Much of what we learn in life can be summed up in a line from the great singer/songwriter Ruben Blades: la vida te da sorpresas (Life gives you surprises). That’s one way of looking at what’s been happening throughout the United States during the past few weeks as thousands upon thousands of immigrants have taken to the streets. Sparked by draconian measures in the immigration bill that emerged late last year from the U.S. House of Representatives, an estimated 500,000 immigrants (in all likelihood a conservative figure) peacefully marched in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 25, perhaps the most impressive demonstration we’ve seen since the Civil Rights and Vietnam eras. Elsewhere around the country the numbers were also impressive: 300,000 in Chicago, 50,000 in Detroit and Denver, 20,000 in Milwaukee and Phoenix. And in Duncanville, Texas, 16-year-old Gustavo Jimenez was one of 4,000 students in the Dallas area who joined a spontaneous high school walkout on Monday, March 27. “They’re making my family—making immigrants—look like criminals,” Jimenez told the Dallas Morning News. Indeed, the legislation that emerged from the House would criminalize undocumented workers. It would also make it a felony for churches and other nonprofit groups to “assist” them in any way—prompting members of the clergy and other immigrants’ rights advocates to join the protests. (We’re glad to know that there are still those faith-based types who quote the Beatitudes when referring to the Bible passages by which they live their lives: Blessed be the poor, the meek, the peacemakers, and all that good stuff.)
The history of immigration in this country is complex. As we go to press, the U.S. Senate has yet to pass an immigration bill; it’s far from certain whether Congress will enact a new immigration law this year. But as we watch the marches—and there will be more—we can’t help but wonder: Hey, America—what about the rest of you?
Consider all that we’ve lived through in the past few years. We’ve got an administration that lied its way to a never-ending war in Iraq (and a wimpy Congress that went along with it); that talks about promoting democracy around the world as it engages in and outsources torture; that collectively went shoe-shopping as Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. We’ve got a military budget that tops more than $500 billion a year; an economic policy best described as Whatever You Do, Don’t Tax the Super-Rich; and a ratio of CEO to average-worker pay that puts us right up there with countries we snidely refer to as “Banana Republics.” What else? Oh, yes. We’ve got a brand new domestic spy program, can’t forget that. As James Risen, a New York Times reporter and author of State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, has written, the Bush presidency “has been the first in modern history in which the Pentagon served as the overwhelming center of gravity for U.S. foreign policy.” In other words, “One of the most lasting and damaging legacies of the Bush administration is the militarization of American intelligence.” (In some circles, that’s what’s known as a golpe de estado or coup d’etat.) Meanwhile, here in Texas we’re blessed (pardon the expression) with the kind of legislative geniuses who think that the answer to all of our social, economic, and educational problems is to enact a mean-spirited—not to mention redundant—constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.
Ay, Dios mío. Enough already. Doesn’t it want to make you get out in the streets and shout, “Ya, Basta!”? You know what they say—la vida te da sorpresas.