»  National Review Online

September 4th, 2001

  Deconstructing W

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President George W. Bush, speaking on August 24th:

There are people in Mexico who have got children who are worried about where they are going to get their next meal from. And they are going to come to the United States, if they think they can make money here. That's a simple fact. And they're willing to walk across miles of desert to do work that some Americans won't do. And we've got to respect that, it seems like to me, and treat those people with respect.

This little nugget of Compassionate Conservatism calls for some close textual analysis. Calls for it? It fairly shrieks for it. Where's my scalpel?

There are people in Mexico …  For "Mexico" you could equally well subsitute any one of a hundred or so other countries in that sentence: Afghanistan, Albania, Algeria, Angola, Antigua, Argentina, …, all the way down to Zambia and Zimbabwe. What's so special about Mexico? That the U.S.A. has a border with them, so we need to take special care to maintain mutual respect? And showing Mexicans how easy it is to break U.S. laws and get away with it is a good approach to doing this?

 … who have got children …  Ah, the kiddies! There was a time, in what now seems like the remote, fabled past, when the Democrats were the only party that hauled in images of distressed infants for moral-blackmail leverage to promote their policies. Yo, Mr. President, I have kids, too. Where do I go to get my Get Out Of Jail Free card?

 … who are worried about where they are going to get their next meal from.  Children (from the syntax, so far as it is possible to parse it, "children" seems to be the antecedent of that second "who") all over the world worry about this, mainly because they live in countries that have seriously messed-up systems of government. Again: why is Mexico so special? As a Christian, I can certainly see a case here for private charity. That aside, why is it the business of Mr. Bush, in his capacity as President of the United States, to concern himself with the nutritional requirements of Mexican children? Don't Mexicans have a government of their own to worry about such matters?

And they are going to come to the United States …  It's like a natural law, see? The tides ebb and flow; thunder follows lightning; caterpillars turn into butterflies; a K+ meson decays into a pi+ meson, a neutrino and an antineutrino; ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny; one generation cometh up and another generation passeth away; the sun also rises, and Mexicans will come to the United States. There isn't anything you can do about it.

 … if they think they can make money here …  And if they also think they face only a minimal risk of being (a) intercepted at the border, (b) arrested for working illegally, (c) denied welfare benefits if they fall into destitution, (d) deported for any reason whatsoever short of multiple homicide …

That's a simple fact.  More fatalism. Bank robbers will rob banks, that's a simple fact. Wife-beaters will beat their wives, that's a simple fact. Embezzlers will embezzle, forgers will forge, rapists will rape. Nothing you can do about it. Best to just lie back and pretend to enjoy it.

And they're willing to walk across miles of desert …  Plenty of people in poor parts of the world are willing to do much, much more than that, if they think the country of their dreams is a soft touch. Australia is having a spot of bother right now with a boatload of "asylum seekers" from Afghanistan who paid Indonesian people-smugglers $5,000 a head to get them to the antipodes. Australia, you see, is a smuggler's dream: 20,000 miles of coastline, long stretches of which are uninhabited. She also has a high standard of living, a demand for cheap labor, and a welfare state. Afghanistan to Australia is one heck of a trip — check it out on an atlas. One heck of a trip. You think you have problems with Mexicans? Stick around.

 … to do work that some Americans won't do …  I have done my best with this clause, but can make no sense of it. What is this "work that some Americans won't do"? Straining a bit, one can think of scattered instances. I imagine Orthodox-Jewish Americans would not work in a pork processing plant, for example. A dedicated member of the Black Panther Party would probably be unwilling to do PR work for the Ku Klux Klan. Yes, I guess there is some work that some Americans will not do. But is there really more than a microscopic quantity of such work, refused by a tiny number of Americans? I suspect that what President Bush wanted to say at this point was: "work that Americans won't do." This is a thing you actually do hear a lot from apologists for illegal immigrants. "Look, these Mexicans pick fruit, mow lawns, clean pools, work in slaughterhouses. You can't get Americans to do this." I myself once, in a moment of carelessness, said something along those lines in this very space. Several readers wrote in to point out, correctly of course, that it is economically illiterate to talk about "work that Americans won't do." With trivial exceptions like my examples above, any American pulled in off the street would be willing to pick fruit or gut hogs … if the pay was right. For forty bucks an hour, I would pick fruit. For a million bucks an hour, Warren Buffett would gut hogs. I suspect the President started off to say "work that Americans won't do," then thought better of it, either because it sounds as if he's calling his fellow-countrymen a nation of spoiled brats or because an economist got to him in between speech-writer and speech. He thereupon threw in the word "some" to make the statement meaningless, with that infallible instinct for "compassionate"-sounding vapidity that politicians have.

And we've got to respect that …  So if a boatload of Afghanis comes ashore at Malibu, having failed to get into Australia, do we have to show the same "respect" to them, too? If the entire population of Haiti (around 7.8 million) decamps across the Caribbean to Florida because they are starving at home, have we "got to respect that," too? If not, why not?

 … and treat those people with respect.  Let me introduce President Bush to some people the feddle gummint, of which he is the chief executive, really should treat with respect: L-E-G-A-L immigrants. Americans are hardly aware of this, and there is no reason why they should be, but it is a fact — "a simple fact," Mr. President — that the cowardice, dishonesty and sentimentality that surround the whole issue of illegal immigration are infuriating beyond all measure to people who have spent years jumping obediently through the INS hoops.

Consider Rosie Derbyshire, for example. She arrived on these shores in November 1986 on an H-4 visa. (An H-4 is the spouse of an H-1, which is what I was at the time. An H-1 is admitted to do a specific job for a specific firm.) In February 1987 she applied for permanent residence status — the fabulous "green card" (it is actually pink). This was granted in November 1993. The rule is that after five years in "green card" status you can apply for naturalization, so in November 1998 she applied. Rosie has her oath ceremony this coming Friday, September 7th — nearly a three-year wait from application, and that was with the help of a U.S. Congressman. (The INS does not read mail or take phone calls. Email? You're kidding. The only way to query the status of your case is through a member of Congress. I am not making this up.)

From lawful entry to citizenship: fifteen years, less a few weeks. Look, Rosie's not complaining. A country has every right to scrutinize applicants for citizenship, to test their patience as well as their form-filling skills, and anything else it feels like testing. It's worth all that, and a lot more, to become an American. But if it's fifteen years from lawful entry to citizenship — filling in all the forms, paying all the fees, photocopying all the certificates, going to all the interviews, sitting for hours in crowded, overheated halls listening to the birdsong of the bureaucrat ("Next!" … "Window four, can't you read?" … "Next!" … "You'll have to get this notarized and come back," … "Next!" …) — how long does it take from unlawful entry? More than fifteen years, or less? If, as I suspect, the answer is "less," what is it that the United States wants so desperately, that illiterate law-breaking Mexicans have but Rosie Derbyshire doesn't have? Just curious.