Monthly Archives: November 2011

Taking a leaf out of the Republican presidential field

How Washingtonians deal with the fallen tree leaves adorning their lawns, backyards, and pavements is a revealing prism through which to contemplate illegal immigration in the United States, and Republican Party presidential candidates’ differing views on it.

Many in the area rake up their leaves themselves—or have their children or a neighbourhood teenager do it—and then bundle them into bulky bags that wait expectantly on sidewalks for collection on the next “trash day”. Many hire private gardening services to tend to the mass of foliage that nature dumps most predictably this season. The gardening service workers might gather the leaves with buzzing, mosquito-like leaf blowers, bag the leaves, and then remove the bags immediately. Alternatively, leaves can be left in piles curbside, to become shriveled, dried or soaking (weather permitting) brown fodder, that county workers come and slurp up with giant “vacuum cleaners” on scheduled collection days.

Latinos from Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, or Nicaragua—you name the Central or Latin American country—invariably comprise the work forces of these gardening services here in the D.C. metro area. And one has to wonder how many of these folk are legally in the United States. I would hazard the guess that most are illegals.

Given the inability to agree at the federal level on how to address the perennial problem of illegal immigration, states have begun taking action themselves. Adopted measures include, for example, requiring police to ask people about their immigration status when in contact with them for other reasons. Such measures are highly controversial and are presently under judicial review.

In states that have passed such measures, including Alabama, Arizona, and Georgia, labour that helped tend fields, plant crops, and harvest fruit has noticeably “disappeared”.

Despite high unemployment rates among local American residents, reports from these states note the apparent reluctance of locals to perform the work that undocumented workers so typically provide.

This quandary is familiar to me. It reminds me of South Africans simultaneously panning Malawians, Mozambicans, and Zimbabweans for coming illegally to South Africa and taking jobs from local people—while not being willing to perform these jobs themselves, despite astronomically high unemployment.

The two current GOP frontrunners, former Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, present contrasting views over whether to allow the reputed eleven million illegal immigrants who have settled in the United States a path to legal residency.

In the most recent Republican presidential debate, Gingrich opined: “If you’ve come [to the United States] recently, you have no ties to this country, you ought to go home. Period. If you’ve been here 25 years and you got three kids and two grandkids, you’ve been paying taxes and obeying the law, you belong to a local church, I don’t think we’re going to separate you from your family, uproot you forcefully and kick you out.”

Romney retorted that such a policy would be a “magnet”: “To say that we’re going to say to the people who have come here illegally that now you’re all going to get to stay or some large number are going to get to stay and become permanent residents of the United States, that will only encourage more people to do the same thing.”

Gingrich responded: “I don’t see how the party that says it’s the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter-century… And I’m prepared to take the heat for saying let’s be humane in enforcing the law without giving them citizenship but by finding a way to create legality so that they are not separated from their families.”

Romney then noted that he was “not going to start drawing lines about who gets to stay and who gets to go. The principle is that we are not going to have an amnesty system that says that people who come here illegally get to stay for the rest of their life in this country legally.”

The Republican Party already has a perception problem with Latino voters, the fastest growing part of the U.S. population. A debate exchange such as this between the present two top contenders in the GOP presidential race cannot help Republican prospects. Yet the question is whose views better reflect those of the Republicans who will vote in the Republican primaries. Will Gingrich’s “liberal” (by Republican standards) but more realistic views on illegal immigration hurt him in the primaries or not?  President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats had supported passage of the Dream Act earlier this year that would have allowed certain categories of illegals to be on a path to eventual citizenship, but Congressional Republicans voted it down.

Whether or not they can vote, you can be assured that Washington’s leaf blowers are following the contortions of the national debate on illegal immigration with great interest.