Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You've Got Some 'Splaining To Do!

Cubans have enjoyed special immigration status in the United States.   But that does not mean they aren't being negatively affected by the anti-immigration hysteria sweeping the nation.

Two groups of people set out on makeshift rafts from Caribbean islands, bound for a better life in the United States.  After days at sea, they land somewhere in the Florida Keys.  The first group is rounded up, put on an old school bus, and taken to Miami International Airport, where they are put on the first plane back home.  The second group is welcomed to America with open arms and given a green card and refugee status, immediately - with a path toward citizenship.

Why the difference in treatment?  Well, the first group are Haitians, and the second Cubans.  And while we call people coming here from Haiti by raft "Illegal Immigrants" we call people doing the same thing from Cuba "Political Refugees."

And not that I have anything against Cubans (indeed, some of my best friends are....) as I think Communism Sucks and Castro is an Asshole, first class.  But economic freedom and political freedom are really the same thing.    We tend to separate them, as if the messy business of making money were somehow separate from free speech.  But the first thing a man given the freedom of speech does, is complain about taxes.  The two are intertwined.

The problem for Cubans is they are often lumped into the same group as their other Caribbean and Latin American neighbors, which many of them resent - perhaps aligning themselves more with their Spanish roots, than any native groups.   But such fine distinctions are lost on racists and anti-immigrant nativists, who view them simply as one homogeneous group of "Hispanics."

A few years back, a friend of mine, who came here as a Cuban refugee in 1968, was pulled over by the Georgia State Patrol.  This was before the onerous Nuremburg laws were passed in Georgia, allowing the Police - nay, requiring the Police to investigate the immigration status of anyone deemed "suspect".

The Officer who did the traffic stop was a young fellow - pink of skin, with folds of fat around his neck, his head a burr of close-cut hair.  If you live in Georgia, you know what I am talking about.  A well-fed boy.  He was apparently fairly new to the force, as he was accompanied by an older Officer - a female - who held back and watched the traffic stop.  Perhaps he was in training.  We do not know.

Anyway, after asking my friend for his license and registration, he asks, "Do you have any proof of residency?"  Of course, at the time, he didn't even have the legal right to ask this, as these new onerous laws had not been passed.  But he asked anyway, no doubt because he listened to talk radio all day long and the vile hatred spewed by the anti-immigrant forces had seeped into his brain. And here was his chance to catch an illegal "Spic" and send him back to Mexico!

Why was he suspicious of my friend?  Was he riding in the back of a pickup truck with a load of lawn care equipment?  Hardly.  He was wearing a suit and tie and driving a Mercedes-Benz.  He hardly looked "Hispanic" in any sense.  But he does have a charming (to me, anyway) thick Cuban accent.  "Oh, Looooocy!  I'm Hooooome!"

Now my friend actually had his U.S. Passport with him, which was lucky for him, and today would be a requirement if anyone with any sort of accent wants to leave the house.  So he pulled it out and gave it to the Officer.  No doubt, this boy of a Policeman had never even seen a U.S. Passport, having never left his home town in rural Georgia, other than to attend Police Academy.  He riffled through the Passport, mystified.  "Where in here does it say you are here legally?" he intoned, shining his flashlight in my friend's face.

"It is a U.S. Passport!" my friend cried.

"Yea, I see that, but where is it stamped that you got here legally?"

At this point, the other Officer got out of the car, sensing something wasn't right.  "What's going on here, Clem?" she asked.

"This fellow has no proof of residency!  All he has is a U.S. Passport!"

The second Officer quickly sized up the situation, gabbed the passport from Clem and handed it back to my friend.  "Thank you sir, you're free to go!" she said, taking Clem by the elbow.

As he started up the Mercedes, he could hear them arguing.  No doubt, she was trying to explain to him that a U.S. Passport was indeed, proof of Citizenship and that moreover, under the law (at the time) he had no right to even ask about such things.

For my friend, there was a tinge of irony in all of this.  His family had escaped Cuba, at a time when a simple drive down the street would take them through roadblocks where "revolutionary guards" would ask them for their "identification papers, please" and then scrutinize them with skepticism.  They lived in fear and uncertainty - and prayed that the whims of one official or guard would not land them in jail, or beaten and left for dead by the side of the road.

But here, in America, the land of the free, people were asking "your identification papers, please!" - Same Old Shit, Different Day - Different Country.

Since that incident, Georgia has actually passed a law - or a series of laws - that give the Police the actual right to inquire of immigration status of "suspicious" people, such as folks who speak with accents (how you speak is largely determined by the age when you left your home country.  My friend's sister, who was age six when she came here, has no accent).

Further, even giving assistance to illegal immigrants can land you in jail.  Rent to them and you could find your home confiscated.  In an effort to "protect" us from the "threat" of illegal immigration, we are giving up our freedoms - not piece by piece, but in huge chunks.  And for what?

And the irony of it all is this:  The same people who would decry being forced to carry "National Identity Papers" or police roadblocks or other forms of Government Intrusion, are all for this.  Why?  because they see it applying to someone else and not them.  "Get the Government off my back!" they proclaim, "And put it on someone else's!"

Howabout this?  Less government all around.  Because once we set up laws like this, we go down a slippery slope.  Even in the name of "good intentions" we willingly give away our freedom.  To prevent DUI's, we allow the Police to set up Soviet-Style roadblocks - or checkpoints, like they have in Afghanistan.  What's next, the beard police?

Heck, the other day, I got pulled over because the Officer said "He couldn't tell" if I had my seatbelt on or not (black seatbelt, black shirt).  Under the law, today, not wearing a seatbelt is "probable cause" for a traffic stop.  And when this was first announced, I thought, "Well, that doesn't apply to me, as I always wear my seat belt!"   But I never thought that this law could be bootstrapped into a catch-all reason to just pull over anyone and harass them for any reason whatsoever.  But it has.  Police today can just pull you over and then say, "Oh, my bad!" after checking your license, registration, and scoping out your car.  Better factor in another 20 minutes into your daily commute.

This annoyed me, as from my perspective, that doesn't meet the "Probable Cause" part of Terry v Ohio.  And if you think "Probable Cause" isn't important, think again.  Once we grant the Police the right to pull us over  for any reason whatsoever and then demand, not only our driver's license but proof of citizenship as well, we are no longer a free people.  You might as well live in Cuba.

And if you want to say, "Well, I don't have an accent or look like a foreigner, so this doesn't affect me." then you truly are racist.  Because what you are really saying is, "Well, I'm WHITE, and so long as it doesn't affect WHITE people, it doesn't matter."

Wrong Answer - at least in the America I knew.

My friend now always has his passport on him, at all times.  He has not been challenged since, but you never know when he will be deemed a "suspicious person" and end up having to spend the night in jail until someone can show up with his identity papers.  He has to carry his passport - just in case.  I don't.  At least not yet.

And as you might imagine, this being Georgia, he gets the usual amount of background racism, as locals assume, since he speaks with an accent, that he is "one of those God-damn Mexicans" - which talk-radio has taught them to hate.  The fact that he is not Mexican doesn't make it right, either (if you fail to grasp this, go to the back of the line).

Where are we going with this?  How is taking away our freedoms and turning our country into a Police State going to make us more free - or even more prosperous?

It isn't.  The "threat" of immigration is no threat.  It is a canard - one raised by odious politicians who cannot get elected to office any other way - as their real agenda is to take your money and give it to their rich friends.  They need a distraction - Immigration, Gun rights, Abortion, Gay Marriage  - whatever - to snooker you into thinking  that cutting the tax rates on people making $500,000 a year is going to help you.

It ain't.  And setting up roadblocks and making people carry citizenship papers is a step in the wrong direction - particularly for the sort of people who like to tout their "freedom".

Or is it just freedom for some?