I play this song all the time to my kids. It's very simple.
Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.
Guthrie's song, while nearly 60 years old, tells a story still with us. Now, as Congress considers immigration legislation and in the wake of massive demonstrations, especially in Los Angeles, several Conservatives have stepped up to reveal the ideology that most of their ilk like to see buried beneath public view. The cornerstone of their proposal is to do away with illegal immigration through transfer of labor: let prisoners pick the fruit!
Now this novel proposal is certainly interesting, and I don't even want to get into the security issues of keeping all the rapists, murderers, and check kiters under guard on some of these sprawling orchards and fields, or of securing said lands against a few prisoner friends dropping by the night before with a care package hidden under plant #5 in row 13, but rather I'd like to stick to the economic model of using prison labor in the private sector.
I'm no expert on this, so I don't know how it works. The state feeds, clothes, and shelters the convicts, and the prisoners work in the private owner's field. The private owner, I assume, pays the state, while the state then pays the prisoner (a few cents an hour). Prison labor already competes with "free labor" in the United States, so it's not like the good reactionaries are proposing something entirely new. In fact, right-wing think tanks love the idea.
Really, what much of this noise hearkens back to is a situation similar to Zola's Germinal, where the workers are so dependent on the mine simply to survive that they more or less constitute a captive -- even if individuals to shift from one location to another -- labor force. However, this situation is far more advantageous to the owners: no pesky unions to contend with, food and shelter is offloaded to the state, and the labor force is quite literally captive, their status as prisoners serving to keep them in line under threat of further punishment.
Of course, another thing that really gets these fine Conservatives' collective goat is that many of these Latino immigrants -- not all of whom are illegal -- hail from Mexico and made a point of displaying their pride by carrying Mexican flags through the streets of LA. Here's Virgil Goode's bizarre statement:
Referring to a wave of demonstrations in recent weeks, Rep. Virgil Goode of Virginia said, "I say if you are here illegally and want to fly the Mexican flag, go to Mexico and wave the American flag."
Huh? Is that like saying, "If you are here to eat French toast and we only serve Canadian bacon, go to Canada and wave French toast"? What exactly does Rep. Goode mean?
Similarly, on NPR Wednesday evening, some nutcase named Rusty Childress from the Arizona minutemen expressed his own contempt for the Mexican flag, muttering that he thought "the United States was a sovereign nation."
So we know they're all upset about these marches where people were waving another nation's flag. My only question for these whack jobs is where the hell were they about two weeks ago on March 17th, when I thought we were being invaded by the Irish?