Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Difference

"Keep on protecting us from the dangerous aliens."
-Agent K

What do Nashville Scene writer PJ Tobia and Tommy Lee Jones' Men in Black character Agent K have in common? (Hint: see this post by Tobia and this clip from MIB.)

Give up?

The answer is an appreciation for the difference.

Few would disagree, but few also consciously remember, that there is a difference between working without a visa and murdering without a visa.

Of course working and murdering are different; it is nearly unfathomable that anyone would not be able to tell the two apart. And yet, Tobia and the fictional Man in Black are among the few who remember this difference.

You yourself might be surprised at your capacity for flubbing the difference. For example:
  • In the middle of a political discussion about immigration, you might not think too disapprovingly of the argument (or you might yourself make the argument) that anyone without a visa is a criminal*. A Wisconsin man took this position in a letter to the editor he wrote to the Scene ("Border call-out") in response to Tobia's piece.
  • Your congressman in the 2006 U.S. House of Representatives might have cast one of the votes that passed HR 4437, which would have turned all unvisaed immigrants into felons. (Even though it was rejected by the Senate, passage of HR 4437 is what sparked the 2006 marches.)
  • In Nashville, you might unconditionally support the local-federal immigration enforcement program called 287(g). That's the one we use to tear ordinary, noncriminal families apart in the name of crime prevention, even though the program can't be counted on to prevent crime (which was Tobia's point).
Lumping work visa violators into a pot with violent criminals desensitizes us to the difference between work and murder, making us divert legislative and law enforcement resources away from specific and undeniably harmful acts of violence and toward a contested economic threat like unlicensed labor.

This diversion and diffusion of resources away from the real criminals is why the stepped-up immigration enforcement crackdowns of the last few years still seem like a drop in the bucket. While our federal and local efforts take increasingly random pot shots at the larger unvisaed population containing millions of decent people, the smaller population of violent criminals will only coincidentally be swept up here and there.

There is an opportunity here for our sheriffs, mayors, senators, presidential candidates and voters to recognize the difference between workers and real criminals and support enforcement measures which put the violent criminals at the front of the line.

Until those proposals are made, we can either be prone to forget (a lack of interest can be just as powerful as the Men in Black's little red light), or we can choose to remember and remind ourselves of the difference.

*For facts disproving the everyone-is-a-criminal argument, look at the Chattanooga numbers for this April 2008 roundup, in which administrative but not criminal charges were filed against 100 visaless workers.

See also: The Immigration Serenity Prayer

See also: this story on Claudia Nunez and bear-trap bureaucracy

See also: "See" (a commercial for HispanicNashville.com)

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