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Sep 05 2012

Catching them being honest

One of the pieces of political language that drives me absolutely nuts is the term ‘illegal immigrants’. The system of immigration in both Canada and the United States disincentivizes documented immigration by making it nearly impossible and subject to interference by the capricious whims of the party in power. Looking at it cynically, one could make the argument that there is a huge economic benefit to the elite class, who can exploit undocumented immigrants for what is essentially slave labour, secure in the knowledge that threats of deportation are usually enough to quell any resistance to the illegal working conditions. The system punishes the exploited, not the exploiters.

Of course, there are few places in the USA that are more openly and notoriously malevolent to undocumented immigrants than the state of Arizona. Despite the blatant racism inherent in their newly-minted anti-Mexican law that they try to pass off as a way of handling “illegals”, they are still legally allowed to detain and deport anyone who looks ‘foreign’ and can’t prove their non-foreign-ness to the satisfaction of the towering legal intellect of folks like Joe Arpaio.

And, apparently, this lady:

Gabriela Saucedo Mercer hasn’t even won the Republican primary for Congress in Arizona yet, but she is already facing attacks from the Democratic Congressman she is hoping to unseat in November over some incendiary comments she made in the past about Middle Eastern immigrants.

In an interview with a conservative website last year, Saucedo Mercer talked in depth about her views on immigration. A Mexican immigrant herself who became a U.S. citizen [1], she said the issue was important because people from places other than Mexico were among those coming across the border illegally.

“That includes Chinese, Middle Easterners,” she said. “If you know Middle Easterners, a lot of them, they look Mexican or they look, you know, like a lot of people in South America, dark skin, dark hair, brown eyes. And they mix. They mix in[2].

“And those people, their only goal in life is to, to cause harm to the United States[3]. So why do we want them here, either legally or illegally[4]? When they come across the border, besides the trash that they leave behind, the drug smuggling, the killings, the beheadings. I mean, you are seeing stuff. It’s a war out there.”

There’s a lot to unpack here, so I’ve inserted reference numbers to make this deconstruction easier.

1 – Being a person of colour doesn’t vouchsafe safeguard you from being a racist piece of shit

Ms. Mercer is descended from Mexican immigrants to the United States. While it seems to follow that she would therefore have some sensitivity and insight into the perils facing people of colour (PoCs), particularly Mexicans, as Gershwin said, “it ain’t necessarily so”. Like misogyny from women, racism at the hands of PoCs can be far more shocking and hurtful than when it comes from white folks, who you at least might expect it from. Of course, the fact that a conservative Republican would say something like that probably shouldn’t surprise us at this point.

2 – What the what?

Apparently, according to Ms. Mercer, “Middle Easterners” (does she mean Israeils? Has anyone asked her if she meant Israelis?) look so much like Mexicans that gosh, she just can’t tell who’s who! So we’d better keep all those brown-skins out – how are the state’s racist sherriffs supposed to understand the difference between someone who “looks Mexican illegal” and someone who “looks Middle Eastern illegal”? We don’t want to overtax their poor brains! Of course, putting national security in the hands of people who can’t tell the difference between Beirut and Oaxaca seems pretty problematic to me, but then again I’m a foreigner too, so WTF do I know?

3 – The Middle East is a big place

I’m guessing that Ms. Mercer studied at the Sarah Palin school of geopolitics, because her assertion that “Middle Easterners” are motivated solely by their desire to harm the United States run on the heady mixture of xenophobia and ignorance of basic geography and history that gave us ‘I can see Russia from my house’*. All of this is to say nothing of the grossly offensive and wildly inaccurate broad-brush description of people ‘from the Middle East’. I’d imagine there are a few disgusting generalizations we could make about Mexicans if we were as casual with the truth (and basic human decency) as is Ms. Mercer.

4 – “Legally or Illegally”

Of course this is the most damaging (and most revealing) part of the interview. Ms. Mercer doesn’t simply want to ensure screening to keep out people bent on destroying the United States – she just wants anyone from the Middle East kept the fuck out (again, did anyone think to point her ignorant ass toward a globe and ask if she meant Israelis too?). And this is it – the Arizona policy isn’t about protecting the state from the ravages of “illegal immigration” – it’s about keeping all Mexicans out, just ’cause. “We don’t want you in our country,” says the daughter of immigrants who has risen up the ladder enough to run for state politics.

But of course, that is the sine qua non of conservatism – ‘I got mine, so fuck off’. Of course, all of this is to say nothing about the odious Islamophobia inherent in assuming that everyone who comes to America with a Qur’an is a religious zealot committed to engaging in acts of terrorism. Considering the way that certain Islamic countries treat people who show up carrying Bibles, Ms. Mercer should take a good, long look at who her ideological brethren are and decide whether her “Middle Easterners” might not be quite as ‘foreign’ as she thinks.

It was certainly considerate of Ms. Mercer to strip away most of the artifice surrounding the “problem of illegal immigration” and simply be honest about where she and her party stand. Here’s hoping they’re not standing for much longer.

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*The actual quote was ”As Putin rears his head and comes into the air space of the United States of America, where– where do they go? It’s Alaska. It’s just right over the border.”

27 comments

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  1. 1
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Actually, she went on to say that you could see parts of Russia from parts of Alaska. Since she was arguing it counted as personal foreign policy experience that one can sometimes see parts of a Russian island from the farthest western edge of the farthest western Aleutian island in US territory. The Putin’s head comment was bad. That was worse.

    But on topic, yeah, this woman’s statement is horrific.

  2. 2
    mythbri

    WTF Arizona? Seriously.

    And the thing that Palin said about being able to see Russia from Alaska as evidence of some kind of foreign policy experience! I always wondered if she knew that Alaska shares a border with Canada. Which is, you know, a foreign country.

    You Canadians. You just don’t ever count, do you?

  3. 3
    smrnda

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with someone who wondered how a person who is a member of a minority group could possibly hate someone who is also a minority. I sometimes wonder if it’s because there is an incentive to play into racism – if you are Mexican, you can score credits with the white establishment by bashing other groups and playing to their prejudices against “Middle Easterners” (I quote because you might as well say “North Americans” and pretend that means something.) I see this as pretty similar to when some white woman who’s married to a rich white man goes around bashing feminism.

    On the other hand, it could just be that people will tend to be prejudiced towards out-groups period, even while experiencing the same treatment themselves. It seems like that takes a fairly large lack of self-awareness.

  4. 4
    ChasCPeterson

    vouchsafe

    should be looked up

  5. 5
    kagekiri

    As a Chinese person who may soon have family living in Arizona, can I say, holy fuck, WHAT? WTF is wrong with them?

    Of course, I know fellow Asian immigrants to the US who dislike Asian illegal immigrants in California, because “WE got in legally and had to wait our damn turns”. Their sense of personal fairness disregards the differences in circumstance (most of those I’ve heard complaining were well enough off to move to the US for white-collar work, while the illegals are going into more blue-collar jobs, so they weren’t exactly the same class of people), rather than caring about any broader sense of rightness.

    “Who cares if the rule wasn’t fair, others not being subjected to the bad rule is UNFAIR because I WAS!” That really, really shouldn’t be an obstacle to progress…but here we are.

    People who pulled themselves up by their bootstraps to move the US and become successful are scornful of those who tried and failed (or who just didn’t succeed as much), all thanks to that damned-God Just World fallacy and attributing chance to providence. “I got mine because I deserved it, they didn’t get theirs because they didn’t deserve it!”

  6. 6
    Crommunist

    Indeed! That word clearly doesn’t mean what I think it means :P

  7. 7
    dianne

    Being a person of colour doesn’t safeguard you from being a racist piece of shit

    This may be a bit of a distraction but…My grandmother, a woman of Mexican and Amerind descent, whose ancestors lived in what is now New Mexico since the 16th century and only “immigrated” to the US when that country stole the area from Mexico, used to rail about “immigrants”* ruining the country. I believe that this behavior originated partly from her being threatened with loss of her home and/or deportation (despite being a US citizen from birth and both her parents being US citizens, having no relatives in current day Mexico, etc) and having to pretend to be Anglo to be survive. So I can understand how she would start to identify with the oppressors and why she would want to, but she was still thoroughly racist.

    I suspect that Mercer may be playing the same game of saying “Not me, not me, it’s THEM that are the dangerous aliens, not me” to keep people from looking at her suspiciously, but she’s still a racist and, worse, one with potential power.

    *To be fair, she also complained about Anglo immigrants from Detroit cluttering up the place. Texas in the 1970s–what can I tell you?

  8. 8
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    It is the second. People are just prone to bigotry AND hypocrisy.

  9. 9
    smhll

    re: the Palin/Fey quote

    Sometimes it seems like US politicians exist solely to provide fodder for satirists. And the satirists can coast ’cause it’s getting so easy.

  10. 10
    Jennifer

    I’ve been trying to tell people these facts for a very long time. Well-meaning white folks don’t seem to want to hear it. Some of the most ignorant bigoted folks I’ve ever met have been Hispanics, a few in my own family.

  11. 11
    Dave

    Good article, 99% dead on target. But as I work in the immigration field, I did want to point out that the second sentence is off. It was written that it is “nearly impossible” for immigrants. Given that the US took in between 1 and 1.1 million immigrants a year between 2009 and 2011, “nearly impossible” is a bit hyperbolic for my taste.

    Now, the issue of that number being big enough, as a percentage of the total population, or as a percentage of all people who want to immigrate, those are very different questions. And is the paperwork difficult and even worse for the refugee category? I would argue yes. However, “nearly impossible”?

    I don’t know if this site takes links, but I will try with this one. The numbers are on page 2 and 3 of the report.

    http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/statistics/publications/lpr_fr_2011.pdf

  12. 12
    Medivh

    …“nearly impossible” is a bit hyperbolic for my taste.

    Now, the issue of that number being big enough, as a percentage of the total population, or as a percentage of all people who want to immigrate, those are very different questions.

    Considering immigration in absolute numbers, without “the issue of that number being big enough”, is patently ridiculous. Not to mention the advantages required to get a swift pass through immigration rather than be tacked onto the end of a years-long queue. But you already know this (or should), because you’re in the field of immigration.

  13. 13
    hoary puccoon

    Totally agree– but, Crommunist, sweetie, if you pointed my *ass* at globe, I couldn’t find Israel, either. You’d have to let me turn around and look! ;)

  14. 14
    Dorothy

    Small memo to Mythbry #2.
    You’re right. We don’t count. Sorry, and all that. We also like it that way. It’s more peaceful. Remember? “Peace, Order and Good Government”!
    Gaining the attention of the US isn’t always a real good thing. Thank you for ignoring us.

  15. 15
    katmeow

    Ermahgerd, the terrorists, they took our jerbs!

    Sounds much like the conversation surrounding current boat arrivals in Australia (primarily Afghanis at the present point in time).

    Although a lot of it is whipped up by the media, particularly white, middle class, conservatives (we have some hideous radio shockjocks); there is also a contribution from communities which originated from earlier refugee waves.

    For a country built on boat people, the climate of fear-mongering is such a disgrace.

  16. 16
    baal

    My understanding of ‘illegal immigrants’ changed when I was in grad school. The students from other countries kept a folder (big 3 inch D-ring binder) of sample forms and letters and when they needed to be filed. Pretty much everyone of them (including the Europeans in various language (mostly) departments) fell into and out of status at some point. It wasn’t for lack of trying on their end and was usually due to the FEDGOV processing paperwork too slowly (or just plain losing it).

  17. 17
    Dave

    You are right about the issues associated with who gets fast tracked and who does not. That was why I mentioned the refugee category, as they are the group that has been pushed to the very back of the line. The later comment about grad students having to invest so much time in their status is dead on target and there has been a push in a number of US universities that they are seeing excellent grad students choose to go to other countries because of this issue. The US system has problems, especially following the changing of security checks post 9/11.

    While I do not agree with you that looking at absolute numbers is patently ridiculous, I do agree that looking at the percentage of immigrants in relation to the total population is more sensible in some discussions. A good example of this is in refugee entries. The US takes the largest absolute number, by far, but in per capital terms is regularly beaten by Canada, Australia and the Nordic countries. Last time I checked, Switzerland was one of the top countries, per capita!

    This is where absolute numbers do matter. In a refugee camp, the fact that Finland took 20 refugees is nice, but the refugees really don’t care that that is more, per capita, than the US took. They care that the US took 200 refugees out, ten times as many. On the receiving end of the trip, a small town in the destination country will find the impact of 200 new immigrants very different than a major city.

    So to reply to your point that I should know that the absolute numbers issue is patently ridiculous, since I am in the field, I would suggest that the level of policy you are looking at, the location you are discussing, the national or international perspective and the departing or receiving perspective all play an important role in what numbers you look at. If you are talking US national policy, I agree with you. If you are the mayor a small town in the US, a refugee camp administrator, a NGO worker booking flights six months in advance or a refugee trying to get out of a camp, then they likely don’t agree with you.

    I still feel the Crommunist is 99% on target with this post, but with the US remaining the largest annual recipient of immigrants in the world (barring certain refugees flows, like Syria right now, which usually only last a couple of months) I still feel that the statement it is “nearly impossible” is not well founded.

  18. 18
    Crommunist

    The numerator is meaningless without the denominator. Your argument reminds me of what Enbridge (an oil producer here in Canada) says about pipelines: they’re the safest way of moving oil. That may be true, but it’s totally irrelevant when the question is: “is it safe?” Just because everything else is more dangerous doesn’t mean it meets the standard for ‘safe’.

    The relevant statistic is the ratio of successful applications to total applications. What proportion of people applying for refugee/permanent resident/guest worker status actually gain entry within a reasonable timeframe? In Canada, the backlog is huge and we have simply thrown out hundreds of thousands of applications and forced people to start from scratch.

  19. 19
    Dave

    Since you began the discussion, you do get to set the definitions and I acknowledge that my point is tangental to the main thrust of the post. But if I may, I would like to respond to your points.

    First, your point about ratios is well taken, but sometimes, a ratio is not what is needed. Looking at the international context, the immigration programs of three historically immigrant countries (Canada, US, Australia) tend to dominate recent immigration trends. I write with a heavy refugee bias, as that is the area I know best. In absolute terms, those three countries policies, problems and all, take in far more refugees and immigrants than anyone else.

    Now, regarding the comparison of my views with that of an oil company (always a lovely bunch to be compared to!) The oil company argument is that oil pipelines are the safest, but ignore the option of no oil pipelines. With immigration, and the evaluation of the US and Canadian programs, it is worth looking at those countries which take that option. Try legally immigrating to an African country. You will find it is not an option in many. I am on a work permit here and am much like the grad students with the ring binder of paperwork. I am constantly having to deal with more paperwork and, short of marriage or a seven year residency to even qualify to apply, have no other option.

    I would guess that the oil company says, “Look, society wants oil and this is the safest way to give them what they want.” In the immigration context, there are countries who say, “We chose none.” The flawed US program starts to look better suddenly.

    That said, I looked up the 280,000 applications the Canadian government trashed. A flawed program indeed! It reminds me of the Churchill quote along the lines of “Democracy is a terrible, messy system, but it is the best we have found so far.” The immigration programs of Canada, the US and Australia have serious problems, but they still beat out most of the 200 odd countries in the world.

    Going even more an a tangent, is A&B Sound still active in Vancouver? They were founded by Ugandan refugees and chose a bland name so they could not be identified by ethnicity, as they had been in Uganda. I bought a lot of CDs from them over my university years!

  20. 20
    Holms

    Perhaps this is a point particular to American foreign relations or something, but why does there need to be a distinction between ‘the middle east’ and Israel? Or maybe I’m misconstruing the text… it’s 5:45 am here, so that’s quite possible.

  21. 21
    Crommunist

    One cannot be a Republican without pledging unflinching and fulsome support for Israel and its people. Failing to do so (or even entertaining criticisms of specific actions of the Israeli state) gets you branded as a traitor to America’s “greatest ally” and such. Her blanket criticism of “Middle Easterners” is at odds with the idea that nothing Israel does could ever be wrong, and that Israelis are allies (despite their geography).

  22. 22
    M can help you with that.

    …and for both Republicans and Democrats, only the conservative, segregationist and expansionist (or even genocidal) sectors of Israeli politics count as part of Israel.

  23. 23
    stuartsmith

    Yeah, I’ve been there. I started work with a company where the majority of the workers were Cree, and I was shocked at the degree of racism against, well, everyone but whites. I heard more racial slurs from them in a week than in I hear in a year from whites. It seems kind of naive in retrospect, but I just naturally assumed that people who’ve dealt with racism all their lives wouldn’t be racist. It really drove home how much our culture just takes white as the default. Even if they wanted to use racial slurs when talking about whites, I’m not sure what they’d use.

  24. 24
    Holms

    But… I don’t even…

    They’re ‘middle eastern.’ They have nearly identical ancestry and location. They have (approximately) the same violence and religious intolerance, except they are a judaic instead of islamic theocracy. I could perhaps understand a different attitude towards Israel if it was a christian nation, but all they really have in common is a hatred of muslims.

    …Is that the common thread? Islamophobia? Except christian conservatives have a strong tendency to be anti-semitic as well, what with the whole ‘judaism is a race as well as a religion, and either way they are scum’ thing.

    tl;dr: what the fuck.

  25. 25
    Skip White

    Personally, I think the U.S. has been going downhill since all those filthy Irish came in the late 19th-early 20th century. [/snark]

  26. 26
    RW Ahrens

    Holms;

    The US evangelical movement is intensely loyal to Israel for one reason and one reason only: The book of Revelation predicts certain things will happen in Israel to and by the Israelis before the Second Coming of christ.

    Without those occurrences, like the rebuilding of the Temple (in spite of the Muslim mosque on top of that location at this time), they won’t know if the time of the Second Coming is at hand.

    There is an even more extreme faction which believes that they can hasten that Second coming if they kind of hurry things along, like forcing the acceptance of Jerusalem as the capital, so they can eventually tear down that mosque and build the temple.

    This position ignores certain other biblical verses which tell them that only god knows when it will happen and nothing can advance the schedule, but hey, they’re christians, they can ignore anything they want!

    The Israelis just nod, smile and take whatever handouts these wingnuts offer, cause, hey, their money spends as well as anybody’s, and who are they to disabuse others of their fantasies when it is so lucrative? When surrounded by crazy enemies who want you dead, any help is gratefully accepted.

  27. 27
    lirael_abhorsen

    I wonder how many of these people even realize that half of Israel, even Jewish Israel, is not white in the US understanding of whiteness (by which I mean popular, not US Census, understanding – Jews from Iraq, like Muslims or Christians from Iraq, are not “white” in the US, even if the Census would consider them such).

    Being someone of mixed background (white and non-white ethnicities on my Jewish side, white and non-white ethnicities on my non-Jewish side, though I look pretty white and was socialized as such), it was really cool to go to Israel and see (among other things) Jewish culture that wasn’t Ashkenazi-dominated.

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