EspañolTens of thousands of migrants, as they accumulate near the US-Mexico border, have captured the attention of a nation. Many of them are children who seek to reunite with family members already here, and the treacherous journey affirms they are willing to pay a heavy price for a chance at the American dream.
The law, however, is not on their side. The fact that so many have chosen to come without approval from the US federal government has brought out two constituencies in vehement opposition: those who want to enforce the laws on the books, and those who simply want fewer immigrants in the United States.
This coalition came out in force over the weekend, led by the North Carolina-based Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee (ALIPAC). Characterizing themselves as “the world’s top resource on illegal immigration reform and information,” they promoted 321 protests nationwide.
That included a gathering in front of Senator Marco Rubio’s (R-FL) office in Doral, one of 20 demonstrations in Florida alone. Although few in number amid patchy rain, growing to about 15 demonstrators in total, they drew a police presence that outsized their own. They were also highly motivated and forthcoming with why they share their message in a public manner.
Legal or Illegal Immigration: Why the Fuss?
Marilyn Soba, holding a “veterans before illegals” banner, shared that she wants the border sealed and secured: people should “follow the laws [and] apply legally, like everybody else who has applied.” Her concern is that an amnesty wouldn’t be fair to those who have “waited years to come … done all their paperwork. They have paid their dues, and they’re still waiting.”
She and others present said they feel betrayed by the Obama administration. Soba identified the ongoing Veterans Affairs scandal as evidence that federal revenues are being misused and that they are not sufficient to provide for new arrivals.
“We have veterans that have died because they couldn’t get care. Where’s the money? We need to support our troops, our veterans that get hurt overseas or here in the homeland.”
When pressed on what people should do when there simply is no legal option, Leah Meyer said she understands that “there are problems in those countries, but there [are] problems in this country as well. Americans are going hungry; Americans don’t have jobs … We have illegal immigrants coming into the country … and draining our system.”
A member of the paleoconservative Overpasses for America chapter in Hollywood, Florida, she believes “We cannot police the world and help the world right now. We need to get our own situation, at home, fixed and straight.” Meyer does remain open to a higher number of entrants, but they “need to be screened and processed properly.”
Room for Compromise?
Other individuals present, though, were far less open. One ALIPAC supporter advocated a 10-year moratorium on all immigration, legal and illegal. Michael, who did not give his surname, said “there’s no room anymore for any sort of compromise,” and he shared his concern for the nation’s heritage and culture.
“Too many of the immigrants coming here do not want to assimilate,” he says. “They shove their language and their culture down our throats, and we feel like foreigners in our own country, particularly here in South Florida … The United States is no longer a melting pot; it is a salad bowl.”
While some demonstrators would consider broader refugee-status options, any lenience with those in the nation illegally would not fly with them, such as deportation relief, even if coupled with no path to citizenship. In contrast, a Pew Research Center survey of self-described Hispanics, released in January, found that 89 percent support a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants, but they prioritize deportation relief over citizenship, by a margin of 55 versus 35 percent.
Many demonstrators did, however, recognize that the drug war and basic economics are at play, in that they fuel the violence and incentives for so many people to flee Central America in particular. Drew Meyer, who joined his wife and son at the event, said that the demand for drugs will remain, regardless of the laws.
“They’re going to be able to get more money for their product, the more forces are put to stop it,” he asserted. He believes drug prohibition and the inevitable kickbacks also go hand in hand with corruption among Central America’s politicians. Meyer would like to see marijuana legalized, at very least for medical purposes, since that would provide a boost for the US economy.
Immigration as Divide-and-Conquer Strategy
One of the unfortunate outcomes of the overrun US immigration system appears to be the hostility generated between various demographics. Many of the demonstrators believe this is deliberate.
“It’s all politics,” Michael said. “What our government should be doing is stressing our commonalities, not our differences,” and he identified the preferential treatment for Cubans over other Latin Americans as one example.
“The president is doing it on purpose,” a fellow protester quipped. “Because as long as we’re all fighting against one another, nobody’s watching him.”
Who would make the first move to build common ground and what that might be, however, were less clear. Further, ALIPAC supporters are not reticent about engaging in political activity. ALIPAC President William Gheen released a statement to say “There is a real political movement growing now! We hope it will manifest in the 2014 elections in the removal of immigration reform amnesty supporting Republicans … and in the defeat of a historic number of Obama allied Democrats this November!”
Vipul Naik, an immigrant from India and founder of OpenBorders.info, points to Glenn Beck’s “humane gesture” as a positive way forward and symbolic. Mercury One, Beck’s charity, has been accepting donations to feed and house the children on the border, with a US$300,000 fundraising target.
A “conservative with libertarian leanings,” Beck “can sometimes stick his neck out to courageously make an important and true point despite the fact that this would be detrimental to his ratings and subscriptions.” This latest action, Naik writes, “elevates the humanity of migrants over their ‘illegal’ status.”
Naik’s hope, though, is to build support for open immigration as a matter of justice, rather than confined to acts of compassion: “The presumption of freedom of movement across borders should be built on basic rights rather than on special pleading based on extenuating circumstances.”
Editor’s note: John Lee of OpenBorders.info submitted a letter in response to this article.