Tuesday, May 13, 2008

ICE Goes Kosher

ICE raided the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the world in Postville, IA, and rounded up 300 workers. The raid was plotted for six months. ICE even sent in a wired spy to collect names and addresses. The number of arrest is probably not finished. The Democrat governor and local police were alerted to the raid and cooperated. But local business people were surprised and not too pleased. (See articles in NY Times and Chicago Tribune.)

That the slumping U.S. economy is hurting the Mexican immigrant worker was document in the decline of remittances sent back to Mexico. Further the Labor Department recently announced that Hispanic unemployment increased over the last year by 1.4% to 7%. Much of this is attributable to the decline in home building where Hispanics had accounted for 40% of the new workers over the last decade.

A NY Times article documents the impact of this on Dalton, GA, which is the carpet capital of the country. Forty percent of Dalton is Hispanic -- Guatemalans and others as well as Mexican. The factories that attracted the immigrant to Dalton, northwest of Atlanta, depended on, and flourished with, the home building boom of the last decade. When the housing bubble burst, the demand for new carpet plummeted, causing much job loss.

Many Hispanic families had taken the advantage of their new prosperity to become home owners -- made easy by taking out subprime loans. Forty-seven per cent of home loans to Hispanics were subprime. So with the loss of work and rising monthly payment, many Hispanic families are losing their homes to foreclosure. That's not limited to one industry towns like Dalton, but in Hispanic neighborhood around the country "for sale" signs are sprouting even before the spring weeds.

The conservative, even Libertarian, Manhattan Institute released a study comparing census material that argues current immigrants assimilate to the U.S. standards and values as quickly and as completely as the earlier immigrants of the late 19th and 20th centuries. Only the Latinos are doing it at a somewhat slower pace. The study's findings are not all that surprising to immigrant advocates and activists and immigration scholars..

But, as is typical of the right, it has flawed analysis, in that it assumes that the dominant culture (Anglo-Saxon American) is a constant -- as presumably that the new comer brings. Even in the first Melting Pot, the assimilation was not immaculate. Irish and Italians did not become Anglo-Saxons Americans -- much less Protestants or Republicans. They became Irish-American or Italian Americans -- and Catholic and Democrats for most part. Eventually they may have come to look Anglo-Saxonized, but really they became a "tertium quid" -- something new.

The Manhattan study wrings its hands over the slow pace of Mexican assimilation. They shouldn't hold their breath. When The community has come to be assimilated, Mexican-American will also be a "tertium quid". That itself is not bad for America, since that is what the dominant culture is. What the right forgets about our history, it should learn from demographics. Populations don't stand still. The diversity in this country predisposes it to more diversity.

Even those ethnic groups the study singles out as high assimilationists might resent being measured so extrinsically -- by wealth, education and citizenship -- but not by their courage and determination to make a new life in this country. To assume all that came from its assimilation to the Anglo-Saxon culture depreciates the values the immigrant carried from the old country. Jewish success in America did not begin when they met their first Harvard graduates. If anything, they experienced a lot of prejudice and discrimination in the melting pot. What carried them forward was respect for learning, compassion for the needy and a eye to opportunity. These they learned already is Eastern Europe.

No comments: