Democratic officeholders do not necessarily have to genuflect at the golden altar of the “free market,” a truly heroic act of faith would be necessary to argue that the spirit of Franklin D. Roosevelt is likely to rise benevolently over the next Democratic Presidential convention. For, unfortunately, the deepest lesson of the 1986 elections is that what might be termed America’s “Green Party” the party of organized pecuniary power is as strong, if not stronger than ever. In the House races, the results of the elections powerfully suggest that underfinanced challengers have almost no hope of dislodging entrenched incumbent PACmen \(and, increasingly, Democrats did narrowly defeat Republican rivals who outspent them, the picture is almost as bleak. Lack of money certainly discouraged some potentially strong candidates from making races, while even candidates who defied the odds had to raise truly enormous sums. In several states notably Pennsylvania, New York, and Wisconsin one can say virtually for certain that money or rather the lack of same by liberal Democratic candidates played a major role in the campaign. And, as the post-election attempts to credit Sam Nunn with the Democratic victories illustrate so vividly, virtually no major institution in American life now finds it in its interest to talk up a revival of the New Deal. /N ALL THIS GRAY, are there any bright spots for a politics more responsive to the interests of the average citizen? Perhaps there is at least one. As in 1984, when a cooperative and overwhelmingly Republican press withheld major stories about Nicaragua and Republican fiscal plans until the election was safely past, a number of potentially vote changing stories remained unwritten. On the morning after the election, after several days of exultant speculation on the possibilities for a release of the hostages, the press suddenly brought us the news which appears to have been known in Iranian exile circles for at least a month and rumored among scholars for even longer of the astonishing McFarlane cake drop in Tehran. The press also gave the President a second pre-election bouquet by allowing his pocket veto formally announced just after the election of the Clean Water Act to go virtually unheralded. And what are the chances that at least the Michigan press corps, or for that matter the leadership of the United Auto Workers Union, did not suspect that General Motors might be dropping a bombshell of its own right after the elections? Such strategic silences suggest that the public could still benefit from a closer, more detailed scrutiny of the relation between money and public policy in the United States. How, for example, did PACs and interest groups function within the party system? What did their dollars, political organizing and public relations campaigns buy them? How has the Democratic party’s dependence on certain sectors of big business prevented it from moving to where Democratic voters so clearly want it to go? If the newly ascendent liberal wing of the Democratic party persists in raising such questions in public, it may well retain the momentum the elections have given it and no matter what the media are now saying, Senator Nunn could find himself the John Glenn of the 1988 race. Austin RODOLFO DE LA GARZA likes to compare passage of the new immigration law to the end of the Vietnam War: “We just say we won and then we get out. It’s no harder to get into the U.S. today than it was yesterday. The only way to stop illegal immigration is to shoot them as they come over the fence.” De la Garza, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, is among those who say the sound and fury surrounding this year’s immigration bill had a great deal to do with the manipulation of political symbols. They say the bill will be a disruptive force in the lives of small business people, Hispanic job applicants, and the undocumented immigrants themselves. Mary Lenz, a longtime Observer contributor, lives and writes in Austin. But the bill’s solution to the problem of illegal immigration is about as effective as providing jail terms for unwed teenage mothers or public scourgings for politicians who add to the national debt. The immigration bill was a recognition of the fact that, in bad economic times, some sort of villain must be found and made to suffer. “There is no way you can solve unilaterally a problem which has its roots in two countries. It requires a bilateral approach and a bilateral solution,” said Jorge Bustamante, president of El Colegio de la Frontera Norte in Tijuana. At present, he said, the U.S. and Mexico do not even share a common definition of what the “problem” is. In the U.S., “immigration is perceived as some sort of illness . . . something which has been conceptualized as a threat. In Mexico, people feel proud to have a member of the family become an undocumented immigrant,” Bustamante said. To Mexicans, the “immigration problem” means the abuse and discrimination the undocumented encounter in the north, he said. According to James C. Harrington of the Texas Civil Liberties Union, it seems likely that the bill will do little to stop illegal immigration, while making exploitation of vulnerable foreign laborers even more likely. Like anti-prostitution ordinances or bootlegging statutes, the new immigration bill belongs to that body of law which is not actually meant to function, so much as to make it appear as if those who supported the measure are doing something to solve a problem a large number of powerful voters don’t want solved at all. “It’s really a question of profit,” said Roberto Soto, an assistant professor of law at the University of Texas. “It’s like drugs. You’ve got all these laws against drugs, but because it is profitable, some people are willing to take the risks. The workers need to go some place and people can profit from it. So the law will be on the books and it will have a dampening effect, but it will not really stop illegal immigration.” The new law requires employers to check documents proving citizenship or legal status of prospective employees. If they hire illegally, they face fines or The Myths of Immigration Reform By Mary Lenz 6 DECEMBER 5. 1986
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