Myths Mashed in the Midst of the U.S. Immigration Policy Reform Debate
The First Batch:
Everybody has at least one opportunity in life to sample the first batch of cookies your little sister, brother, nephew, niece or neighbor kid cooks up. I can distinctly remember the day my little sister proudly presented me with three cookies that she had created. They were awful! I mean terrible. I could have choked to death if she hadn’t brought me a glass of milk with those darn things.
However, my reaction was probably like yours. I didn’t make a face, scream “YUCK!” or spit the mouthful out in my hand. I smiled politely, made “Yummy” sounds, chewed, swallowed and devoured all three of those damn things. Why? Because I didn’t want the little cook to feel bad.
Little cooks seem to grow up into adult chefs charged with cooking up socio-economic policy in this country. As it relates to the current U.S. immigration policy reform debate, the fare being served up from the state and federal test kitchens all over this country continues to be filled with artificial ingredients that make the entrée distasteful. Let me explain.
Why do we have recipes? My grandma had her recipes memorized, until my dad asked her to write them down on paper. My mom had recipe books all over the kitchen. My wife has hers filed away in the cupboard above the refrigerator…she gets most of her recipes on-line today.
We have recipes so someone other than the original person who created the dish is able to replicate the form, flavor and taste. My wife can follow the recipe that my grandma had for chocolate chip cookies with walnuts and produce the same, exact cookie. If my wife alters that recipe in any way, I can tell…immediately. Every once in a while, my wife will alter my mom or grandma’s recipes when she is out of a particular ingredient, decides to alter the proportions of required ingredients, or succumbs to the overwhelming urge to be creative.
Original recipe means original recipe. The only way to replicate original is to follow the original instructions. It is a myth to think that one can alter the original recipe in any way and produce a tasteful, current day replica. The recipe for cooking up present day original recipe U.S. immigration policy is no different. However, what we are presently sampling in this debate is fast-food fare that is filled with myths that alter the flavor of the enduring truths that have formed and sustained the soul of this nation.
Myth # 1 – Everything has changed since 9/11: Bull! My grandma didn’t change her recipe for chocolate chip cookies when Pearl Harbor, World War II, The Korean War, Vietnam, or Woodstock occurred. (She didn’t alter it when we landed a man on the moon). All this nonsense about everything changing since 9/11 is only political fodder to legitimize the fear and outrage agenda of those who want to capture an opportunity in our nation’s history to further preserve what they already have. This is done by redirecting their self-righteous revenge, veiled beneath a misguided sense of patriotic fervor. It is then served up as a new form of truth. This is not truth. It is myth, fabricated for the purposes of changing the original recipe. It is a lie. A quote from Princeton University’s Professor of Philosophy Emeritus Henry G. Frankfurt, captures the essence of this matter in the following: “The liar is inescapably concerned with truth-values. In order to invent a lie at all, he must think he knows what is true. And in order to invent an effective lie, he must design his falsehood under the guidance of that truth.”[i]
The truth about this myth is that there were the same number of undocumented Latino immigrants piloting those hijacked airplanes on 9/11 as the number of weapons of mass destruction the U.S. military uncovered after invading Iraq…Nada. Zero.
The truth of the matter is that when one begins to alter the original recipe of truth, the results are distasteful for all concerned.
I can remember the day I was helping my grandma bake cookies. They didn’t have timers in those days so grandma always kept a keen eye on the kitchen clock. This particular day, grandma got distracted and forgot when we had placed the batch in the oven. She grabbed her mitten and pulled the tray out of the oven. “Not yet Billy. They’re half baked,” she said.
Myth # 2 – Control the Border and Solve the Problem. Proponents of immigration reform who focus solely on controlling the border with Mexico as the solution to this matter, are serving up solutions that are at best, half-baked. These people would lead us to believe that we should devour their half-baked fare because “it looks like a cookie.” The point is that we need to put this sort of thinking back in the oven to allow the other ingredients in the recipe to fully integrate with each other. There’s nothing worse than a half-baked cookie, no matter how hungry you are for a solution. You don’t take a batch of chocolate chip-walnut cookies out of the oven just because the chocolate chips on the exterior of the cookies look good. Proper baking is an essential ingredient to every successful recipe.
One day, my wife decided to use pecans instead of walnuts in a batch of grandma’s cookies. Her thought was that I would never know the difference. Wrong!
Myth # 3 – Guest Worker Programs Are a Proper Substitute for a Path to Citizenship. Yeah, right! This is akin to substituting pecans for walnuts. The assumption is that undocumented immigrants come to the U.S. solely for the purpose of getting a job. Furthermore, if we provide a way for them to register, we will be better able to control the flow and keep track of their whereabouts. The fact of history is that the hopeless migrate to that land that is hopeful. Undocumented immigrants desire far more than just a job. They want to be participants in this society and enhance the hope for a brighter future for their families. By the way, the federal government wants you to believe that a guest worker program (pecan) is a proper substitute for a path to citizenship (walnut). However, when this fare gets served up in this country, we’re all going to recognize the fact that there’s something essential missing here.
One day, Grandma made a mistake. After the first batch had cooled and she had poured two glasses of milk for us, we smiled at one another and grandma nodded, giving me the green light to grab the first warm cookie. She did the same. It took grandma all of ten seconds to figure out that there was something wrong. The vanilla was stale. She looked at me and said, “Well Billy, it’s back to square one.” With that, she tossed the first batch of cookies on the sheet and the entire bowl of cookie dough in the garbage. The vanilla we had used had been in grandma’s cupboard far too long. She gave me the empty chip package and a few bucks to go to the store and get a new bottle.
Myth # 4 – They will go back – I am amused at the recipes for U.S. immigration reform that suggest the undocumented immigrants presently in the U.S. will simply return to their country of origin, as long as we create policy here that maintains their existence as less flavorful than it can be. There is absolutely no factual basis for such a claim. There’s no way that you can pluck the vanilla out that is already baked in the recipe. The vast majority of undocumented immigrants who reside in the U.S. are here to stay. Face it. Perhaps we should focus on the truth that our responsibility is to create a more fruitful nation by virtue of their addition to our national recipe. Their addition should be viewed as refreshing, essential ingredient rather than an element that makes the whole batch bad. That’s how the U.S. treated my grandma when she came here via Ellis Island. Maybe we should stick with the original recipe?
Myth # 5 – Ignore Them and They’ll Go Away – Grandma taught me that if you make a less than satisfactory batch of cookies, the best thing to do is start over rather than cook up the whole batch and hope enough people stomach the bad batch to make your effort worthwhile. Recipes for U.S. immigration policy reform must be mindful of the same. Bad, piecemeal policy does not contribute to a palatable solution for all concerned. Besides, it damages the reputation of the cook. Ignoring the need for a comprehensive solution is the only recipe for a tasteful, enduring solution.
Myth # 6 – Round em up and send em back – This is a position taken by the neo-con Center for Immigration Studies in a May 2005 report.[ii] Imagine me and my grandma attempting to extract the vanilla in the dough and bring it back to the store for a refund. It’s ridiculous. There’s no way you can do this. Particularly when you’re talking about human beings and a moral approach to this matter. The recipe for the soul of this nation is comprised of a multiplicity of ingredients that have been passed down from generation to generation. There are shameful periods of history in this country when we have attempted to discard certain ingredients; the Japanese-American internment camps in WWII, segregation, the right to vote and dissent during Vietnam and Watergate. Let’s not repeat the same, historical, shameful mistakes of this country that many would like to forget. Let’s step up to our responsibility that we have left this essential ingredient in the cupboard far too long. It’s not the vanilla’s fault.
Grandma was always proud when she would bring out her neatly arranged platter of cookies after we had finished our family’s Sunday supper together. She always whispered to me, “No matter how you package it, it’s what’s inside that counts Billy.”
Myth # 7– Package it Properly and It Will Sell – Come on America! Haven’t we tired of this myth yet? Let’s make sure that the fare we serve up in the U.S. immigration policy reform effort is one that is based upon tasteful substance, rather than a palatable appearance.
My grandma’s cookies warmed more hearts and put more smiles on faces in this nation than anything I can think of. Other than our family members, she usually brought them to folks who had been hit by some sort of trauma in life. Oftentimes, the people who enjoyed her fare didn’t even know her. Grandma didn’t know them either.
Grandma cooked up stuff because it was the right thing to do. Every batch was made with the same portions of loving care. Let’s follow grandma’s recipe shall we?
[i] Frankfurt, Harry G. On Bullshit, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ Copyright © 2005 by Princeton University Press, pp. 51-52.