Another Place Heard From

Mrs. Davis thoughtfully comments on James’s post : 

In case you missed it, the housing market started to crash about a year ago. But unemployment never rose. Why? They all went back to Mexico. They may have a hard time getting a job there, but they’ve saved a lot of dollars and they’re still the richest guys in the village. They’ll hang out till we need them again and then they’ll be back. Even in those midwestern meat and poultry packing plants.

James, Ohio must be really different from other parts of flyover country. I don’t think anyone would mistake Lexington, Nebraska for Marin County.  But guys stand around there as they do all over Texas – waiting for a job on week-ends.  Put in a meat packing plant and suddenly the Somalis and Mexicans join the cowboys at Wal-Mart.    

A friend has an MBA, closely reads WSJ; her rental empire makes her aware of the local economy.  [Mrs. Davis, of course, is way ahead of me.]  What my friend sees may be obvious, but not to me until she notes it.  I complained that unemployment figures didn’t seem as bad as the news contended.  We were out walking and two bicyclists sped around us.  She noted a friend said he never saw illegals locally.  We laughed; every time we walk, we are passed by several guys, apparently Hispanic, circling the park on their way from various jobs or nights out.   I’d never thought how that affected the earlier unemployment statistics (hiring higher than it seemed) and now (lower).  Of course:  Who does construction around here?  Not the same people who are filing for unemployment or even on the grid.  She also remarked that last month was the worst in her three or four decades as landlord.  Several quite long-term and steady tenants were late or had skipped town.  She rents duplexes; some go to students but many to the working class.  Her tenants aren’t illegals, but they often work construction.  (Of course we might wonder if this wasn’t an example of unintended consequences – do some of these people think they are going to be bailed out like the big boys?)  We haven’t been severely affected by the bubble, still construction work is down.

This week I had a conference with a bright freshman comp student.  I’d assumed he was Mexican-American from his last name, minimal accent and chosen topic (the fence – he was against it).  My hasty generalization: he’s from Venezuela.  He argued the fence was a physical solution for a socio-economic problem.  Well, yes.  I had the feeling he’d heard that, but his responses are usually deeper.  So, I asked, whose socio-economic problem was it?  Without those workers our houses would be more expensive.  But, as important, a country with hard workers and natural resources should not need an escape valve for its most industrious and ambitious citizens.  

Sure, America has traditionally been a destination for those wanting land, a job, a future; the force of that migration, like those through millennia, has a biological inevitability.  The grandfather in John Steinbeck’s The Red Pony talks about leading a wagon train: 

It wasn’t Indians that were important nor adventures, nor even getting out here.  It was a whole bunch of people made into one big crawling beast.  And I was the head.  It was westering and westering.  Every man wanted something for himself, but the big beast that was all of them wanted only westering.  I was the leader, but if I hadn’t been there, someone else would have been the head.  The thing had to have a head.

The energy of millions who want a better life for their kids is hard to restrain – in the nineteenth century as those prairie schooners set out or now.  But isn’t that the point?  Mexico isn’t like America – but that difference doesn’t lie in its people’s productivity (their productivity here) nor even the natural resources.  

A second friend (all my friends think more deeply than I)  mentioned the reverse migration which  The Houston Chronicle describes

In Michoacán, where about a one-quarter of the population has migrated to the U. S., officials are scrambling to put together economic plans to deal with the potential return of thousands to rural areas. . . . The hope is that rural areas can absorb the returnees without severe dislocation.

The focus is on returning families:

They may be returning with some wealth and certainly higher expectations.  Nonetheless, they will face the problems outsiders generally do:

. . . those returning face discrimination and their children find it difficult to enroll in local schools.  Governors, whose budgets have been severely tested while dealing with the health care, education and justice system problems posed by the waves of immigrants north, may take a grim satisfaction at the difficulty Mexican towns (and villages) are having assimilating and caring for those now headed south.  

My student probably got a lower grade than he deserved because his second paragraph had set me off;  he argued the wall was a symbol of America’s xenophobia.  I pointed out that that approach wasn’t  useful.  He argued he’d meant it neutrally; I wondered in what universe.  He’s pleasant, but clearly saw this as a particular and virulent American characteristic.  I pointed out that we had a long tradition of assimilation. His response was the WWII interment, though he said for the Chinese.  (His segue was from twenties’ restrictions.)  It was a shameful episode. But as returning Mexicans are finding, distrusting outsiders is human nature.  Most of his schooling was in Venezuela; however, his father had been in graduate school here and so he’d spent some youthful years in the local schools.  He said then and now he was sometimes treated as an outsider.  Well, I said, you have my sympathy but if you don’t think that’s human nature, you don’t know human nature.

The consequences of Mexican repatriation, like its reverse, will be complicated.  We  wondered how much the immigrants affected American culture, language, economy.  Now, south of us, Mexico will find out how much U.S. experience changed those same people.  That there will be consequences, and probably mixed ones, is a certainty.

Perhaps those returning will have been sufficiently politicized to change Mexico’s policies. If so, some of the most politicized experience will be in the form of socialist and even Marxist theories.

Perhaps, on the other hand, they will have seen virtues in a more transparent judicial system, a more competitive election process, more consistent laws.  They may encourage reforms that enforce rights and support a smoother and more productive economy.

Perhaps they will be alienated and return (or alienated and stay).  One third died, one third left & only a third remained in Ireland in the mid nineteenth century; that made for desperate people and, faced with the roller coaster economy of  the 1850’s and the Civil War, their responses (and the consequences) were often violent and not pleasant.  The analogy is hardly perfect, but it does give a context for the California fear.

Perhaps returning workers will build domestic and public infrastructure in Mexico with the skills and money earned here.

And, as Americans have often found – “how are you going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen” – those villagers returning from LA and Houston aren’t likely to remain content with rural life.

The analogy to Alabama in 1820 and a potential uprising seem far more stretched than one to the Irish of 1850.  Of course, our future is dimming and if we have a president who thinks he should unilaterally renegotiate our treaty with Mexico, that president quite simpatico with the unions, I’m not sure the future looks much better South.  Still, in  the long run, this intermixing of the two cultures is likely to have mixed consequences – certainly not all bad.

9 thoughts on “Another Place Heard From”

  1. “James, Ohio must be really different from other parts of flyover country.”

    No, I don’t think so. I just had lunch today in Indianapolis with several fellow bloggers, and at least a few of the Indiana natives present assured me that conditions were the same as found in Ohio.

    This does beg a question, though. Are you actually reporting that every big box hardware store in Lexington, Nebraska sees several hundred illegal aliens congregating there every day? Because that is what Mr. van der Leun certainly described in his piece concerning the parking lots in California.

    If this is so, then maybe Lexington is the statistical outlier.


  2. Well, I’ve actually never seen it. I’d be pretty surprised if there is a big box store in Lexington. I meant the principle – the hiring/illegals/places to pick people up.

    There is a meat-packing plant there; 2/3 of the population (this is according to my brother, but he’s probably not far off) are not nationals (and probably illegal).

    He’s kind of a compulsive, workaholic and was hiring people to help him put in a basement (or something) at his house on a nearby (artificial – they all are in Nebraska) lake. It was a week-end, of course – that’s when he goes out there. He went to a place where these guys congregate who want a job for a day or so. He hired two or three. This was incidental to his anecdote, so I probably should have e-mailed him before I put it up.

    Even when I was in high school (early sixties) some migrant workers came up that far. Of course, the Mexican restaurant in a nearby town put out catsup (or something that looked suspiciously like it) for hot sauce in those days.

    I’ll e-mail him and ask him to put up a comment if I’ve got it wrong – which I might. On the other hand, in Houston the place to get day laborers was by a drive-through fast restaurant close to Houston Ballet and far from any big box stores.

    I’ve always seen this (but I’ve never hired anyone) as more like an informal Kelly Girls/Manpower rather than indentured servant/possession.

  3. “I meant the principle – the hiring/illegals/places to pick people up.”

    Fair enough, but please note that I mentioned that illegals are up here in Ohio in my original post. But that wasn’t the point.

    Mr. van der Leun says that he is afraid of civil unrest from the illegal population, an uprising of violence that will require the army in our cities to contain. The reason why he fears this is due to the enormous numbers of illegals that are openly and blatantly appearing in public. There are so many that he thinks the military is the only option if they should get riled up.

    But that isn’t a problem up here. Why? We don’t have nearly so many illegals, and the reason why is because our cops round them up if they become too visible. If California would do the same, Mr. van der Leun would have no reason to fear.

    For some reason, though, it appears that you and some of the people who left comments on my original post seem to think that I was claiming that there are no illegals at all in the Midwest. How in the world did you reach that conclusion?


  4. I didn’t reach that conclusion. I thought you were arguing that there were no places where illegals congregated and were hired. If you mean are there the specific conditions in the specific quantity doing the specific kinds of jobs described in that story, no, that doesn’t happen in small mid-western towns. Nor even around here.

    But that seems a given. Isn’t it the general trends and policies you want to talk about? Are the day laborers in Ohio policed heavily?

  5. > If California would do the same, Mr. van der Leun would have no reason to fear.

    True, but any politician with any sense would not even attempt to do so. This is a case where the Fed, which has less to fear from local voting issues, needs to step in.

    There are enough legal hispanics in Cali that any actions which might be anti-Hispanic must be factored into a politician’s efforts. Remember, for just about all politicians the first job is to get re-elected (one would hope they could rise above that, but it is, sadly, rarely the case — this would be a good argument for an increased-length single-term-in-office system).

    So any effort to round up illegals is generally perceived by a large percentage of local, legal hispanics as directed against them (there are enough of them raised on socialism + La Raza claims that cali belongs to them and was stolen by the eeeevil whites, with few arguments by the antiAmerican left educators and other lefties so preponderous in Cali).

    I suspect Heinlein, along with others, are correct when they see the schisms afflicting America that we are likely to break up into regional states at some point. Many of us may see that in our lifetimes. The melting pot is becoming increasingly partitioned — when the hispanics began moving in and altering those areas to the point where there were extensive enclaves (not just small neighborhoods) where you had to speak spanish to talk to anyone (i.e., some people were not teaching their kids English and learning it themselves, and thus “melting” them into the pot), this fracture started. When the cities became bastions of leftism, this fracture started.

    Most critically, when the idea of “one culture” fell into disrepute — to the point where ‘American’ culture became utterely disrespected, even — this fracture became almost inevitable.

  6. “I thought you were arguing that there were no places where illegals congregated and were hired.”

    My argument is that there are no places where illegals gather in the hundreds(!!!) to blatantly flaunt the law, let alone in the parking lots of every large hardware store.

    If you looked long and hard, I suppose you might find a crowd of ten or twenty. Usually they hang out downtown around the major bus stops, where the usual crowds provide cover.

    “If you mean are there the specific conditions in the specific quantity doing the specific kinds of jobs described in that story, no, that doesn’t happen in small mid-western towns.”

    Calling Columbus and Indianapolis “small mid-western towns” sounds rather odd to me. They might not be vast metropolei like Los Angeles or New York, but they are certainly large cities in their own right. I mean, we even have flush toilets here in Ohio! You can even find them in public buildings, free for use by anyone!

    “Isn’t it the general trends and policies you want to talk about?”

    Yes, in part. I was contrasting how the hands-off approach practiced in California, where illegals are purposely ignored by the police, leads to a massive influx of unemployed foreign nationals. This is why it is possible for riots and chaos that would require the declaration of martial law to contain… in California!

    “Are the day laborers in Ohio policed heavily?”

    As I clearly said in my original post, “The police might not actively pursue illegals, but they will turn them over to INS if they happen to become aware of them. A couple of hundred unemployed guys hanging around outside of a business, hanging around so they could be illegally employed, would be tough to miss.”

    So far as Ohio is concerned, I really don’t think there is going to be a single riot even if the economic conditions become really terrible. And the reason why is because there isn’t a large enough population of illegals to make it worth their while to try acting up. And the reason for that is because our police will arrest people who blatantly break the law, instead of ignoring it due to White Guilt.


  7. James,
    I think you are getting overly defensive – though perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently tactful. Whatever. I am not impressed by sarcasm that is directed at a straw man. And I wasn’t saying those towns were small – I know small. I was implying that the population of illegals is likely to be proportional generally; in places like rural Nebraska around a meat packing plant, the percentage may be disproportional.

    The levels of enforcement may vary across the country, but I doubt (and little you’ve said makes me change my mind) that they are strictly enforced in any but a few places. Strict law enforcement may be your solution to heading off problems, but the decline of jobs and the large number of people returning to their countries of origin as the economy – especially the construction economy – plummets is probably a greater reason for few riots. History is not likely to support a belief that a migratory impulse like that toward the United States is stemmed by arrests in Ohio. It is if there are no jobs in America.

    I think that article you cited apparently sees workers in a quite different way than I do, or than the culture around me does. But then the culture in California has always surprised me.

    In case anyone is curious about the form some of this takes in rural areas, my brother sent me a long e-mail, which I’m including here:

    The situation in Lexington is not substantially different from that being played out in several other Nebraska towns. Those include South Sioux City, Schuyler and Omaha; probably others of which I may not be fully aware.

    The “big box” store in Lexington is Walmart. Interestingly, a Walmart Supercenter at that. Now remember Lexington is home to many immigrants, not all of whom are Hispanic although Mexico is unquestionably the claimed home country of a majority.

    When I solicited help for my laborious task I visited what is locally described as a halfway house. This home is locally sponsored and supported by many local leaders. Our family has personally donated substantially to the home with furnishings and other useful items over the years. Anyway, the home provides shelter and nutrition to multinationals if not multiculturals. It is somewhat self governing with internal leadership largely provided by hispanics.

    Always, when one drives into the parking lot he will be greeted by several who approach the car to determine the reason for the visit. I suppose to determine if one bringing beneficial articles of furniture, clothing or food, or if the visitor is seeking labor assistance.

    My visit was no different. I was quickly approached, even before opening the door, by an individual asking my purpose. When I said I needed to employ a couple workers to help me move some concrete blocks he quickly motioned to two Somalis and negotiated a rate of $10/hour per worker for their efforts.

    Several weeks prior to this experience though, I had called the manager of the home who I believe is an employ of the City, Chamber of Commerce of United Way seeking assistance. I was asked when I would need the help and responded that it would be for the following Saturday. The manager responded that the residents, like me, didn’t want to work on a weekend.

    The Hispanic steward or group leader, was less hesitant to put his group to work on a Saturday.

    Incidentally, the Somalis didn’t work too hard on the weekend either.

    Regarding the “Big Box”, the aisles of the Walmart become a social meeting place on the weekends for the many immigrants, legal or otherwise. It is impossible to pass through for all the familial and friends holding social discussions in the aisles.

    Based upon my experience, I believe Walmart will feel the pinch most severely of immigrants returning to their homelands during an economic downturn.

    I could go on but after watching the situation for over a decade in Lexington it is obvious that it is a microcosm of the impact immigration has on our entire country. While presenting a substantial load to our education system very few contribute to the tax load necessary to provide that education. Very few own property although that seems to contradict the Barney Frank efforts to provide home ownership loans to all regardless of ability to repay.

  8. “I think you are getting overly defensive – though perhaps I wasn’t sufficiently tactful. Whatever. I am not impressed by sarcasm that is directed at a straw man.”

    This statement certainly brought me up short. After all, most of the people who want to object to my opinion on these virtual pages create straw men. (That isn’t completely accurate, but I can’t think of a polite way to say “makes up stuff out of thin air, only to claim that I said it”.)

    This is admittedly a sore point with me since, very literally, people’s lives depend on me being completely accurate and clear in my communications. So I went back and re-read every word you posted, and what I wrote here in the comments.

    I think that any problem which exists can largely be attributed to two people talking past one another, although it looks to me like I’m not the one guilty of creating straw men.

    In my original post, I discussed how differences in law enforcement practices between the Midwest and California keeps the numbers of illegals low up here, so the chances of civil unrest from that quarter are also low.

    How did you respond? By addressing me directly, and strongly implying that I must be wrong since there are still some illegals to be found in Lexington, Nebraska!

    Seriously, Ginny. What the heck was all that about, anyway?

    “Strict law enforcement may be your solution to heading off problems, but the decline of jobs and the large number of people returning to their countries of origin as the economy – especially the construction economy – plummets is probably a greater reason for few riots.”

    It is a legitimate point of view to claim that the chance of civil unrest is low because the illegal population will move back across the border if there is no financial incentive for them to stay. It is also legitimate to claim that acting to keep their numbers below an unmanageable size also prevents trouble.

    Let us not forget that a plummeting economy today didn’t prevent more illegals from moving into the Midwest over the past few decades. The enormous numbers of unemployed men hanging around without any chance of even day work that Mr. van der Leun reported seeing in California strongly suggests that at least a few of them would have migrated up here if they could. Instead it was a willingness to arrest them if they became too visible which kept the numbers down.

    You seem to be disdainful of my position, that enforcing the law prevents problems. But it seems that it works pretty well in most cases.


  9. Well, James, I appreciate your thoughtful response.

    I would agree policing is a useful tool in making life uncomfortable for illegals. People are not drawn to places where life is uncomfortable. But ICE is not up to the job of handling immigration in the numbers we know are present here. While not many cities have chosen the “sanctuary city” route, which in California can appear self-destructive, citizens in America do not seem strongly in favor of rounding up illegals and visa-overstayers and sending them back. Some people mutter about it, but I sure haven’t seen much steam behind such a movement.

    Ohio may have a different culture. The tradition of factory work, unions, and various other cultural differences between Ohio and states farther south and west surely have an effect. My impression had been that Ohio has had a somewhat stagnant economy during some of the time immigration from Mexico was growing. Of course, I may be quite wrong about that and I would like your more informed opinion. Our town has grown exponentially in the last few decades. Geographical proximity to the border is clearly the major reason there are more illegals here; still a large local building boom throughout the southwest over decades is another.

    I have no idea of the number (or percentages) of illegals in Ohio; I do know that their presence is strong in places far to the north of the border – e.g., Nebraska. And they are pervasive in towns in Texas, both small and large.

    I am not disdainful of your position that enforcing laws prevents problems; I appreciate that this is important to you and of course I recognize its importance (and the importance of people who serve as you do) in a civil society.

    Nonetheless, I am disdainful of laws that do not seem to represent the wishes of many of the citizens. While few may want their town declared a sanctuary one, many blink at those laws when they hire people or in their daily lives. Nor do I think that such laws are likely to work well when they don’t recognize the massive pull the United States provides for large groups of immigrants nor the massive push of states with inadequate legal and physical infrastructure to encourage business growth when applied to their most ambitous (and probably most restless) citizens.

    Policies that don’t recognize the problems are not going to solve them. Your policy may be a good local deterrent, but I am not sure if you are arguing it is a solution. I suspect it isn’t sufficiently effective for that. The flow into the United States needs to be cut off – which probably means at the border. Whatever the policies in Ohio, it will make little difference to what is going on in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

    A policy needs to be enacted that will create laws more in accordance with what is actually happening and what is causing it to happen – the discrepancy undermines law enforcement and even the rule of law.

    NAFTA was a wise move in my estimation; the Democrats desire to renegotiate it arises from a misunderstanding of our country’s needs. The most effective program would be one that reduces the push and makes the pull less attractive. Needless to say, I don’t consider the ideal solution a long-term depression in the United States.

    The small numbers allotted to each country for legal entrance and the narrow path to legal citizenship coupled with the massive entrance of illegals (and visa overstayers) makes anyone wanting to take the legal path feel like a chump. That isn’t good, either.

    My impression is that few here think of those workers in the same terms as they do in Marin County. That struck me as quite strange.

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