By Fred Mittag
There is much about being an American of which I’m proud and there is much about which I’m ashamed. The country was founded on some theoretical concepts of democracy, coming from great minds, but it was always a work in progress, including the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the right of labor to organize, etc. But now that work of progress has been reversed by the advent of plutocracy.
This progress also was an unfolding consciousness of our human dignity, such as ending child labor – sometimes chained to their factory machines so they couldn’t run away. Granting women the right to vote was an unfolding awareness of their worth as human beings.
But now wealth is moving to the very top tiny percent and wages are going down. Instead of expanding democracy, as was done with women’s suffrage and the end of the white primary, poll tax, and other such devices, voter suppression is in full advance in the red states.
Our treatment of Mexicans has been about as shameful as anything I can think of. We recruited them by many thousands when we needed them to work in America to support WWI and WWII. We even set up centers in Mexico to interview them and put them on trains for work in the U.S. When the wars were won, we treated them about as badly as can be imagined. Over 750,000 Mexican-Americans served in WWII. Many of them had relatives in Mexico, and therefore, a natural interest in the welfare of Mexico. They won more Medals of Honor and other decorations, in proportion to their numbers, than any other ethnic group. During WWII, 60% of the railroad crews were from Mexico. The railroads were essential to the war effort.
After the war was won, American soldiers returned home and needed jobs. It was time to send the Mexicans back home, to make more work available to the returning veterans. Children were kidnapped coming home from school and placed on the border bridge and ordered to walk back to Mexico. Their parents didn’t know where their children were. Their removal was carried out like a military operation rather than the working of civilian law.
Presidents have the constitutional authority to issue executive orders. Of course, the next president may overturn previous orders. The Republican majority in the House does not gain the right to overturn executive orders issued by the president. Even if such a countermeasure were to pass both the Senate and the House, the president would almost certainly veto it in order to protect his executive order.
Many dozens of legal scholars are on record as saying that President Obama has the authority to grant a reprieve from deportation to foreigners, mostly Mexicans, and he can determine the conditions. And, of course, the White House has its own lawyers who study such matters. Even in modern history, every president since Eisenhower has used executive authority to grant exemptions to foreigners. Eisenhower allowed a large number of Hungarian refugees into the country. Cuban refugees from Fidel Castro were allowed to populate Miami, Florida, and now a few of them serve in our Congress.
President Ford allowed thousands of refugees from Vietnam to enter. And on it goes. Yet, Republicans are calling Obama a monarch, king, emperor, dictator, and you name it. They threaten to impeach him. They threaten to shut down the government and to refuse to confirm any of his appointments for the rest of his term.
Today, against the wishes of churches, agriculture, and business, Republicans voted to block Obama for doing something they should have done themselves. They passed the ‘‘Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act of 2014” (H.R. 5759). For 570 days, Speaker Boehner has refused to let the Senate bill come to the floor for a vote, which everybody says would have passed. Today was pure symbolism, because the Senate will not pass this, and if they did, Obama would veto it.
So what have they accomplished? They have fed the far right’s hatred of Mexicans, so that faction is happy. But they have gone yet another step further in alienating the Hispanic vote. George Bush reached out to them and won 43% of the Hispanic vote. And he, to his credit, tried to pass immigration reform. Romney, however, suffering from the Republican War on Mexicans, got only 27% against Obama’s 71%. And after Obama’s executive order, his popularity among Hispanics has shot up.
One of the inevitable afflictions of conservatives is that they suffer contradictions that give them multiple personality disorder. In this case, they have been insufferable preachers of “family values.” But what H.R. 5759 would do is break up families. It would separate mothers and fathers from their children. It would send children back to a country where they would be as foreigners. So, Republicans have the duel personality of finding a lot of family values in a Norman Rockwell family, but not in a Mexican family.
As a backdrop to immigration reform is the entire American Southwest, once the property of Mexicans.