A moment of sympathy for Republicans.  Trump won’t protect them from the agony of an immigration debate or lead them through it in any useful way, and now they are being tasked by the zero-tolerance fiasco to show (or at least emulate) courage and decency they long ago threw on the political bonfire.  Today, he even denied them the tough, never-settle leader today’s GOP wants to cower behind, left them thousands of kids in secret prisons, and the larger issue remains.

It is an exquisitely difficult issue, especially for the rich and xenophobic. To enact any kind of immigration reform requires keeping the following balls in the air:

(1) Agriculture, hospitality, domestic service, home construction and repair, restaurants, and gardening are all important to rich people, whether as proprietors or consumers. All depend on a docile, cheap work force, often a seasonal one.  Americans will not tolerate lettuce prices high enough to support ag wages that get Americans to work in the fields, or hotel rates ditto.  Fear of ICE is almost indispensable in insuring docility.

(2) The hi-tech industry also depends on a work force that Americans will not pay to educate, especially in red states, so we also need an ample supply of H-1b immigrants who don’t need salaries that will amortize crippling student loan debts; they aren’t as cheap as farm workers, but their docility needs even more reinforcement, and not being able to quit their jobs helps with this.

(3) The Republican game plan, since the party’s consignment of its brain and conscience to Trump, demands that the image of immigrants as murderous brown gangsters, planning their assault on your job and your family in Spanish, be vividly front and center. It also requires a population on which the old, and many young, white  Trump-base frightened haters can look down.

(4) Trump himself requires regular opportunity to hurt the weak, unfortunate, sick, helpless, and poor, and to be seen doing so. Immigrants, especially refugees, are not indispensable for this-plain Americans with pre-existing medical conditions or dependent on Social Security, in any color, qualify-but are still very useful.

(5) Somehow the whole project has to enrich Trump personally, his circle of grifters, and the top 1% who gave him to us, or why bother? It’s really not clear how any particular immigration scheme can be monetized this way, though (1) and (2) are relevant.

[correction 21/VI/18: (5) above is not quite true; there is real money to be made from immigrant

abuse. ]

These criteria comprise pretty fundamental contradictions, and the discovery this week that there really are limits to the official cruelty Americans will tolerate makes everything so much harder. No wonder Republicans scatter like cockroaches at the approach of a reporter these days.



Author: Michael O'Hare

Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley, Michael O'Hare was raised in New York City and trained at Harvard as an architect and structural engineer. Diverted from an honest career designing buildings by the offer of a job in which he could think about anything he wanted to and spend his time with very smart and curious young people, he fell among economists and such like, and continues to benefit from their generosity with on-the-job social science training. He has followed the process and principles of design into "nonphysical environments" such as production processes in organizations, regulation, and information management and published a variety of research in environmental policy, government policy towards the arts, and management, with special interests in energy, facility siting, information and perceptions in public choice and work environments, and policy design. His current research is focused on transportation biofuels and their effects on global land use, food security, and international trade; regulatory policy in the face of scientific uncertainty; and, after a three-decade hiatus, on NIMBY conflicts afflicting high speed rail right-of-way and nuclear waste disposal sites. He is also a regular writer on pedagogy, especially teaching in professional education, and co-edited the "Curriculum and Case Notes" section of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Between faculty appointments at the MIT Department of Urban Studies and Planning and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, he was director of policy analysis at the Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. He has had visiting appointments at Università Bocconi in Milan and the National University of Singapore and teaches regularly in the Goldman School's executive (mid-career) programs. At GSPP, O'Hare has taught a studio course in Program and Policy Design, Arts and Cultural Policy, Public Management, the pedagogy course for graduate student instructors, Quantitative Methods, Environmental Policy, and the introduction to public policy for its undergraduate minor, which he supervises. Generally, he considers himself the school's resident expert in any subject in which there is no such thing as real expertise (a recent project concerned the governance and design of California county fairs), but is secure in the distinction of being the only faculty member with a metal lathe in his basement and a 4×5 Ebony view camera. At the moment, he would rather be making something with his hands than writing this blurb.

21 thoughts on “Immigration”

  1. On #5, don't worry. If money is being spent by Uncle Sam, the politically connected will get the lion's share, minus the bribes it took to acquire it.. One of the many reasons to oppose big government (though not in the fake way the Trump cabal usually does it).

    1. Jesus fucking Christ, aajax, put a fucking sock in it! *toddlers* are separated from their parents — some of them will undoubtedly die, and they'll all be injured neurally and psychologically — and all you can do is snipe about some *bullshit*?

      1. And you're castigating me for criticizing the government that is doing all this to these kids. That's your contribution to solving their plight?

        1. You argue in bad faith, and it's fair to classify every word from your mouth as "bullshit", by Harry Frankfurt's definition. In the comment above, you deride big government, when the problem is rentierism. As if smaller government could possibly improve that; it would merely produce neofeudalism, but that'd be a feature not a bug.

          And no, none of this helps those poor children. My contribution here is to ensure that any random reader understands that you're a Trumpist.

      1. Nyah, nyah…yes you did.
        Nyah, nyah…no I didn't; you did.

        You two children might be surprised to learn this website is not Alt-anything. Why don't you take it offline?

          1. It wasn't an attack, and it wasn't personal.

            It was simply an observation that your feud with antiscience is reminiscent of the early days of the unmoderated Usenet newsgroups, which often degenerated into pissing contests. Your original comment was at least half right (the first half). But whether one was right and the other was wrong quickly became irrelevant to everybody else, and the normal response from other participants was "take it offline."

            Sorry if you took it personally. It was just an oldtime Usenet user saying "enough already."

  2. A minor quibble: Are the right-wing rich actually passionate on the immigration issue? That just strikes me as wrong (I have no evidence, this is a sense-of-the-world sort of thing). When I think of nativism my first thought is of a working-class person, although I know that at various times middle-class people have done the nativism thing (IIRC the know-nothings were educated protestants). I can see people like the Kochs being anti-immigration because they know how the migrants will vote if they gain a path to citizenship… but really, I just can't imagine wealthy rightists being true xenophobes. I am sure they are fond of their gardeners and servants right?

    1. They most assuredly do NOT want a hard stop to undocumented immigration:

      B/c (as Michael put it so well in the OP) native-born and legal immigrants will not do this work at the wages offered. Remember when Georgia enacted a "papers please" law, and that year, the tomato crop rotted in the fields b/c all the farm workers decamped for safer pastures? The key is to ensure that these workers are -sufficiently- scared, with being -overly- terrified. That's the best state for Donohue's constituency.

      1. Thanks for the link. Yes I see that he does reference the need to have very low-paid labor and that immigrants fill that role, all I meant in my objection is that I just can't imagine the rich being xenophobic in the way he suggests before the bullet points. Can you imagine a rich person thinking "this sure ain't the murica I grew up in, with all these damn mig-rints!" Rich people just don't think that way or in those terms… at least not in our culture. Rich right wingers don't have to balance their xenophobia against their need for migrant labor, they simply are not xenophobic at all.

        1. The question revolves around what you think of the rich. I'll say this much: the structure of American racism is pretty clear, and has been for at least a few centuries. I experienced it as a child [of wealthy, highly-skilled parents]. And it is: to pit various classes of the oppressed against each other. Divide and conquer. So I, a dark-skinned child of Indian immigrants, who happened to be the smartest child in his school for 20 years coming-and-going, was a wetback, a camel-jockey, a sand-n**r. And (from a "friend" I desperatedly wanted to be liked-by: a "little Indian boy". And my "friends" taught me to say [to my everlasting-to-this-day-I-will-never-forget-and-will-never-forgive-myself shame] horrible epithets about black people (of whom there were a few in my town). Why? Divide-and-conquer.

          There's a reason that all the noxious chemical plants abut poor neighborhoods. Redlining is a thing. In 2001, someone noted that you could think of that election as the revenge of the old economy, against the new economy. And so it shouldn't be surprising that some part of the rich are virulently racist, should it?

          And even after that, the rich will always use divide-and-conquer to keep the brown, the black, the pink, and the poor, down. It's the way of things.

          1. I am very sorry to read about what you went through as a kid. I am white and so don't have directly parallel experience, but I was mistreated / bullied more than almost anyone in my entire school so, to some extent, I understand. I don't think, however, that kids throwing around racial epithets has anything to do with a divide-and-conquer strategy, for several reasons. First and most importantly, kids have a natural tendency towards bullying and racist speech without it being part of any kind of social strategy. The packs of black kids who used to surround me and shove me around while calling me honkey and cracker (hoping to provoke me into saying the N-word in return so as to create a justification to beat me in a more serious way, which I of course wisely did not do) were certainly not doing it as part of some sort of complex social race strategy. On the contrary, what they were doing was exceedingly simple: They were accessing the ecstasy of violence and domination in a way that they had seen modeled in their homes and neighborhood. Simple as that. I am sure they learned to say honkey and cracker from their parents, but that is the extent of it; they were not soldiers engaged in some kind of strategy. Their parents were not generals acting on a plan.

            It is true that America has an overtly racist history and, as overt racism has receded, a history of uncorrected economic inequality perpetuated through mechanisms such as redlining… but I think you are making a conceptual error in trying to apply these facts to the behavior of adolescents. I also think you are making a conceptual error in your view of the behavior of the rich in modern times. In my opinion, the modern rich are better understood as being highly rational amoral actors engaged in the naked pursuit of self-interest, rather than somewhat rational immoral (racist) actors. Put another way, I think highly affluent right-winger Caucasians feel as though they have more in common with other self-interested rich people of any color than they do with dirt-poor Caucasians.

          2. Three replies:

            (1) LBJ once said: "If you can convince the lowest white man he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll empty his pockets for you." The rich in America have been trying to roll back the New Deal since it was enacted. It's only since they've been able to tie it to "undeserving minorities", that they've had any success. It's clear that the propaganda arms of the rich are deeply invested in this form of racist propaganda. And as they say: "the Cossacks work for the Czar".

            -> amongst other things, notice the part in bold. Divide and conquer.

            (2) there is a deep and relevant difference between (say) Kenny Horde calling me a wetback in gym class (with my arm locked in his arm and squeezed down), and some black kids on the street taunting you. That difference is that the white kid is an extension of and expression of the racist hierarchy, where these kids are acting out, maybe even criminally. There's a difference. Similarly, when my friend R (at whose house I used to stay overnight — remark that!) taught me these racist epithets about black people, and I learned them eagerly, I was trying to fit into the existing order. The existing -racial- order.

            I can't convince you against your will, that in fact the "divide-and-conquer" mode of racism still exists and runs great. So I'll just quote a great commenter Murc (at LG&M): "he hates the same people I hate; gimme the goddamn ballot". I find the idea that racism in America is abating to be …. highly specious, especially in the years since Barack Obama was elected. He governed as a centrist; he -is-a centrist, and yet he was attacked as everything up to and including the Antichrist. And then we got Trump. And the entire institutional Republican party was onboard, is onboard, with all of that. Sure, they didn't want Trump at first, b/c he said the racist parts with a megaphone instead of a dog-whistle (I presume you've read Lee Atwater's deathbed confession?) but since, they're 100% onboard . B/c they're getting what they want, and who cares of a few colored people get hurt?

            If that doesn't convince you that there is a giant and throbbing river of racism in America, driven by rich people as much as by anybody else, then I don't know what will.

          3. "The packs of black kids who used to surround me and shove me around while calling me honkey and cracker" being surrounded and shoved is not "being taunted on the street," it is battery. Shove doesn't mean spoken to from a distance, it involves physical contact and can lead to injury. Being surrounded is not similar to receiving soundwaves from across the street. Not sure how this wasn't clear, or why that is totally different in kind to Kenny Horde's behavior except that there were many of them. Also not clear on why Kenny's behavior meets a criminal threshold that wasn't met in what I wrote. I am not trying to win a competition with you or even to participate in one, but really, you aren't going to just assert that you have one-upped me without reading what I wrote.

            Racism is quite obviously abating. 40 years ago a black president would have been unimaginable. 20 years ago, probably the same. The membership rolls of white supremacist groups have been collapsing precipitously for the last century, breathless media coverage of very small assemblies of inbred morons notwithstanding. There are basically none of them left. I think it is worth noting that Trump stopped the birtherism before the 2016 campaign. Sure, I suppose he had already gotten his name into the minds of those clowns with his earlier bullshit, but I am not just going to forget about the fact that he specifically dropped that line when it was time for the campaign. Trump did NOT run an anti-African American campaign. He barely mentioned African Americans at all. He ran a nativist (anti-hispanic) / islamophobe / populist-protectionist / reality TV campaign.

            This reminds me of seeing a CNN commentator claim with 100% confidence that the election of Trump represented a "whitelash" against African Americans. What a joke. The last two elections before it involved a black guy against white guys, and he won in both of those. Then in the next election we have a white guy versus a white woman, and the fact that he won shows… anti-black racism? A lot of the people who voted for Obama voted Trump, and Obama still had really high approval ratings as Trump was winning the campaign. I don't particularly understand how people could be so stupid, but I'm not buying this facially absurd framing of HRC vs. Trump as a white versus African American issue, because that just doesn't make a god damn bit of sense. If anti black racism were going to be a huge factor in a presidential election, IT WOULD BE ONE OF THE ONES WITH THE BLACK GUY IN IT. I really, really am surprised at how people seem to blow right past this. Some have gotten so used to screaming "racism!" that they see it everywhere and in everything, even when it makes no sense at all.

            I am sure the wealthy try to build voting blocks out of racists. I admit, that (or something like it, just basically raising his profile, I think Trump had almost no expectation of winning) is what Trump was doing with the birtherism crap, but really… this can easily be taken too far. I never claimed the rich don't try to build voting blocks, I claimed that the average wealthy rightist is not a racist. And as for the absurd things that were said about Obama, ok, sure, but do you not remember liberals walking around openly saying to each other they hoped Bush Jr. would be assassinated? Do you remember some of the things that were said about him and, even if you are down with all that, do you remember what lefties were saying about people like general Petraeus? Remember how before there was birtherism there was truferism? You can sit here and tell me that conspiracy-minded bullshit hyperbolic attacks on the government started when Obama was elected, but I ain't buyin it.

          4. As I wrote, I can't convince you against your will. And I'm not trying. I could describe other events from my childhood that were more …. dire. But there's no point in that, and as I said, I had a relatlvely privileged upbringing. I will say this, though: you should read the writings of Ta-Nehisi Coates. A South Asian child brought up in the upper-middle-class in small-white-town America, is going to end up being racist against black people. It's a fact of life. And so, I was. Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates is what caused the scales to fall from my eyes.

            I read most of his columns for The Atlantic. It was …. very (ahem) morally educational.

          5. I have read all of his columns and blog posts. Sometimes I am impressed, many times I am not. Like I had said, I am not trying to engage in a competition; my point about the AA kids battering me and calling me honkey / cracker wasn't that I was devastated by the words. In fact, I had no emotional reaction to the words at all, majority privilege is sweet that way. If you tell me that the words thrown at you did wound because you weren't shielded by majority privilege, I immediately believe you. Being surrounded and battered, on the other hand, mattered to me. My point, if you remember, is that adolescent minorities can behave like racist criminals too, because racist / aggressive behavior is a normal behavior pattern for adolescent males to engage in. It is not some sort of majority-only white devil phenomenon. It is a natural product of testosterone and strong group identification. No one was dividing and conquering anything or acting out a playbook their parents knowingly wrote for them; they were being little shits. Sometimes a cigar is a cigar. I likewise cannot convince you that it is worth dropping the everything-is-racism lens from time to time if you don't want to hear it, but c'est la vie. If you want to believe that Obama vs. McCain and Romney prove nothing about anti-black racism in the United States while Trump vs. Hillary proves all sorts of things about anti-black racism in the United States, that is your right. I just can't believe there isn't a part of your brain screaming "what the fuck am I saying" as you do it.

          6. [I responded intemperately to this guy's comment. I've removed it, b/c really, the FPers deserve better, and I apologize to them.]

            Dude, if you don't want to go read Ta-Nehisi Coates[*] (who, let's be clear, is no Malcolm X, no Louis Farrakhan, no Cornel West), then I have nothing further to say to you. The unwillingness to understand what someone else is going thru by walking in their shoes, is a true sign of privilege.

            Coates is judged (rightly) to be one of the most cogent and learned commentators on contemporary American society, and the black experience in America from antebellum times thru today. He's a brilliant writer, and everyone should read him. Sure, one should read more than that. But that's an excellent start. To not even bother making that start, well, again: I have nothing further to suggest.

            [*] or MLK — you could read him, too. I haven't, nor have I read Malcolm X.

  3. [I commented this at LG&M. But it's relevant here.]

    I feel like I gotta say something positive. Tonight I went with my Hawaiian (all-American, half-Japanese, half-Korean) friend for drinks and then we walked to dinner. At La Taqueria in the Mission (which is so damn mobbed, not like it was back in the old days [yeah yeah, I know, shaddup]). And we were 3/4 way thru our meal, when a guy asks us if he can join us at our table. The place is jammed, but our table really isn't big enough for more than two people. OBTW, these two guys are Mexicans, and it's pretty likely given their languages skills, that they're undocumented.

    So I say "well, you can have this table after we leave, which will be pretty soon". So the guy and his friend grab the extra seats and we keep eating. They introduce themselves, and so do we. One of them (F) has passable English; the other (N) doesn't. They tell us where they're from, where they're working, etc. And I cannot contain myself.

    I tell them (pointing to the back of my (brown) hand) that California is a great place for people like us, and that I'm thankful that it is. And y'know, it makes me feel safer, knowing that F and N are here in my state. They're working hard, striving for the American dream. And they're like me. And this makes me feel safer.

    I sure hope that they didn't feel creeped-out by me. B/c I had to shake their hands like three times during the course of our conversation.

    I know that when/if the pogroms come, they will not and should not stick around. But it still makes me feel safer that they're here now.

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