I went to Saturday's illegal alien rally in Los Angeles, called 'The March for Immigrants' Rights.' About 1,000 people, led by a noisy red—shirt wearing communist party—type contingent waving red banners touting May Day, turned up. After them marched in a large laundry workers' union contingent in white and blue shirts, and some other sweatshop—representing unions after them. There were lots of toddlers with their parents. There were Chinese, Korean and Filipino groups. But overwhelmingly, they were Latino. There were big Nicaraguan and Venezuelan flags waving in the bright Angeleno heat. There was a Salvadoran FMLN Marxist guerrilla contingent wearing red tee shirts with stars. The biggest group of all was the Mexicans.
One group not seen was the white grungy leftwing rent—a—mob that usually turns up at political rallies. I saw two people of this kind, and one small group that held up an antiwar poster. It was all lost in the red—white—and—green sea of Mexican—flag regalia. And unlike the white rallies, the Latinos had a very good Tejano band at the end of the event, one that pulled people off the grass from the back and got them dancing up front.
It is safe to say this rally had a pretty strong leftwing coloration. The speakers railed about Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger without a hint of intelligence. The communists stuck to the back and with their own megaphone speakers bellowing something about May Day, a juxtaposition with what was going on in the front that amounted to two different rallies. But I moved to the front where the event planners, called the "Multi—Ethnic Workers' Organizing Network" had a big truck with banners on it in English, Spanish and Tagalog. And, since there was a nice lawn to sit down on at the Olvera Street Park, I listened to the speakers.
This may surprise you, but I found much of what they were saying not all that offensive.
Unlike years past, the illegal aliens this time simply demanded legalization. It was written all over their banners, usually as 'Legalization Now.' Home health care workers and laundry workers were hauled up to speak in three languages, all telling of their life experiences running from the Immigration Service raids, or working nonstop as domestics in various homes without a day off. There was a Mexican woman who probably exaggerated as she talked of 'never' being allowed to eat, as her obesity told a slightly different story.
But even with the exaggerations, there is little doubt the lives they lead in Los Angeles, far away from home, are hard, and being illegal aliens working without a right to be here has brought them suffering. One weepy Filipina woman spoke of how difficult it was for her to be working in Los Angeles raising a couple of kids while her husband remains stuck in the Philippines, unable to get a visa, and pleaded for an easing of family reunification rules. Others demanded Social Security benefits already paid in.
Was there anything wrong with that? Or with pleading for legalization? I found it a lot more palatable than their previous demands, which were for "free" government services — like water stations, an altering of state educational residency requirements for in—state tuition, and other insistences that we bend our laws to accommodate their law—breaking, making the state of illegal alien—hood a lifestyle decision. They were now saying they didn't want to be illegal aliens at all.
Their reasons were not terribly dishonorable, either, as far as I could tell. They insisted they deserved legalization because they had done so much work in this country. Given the fact that their work is undervalued, and would cost employers far more if they hired legally and had to pay health—care benefits, their reasoning was more rational than most leftist demands for assorted gimmes to finance people who do not want to work. These illegal aliens are not layabouts. They are people who actually produce something of value, legally or not. I could not help but feel some compassion for them, even as I abhor the entire concept of being an illegal alien and institutionalizing the setup.
I looked at those speakers, and cocooned as they were in leftism, I could not help but think that some of these people were probably the most enterprising citizens in their former home countries. To get here as an illegal alien takes tremendous sacrifice, guts, and self—belief, something not everyone in a home country has. They didn't look like the usual flakes who normally rail at rallies. They were just illegal immigrants telling of their experiences in a surprisingly authentic way, mostly, and asking to be included into the system.
This new demand is no doubt in part, because they have already become part of the system. And because they recognize the advantages of legalization over mere accommodation in the past. And because their original nationalities are falling away. And because they are becoming Americans, intentionally or not. And because they want to participate. There was a big American flag flying in that sea of people, too.
There are more signs of this inevitable absorption, as well. Sunday's Los Angeles Times printed a letter from an illegal—alien—championing labor union, by a woman who urges legal and illegal Mexican workers to stop sending their cash to Mexico, and to start spending it to improve their homes and communities in this country instead. In other words, she's encouraging Mexicans here to develop civic community. It is a surprisingly revolutionary idea, one I have not seen before, especially not from a labor union. And coming from the left, it is more than a little surprising.
Conservatives, and Governor Schwarzenegger, are right to be concerned about the integrity of our border and the critical importance of rule of law. If neither are being enforced, there is no point to having them, and the neglect of either will undermine respect for other laws, ultimately taking the whole system under.
But the U.S. also is a country with a unique political flexibility to changing conditions. Politicians here often follow the people, a development very different from other countries, where politicians lead the people. Hernando de Soto notes that in the history of the U.S., the most revolutionary laws often begin as political responses to out—of—control events already happening on the ground. For example, the Homestead Act of 1864 enabled people to settle their own land, and, so long as they worked it for a period of years, own it free and clear with title—deed in the end. De Soto said the law itself was just a formalization of widespread land—squatting already happening extra—legally in the U.S. at the time.
He also notes that the move of illegal immigrants to the U.S. is probably unstoppable. It's not unique to the U.S., and most of the hemisphere is experiencing similar migration waves to its own cities. "History shows that there is no stopping the movement of peoples," he said. Even property rights in countries like Mexico will only slow, and not stop, the great migrations of peoples through the hemisphere, he said.
Both rule of law, and the adaptive political response, are precedents to consider in resolving the question of illegal immigration in the U.S. now. For politicians on all sides, part of the problem is that no one quite knows what would happen if illegals are legalized. Would it mean more waves of illegals with similar demands? Would it mean enfranchising a lot of Hugo—Chavez—type leftist populist voters intent on stacking voter rolls for politicians who dish handouts? Would it damp remittances to countries like Mexico to force its government to stop cynically encouraging illegal immigration for the sake of worker remittances to finance their government spending? It's hard to say.
From the content of the illegal alien rally, it was pretty clear that what the aliens were asking for was an institutional good entirely different from a physical handout. This should disorient Democratic Party dinosaurs in the spoils—system left. They didn't plead for things, they pleaded for freedom, a Republican speciality, and the heart of the issue, too. That makes it important for Republicans to watch, particularly since it's coming from the hard left.
For that reason, it's going to be a challenge for Republicans to seize the issue of how to legalize them in an orderly manner that neither stiffs those now waiting in line for visas, nor ignores the existing reality of the illegals' existence altogether. It won't be easy. But if either political party can deliver this institutionalization, it's likely to win the political loyalty of a new voting bloc. Maybe President Bush's effort to legalize these illegals somehow is not so absurd after all.