Archive for August, 2006

The U.S. México border fence deconstructed

Academically, that is, not physically. Peter Skerry, political science professor at Boston College, studies social policy, racial and ethnic politics, and immigration. In the current edition of Foreign Policy magazine, he writes:

[ The border ] is a jerry-rigged example of American ingenuity that reflects not merely ambivalence about immigration but also the competing objectives and compromises characteristic of America’s decentralized and fragmented political system. Moreover, immigration control alone was never the driving force behind the building of the barriers. Instead, border-control policies have had to piggyback on other overriding national concerns. The result is a fence that is neither as draconian and militarized as critics claim, nor as effective as supporters would like. How Not to Build a Fence, Peter Skerry

In the article, Skerry compares the U.S. México border to other militarized borders, such as the former Berlin Wall and Israel’s West Bank. Up against extreme examples, this border appears rather meek. He comments on each section of the fence to detail how its design attempts to be as friendly as possible – no razor wire, short wall to avoid injuries, easy-to-climb horizontal ribbing.

Sections of the border - ForeignPolicy.org

While Skerry’s comparisons are convincing at first glance, they are subtly manipulative. If the U.S and México were actually at war, the fence does appear weak. But in the context of peace, the fence still stands out as a military division. He makes reference to border conflict between Spain and Morocco, but the most recent Spanish-occupied region ceded back to Morocco was in 1969, a much more active land dispute. He goes on to minimize the desert deaths by referring to them as “hundreds” rather than thousands, attributing it to “heat and exposure, not because of a fence that maims and kills.” While technically the fence isn’t attacking people, its existence redirects crossers into dangerous areas. A well-reasoned attempt at objectivity, but it seems Skerry is stretching to put perfume and makeup on a very ugly wall.

Unfortunately, you have to create a free login membership to read the article. The illustration has rollover commentary on each of the red dots. I think it’s worth 30 seconds and the extra clicks. You be the judge.

The Morality of Citizenship

Perhaps I’ve been reading too many blogs by minutemen-types who say the U.S. is being invaded by immigrants. But in reading the rhetoric, I think I’m getting closer to understanding their motivation. Their conviction is based on national sovereignty and the rights of citizenship. But it’s more than just pride. It’s a moral belief in U.S. citizenship.

When it comes to a citizen’s social responsibility, the morality stretches to hypocritical extremes. Citizens don’t feel morally responsible for civilian deaths when their tax money blows up innocent women and children in a foreign country. But if their tax money goes to helping women and children get medical attention or an education in their own country, that is completely unacceptable.

Let’s take a closer look at the non-U.S. citizen civilian casualty issue. If the military finds a suspected terrorist is living in an apartment building in a foreign country, they’ll do some calculations to estimate collateral damage is within reasonable limits (I heard an interview with a military strategist who said the usual limit around 30 civilian deaths), and then they blow up the building. Now, if that same terrorist was in an apartment building in New York, there is no way they would blow up the building with 30 U.S. citizens in there. The country would go into a panic over the U.S. casualties, but doesn’t blink twice over foreign casualties. It’s based on this belief that foreign citizens don’t have the same human value as U.S. citizens.

The United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 to declare fundamental human rights. The United States was among the 48 countries that unanimously voted in favor of universal human rights. Included in the 30 articles, the UDHR says every person has the right to an education and medical care, among other things.

And sadly, U.S. nativists continue to rationalize creating new laws to deny these fundamental rights to non-citizens. They even want to take it one step further, denying citizenship to “anchor babies” born of non-citizen parents.

Unauthorized Migrants Are Easy Scapegoats

Immigration has always been a contentious issue for U.S. Americans (except, of course, for that initial immigration from Europe. That was a God-given right). Today, foreigners must be worthy of entering the golden gated community. We don’t want just any riffraff joining the club. We need to know where you’re coming from. European? No problem. Hang out and enjoy yourself. If you’re coming from the third-world, get in line. People from third-world countries can’t be trusted to enjoy the same liberties as those from the first world. Particularly the poor ones. They’re more likely to end up in prison, be uninsured, and dumb-down public education.

Why bother writing a post about immigration . . . Debates over immigration policy will never end. There is no real solution. Still, I can’t help thinking most people watch television news coverage – illegals here, illegals there – and it doesn’t sound like sarcasm to them. Besides, sarcasm lets us all take a big look in the mirror, sling a few insults, and laugh about it later.

So let’s look at the “immigration problem.” Too many immigrants fill the schools. Classes are overcrowded. The children who deserve an education get a diluted one because teachers are too busy translating. No, the real issue is a neglected public education system. Too many illegals use the emergency room. They use up all the resources us white-collar citizens deserve. No, the real issue is an underinsured working class.

The immigrants aren’t the real problem here. The underlying social systems are in desperate need of attention and reform. Just imagine what the hundreds of billions of dollars spent taking over Iraq could have done for education and healthcare (wait, stay focused — write the post about war later). Illegals are easy to blame because they don’t really have a voice. Their underclass status keeps them from standing up to defend themselves. People use the education and healthcare cost example to show how illegals are ruining society. But the real root is a society that isn’t taking care of its basic needs. The immigrants represent the straw that’s breaking the camel’s back.

Polls show that a majority of U.S. Americans don’t think it’s reasonable to deport everyone. And if they’re not deported, then reform will likely involve some sort of legalization, temporary worker program, and a healthy chunk of money thrown at sealing off the Mexican border. But, if we’re not deporting all the illegals, how will any reform assume to solve the “problem” with these people being here in the first place? Of course, it doesn’t. None of the proposals include anything about healthcare or education. And that’s exactly the point really. Blame a class of voiceless people for problems you don’t plan on solving.

The journey comes to a close in Italy

Flowered Balconies

Before our trip, everyone said, “You don’t really need to spend much time in Venice because there isn’t a whole lot to do.” Well, that is true to a certain extent, but what they forgot to say was how beautiful that city is. It’s like walking through a giant postcard. Walt Disney must have spent time in Venice before creating Disneyland. It’s one of the few places on earth with no cars, and that in itself is truly something special.

Gondolas

Florence, Italy (sunset)

Da Vinci, Michaelangelo, Galileo. The history in these places is so rich and deep, I felt like I was getting smarter just being there. Florence is also beautiful, a degree less picturesque than walking through Venice, but what it lacks is made up in legend and art.

Ponte Veccio (night)

We watched several World Cup games in Florence, on a giant Sony PSP. After Brazil beat Japan, the fans flooded the streets in celebration. Everywhere we went, there were Brazil fans and a samba band nearby.

Foro Romano

And then there’s Rome. A few steps in any direction and you’re standing on something you’ve read about in some book some time ago. It really seems unreal to be standing in front of so much history. The stones hold thousands of years of untold secrets.

Roman Colosseum

Walking into the colosseum, the scale is actually much smaller than I imagined. The movie Gladiator clearly exaggerated. But the basic violent premise is still there. Our tour guide told us of “working ladies” who were only allowed on the top level, and that because women weren’t allowed to use the bathrooms, they tossed their waste over the edge to the street. Lovely.

We spent a day wandering through the Vatican. It would have been best to be wheeled around on a cot so I could stare at the ceilings the entire time. They put more on the ceilings than anywhere else. The Sistine Chapel, like the colosseum, was smaller than expected, impressive nonetheless. They keep guards there who constantly declare “no photos” and “shhhh!” The point of the shushing is to keep the place quiet and reverent. But the only thing you could hear was their shushing.

Vatican Skylight

And from Italy, we returned to the states, a week before the Italians would win the World Cup and Zidane would take his place in history with the headbutt that rang around the world.