Why isn’t Congress willing to do something about the immigration problem?A simple enough question. It was posed to me as I moderated a panel sponsored by the Peace and Justice Commission at the Newman Center, the Catholic parish on the UNM campus. That question from the audience continued to disturb me long after the forum ended. I attempted an answer that late October afternoon and got a lot of help from the panelists, but I don’t think we adequately responded. I’ve been working on an improved answer fortified by several additional days of chewing on the question. I suggested it was just another in a long list of important issues Congress couldn’t possibly deal with because it is so polarized by partisan bickering. “With elections coming up, no one wants to risk taking a stand on comprehensive reform when the other side is itching to use it like a club in an ambush.”Panelists expanded on this answer. They pointed out that President Reagan granted amnesty to 3 million undocumented workers living here in the mid-’80s, and this move generated nary a ripple in public comment. But today’s GOP would never permit President Obama to get away with anything like that. Besides, since the House is controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats, they can’t agree on much of anything.That’s not an incorrect answer; it describes what is happening. Still, I left the forum definitely unsatisfied with it as an explanation of why. If we don’t expect Congress and the president to find an answer for this dilemma “because they are so divided,” how can we ever expect them to find a resolution for any of the intractable puzzles we face as a society? And if a democracy can’t do anything more when confronted by serious problems than kick them down the road for someone else to solve at some nebulous “more cooperative future time,” does that actually qualify it as a legitimate form of government? Or has Congress simply become a debating society on a grand stage?No, I think a better explanation for paralysis on this issue can be found with the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and what it is saying about the condition we’re in. In capsule form, that nationwide movement is about our society’s unfairness, the tilting of the playing field and insider manipulation of the rules—all of which have helped create our banana republic status as a plutocracy masquerading as a democracy. Occupy Wall Street doesn’t have to prescribe a course of treatment. Its role is simply to not let us ignore the diagnosis: The 1 percent at the top of the social pyramid are firmly in control, and that ain’t good for the rest of us. And the answer to the original question, the “why” Congress isn’t acting on immigration reform, is contained in that diagnosis: It won’t act on immigration because any improvement in the status quo will reduce the economic advantage of Congress’ truest constituency, the 1 percent. When the bankers and investment firm managers signal they are ready to OK a change, Congress will leap to the task, and we’ll have the reform completed and on the president’s desk in weeks.Then, miraculously, the right-wing punditry machinery will overnight volunteer that this is not amnesty. Oh no, that’s something Democrats favor. This is something totally different, maybe a worker identification program or a path to participation. This new plan won’t leave our borders vulnerable. Oh no, that’s something that Democrats, those socialists, are so careless about. This is altogether different. It’s, uh, oh, let me see … it’s, yes, that’s it, it’s monitored entry or work availability certification. They are very good at wordsmithing, those pundits, so whatever they come up with will satisfy our national aesthetic, if not our logic.And we will swallow it. Ta da! The “problem” of immigration will have been resolved. Congressional leaders will shake hands all around. And the three decades of suffering by millions of undocumented third-world immigrants will be swept away.But in a plutocracy—rule by the wealthiest—resolution will only occur when the plutocrats are assured there’s more money to be made from a solution than from the continuation of the pain. That’s the real answer our panel should have given.Of course at a Catholic parish, a religious setting concerned with the moral dimension, that answer would have sounded very cynical. Wall Street might not concern itself with morality, but churches and human beings do. That’s why the Supreme Court was so wrong when it said corporations are people. As a sign at an Occupy Wall Street demonstration put it so well, “I’ll believe corporations are people when the State of Texas executes one.” People have to face the consequences of their behavior. But corporations are created expressly to avoid liability.
Jerry Ortiz y Pino is a retired social worker, community activist and college instructor. He is in his second term as the Democratic state senator for District 12 in the New Mexico Legislature. Email email@example.comThe opinions expressed are solely those of the author.