case of "hate the sin, love the sinner." My Significant Other went through several years of pure hell while her ex was trying to get her deported, so I speak from experience when I say the INS makes the IRS look like a bunch of teahouse geishas. And she wasn't even trying to sneak in.

Noonan's position of slamming the individual without making any policy recommendations is highly un-constructive. To say the least.

Posted by: utron at December 8, 2005 12:53 PM


How long ago did you live there? Have you seen things in the border regions, or across the Western US, for that matter? I understand that many of these people are well-meaning, and after getting here, keep their noses clean and eventually become model citizens. But the longer things continue the way they are, the more and more the cultural attitude among them changes. I didn't just live near the border, I've lived my entire life in the west, and spent 12 year less that 10 miles from the border. Over the years, a larger and larger percentage of that population has displayed a disregard for laws other than just immigration statutes. They know that the odds of them ever getting caught, let alone punushed, for anything they do, is minimal.

LB Buddy,

I also think it is telling that the outrage tends to be about brown skinned immigrants.

I'm surprised it took you this long to play the race card. Yes, you hit it on the head. I'm a closet White Supremacist who secretly hates all the swarthy and wishes we could deport everyone who isn't lily white, blonde, and blue eyed. It couldn't have anything to with the fact that the majority of the meth being sold in this state (and Oregon has a HUGE meth problem) is being smuggled in across the border by illegal immigrants, or that a significant percentage of the petty crimes, violent crimes, and sexual crimes against minors in this state are being committed by illegal immigrants. No, it's all about me and people like me being racist mouthbreathing rednecks.

Posted by: Brian B at December 8, 2005 12:58 PM

Wasn't directed at you Brian, sorry if you took it that way. I do however think race is a primary driver in the national discussion on immigration. As I said, there are huge illegal immigrant populations in northern cities that are predominantly of white European decent and rarely do they enter the discussion. I honestly don't know what the relative numbers are, but I do think if you are white, it is much easier to immigrate here illegally. I feel sometimes playing the race card is valid in an honest discussion.

Posted by: LB buddy at December 8, 2005 02:07 PM

Apology accepted.

I can see where you're coming from, but I'm not convinced, for a couple of reasons. First of all, it seems that the MAJORITY of the voices raising the question are coming from the border and western states, because that's where it's having the greatest impact. And with the exception of California and maybe Texas, most of those states tend to be predominantly rural states. We're not talking about large illegal immigrant populations in our cities, we're talking about large numbers of illegal immigrants EVERYWHERE -- in our big cities, our small cities, our towns, our rural communities. And it's not just that they're here, it's the impact they're having on our infastructure. We have a huge population of people who are drawing welfare, sending their children to public school, and availing themselves of numerous social services, but most are not paying taxes (hmmm... seems to reinforce Noonan's point a bit, eh? Using the system without contributing it?), and most of them send a significant amount of their wages beyond subsistence level BACK to their homelands, further draining our economy. Add to that the issues I've already raised regarding their effect on our crime rates. I can guarantee that we'd resent this impact even if the illegals were from Poland or England or Iceland or anywhere else. But since we're talking about the impact of II on states within a day's drive or so of the Mexican Border, guess what nationality most of the illegal immigrants we have a problem with are from? But their ethnicity is incidental to the issue we take with them.

Posted by: Brian B at December 8, 2005 02:53 PM

"I've said it before and I'll say it again: If I were in their position, I'd be doing the same damned thing." Ah yes, I know you well. You were the one who cheated on the exam in my class because it was easier than studying. The one who cuts in line because it's easier than waiting. The one who loots the TV from the shop because you're poor and so deserve it and you won't get caught. The one who thinks "honor" is an old-fashioned concept. Yes, I know you only too well.

"What I'm objecting to specifically is Noonan's suggestion that a person's illegal entry ipso facto makes such an entrant unfit for or unworthy of U.S. citizenship." -- And I suspect you think you deserve to pass the class even though you cheated on the exam. Deserve the TV even though you looted it. Deserve the better seat at the concert even though you cut in line.

Well, if I find you out, you're not passing my class, not working for my company, and not staying in my country.

Posted by: Jack at December 8, 2005 03:48 PM

I'm heartily sorry, Robbo -- I will never doubt you again. It's a touchy subject with me, obviously.

But not THAT touchy.

Let's get out the cookin' sherry and make up, kay? :0)

Posted by: Margi at December 8, 2005 10:50 PM

An excellent idea! And Jack will no doubt be delighted to know that it just so happens I pillaged some from the local Total Beverage not two days ago.

Posted by: Robbo the LB at December 9, 2005 09:50 AM

Very good map:

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Posted by: at March 22, 2006 04:15 PM