Gun violence has been a huge problem in this country for a long time. There are some critics of the recent push to decrease gun violence who say that gun violence is not the number one priority of the government. As a matter fact, they look at the statistics and say that gun violence is not a major cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States and therefore it should not be receiving the kind of attention that it’s receiving. While I agree that more Americans die of heart disease, lung disease and cancer in the United States every year than die of gun violence, I disagree that gun violence should not be a huge priority of our government.
For the most part, heart disease and lung disease affect the elderly and the middle-aged in the United States. Gun violence, on the other hand, is mostly a disease of teenagers and young adults. The number of productive years lost is huge. When you think of a 15-year-old or a 20-year-old being gunned down, you are losing 40-50 years in which that person could of been a productive member of society. (more…)
A friend of mine has written an interesting post (funny and not serious) on immigration. His political ideology is clearly to the right of center. He is a businessman who has done well and unfortunately has bought into a lot of the rhetoric of the Right. He and many others in the conservative movement have charged that Obama has no intention of protecting Arizona and other states from economic refugees. (This is the term that I use for illegal immigrants because it more precisely defines why they’re here and why they’ve been allowed to stay here). The attack on the Obama administration has come from a two-pronged approach — First, the president has failed to protect the country from a growing threat. Secondly, he does not listen to us, the American people, who have cried out to have something done.
Let’s take the second allegation first. My friend has followed the lead of other conservatives and has looked at polls. Polls? Conservatives are suggesting that the president should not lead, but instead should follow American public opinion. I love this myopic view of American political life. It was less than four years ago when these same conservatives were telling us that we needed to follow Bush and not look at the polls. As a matter fact, just before the invasion of Iraq, a country that did not attack us was never a threat to us, Americans favored continued weapons inspections by a vast majority over a military invasion. It was okay for President Bush to ignore the polls, but Barack Obama must follow them.
What threat? (Like an Al Qaeda threat or a Soviet Union take over the world kind of threat?) Economic refugees have been allowed to pour into our country because it’s beneficial to business. Both Democrats and Republicans have had opportunities to stem the tide but they have failed. Why? It isn’t like these economic refugees are a solid voting block for Republicans or Democrats — they can’t vote! Therefore, they have no political power. The businesses that hire them — they have the political power. Whether it is agriculture, construction or the restaurant industry, a large segment of our economy depends on cheap labor. Cheap labor is like crack to business. They simply cannot get enough of it. If they can’t find enough cheap labor here in the United States, they will move manufacturing to Mexico, Thailand or China. We have seen this. We all know this to be true yet, for some reason, conservatives are bashing Obama for something that was already in place before he took office.
Of course, this brings me to President George W. Bush. He was in office for eight years. Where were the calls for his impeachment over his immigration policy? (He didn’t develop one until he was in office for over seven years.) During the go-go years of the housing bubble, millions of immigrants poured into this country and most conservatives said nothing. Why? Immigration was a problem then and it’s a problem now.
Conservatives want it both ways. They want the federal government to spend money on things that they want money spent on and they still want to shrink the size of government. The Obama administration has deported more economic refugees in this first year than any other administration in history. The Obama administration has set aside over $400 million to strengthen border security and hire more border agents. Conservatives whine about Barack Obama being weak but when he stands up and says the Constitution has given border security to the federal government, conservatives whine about states’ rights. Which is it? Defend the constitution or not?
Fixing the problem with immigration is easy. For the most part, economic refugees come here to get jobs. Clamp down and increase fines on businesses that hire economic refugees. Continue to enforce the current laws. If economic refugees cannot get jobs, they will not come here. This is extremely simple and it will work, but there is no political will on Capitol Hill to do this. The business lobby is too strong. If Congress begins to listen to the people instead of the lobbyists and comprehensive, meaningful immigration reform is passed, we will have one less hurdle in order to completely fix this problem. This last hurdle is clearly the toughest. What do you do with economic refugees who are already here in the United States? To me, the answer does not matter. We just have to come up with an answer. No matter what the answer is someone is going to be furious.
The problem is that conservatives are not serious. Once conservatives walk into the offices of the American Chamber of Commerce and demand that they began to clamp down on members who are hiring economic refugees, then I’ll believe that they are serious. Once the American Chamber of Commerce comes out and openly denounces businesses that are hiring these illegal immigrants, then we will have a chance to get meaningful comprehensive immigration reform passed through Congress and signed by President Barack Obama.
The Arizona law which was signed into law earlier this week has caused a firestorm. We have nobody to blame but our politicians in Congress. Immigration has been a problem in this country for more than 15 years. We have seen it. We have studied it. We’ve introduced legislation into both houses of Congress and yet nothing has been done. So, Arizona was fed up with the problem. They decided they’d waited too long for the federal government to do something meaningful. Unfortunately, doing something is not the same as doing the right thing. I think it is clear that this law is racial profiling. I’m not sure that Arizona police have the resources to seriously enforce this law. I suspect the law will be struck down by the courts. I’m not even sure the Supreme Court will hear this argument because this law is so obviously unconstitutional.
Yet, this still doesn’t solve the problem. The fact is that we have millions of people who have come to this country illegally. Why? People did not risk capture, deportation, harassment and even death just to wear American jeans. They came here because they believe the economic opportunities were better here than in their own home country. (This is why I’ve stopped using the term “illegal immigrants.” That term seems to play right into conservative ideology and talking points. “Economic refugee” is a more descriptive term because it explains exactly why these folks came here.)
I discussed this problem just the other day when I was interviewed on Local Edge Radio. The place to start is by enforcing the laws that we have now. We have laws on the books that fine employers for hiring people who are undocumented. These laws must be enforced. If we are going to be serious about reform, then this is the place to start. Economic refugees come here for jobs. If the jobs are available then they have only two alternatives — become an American citizen or return to your home country. There are no alternatives.
Now, I think it is important for all of us to consider the ramifications of enforcing, strictly enforcing, the laws that we have on the books now. When you go to Burger World, who is bussing your table? When you go into your kitchen in the middle of the night to make a BLT sandwich, the lettuce and tomato are extremely affordable. Who picked the lettuce and who picked your tomatoes? As a matter fact, who was mowing your lawn? Who is doing the maintenance at the place where you work? Economic refugees have filled these low-wage jobs for more than 15 years. Employers have kept the wages low,making these jobs unattractive to Americans. So, if we are going to start enforcing our laws, our food is going to cost more. It’s going to cost more to get our lawns cut and our houses built.
Without much fanfare and hoopla, Congress could pass a bill today that would increase the budget for enforcement of the laws that we have on the books now. That’s where we need to start. We can worry about the other stuff later. When American businesses understand that there’s a penalty for not hiring Americans, they will start hiring Americans. If they have trouble filling job positions, sooner or later, they will raise wages. This will put Americans back to work and help us get out of this recession faster. How is this not the right thing to do, right now?