Our national debt is staggering, our housing market is collapsing, and we're spending about $2,000 per second on an unwinnable war against a vague enemy.
Regardless, life in these United States would be a bed of roses if it weren't for those goddamn immigrants:
The 55-year-old retiree complains about day laborers waiting for work outside the nearby Home Depot, saying they give his neighborhood "a Third World look."I'm fascinated by the extent to which complaints against immigrants are visual. Putting aside the trumped-up allegations about crime and disease, anti-immigrant activists seem to suffer from a basic disorientation; they feel that their towns have become alien and unintelligible.
"Ten or 15 years ago, the neighborhood wasn't like this," Warren said. "The states are overpopulated, there is oversprawl, and immigration is contributing to this."
Which, in many cases, they have. The mistake is in thinking that these changes have less to do with, say, retail sprawl than with the migrant workers loitering near the huge, featureless walls of Home Depot.
Here's another activist, explaining what radicalized him against immigrants:
"I see more and more our language is being changed. Things that were written in English are written in Spanish now. You buy chlorine and acid for the swimming pool and it's in Spanish and English now."This man lives in Huntington Beach, CA, which means that he's probably spent time at Bolsa Chica State Beach, or visited San Diego, or driven through the Mojave Desert, without feeling personally diminished by Californian bilingualism.
But seeing pool chemicals with warnings in Spanish...that's another matter entirely. (What happened to that bright, gracious world of monolingual chlorine labels I knew as a lad?)
The drab pettiness of grievances like these offers a clue, I think, to the emotional appeal of stories about Mexican lepers and pedophiles; they make the crime as exciting as the punishment. It's not simply a matter of "manipulating available data to make as strong an argument as they can," as a UC professor puts it; it's also a matter of enjoying evil and sickness and perversion...not just as alibis for hatred and violence, but as spectacles in themselves.
In an ugly, blinkered culture whose economic logic demands endless sprawl - along with plenty of quasi-slave labor to build and tend it - it's easy to see how escapist fantasies like these would be attractive to what Arthur Machen called "the decorative imagination." It's as if these patriots can only appreciate "our" land by imagining that Mexicans are planning to steal it back from us; it reassures them that they still have something precious to lose.
Still, the fact remains that we shouldn't depress American wages by hiring criminals.
Unless they're in jail, that is:
"We are contacted almost daily by different companies needing labor," says Bruce Farely, manager of the business development unit of Arizona Correctional Industries (ACI). ACI is a state labor program that holds contracts with government and private companies. "Maybe it was labor that was undocumented before, and they don't want to take the risk anymore because of possible consequences, so they are looking to inmate labor as a possible alternative."(Illustration at top: "The Chinese Question: The Remedy Too Late." From The Wasp, 1881.)