Friday, June 29, 2012

Book #4 and Book #5: The Circuit, Breaking Through

I haven't been reading or writing as much on account of having started a master's degree and these two books are short novels that were actually required reading for my courses, but I found them worthy of a post, so I'll include them in the list. The Circuit and Breaking Through are both novels by Francisco Jimenez, a professor of language and literature at Santa Clara University in California.

They are both autobiographical novels, The Circuit being about Jimenez' early childhood and Breaking Through about his adolescence and early adulthood. They chronicle his family's illegal entry into the United States, their gut-wrenching struggle for survival that was like a post-war re-enactment of The Grapes of Wrath (which I have also read this year, though I missed the parallel until Jimenez himself pointed it out), and their gradual entry into the mainstream of American society.

Jimenez's family intially followed work picking fruit before finally settling in a house, where he and his brother worked as janitors and his father continued picking fruit. Jimenez, who never considered himself a good student, gradually discovers that he is good at it and even does well enough to receive a scholarship to attend university. Where the story stops is when he starts university, and what is left unsaid is that he went on to receive his doctorate from Columbia University.

The story is certainly inspirational when you consider Jimenez's humble origins, though somewhat sad considering that there are many in Jimenez's position who would not be able to either attend or graduate university because they are not living in the United States legally. Having moved across the world twice, I don't condone entering a country illegally, but the inescapable reality is that America will never be able to deport the roughly ten million illegal immigrants currently in its borders. The barriers in place simply ensure the existence of a group of people who live in America, and always will, but will be consigned to a lifetime of living on the margins of society and all that entails.

There are three obvious truths about illegal immigration, and I think that they conflict with each other, four if you count my disdain for any term that seeks to hide the fact that it is illegal. The first, as I've already mentioned, is that those who are already living in America illegally are unlikely to leave, so what is needed is a solution other than making illegal immigration dominate virtually every interaction between the state and the citizen. The only reasonable solution to avoid creating a generation of millions who live outside the reach of the state, hardly a desirable outcome for a number of reasons, is to offer amnesty with certain conditions.

Second, while illegal immigrants inside America should be put on a path towards amnesty, I don't see anything wrong with enforcing America's borders as they exist. It is possible for states to exert more resources in solving this problem than they lose from this problem, and I suspect that many states are doing just so. Efforts to secure the border per se are not in and of themselves problematic or racist, though I think it often comes from nativist or racist motivations. Despite the best efforts to keep illegal immigrants out, the only thing that has shrunk their numbers in the United States has been a downturn in the American economy, which has meant less work and, therefore, less incentive for illegal immigrants.

Finally, illegal immigrants perform an obviously function in American society, one that Americans are simply incapable of performing. It's so plain as day that it shouldn't be debated, but the manual labour on farms and construction sites that many illegal immigrants perform simply could not be done by American workers, and certainly not as well or for the same price. A solution, therefore, would be to offer a larger number of guest worker permits along with an amnesty, but combating illegal immigration is not exactly the job-creation program it's considered by some politicians, such as in Alabama. To the extent that it is a job-creation program, it's maybe the worst job-creation program imaginable.

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