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Vernellia R. Randall
Professor of Law
The University of Dayton

 

   
   

 

 

Compiled by Chris Schefler
Chris Schefler's Home Page
 
So, just who are the "illegal" in California, and who has a greater right to live and work here?  As he stated was his goal was on his inaugeration night, President James Polk stole California (and much more) from Mexico by violent force, just a few generations ago.   Now we pass laws making it illegal for most Mexicans to live and work here, and forcibly remove them when they cross the border "illegally" (having exhausted all legal means for entry).  Let's examine and expose a few of the racist myths behind the outrage against "illegals" that's all the rage in California.
 

Myth: Mexican "illegals" are "parasites" who want a free-ride from the U.S.

My experience has been the opposite. Everytime I walk in downtown area of any American city, I am constantly approached by the poor looking for a handout ("Spare change for a cup of coffee?" "Spare change for a bite to eat?" "Spare change for a beer?"). Living and working in downtown Santa Cruz, I am confronted each and every day by apparently healthy able-bodied young men wanting a handout. 

In Mexican cities, there are more poor than in American cities. However, in Mexico, it is rare to be asked for a handout! Don't get me wrong, the Mexican poor are quite skilled at separating you from your spare change, but they do it by selling you things: jewelry, souvenirs, etc. Even the small children sell chicklets chewing gum in exchange for spare change. Others offer to shine your shoes or provide some other service. However, it is quite rare to be asked for a handout in Mexico. Moral of the story? It is a myth in America that Mexicans want a free ride. The Mexican poor, in stark contrast to the American poor, hold an unquestioned assumption that they have to earn their way, and nearly always offer something in exchange for what they need. 


Myth: Mexican "illegals" pay no taxes, contribute nothing to our society or our economy, then rape our social services systems for free, unearned benefits.


The southwest and California were built in large part by undocumented Mexican immigrants. There was a time when Mexican migrant workers passed freely over the border each season to labor in the Southwest. In that time, Mexicans were an important and welcomed source of cheap labor. At the end of the season, the laborers would return to Mexico. The border was always open for their return, so they had no particular reason to remain in "Alte" California ("Upper" California, as the state was called before the U.S. stole it from Mexico). 

Throughout the California Gold Rush, which commenced just months after the U.S. took over California from Mexico, Mexican mule trains were crucial in distributing supplies to mining camps and towns throughout California's Sierra Nevada mountains. (Incidentally, although the U.S. gave $15 million to Mexico at the close of the Mexican war as a token for the takeover by the U.S. of California, New Mexico and other Mexican provinces, the California Gold Strike produced hundreds of millions of dollars for America, which was equal in value to billions of today's dollars). 

Today, Mexican workers pay sales taxes and work for substandard wages at the shittiest jobs in the state. Paying illegal workers below minimum wage is very common and results in higher profits for the illegal employer, and therefore higher taxes paid by the employer. End result: worker gets much lower pay (essentially payroll withholding) which results more taxes being paid into the U.S. and State treasuries (due to higher profits for the illegal employers). Many illegal employers know their Mexican laborers are illegal, but nonetheless withhold payroll taxes from their paychecks, and rather than pay those taxes to the government, simply pocket them. Quite often the employer will not realize that the Mexican is illegal, and so will go ahead and withhold payroll taxes and pay them to the government. 

Since illegal Mexican workers live in fear of deportation, they rarely seek social services or file for income tax returns for fear of being discovered and deported (the only exceptions are emergency medical care and primary education, the two things too urgent to forgo. It's no coincidence that California recently passed a law requiring medical care providers and schools to deny services to illegal immigrants - those are the only two social services they use (in spite of the contributions they make to the economy), because those 2 are the only ones they're willing to risk deportation to use. Justice prevailed - a federal court declared the law unconstitutional). 



Myth: Illegal Mexican immigrants are criminals deserving severe punishment.

The typical illegal Mexican immigrant is an honest worker struggling for a better life for himself and his family, not a violent criminal. 

In 1995, an article in the San Jose Mercury News reported that it is quite common for families to be divided by the border. For example, the father and one of the sons are legal residents, while the mother and another son are in Mexico and unable immigrate legally. The one father and son cannot afford to give up their jobs in California to return to Mexico, and the rest of the family is unsuccessful at immigrating legally, so the family must live apart. 

The anti-immigrant folks never seem to give a second thought to rich U.S. farmers who knowingly employ undocumented workers at sub-standard wages (and in sub-standard conditions). Such employers are a major source of the draw of immigrants into California, but are rarely if ever portrayed as criminals who deserve to be "severely punished". They are indeed breaking the law by employing undocumented workers, but this law is lightly enforced if at all whereas it is becoming quite fashionable for politicians in America to call for increasing efforts at enforcing laws against illegal border crossings (and for Usenet demagogues to scream for severe punishment of "illegals"). 

In my career in California's high-tech center known as Silicon Valley, I have noticed that the janitors are almost universally Mexicans, and driving through the agricultural areas of California, the laborers breaking their backs in the fields (often covered with carcinogenic pesticides) are mostly Mexican. It seems to me that the Mexicans have really gotten the bottom of the barrel in our society. 

So how is it that Mexican immigrants are responsible for all of our economic problems and other troubles, and why all the outrage? To me it bears a chilling resemblance to the way Hitler was able to dupe all of Germany into believing that all their problems were caused by the Jews. 

We need to stop being spoonfed our issues by politicians, and stop letting the demagogues push our emotional buttons, and look at the real source of our problems, such as the fact that 50% of what the government collects from us in corporate and individual income taxes is spent on destruction (the military), rather than on building a peacetime social and industrial infrastructure, and a very significant sector of our economy is the "defense" (war) industry, which, unlike peacetime industries, drags down rather than fuels the economy. Why is there no outrage over the fact that the Trident IV first-strike nuclear weapon is still being funded at $300 million a year, when the cold war is long over? Why is there no outrage over the fact that 75% of all international weapons sales are made by the U.S., and 90% of our customers are non-democratic regimes? Why is it that the Mexican worker and welfare mothers are getting all the blame for this country's problems???? 

It never ceases to amaze and disgust me to see grown adults blaming Mexican schoolchildren and pregnant women for their economic woes, while monthly Space Shuttle missions costing billions (often on "secret military" missions) are not given a second thought.

 
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Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ] The New Mexico Constitution ] U.S. "Theft" of Mexican Territory ] [ Racist Myths about Mexican Immigrants ] The Mexican War - A 1911 Explanation ] Federal Legislation and Court Cases ] the Forgotten Promises of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ]
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Always Under Construction!

Copyright @ 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001. 
Vernellia R. Randall

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Thanks to Derrick Bell and his pioneer work: 
Race, Racism and American Law
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