I wouldn't advise anyone's coming down too hard on the voters of Farmers Branch, Texas, who last weekend approved, two to one, a measure that bans the leasing of apartments to illegal immigrants.
Which -- don't we all know it? -- sounds like a nativist slap at hardworking folks who just want to get on in the world. Yes, and who happen to be living in violation of the laws of the country in which they are trying to get on.
The new Farmers Branch ordinance, if legal challenges to it fail, seems less likely to send illegals scampering back across the border to Mexico than to some other Dallas suburb. And yet this whole business concentrates the mind wonderfully, forcing thought about the idiocy of present U.S. policy and the desirability of a more rational policy. One aligned more or less with present-day realities would be nice, one sensitive to the U.S. economy's voracious demand for labor, sensitive as well to the need for a meaningful distinction between the non-American and the American.
I speak as one less in tune with America's large, let's-fence-off-the-border constituency than with those who see the need for regular replenishment of a labor force diminished by the effects of, among other things, abortion-on-demand; expected, moreover, by a neglectful Congress to produce more, always more, taxes for bailing out Social Security and Medicare.
I still propose not coming down unduly hard on the voters of Farmers Branch. I think one can see easily enough what they are getting at: They don't think it's a real nice idea to privilege outsiders over the native-born in terms of obligations to the majesty of the law.
As the city's mayor pro tem told The Dallas Morning News, "[Voters] are fed up with the fact that illegal immigration is being overlooked in all parts of our life. We think it is within our rights to take action for our city."
It's "nativist" to expect general adherence to democratically enacted rules? I don't think so.
What kind of rules, then? Maybe the one saying you don't get to come and live here absent some prior arrangement with the U.S. government. Saying you ask permission before barging in.
It goes a little further than that, actually. If you do come without permission, you anticipate consequences. The non-emergence of consequences for illegal immigration is a constant irritant for many. It offends the common sense of justice. That the U.S. government fails to enforce the rules and many Americans agitate against their application only make matters worse.
For instance, why the ad hoc spread of bilingualism: the appearance everywhere in Texas of Spanish as, seemingly, the logical complement to English? The Latin-derived language of Madrid, and even of Nuevo Laredo, is lovely enough, but it is not easy to forget that knowledge of English is a requirement of citizenship. For whom are those ubiquitous Spanish notices meant? Clearly, for the non-English speaking. Meaning non-citizens? Of course. But why?
Why, too, in Texas, free public schools for the children of illegal immigrants? Why in-state tuition rates at state colleges and universities for these same children's older siblings? These are claims by the illegally domiciled against their hosts, whose sense of justice is duly outraged, as in Farmers Branch. Thus people resolve on forms of action meant -- as in Farmers Branch -- to redress the oversights of Those In Charge.
Those In Charge ought to listen better than they have been. They are losing -- as in Farmers Branch, as in the Congress of the United States -- the respect and acquiescence of those whose interests they supposedly advance.
It is one thing to accept, even welcome, the historic human phenomenon of immigration. It is another thing to see disrespect for law, for process, for rational modes of doing things, and not fear that a crisis of legitimacy is fast growing among us.
Congress this year -- one reads -- may finally do something halfway sensible about illegal immigration. Congress -- one knows -- has a lot of making up to do for squandered time.