Monday, April 20, 2009

A Day Without An Immigrant

You may have heard of the brilliantly conceived (if somewhat less brilliantly executed) film, "A Day Without A Mexican".  In the movie, Southern California awakens to an absence of Mexicans, and the world grinds to a stop because no one is there to provide the infrastructural support needed for society to operate.  I've seen real-life, miniature examples of this, such as when ICE raids on South Beach and in St. Thomas have temporarily closed entire shopping areas. 

If you've been reading what I write for awhile, you know that I am very much in favor of immigration controls and no apologist for those who ignore our immigration laws.  But that being said, I am also a pragmatist who understands the role these currently-illegal migrants play in our very wounded economy.

The Miami Herald reported yesterday on the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Ga., where some 20,000 illegal migrants pass annually, most en route to deportation.  A sort of reverse Ellis Island, if you will.  Immigrant advocacy groups protest that the Stewart facility treats these folks inhumanely, punitively.  The most common complaint - no surprise for those of us who have been dealing with immigration processing for awhile -- is "lack of information about the progress of their cases and unwillingness by deportation case officers to answer questions."



The article mentions a guy who represents so many here in South Florida (and it is apparent to me that the article could have just been just as easily about Krome or any one of the many holding centers across the Land of the Free):  GIlberto Vazquez Olivares is a 34 year old from Mexico who is in federal custody at taxpayer expense for that most heinous offense, driving without a license because he can't GET one...because he's been illegally in the U.S. since 2004.  After his $400 a day taxpayer-funded imprisonment (my guess based on what I've read in the past, NOTmentioned in the Herald article), Gilberto will be flown back to Mexico at taxpayer expense, spend some time with his family, and, more than likely, be BACK across the border and at his U.S. job within a month, received with open arms by the U.S. employer who trusts and relies on him and who was adversely affected by Gilberto's arrest and detention.  In the words of Steely Dan, and for the Gilbertos of the world, there is no choice:

You go back, Jack, do it again...wheel turnin' round and round'...

A sensible immigration policy must:

  1. Recognize the benign nature of the presense of illegal migrants like Gilberto

  2. Distinguish people like Gilberto from criminal aliens, public charges, and other system-tappers and

  3. Provide these hardworking, law-abiding undocumented workers with a means of living lawfully in the country which so depends economically upon their presense.

I went to the Everglades a few weeks ago, during this catastrophic economic period in our country where U.S. unemployment is rampant.  Guess how many non-Mexican laborers I saw in the fields? None.  Of course, you can't judge a book by its cover, so I called an old friend with tomato fields to inquire if the huge unemployment problem was making it easier to find American labor for his tomato harvest.

His answer:  "Are you KIDDING?? Jose, you said you drove past field after field of ripe and rotting tomatoes.  Do you think we plant them so they'll rot on the vine?  Americans don't pick tomatoes."

Until our national policy has a little brains to go with the Bush-era brawn, lushAmerican crop fields will continue to rot.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The Death of a Sickly Embargo

Having emigrated from Cuba in 1966, I have lived under the rules of the U.S. trade embargo of Cuba since resettling in the United States with my parents.  I grew up in South Florida, where the Cuban-American community sincerely believed for many, many years that the economic pressure imposed by the embargo would succeed in displacing Castro's communist regime.

As I grew up, this faith seemed more and more misplaced, and in this past decade, through several sanctioned visits to Cuba, I eventually came to the conclusion that the embargo had never been, and would never be, effective in achieving its purpose.  In fact, the embargo seemed to have become Fidel Castro's primary weapon for staying in power, a powerful tool for demonizing American interests and creating the "us vs. them" fictional dichotomy which has been essential in preserving order.  And George W. Bush certainly played into this strategy during his eight chaotic years.

Now, with a new President, a new BLACK President with a great big heart and a great big brain...Cuba isn't sure what to do.  On the one hand, if Obama does as promised and lifts the embargo - even if he only lifts the clearly unconstitutional travel ban prohibiting Americans from freely visiting Cuba (when they can party like a rock star in Iran, North Korea, and anywhere else)-- the financial repercussions are vast for Cuba.  The great sucking sound will be that of U.S. tourism FLOODING from other Caribbean and Central American destinations to Cuba, and the cruise industry will experience an astonishing mid-recession/depression renaissance as no travel industry player has ever seen.

On the other hand, the lifting of the embargo - even of the travel portion only - will place the Cuban government in an awkward position.  You see, Cubans adore Americans. Try as they have to demonize America, Castro and his minions have never been able to demonize more than the American government and poorly-thought-out policies, which, again, was greatly facilitated by Mr. Bush's policies and attitude.  But los Americanos are still for the most part loved by the Cubans, who remain as warm, expressive, and inviting as ever, despite 50 years of life under the failed "paradise" euphamistically called "socialism".

The Cuban government must be worried because when the Americans arrive on the island, the veil of coordinated BS falls.  The empty newstands --  bloated with the propaganda passed off as "news", i.e., Juventud Rebelde and Granma and nothing else -- will fill with magazines and while the Cubans won't have the $10 to fork over for the surtaxed Newsweek magazine sold at the Melia, you can bet last week's copy will be passed from hand to hand to hand for months to come.

Then and only then will the people of Cuba wake up and smell the lies they've been told.

Then and only then will the bountiful contracts signed by Cuba with European companies secretely controlled by Miami's loudest pro-embargo voices become public in the U.S., prompting outrage within the ferociously loyal exile community.

Then and only then will the sugar subsidies and systematic destruction of the Everglades and Florida Bay grind to a slow halt, as the efficiency of island-based sugar production is resurrected via modern, environmentally-friendly farming technologies, bringing new life to the salt-water-rusted and abandoned mills throughout the island.

To every thing, there is a season, and the season for the U.S. trade embargo on Cuba is, I am glad to say, finally over.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Obama Announces Comprehensive Immigration Reform

The New York Times reported today that the Obama administration has reiterated its intention to tackle
comprehensive immigration reform this year.  Among the objectives is the creation of a viable mechanism giving legal status to the estimated 12 million illegal migrants living in the U.S.  The news of this effort is enthusiastically received by those affected as well as by the many U.S. employers who depend upon such workers for their operations.

This bit of great news, along with the Administration's current attention on ending the 50 year old, toothless, worthless trade and travel embargo on Cuba, suggests that this administration has as much bite as they do bark.

'Bout time someone in Washington did...