Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The only thing we have to fear....

Now and then the New York Times really gets something right. Admittedly it isn’t nearly as often as it should be but when they do they deserve some praise.

Their editorial on the great immigration panic is spot on. Of course the Right is pushing anti-immigration hysteria. They have milked antigay sentiment for all they could and the backlash to that is setting in. They know they lost that fear campaign and are moving on to a new one. But the Right is not the only participant. Historically one of the most bigoted and vicious movements in America has been the labor unions. And they have always been xenophobic.

The Times excellently stated the problem with the panic. They argue that the greatest cost is not the billions squandered by government in this campaign. “The true cost is to the national identity; the sense of who we are and what we value. It will hit us once the enforcement fever breaks, when we look at what has been done and no longer recognize the country that did it.”

That is true. But I would note this is true of one panic after another. Even when there are legitimate problems politicians tend to overreact because it is politically beneficial to do so. America is being destroyed by fear. It could be fear of terrorism, fear of immigrants, fear of environmental disaster, fear of communism, fear of homosexual, fear of “sexual predators”, fear of.... just fill in the blank. Terrified people surrender their liberties and their deepest held values. And that is why politicians, Left and Right, use fear to grab power and inflate their importance.

F.D.R. once said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” That is more true than he knew. Fear is decimating this nation. We are surrendering liberties at an unprecedented pace and 95% of the time we do so over imaginary threats. Immigrants are just one of the series of scare stories which help along the process.

The Times wrote:
An escalating campaign of raids in homes and workplaces has spread indiscriminate terror among millions of people who pose no threat. After the largest raid ever last month — at a meatpacking plant in Iowa — hundreds were swiftly force-fed through the legal system and sent to prison. Civil-rights lawyers complained, futilely, that workers had been steamrolled into giving up their rights, treated more as a presumptive criminal gang than as potentially exploited workers who deserved a fair hearing. The company that harnessed their desperation, like so many others, has faced no charges.

Immigrants in detention languish without lawyers and decent medical care even when they are mortally ill. Lawmakers are struggling to impose standards and oversight on a system deficient in both. Counties and towns with spare jail cells are lining up for federal contracts as prosecutions fill the system to bursting. Unbothered by the sight of blameless children in prison scrubs, the government plans to build up to three new family detention centers. Police all over are checking papers, empowered by politicians itching to enlist in the federal crusade.

One argument that the anti-immigrant crowd makes about “illegals” is that they should “get in line like everyone else”. These people say things like: “My great grandparents came here legally so should they.” Such statements only betray their ignorance about the current state of “legal immigration”. There is no line to join and their ancestors came to America at a time when immigration was open. To be legal all they needed to do was show up, present themselves and basically be disease-free. It didn’t take much more than that. The Times understands this:
This is not about forcing people to go home and come back the right way. Ellis Island is closed. Legal paths are clogged or do not exist. Some backlogs are so long that they are measured in decades or generations. A bill to fix the system died a year ago this month. The current strategy, dreamed up by restrictionists and embraced by Republicans and some Democrats, is to force millions into fear and poverty.
No one wants illegal immigration including the illegal immigrants. But for 99.9% of them no other option is open. Consider this analogy: No libertarian supports theft. But imagine a world where government provided all the food you owned. Now imagine that the government tells one group of people that they can’t have any. No food is available on the private market, it is all state controlled. And these poor people are starving, their kids are starving. So they break into a government warehouse and help themselves. Government gave them no other option but to break the law.

Purist libertarians will talk about the immorality of government streets but they use them. Why? The simple answer is that government has monopolized streets so it is justified to use them as other options don’t exist. Yet when government denies immigrants all the other options some of these same “libertarians” (conservatives in libertarian drag if you ask me) scream about them breaking the law.

I read the website of one of these revisionist types of libertarians offering advise to Bob Barr. The author said Barr should make it clear that illegal immigrants are “criminals” who should be deported. What shocked me is that this was the first time I had a read an alleged libertarian equating crime with violation of law. Historically libertarians have said that a crime is a violation of the life, liberty or property of others and most certainly not a violation of some politic ally-created mandate. Harboring Jews in Hitler’s Germany was illegal but it was not a crime. Marrying someone of a different race was illegal in the Jim Crow South but it was not a crime.

These “new libertarians” have reversed one principle after another. They are smuggling in conservative ideas and calling them libertarian. The “law and order” mentality is not a libertarian one but conservative. While immigrating without state permission may violate the law, it is not a crime.

If the bus boy at the local restaurant doesn’t have documents from bureaucrats giving him permission to live where he lives and work where he works, that doesn’t mean he is a criminal. He has violated the rights of no one even if he has violated the law. And in libertarian ethics, when the law violates rights, then it is moral to violate the law. U.S. immigration laws, as they currently stand, violate rights. By closing off legal options they force moral people to violate the law. The only immorality around is the law itself, not the would-be immigrant.

The Times notes that all this ugliness and hatred means the major political candidates are cowards. “John McCain supported sensible reform, but whenever he mentions it, his party starts braying and he leaves the room. Hillary Rodham Clinton has lost her voice on this issue more than once. Barack Obama, gliding above the ugliness, might someday test his vision of a new politics against restrictionist hatred, but he has not yet done so.” Here is an opportunity for Barr to set himself apart from the politics of hatred and to uphold liberty at the same time. But I won’t be holding my breath. If Barr follows the advise of these faux libertarians, and starts bashing immigrants, then he is beneath contempt.

In closing the Times wrote:
Every time this country has singled out a group of newly arrived immigrants for unjust punishment, the shame has echoed through history. Think of the Chinese and Irish, Catholics and Americans of Japanese ancestry. Children someday will study the Great Immigration Panic of the early 2000s, which harmed countless lives, wasted billions of dollars and mocked the nation’s most deeply held values.

That is true. The Red Scare of the 1920s turned into dust. The Red scare of the 1950s was much to do about nothing. Every wave of previous immigration has terrified the native born and proven benign. In fact the grand children of the immigrants previous targeted for hatred are now often the haters themselves.

Most of the bogeymen used by power-hungry politicians to terrify the populace have proven to be lies or gross exaggerations. Most the solutions offered for these “problems” have turned out to make matters even worse.

I suggest, like F.D.R did, that the only thing we have to truly fear, is fear itself.