Sunday, November 13, 2005

Silly Vigilantes

Minutemen, the wannabe protectors of our sacred national borders, have gotten loopier as time has gone on. Now they patrol city intersections, snapping photographs of day laborers and the people who hire them. The photos are then shipped to the Internal Revenue Service, not the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Smart folks, these. The Washington Post noticed this peculiar phenomenon and wrote an editorial suggesting these intrepid patriots might be better off getting a life.

Unwittingly, the leader of a local group whose self-appointed mission is to photograph, spy on and bother undocumented day laborers in the town of Herndon, put his finger on the dilemma of illegal immigration the other day. "What we want, bottom line in Herndon, is for the illegal aliens to leave," said George Taplin, leader of the town chapter of the Minuteman Project, a national organization bitterly opposed to illegal immigrants. "And if there is no work, they will."

Ah, but there you have the problem: There is work -- enormous amounts of work, particularly in the Northern Virginia suburbs. In fact, in an area with virtually no unemployment, the market is desperate for immigrant labor, documented, undocumented or falsely documented. It helps keep the economy growing, and immigrants come here because they know they are needed and there will be plenty of work. Anti-immigrant crusaders such as Mr. Taplin may not like it, but unless they have discovered a magic formula for shrinking the regional economy in boom-'burbs such as Fairfax County, no amount of spying on, photographing or hassling undocumented day laborers and their employers will eliminate this irrepressible demand for labor.

Of course, anti-immigration cranks such as the Minutemen know that, so what they are really up to is simple harassment. They train their still and video cameras on day laborers with families to feed and rents to pay and on the employers that pick them up for work. They jot down license-plate numbers and talk to each other with walkie-talkies. They convey the information they collect to the Internal Revenue Service, which, to put it mildly, has bigger fish to fry.
[Emphasis added]

Migrant farm workers, gardeners, housekeepers and nannies, dishwashers, day laborers: frankly, our nation's economy depends on cheap and instantly available labor for jobs too hard or too tedious for Americans to perform. More than one farmer in central California had a rough time of it this year because there weren't enough migrant workers to pick his apple crop when it was time to harvest.

The "anti-immigration cranks" focus only on the alleged drain on the country these workers are, such as their use of municipal emergency rooms for basic health needs because they have no health insurance (along with 45 million Americans, who do the same thing). What is forgotten is the money these immigrants put back into the economy by purchasing food, clothing, and housing, and for those working with false documents, the money they put into social security and payroll taxes.

I think what it comes down to with folks such as the Minutemen is not the fact that these immigrants are here illegally and working, but that that they are "the other," they speak a different language, they are a different color. How sad is that in a country which from its inception was a nation of immigrants?

My father's family were immigrants. They didn't speak English when they came to America. Yet in my immediate family, two of the three of us went to college and the third served in the US Navy for twenty-five years. We are a prime example of how this country works, or at least ought to.

The Washington Post is right. The Minutemen do need to get a life.


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