SAN DIEGO – In the Southwest, four governors are sending National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. To understand how dangerous this could be, you can listen to politicians or poets.
Consider what California Gov. Jerry Brown – the only Democrat in that cohort – said last week at the National Press Club in Washington. Reluctant to honor President Trump’s request for troops, but afraid to be seen as weak on immigration, Brown is in quite a pickle.
In his remarks to reporters, the governor of the Golden State downplayed his showdown with Trump. The president – who seems to enjoy using California as a foil – has accused the Democrat of undermining border security.
Last week, Brown – who claimed that California and the Trump administration are “pretty close to an agreement” – pledged to send as many as 400 National Guard troops to the border, but only on the condition that they not enforce immigration law or build a wall. (New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has pledged 250.)
“Trying to stop drug smuggling, human trafficking and guns going to Mexico to the cartels, that sounds to me like fighting crime,” he said.
Hold on. Brown must think he is being clever, doing Trump’s bidding but on his own terms. Yet how are the California National Guard troops supposed to “fight crime” – which isn’t their job by the way – without interacting with illegal immigrants? Are troops supposed to arrest the human traffickers and not also take into custody the humans being trafficked?
“Trying to catch some desperate mothers and children, unaccompanied minors coming from Central America? That sounds like something else,” Brown said.
Agreed. To many Latinos, it sounds like someone is trying to bleach out the brown and make America white again.
Let’s consult with a band of Mexican poets who have – as naturalized U.S. citizens living in San Jose, Calif., since the 1960s – used music to decipher the Mexican diaspora.
To unpack the experience of working-class whites in the Rust Belt, you turn to Bruce Springsteen. But to decode what it means to be an undocumented Mexican immigrant living on this side of the line, you need to soak up the wisdom of Los Tigres del Norte – a band that has sold more than 30 million records.
In their cultural battle hymn, “Somos Mas Americanos,” an undocumented immigrant stands up to Americans who mistake workers for invaders and assume a war footing.
“Soy extranjero en mi tierra. Y no vengo a darles guerra. Soy hombre trabajador.”
(I’m a stranger in my own land. And I didn’t come to make war. I’m a working man.)
America is confused. We take in refugees from war-ravaged Syria – albeit a small number of them – but we won’t even give refugees from war-ravaged Central America an asylum hearing. We make a big show about keeping out illegal immigrants; and the party that is doing much of the chest-thumping – the GOP – is hooked on contributions from businesses that use illegal immigrant labor. We portray illegal immigrants as dangerous criminals, then we hand them our children and the digits to our home security code so they can make our lives more comfortable.
Does this make sense to anyone who isn’t binge-watching Fox News and following the rants of dimwits in New York and Washington who don’t know the border from a burrito?
If tough-talking Trump and all the other anti-immigrant bullies are serious about stopping illegal immigration, they don’t have to send soldiers and build a wall. All they have to do is find the courage to bite the hand that feeds them. Start locking up employers, and the illegal immigrants they hire will skedaddle.
But beware. This isn’t as easy as picking on poorly educated non-citizens who don’t speak English and can’t defend themselves. Employers will fight back. And they know how to strike fear into the hearts of politicians with just six words: “I’m stopping payment on the check!”
Americans love to complain about illegal immigration, but they’ll never accept responsibility for it. Hire illegal immigrants? Who – us?
When Trump followed the lead of the last two presidents – one Democrat, one Republican – and ordered troops to the border, he let U.S. employers off the hook. He also told the world that it’s time to take up arms because the United States is being invaded. Truth is, a lot of the folks who come looking for work were pretty much invited.
E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright, The Washington Post Writers Group. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.