Monday, June 30, 2008

Playing It Wrong- McCain

I don't have much patience for the vacillation of Barack Obama at the meeting of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials. But what of the Straight Talk Express, the chosen vehicle of the candidate who was for comprehensive immigration reform before he was against it before he was for it?

John McCain stated "We have to secure our borders ... but we also must proceed with a temporary worker program that is verifiable and truly temporary. We must also understand that 12 million people are here, and they are here illegally, and they are God's children." Gone, for the day, was McCain's assurance that the borders would be secured "first." Instead, we learn that illegal immigrants are God's children, an assertion so banal it would apply also to thiefs, rapists, and murderers.

And those individuals who oppose McCain's prescription for illegal immigrants? Apparently, they fail to recognize them as "God's children" and so, presumably, are not themselves part of that group McCain has claimed on God's behalf.

But McCain's arrogance in presuming to know the mind of the Almighty pales in significance compared to the guest worker scam he is peddling. He argued "we also must proceed with a temporary worker program that is verifiable and truly temporary." Whatever your posion- "amnesty" or instead deporting all illegal immigrants- a guest worker program would be more destructive to American society. In its april 17, 2006 article entitled "That's Hospitality," the editors of The New Republic explained how such programs have backfired in Europe and would do the same in the U.S.A.

But a guest worker and his family have no such opportunity for transcendence. They are slotted into a caste, with no real hope of ever rising above it. Indeed, Bush's guest-worker program would codify a large group of people in the United States as second-class citizens. Although they would enjoy many of the same legal protections as American-born workers, they would never be viewed by Americans as equals. Instead, they would be seen as transient figures here only to make a buck. They would not be immigrants or future Americans. They would merely be janitors, construction workers, and housekeepers.

Indeed, to see the pernicious (and un-American) nature of a guest-worker program, one need only look across the Atlantic at the misery such programs have wrought in Europe. Spurred by extreme labor shortages in the 1950s, a host of European countries--including West Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands--adopted guest-worker programs. Those nations sought temporary immigrants to address their manpower problems, because they believed the labor shortages themselves were temporary and would end once the generation born after World War II entered the workforce. They also hoped that foreign workers would fill low-status jobs while allowing citizens to enjoy better-paying positions.

But the guest-worker programs also reflected European notions of nationhood--attitudes that could not be more different than those of the United States. The guest-worker programs were a way in which these European countries could avoid becoming ethnically plural societies. Of course, those nations became ethnically heterogeneous when the guest workers did not go home. But the workers, while remaining in those European countries, never became of them. Consider Germany, for instance, where more than two million Muslims of Turkish origin--whose families came as guest workers four decades ago--live today. They live in Germany not as Germans, but in a strange sort of nationless limbo--afforded certain benefits of citizenship (such as health care) but denied the privilege of actually being citizens. Which, of course, denies them any incentive to assimilate to their new country. The prospect of such a thing happening in the United States with mexican guest workers is only too real.

We don't know whether John McCain is for or against illegal immigration- it may depend on the day of the week or whether the sun is shining- but we do know that he is in favor of exploitation of foreign-born workers.

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