Immigration is an “issue.”
Immigration is an “issue.” I know this because politicians and pundits have continually repeated it. It’s always listed as one of the primary issues of the Presidential campaign. What are the candidates’ positions on immigration, inquiring minds want to know?
Excuse me, I mean illegal immigration. Yeah, that’s it. That’s the issue.
I can’t remember exactly when this became an issue. At some point, a bunch of people got together and decided to make it one. When the Republicans tried to pass a “tough” bill in 2006, there were huge demonstrations across the country against them. Against the Republicans, I mean. Oops, that’s not the response we expected.
All this can be kind of puzzling, because when I talk to people about politics, they never mention immigration as one of their concerns. They talk about the war, the destruction of the environment, the scary financial situation, the corruption. (Did I mention the war?) But nobody I know seems worried about illegal immigration.
It must be the crowd of people I hang out with. They’re probably too educated.
If you study the politics of Europe for any length of time (say, for an hour) you’ll notice that neo-fascist groups always start out by attacking immigrants. It stands to reason that a hate movement will target “outsider” groups in order to attract frustrated, ignorant people, expressing their powerlessness by raging against someone even more powerless than they are. It’s an extension of the old antisemitic template. There’s an insidious minority threatening your job and your family. Attack!
The immigration “issue” operates the same way in America, except that it’s not confined to fringe rightist groups—it’s the mainstream. Whenever things start to go sour for the elites—a war not turning out as planned, large-scale theft sending the economy into a spiral, etc.—immigration suddenly pops up again as an issue. While Mr. and Mrs. Average White American are getting royally screwed, the people who own the country start gesticulating towards Mexico. Those brown people are causing this! And then Mr. and Mrs. A.W.M., who are patriots and wouldn’t be caught dead protesting the war or questioning the wisdom of corporations, get all hot and bothered over illegal immigration and end up voting for the yelling, pointing, bloviating, anti-immigrant candidate.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. I’m not sure it’s working that well this time. People are still more worried about the war and the economy for some reason. And the Latino voters are getting pissed off. If you were wondering why Bush’s immigration proposals were moderate compared to the frothing of the rightists (“moderate” meaning in the current political lexicon “slightly less insane”), I can tell you it was not because Bush could give a tiny fraction of a damn about immigrants (or anything but his pathetic self and his rich handlers’ checkbooks), but simply because Karl Rove wanted to claim a chunk of the Latino vote. The nativists, however, are ruled more by their hate than their desire to win elections. They would have none of Rove’s Machiavellian strategy, and the result is that the Republicans are facing the probable loss of the Latino vote, a devastating blow which, if there’s any hope in this world, will flush them down the electoral toilet.
In the meantime, contemplate the wholly artificial nature of immigration as an “issue.” The media talks about it, therefore it’s an issue. If people hear about it often enough, they start to believe that it must be an issue. The losers who listen to AM radio are told (ordered) to consider it an issue by the usual gang of insane demagogues, so of course they believe it. Lou Dobbs yammers about it every night, and I guess that’s good enough for me. Let’s build a fucking wall around our country!
The war, however, is not an issue. The war is a PR problem. People need to be convinced that the “surge” is working, and that everything’s ok. That’s the only “issue.” You see how this works? It’s really quite simple. Whatever actually affects the mass of ordinary working people in this country, whatever political, social, and economic conditions have a real impact on our lives—that is not the “issue.” The “issue” is whatever stream of empty, pretentious, distracting bullshit happens to emerge from the political-media cesspool, drowning all of our actual concerns in its putrid, miasmic, mind-deadening slop.