Law in Contemporary Society


-- By ZeHailu - 14 May 2012

Although the current debate over “illegal immigration” in America is often ostensibly portrayed by both conservatives and the media as such, the passion surrounding the debate supersedes that of your run-of-the-mill law and order issues and exudes certain unmistakable undertones that any honest observer can quickly discern. It is frustrating to consistently hear rhetoric portraying immigrants as a threat that will cause “the ruin of national character”, or that will “destroy freedom”, without sufficiently acknowledging the core social and ethical stakes surrounding the immigration debate. However, as Arnold explains when describing ideology and politics during previous periods of social upheaval, there is no reason to be alarmed or irritated with the way conservatives are currently framing the immigration debate. It is only necessary to understand why it is inevitable. (The Folklore of Capitalism, p. 108)


The idea that immigrants are taking jobs that Americans would otherwise hold is not a driving force behind the debate. Most people will acknowledge that a large proportion of the jobs undocumented workers tend to have – whether in farm labor, meat-processing plants, or other sectors – are not very appealing to many Americans. The economic impact of recent immigration legislation in Alabama and Georgia, which has hurt the farming and food preparation industries in both states, is a good demonstration of this.

So what, then, is the source of the passion and fervor that fuels immigration reform opponents? The emotions behind this debate are reminiscent of those surrounding the “war on crime” I remember from earlier in my childhood, during the last period of widespread national economic distress. It seems that, given the fact crime rates are at historically low rates across the country, the fears and anger generated by the latest recession are being channeled in a different direction – xenophobia. This can help explain the current spike in anti-immigrant sentiment among segments of the U.S. population. I believe that these period-specific concerns are strengthened by the long-term demographic shift in the country’s population. One sign that points directly to the heart of the matter is the rhetoric surrounding President Obama that has now become so mainstream, the likely, establishment-backed Republican presidential nominee frequently uses it. Popular slogans expressing the need to “take back America,” or claims that Obama doesn’t understand “real Americans” have not caught on because they refer to one economic class of Americans as opposed to another. Rather, the unprecedented and lingering “birther” concerns voiced by the base of the Republican Party and tacitly endorsed by its establishment shed light on the popularity and deeper meaning behind these slogans.

In the minds of many in the base of the Republican Party, President Obama’s election confirms the fears that fuel the most virulent opposition to immigration. Obama is not only the country’s first black president. His father was Kenyan. The name Barak Hussein Obama doesn’t have the same ring to it as John Smith or George Bush. To many, his election embodies their fears – namely, that the “true” America, as they see it, is being drowned out under a wave of immigration and cultural changes resulting from the rapidly changing demographic forces shaping the country.


The debate surrounding immigration is an emotional issue, and for many people in America it has come to embody the fears and uncertainty surrounding their and their children’s economic opportunities and livelihoods. Of course, this is too often not recognized or voiced as such. Instead, the debate is discussed in terms of rule of law or national security concerns. It is clear that the United States will not deport an estimated 14 million “illegal” immigrants from its shores. Most serious politicians, on both sides of the isle, recognize that the sheer scale of such a deportation would be a crime against humanity, not to mention a logistical nightmare. Any resolution of the issue must involve some form of amnesty for the majority of “illegal” immigrants in the country. The fact that this outcome is anathema to many in the base of the Republican Party has left Republicans leaders in the tough position of pandering to their base while tacitly acknowledging the reality of the situation – hence Mitt Romney’s fanciful plan to rely on “self-deportation” to solve the dispute. Any fair, rational resolution to this issue must focus on the lives of the millions of people implicated in the debate, and not be couched as a simple issue of law.

That this is not happening should not be surprising, however. Politics appeals not to rationality but to emotion. Politicians (mostly) in the Republican party are capitalizing on the dynamic of fear and uncertainty caused by economic hardship and the country’s shifting demographics to further their political aspirations, just as Arnold described them doing so with regards to the “isms” of the 20th century. The widespread use of the labels “Communism” and “Fascism” by some conservatives, tacitly promoted by conservative networks such as Fox News, to describe Democratic policies or the current administration make it even easier for politicians on the right to use the toolbox their predecessors left behind to discredit previous social movements and political ideologies.


The political strategy currently being employed by conservatives appeals to a vocal but narrow segment of the electorate. In a two party political system, it will be difficult for conservatives to actually realize a draconian national immigration policy like those promoted by the Front National in France or Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. However, I doubt that the mainstream politicians currently advocating for or grudgingly tolerating the promotion of such policies are too concerned about them ever being implemented. What matters is that they see them as politically beneficial in the short-term. As Arnold explained, “one does not speak of successful political strategy as statesmanship.” (p. 117). Leaders in both political parties recognize this – but most of us “thinking men” have yet to do so.

A great improvement. Arnold helped in ways that Cohen couldn't to provide a context for your interpretation of the current context.

There are some places where I think you've done the easy thing by adopting my point in more or less my own words, where the goal I had in mind was to offer another point of departure, so you could climb to a new idea using the rung I fit in the ladder frame.

Your conclusion is still too tentative. You take up my European comparisons, which are part of the global political situation, but you don't take a close enough look at the US politics to ask where the other side of the debate will go. The President's decisions in the early part of this campaign show some very important calculations that you would also want to take into account.


Webs Webs

r5 - 22 Jan 2013 - 20:10:57 - IanSullivan
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