YDATL Blog NOTE: The opinions expressed by our individual bloggers are their own, and not necessarily those of Young Democrats of Atlanta.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
D is for Dignidad
I marched yesterday with an estimated crowd of over 40,000 people to assert the basic dignity of our latino brothers and sisters who have come to America seeking a better life.
The experience was so full that it has taken me a day to put my thoughts in some order. There are so many things I want to say. So many things we need to do.
I have heard that the debate over immigration is splitting both parties. I have heard that the policy issue is “complex” and “challenging.” I have largely bought into this conventional wisdom – you hear people say over and over again that “there’s no easy answer” and that’s what you start to say yourself. Ummm…..immigration…..well, there’s no easy answer.
But look, here’s the deal. There is NO good reason that this debate should split our party. We are letting each other off the hook on this. As for me, I’m done with politely listening to other points of view. The line between right and wrong is starting to burn very brightly. Time to get on the right side. And when we do – when we stand up for human dignity, fair treatment, security and opportunity, then we can lay rightful claim to an enormous group of voters who are our natural allies. The Republicans, measuring value as they do in dollars, do not care about the lives of these people. We measure value in families, in neighbors, and in communities. We care about these people. We want these people. We ARE these people.
So no more crazy waffling talk:
This issue is complex? Show me the national policy issue that is cut and dried. National security? Hmmm. No, that one’s pretty complex, too. Energy policy? Hmm. Yeah, a little tricky. Tax policy? That one’s hard. Post-Katrina recovery? Mmmm. Right. Folks, these issues ARE hard. The immigration issue is not unique in its inherent complexity. I am not buying that anymore as an excuse not to take a stand.
What about this one – it’s a simple law and order issue. These people have broken the law and they shouldn’t be rewarded for that. Right. Fine. No, they shouldn’t. Couple things, though. First, the companies that hire these workers broke the law, too. And no one is talking about sending them to jail. At one point our state legislation was talking about taking away their tax incentive. Disgusting. Second, when’s the last time you broke the law? Me? This morning. And I didn’t even have a noble excuse like, oh, feeding my family. I just wanted to get to work faster. Third, some laws outlive their usefulness and/or connection with reality. For instance, it is illegal in California to drive more than 2000 sheep down Hollywood Boulevard at any one time. Ooooookay. When your laws are so clearly broken that they aren’t building appropriate structures in which we can live together and do business together, then they need to be examined and modified. Hence our current effort at legislation!! Duh, of course they’re breaking the law. That’s why it’s even an issue. If no one was breaking the law and everything was hunky-dory, no one would be talking about it. What we need is a new, better, more useful set of laws that helps us in our current situation. And we don’t need to get caught up in ridiculous notions of sending people back to Mexico just for coming across our border to wash dishes. “Let the punishment fit the crime,” is a concept at the very foundation of our law and ethics. Forever separating parents from their children sounds like something Jack Bauer would threaten a terrorist, not what you need to do to your roofer. Law and order people, just get on down off that high horse and start helping to think of a solution.
I love this one – they don’t pay taxes – they just take and take and aren’t giving anything back. This thinking goes (perhaps logical enough on the face of it) I don’t want to provide incentive for these people to come here and break the law and get a free ride. Here’s my deal with this argument. It sounds awfully similar to any other argument against social safety nets. When do Republicans ever think “they” deserve any taxpayer support? Isn’t everyone supposed to use those bootstraps? This argument would hold more water for me if those people were all about helping the legal immigrants and other working poor in our communities. They’re not. Besides, immigrants, even illegal immigrants, DO PAY TAXES. Here is factual information from a recent report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute:
• Using tax contribution calculations and estimates of average family income, we estimate that an average undocumented family in Georgia contributes between $2,340 and $2,470 in state and local sales, income, and property taxes combined. An undocumented family that does not pay income taxes would have a sales and property tax contribution of between $1,800 and $1,860. • With an estimated population of between 228,000 and 250,000 and an income tax compliance rate of 50%, the aggregate sales, income, and property tax contribution could total between $215.6 million and $252.5 million for Georgia’s state and local coffers.
Their report goes on to cite a ten-year old study that found
“the net present value of immigrants’ estimated future tax payments exceeded the cost of services they were expected to use by $80,000 for the average immigrant and his or her descendants.”
Moreover, the report points out that undocumented immigrants are prohibited by FEDERAL LAW from receiving the vast majority of social services. Here is what you cannot receive if you are undocumented in our country:
• Food stamps • Social Security • Supplemental Security Income • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) • Full-Scope Medicaid • Medicare “Premium Free” Part A (hospitalization) • PeachCare (Georgia’s children’s health insurance) • HUD Public Housing and Section 8 programs
So – they do pay taxes, they aren’t sucking us dry. But those corporations and top 1% sure are sucking us dry. Maybe if we hadn’t implemented all those TAX CUTS (in a time of war no less) we wouldn’t be struggling to provide the most basic services (elementary education and emergency room care) to those people who are currently making our posh houses affordable and cleaning them for us while we’re out…golfing…or whatever.
So what about those insecure borders? Yeah, that’s part of the problem we need to fix. Sure enough. Meanwhile, though, let’s remember to be up in arms about the Canadian border, which is where we’ve actually caught terrorists coming in. Look at a MAP – that one’s a LOT LONGER. And what about those pesky ports? What’s the last number of cargo containers that are inspected? I know it’s in the low single digits. So while we’re planning to build an enormous fence between ourselves and the SOUTH let’s weigh the opportunity cost and the projected value against security expenditures in these other important areas. Have we found our way to the xenophobia yet?
Well let’s get right at it then. Property values. I heard some b*%$@ on national news yesterday – a counter-protestor in Washington DC, I guess, say that she’s just sick and tired of “them coming here and driving down property values living so many in a house.” (Justi, you know what word I am thinking of here.) Where are your precious Christian values now, lady? Those “people” aren’t tacky lawn fixtures or vinyl siding. They are your NEIGHBORS. I seem to remember something about neighbors in the Bible. Let’s see, WWJD? I don’t think he would call code enforcement. Do you think they’re living many to a house because a) they can’t afford anything else while they work for $5 an hour and send most of it back to their families in another country so they can eat, b) because they haven’t been utterly spoiled by a standard of living (which requires thousands of square feet per home occupant) not seen in human history, or c) because they’re dirty people who don’t care about the neighborhood? Stop whining and take those people a CASSEROLE!
So, what SHOULD we be talking about in this debate? We should be talking about basic protections for all workers in our economy. We shouldn’t be talking about a permanent underclass not entitled to what we have defined as a minimum wage or minimum workplace safety. We shouldn’t be exposing parents in America to work hours that we put an end to 100 years ago. We should be figuring out how to make a real place for immigrants in our economy and what the heck to do about the flight of good jobs from our economy generally – for all of us. Even if we keep these people out, we are still in desperate need of creativity and leadership as we navigate the next global economic upheaval that is no longer dawning but is fully HERE. “Creativity and leadership.” There’s two words you don’t hear in the same sentence with “The Bush Administration.”
So – there it is. The immigration issue is a basic test of our values. Remember this?
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
People, that is our goal. That is what we believe in. That is why we salute the flag and sing the national anthem. That is what we value. Sure it’s hard, but are we Americans or not? Don’t we have a model of inclusion and ingenuity? Aren’t we the great experiment? Aren’t we AMERICA? We can DO this.
When you peel back the layers, there is one place for Democrats to be – with the immigrants. And come election day, there is one place for the immigrants to be. With the Democrats. Go forth and learn Spanish. Go forth and register voters. Go forth and explain that D is for Democrat, and for Dignidad.