October 4-10, 2006

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The Byrne Report

Mirror, Mirror

By Peter Byrne

In mid-September, the Central Santa Rosa Library sponsored a forum on immigration reform. Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey told a crowd of about a hundred that she hopes the immigration reform bills pending in the House and Senate will fail. The House bill criminalizes the innocent, she says, and the Senate bill is not far behind in pandering to the age-old disease of American nativism.

"America is not a privilege to be hoarded," Woolsey said. "It is a gift to be shared." Woolsey's humanitarian-internationalist point of view was opposed by Yeh Ling-Ling, executive director of Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America (DASA). In her presentation, Yeh rattled off a ream of questionable statistics in support of her thesis that immigrants without official papers are responsible for sprawl, gridlock, rising energy prices, deficits, crappy education, overpopulation, ethnic tensions, crime and 9-11.

The Oakland-based DASA's board of directors includes Frank Morris, who has received awards from the NAACP; Peter Nuñez, a former U.S. attorney; Huey Johnson, former regional director of the Nature Conservancy; and Vishwas More, former president of the California Community Colleges. Yeh earns $70,000 a year to carry their message of exclusion, deportation and selfishness in the service of "sustainability."

Panelist Vicki Mayster of Catholic Charities countered Yeh's rant. "The root of illegal immigration is economic injustice," she correctly observed. As an example, she cited the impoverishment of farmworkers in Mexico by NAFTA. She skewered Yeh's claim that illegal immigration negatively impacts the American economy. She pointed out that immigrant laborers, documented and otherwise, revitalize our moribund consumer-based system.

Mayster had more supporters in the audience than Yeh. They clapped vociferously when she called for legalizing all immigrants and reuniting families torn apart by poverty. Yeh sputtered something about not deporting everybody all at once, but she lost the crowd.

A main theme of questions from audience members revolved around fear of losing jobs to immigrants. Some expressed terror that lax immigration polices will undermine the American economy and cause a country that exports unequal trade treaties, carbon pollution, McDonald's and cluster bombs to the Third World to become a Third World country itself.

The Sept. 16 issue of The Economist magazine ran a special section addressing such an approaching fate. But the capitalist pragmatists at The Economist do not blame illegal immigrants for the downfall of America; they blame selfish U.S. consumers: "The world does not have the resources for another 5 billion or so people to behave the way Americans do today."

The Economist points out several salient facts:

  • Real wages in the United States are falling because of the spectacular growth of the Third World's "emerging economies," led by China, India, Russia, Brazil and Mexico.
  • That growth is partly fueled by the off-shoring of U.S.-based jobs to these lower-wage emerging economies. This results in a flood of cheap consumer goods into our air-conditioned malls for purchase on low-interest credit. Ironically, the price of subsidizing our consumer frenzy is the loss of high-wage industrial jobs in the United States to Latin America and Asia, not illegal immigrants.
  • Even though poverty is endemic in the Third World, national elites there are getting megarich and buying U.S. Treasury bonds, thereby subsidizing our gargantuan trade deficit, our deficit war-budget and our ridiculously low consumer-interest rates. That could literally change over night if those groups sell these bonds or go off the dollar standard.
  • The Economist argues that one result of our addiction to commodities produced by super-low-waged Third World workers is that "corporate America has increased its share of the national income from 7 percent in mid-2001 to 13 percent this year. America's top 1 percent of earners now receive 16 percent of all income, up from 8 percent in 1980."
  • Yep: endless war, corporate thievery, mounting consumer debt and off-shoring jobs have sent corporate profits soaring. But still, America sleeps. "[T]he stagnation of real wages in America has been masked by surging house prices," charges The Economist. As the housing bubble bursts, consumers are running out of easy cash--the economic dominoes are teetering.

    The Economist worries that a deep recession will produce a political backlash against free trade. The last thing that international financial institutions want to see is America sealing off its borders and promoting tariff protectionism to keep wages and house prices artificially high for a few more years.

    The piper will be paid sooner than later. But it is insane to blame immigrants for these problems. Of course, we spendthrift Americans never blame ourselves. We always find convenient scapegoats: Indians, blacks, gays, Muslims, the Vietnamese, Iraqis, Iranians and freshly minted immigrants ad infinitum.

    Want to see the real problem? Look in the mirror, America.

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