08/02/2010 06:29 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Hypocrisy on Immigration (and Salad)

I teach an American politics class to 700 undergraduates at San Francisco State University. On the day that we discuss immigration, I broadcast a startling, live image of a field in Texas on the huge movie screen behind me.

The live shot of an apparently innocuous field is shocking because the camera that produces it is part of a program created by Texas governor Rick Perry to provide citizens with an outlet for their paranoia. Perry has placed web-cams along the Texas border that allow anyone with an internet connection to monitor fields and streams on a 24-hour basis. If a Mexican appears on-screen, you can click a red button to alert the border patrol.

During my class, someone appeared on screen. A few students started shouting. I asked, "should I click the red button to alert an agent?" More students started screaming. The class deteriorated into mayhem and it took a minute to restore calm. I had made my point. I wanted the students to experience the politics of paranoia first hand.

Opponents of illegal immigration are guilty of the grossest form of hypocrisy. As anyone who works on the issue knows, it would take about five minutes to eliminate the so-called problem of illegal immigration, by arresting the mostly white business owners who hire them. Why isn't this done? Because the business wing of the Republican party just loves its cheap, compliant labor.

So Governor Rick, the same guy who always runs for office on a jingoist anti-immigrant platform, turns around once elected and offers amnesty to immigrants to placate his buddies in the business community.

Democrats, to be sure, are plagued by their own contradictions on immigration, and there is a sad history of anti-immigrant agitation in the labor movement. Very few democrats are willing to speak honestly about what immigration. An honest conversation would need to be premised on the following points:

  1. America's problems have nothing to do with illegal immigration. If every illegal immigrant were removed from the U.S., our economy would still be a disaster, the poor would still be desperate, we would still be addicted to oil, and we would still be fighting unnecessary wars.
  2. Those who blame America's problems on illegal immigration are tapping into the worst tradition in American politics, the politics of paranoia. The politics of paranoia involve targeting some group (gays, communists, African Americans) and playing divide-and-conquer politics rather than facing up to our real problems.
  3. The enforcement of the war against illegal immigrants has become much more of a disaster than most people realize. As my colleague Dr. Jacqueline Stevens has documented in several articles in the Nation, ICE has illegally deported many American citizens and is out of control. The militarization of the border has imposed tremendous burdens on borderland communities.
  4. As the New York Times has documented, employers of illegal immigrants contribute7 billion per year in social security taxes, which the workers never collect.

Progressives should demand that anti-immigrant zealots put up or shut up. This means that owners of businesses that hire illegal immigrants should be arrested and jailed. If, as a society, we're unwilling to do that, we should welcome all immigrants, legal and illegal. And as long as we're at it, I would like to propose legislation titled, "The Anti-Salad Act," which would require anyone who opposes illegal immigration to grow their own lettuce. The complaining about immigrants would cease immediately!