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I am a high school English teacher in an urban high school in Oklahoma City. I am a member of the American Federation of Teachers, Local 2309. I am a Democrat, a union activist and a worker for social justice. I also am a Christian (Congregationalist). I play chess and coach our school chess team.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Feasting on Diego Cuervo

Feasting on Diego Cuervo
by Lynn Green

Gov. George Wallace addressed the Democratic National Convention in 1972. That year Wallace ran for the Democratic presidential nomination until he was shot and crippled by a would be assasin. He addressed the convention while in his wheel chair. While he was speaking the camera panned several black delegates who listened to Wallace in polite but stony silence. Afterwards, one of them was asked what he thought of Gov. Wallace’s speech. The man replied, “This is the same thing that we heard in the South for decades: politicians giving poor white people Jim Crow for supper rather than a real meal.”

The hot issue today before Congress is “immigration reform”. Hearing some politicians talk one would think that illegal immigrants (or undocumented workers) are the cause of most of our country’s ills. Immigrants cause unemployment, create low wages, overburden the social system, increase crime rates, threaten our security, endanger marriage (oops, wrong scapegoat!), and cause a host of other social ills. I think that soon someone will blame them for global warming and ozone depletion.

Pardon me if I doubt the sincerity of these concerns. First, I am certain that if we didn’t have these workers, the rest of us wouldn’t be living as well as we presently are. Imagine an America where we had to rely solely on documented American citizens perform all our services. I think the first thing to go would be every restaurant and every hotel in America. Then, things would be a lot, and I mean a whole lot, more expensive. That ugly beast, inflation, would rear its ugly head only much uglier than ever before. We would face the problem of getting exactly what we wish for.

Second, if those who are wringing their hands so much over this issue were really sincere, they would be attacking this “crisis” from the demand side rather than the supply side. As long as there is a demand for aliens willing to work for low wages, there will be a supply of aliens who have no choice and will risk all to get those jobs. Why haven’t we heard more about prosecutions of those companies who hire undocumented employees, more about huge fines for companies who hire illegals? Why is everything about building walls, building jails, hiring guards? Why isn’t there a discussion in this country about raising the minimum wage to the point to where working low level jobs is actually attractive? You don’t suppose that, just maybe, someone knows that we need people working for crappy wages so the rest of us can live a little better than we otherwise would?

I smell red herring here. I hear the bleating of a scapegoat. I think the con is on. Maybe those who raise the specter of illegal immigrants “invading” our sacred soil want us to focus on something other than the fact that we haven’t raised the minimum wage in this nation in nearly 10 years, that our public health system is the worst in the industrialized world, that we have cut social service funding 6 straight years, that the gap between the bosses and the workers is larger than at any time in our nation’s history. Maybe they hope that a good healthy serving of Diego Cuervo (Jim Crow in Spanish), will keep us satisfied and distracted, away from seeking real answers to why we feel so bad about things.

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