Friday, July 21, 2017

Symbolater Syndrome, Pt. 3 of 4

or, Those Who Destroy a Great Value As They Perform Gestures That Symbolize Preservation of That Very Same Value

Stuart K. Hayashi

Due to the length of the original “Symbolater Syndrome” article, I am serializing it into four parts. This is Part Three of Four. 

Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page

Christian Bale in Batman Begins, dir. Christopher Nolan,
prods. Larry J. Franco, et al., (Warner Bros., 2005).

Gestures Symbolizing Loyalty to Law and Order That Undermine the Concrete Purpose of Law and Order
Exactly because we need law and order, we should ask ourselves why we need them. They are not ends in themselves; they are intended to serve a greater value and, therefore, the enforcement of any law must be justified by the standard of whether it actually succeeds in serving that greater value. Insofar as the U.S. republic continues to be about freedom and the other ideals of the Declaration of Independence, the law is to serve the greater value that is the safeguarding of individual rights —   meaning that the law protects peaceful people from the initiation of the use of force and that it does not itself initiate the use of force upon peaceful people. After all, the Declaration of Independence does not say that the right not to be aggressed upon belongs to citizens alone; it says the right not to be aggressed upon belongs to “all men,” meaning all peaceful people.

Therefore, although suspected criminals are to be judged before courts of law, the law itself is still not the ultimate standard by which the respective moral statuses of people’s actions are to be judged. We must ask whether the ordinance or statute in question deserves to be kept on the books. As such, the law itself must be judged by the ultimate standard of whether it succeeds in protecting peaceful people against the initiation of the use of force and refrains from initiating the use of force itself. Nonviolent people do not exist for the purpose of obeying America law; American law exists to protect any and all nonviolent people within its jurisdiction. Accordingly, when statutes are not properly crafted — and when their errors go uncorrected — the statutes themselves become corrupt. This is what has happened to federal U.S. immigration law.

Starting in the 1920s, federal immigration law was openly racist, imposing strict “caps” on the number of immigrants who could come in from Eastern Europe and from countries with majority nonwhite populations, while being less strict toward immigration from Northern and Western Europe. A reform in federal immigration law in 1965 genuinely corrected many of these injustices but, on account of some poor planning on the part of the reformers, the reform instituted a new injustice. I cannot fault the reformers much for the poor planning, as it would be difficult for me to anticipate all such negative consequences. Where I do find moral fault is that, in the subsequent decades, this problem has been pointed out many times and many people — mostly on the political Right — refuse to acknowledge the need to rectify this inequity, instead rationalizing the continuation and perpetuation of the injustice.

The issue is this: although the 1965 federal reform on immigration abolished what were the formal quotas on national origin based on race, they still require that to immigrate lawfully to the USA for a long-term period, you need a license from the U.S. federal government. That license is a piece of paper called a visa. There are three basic categories for visas: student visas, family reunification visas, and work visas. Student visas are for foreign nationals attending university in the United States — the sort of visa most familiar to my former classmates at Hawaii Pacific University, most of whom were from Northern and Western Europe. You can receive a family reunification visa if you already have family members in the United States. In some respects, the family reunification visas were part of a compromise with the anti-immigration, pro-racism lobby. Since whites still were the majority in the USA in 1965, they figured that most family reunification visas would still go to white people, or that at least nonwhites who did not have family members already in the USA would be at a disadvantage (and that is indeed the case).

The third type is a work visa. The most famous sort is the H-1B visa, which is for immigrants who can provide skilled labor. The H-1B visa is most famously associated with Silicon Valley information technology workers, but it goes to members of all sorts of skilled professions, such as doctors and university professors. H-1B visas seldom ever go to persons lacking a university degree; an exception is made for fashion models; a fashion model lacking in a university degree can still obtain an H-1B visa.

There are categories of visas for unskilled laborers; these are respectively H-2A visas and H-2B visas. These visas are for much shorter-term stays in the USA than are H-1B visas; an H-2B visa lets you stay in the USA for two years before renewal. Conspicuously, they are even less accessible to unskilled people in poor countries than are H-1B visas to skilled visa applicants.

A relatively new form of visa, introduced under the Obama administration, is the entrepreneurship visa. This is for established business owners wishing to immigrate to the USA to set up new business operations here. As you can imagine, this is not a visa applicable to most unskilled people in developing countries who do not have university degrees. Later we will return to the topic of entrepreneurship visas.

The problem with current federal immigration law is this: the 1965 reform placed a new “cap” on the number of visas that could be issued to particular countries annually. No more than 7 percent of all visas issued in a year can go to applicants of any one country. This rule failed to anticipate that because Mexico is a poor country that is directly adjacent to the United States, it would make sense that a disproportionately large percentage of the people wishing to come to the United States would be from Mexico. Annually, 30 percent of all visa applications arrive from Mexico. You can see how this mismatch would bring forth a dilemma.

People from Bangladesh desire very much to come to the USA too, but they know that in any attempt to travel to the USA they would face geographic obstacles that a Mexican would not. The biggest obstacles for Mexicans in coming to the USA are not geographic but legal barriers imposed by the U.S. federal government.

The backlog for yet-to-be-approved visa applications is a nightmare. If the U.S. federal government received no new applications, it would still take over 19 years for it to clear its entire backlog of visa applications waiting to undergo full processing. On average, it takes a Mexican more than five years, from the start of the process to its end, to receive a family reunification visa. If you are in Mexico and are the spouse or minor child of a permanent U.S. resident (U.S. citizen or green card holder), you can expect to wait no fewer than six years. If, as a Mexican, you are the sibling of a U.S. citizen or green card holder, it is sixteen years.

And if you are a thirty-year-old Mexican with a high school diploma and you have a sister who is already a U.S. citizen, the average length of time you must wait to become a noncitizen U.S. permanent resident — one of those green card holders — yourself is . . . 131 years.

Most poor countries are poor exactly because their governments are kleptocracies. This means that the government usually refrains from protecting its citizens’ rights to life, liberty, and private property but, more often than not, violates them, and can actually violate them on the whim of the governments’ officials. People cannot count on building up productive businesses without all their wealth soon being confiscated, and that is why poverty is rampant. Only those who are well-connected with the government can operate any business securely at all. Under this system, with most people unable to count on the government for protection, many of them turn to gangs instead. For this reason, rates of starvation and murder are disproportionately high in comparison to what goes on in the First World. When someone in a kleptocracy that is south of the USA tries to migrate to the USA, it’s not a matter of someone greedily wishing to come to the USA to go on welfare; it’s a matter of someone trying to avoid dying from starvation and murder.

As Steven Sacco informs us,

One study found that between January 2014 and September 2015 eighty-three deportees who were sent back to Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador were murdered after their return. They were people fleeing the killers who eventually took their lives. People like José Marvin Martínez, who fled violence in Honduras and made it to the U.S. when he was 16, but was deported and four months after his forcible return was shot to death. Or Juan Francisco Diaz, also deported back to Honduras, where he too was murdered a few months later. Or Giovanni Miranda, who, after spending most of his life in the U.S., was deported to El Salvador to be murdered in front of his wife and son in June 2015. Or Edgar Chocoy, 16, who ran away from a gang to the U.S. only to be murdered by that same gang seventeen days after he was deported back to Guatemala in 2004. Or an unnamed teenager who was shot to death hours after being deported back to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Moises, 19, was murdered after he was deported to El Salvador. And there are too many more names we’ll never know. 
What’s more, the number of deportees delivered directly to their killers does not include those who survive attempted murder or other violence because of their deportation — a number no one knows. Isais Sosa, who was 19 when the Los Angeles Times covered his story in 2014, survived being shot by a gang days after his deportation. The 19 year old daughter of Dora Lina Meza fled to the U.S. from the same gang that, after she was deported back home, raped her at gun point. After Juan Ines Alanis was deported he was kidnapped and held for ransom while his fingers were smashed with a hammer.

Many apologists for these coercive deportations claim to admire Ayn Rand — we will discuss that further in the next bit. Note that if Ayn Rand had been deported back to the Soviet Union — and the legality of her immigration status was “iffy”  — she likely would have suffered the same fate as the aforementioned deportees.

Remember that when someone is being deported, he is being supervised by federal agents who have guns at the ready. When you are deported from the United States, this is something that federal agents do to you at gunpoint. They point guns at you to coerce you to return to a place where there is a high murder rate. As far as I am concerned, those who supported that the aforementioned people be returned to their nations of origin at gunpoint are, morally, accessories to what happened to the deportees upon return to their countries of origin.

When most people in a country are poor, very few of them can afford university educations. Therefore, except for the fashion models, H-1B visas are seldom an option for them. And the work visas for the unskilled are even less accessible. This means that if you are poor and unskilled, with no university education and no relatives in the USA, you don’t have many options available to you if you wish to migrate to the USA legally. And it’s not realistic for anyone to expect you to wait over five years for any sort of application to be approved; the threats of starvation and murder are immediate concerns. This is why so many poor people come to the USA without any visas. It is not an accident that {SPOILER ALERT} a virtuous character in We the Living tries to cross a national border illegally.

The deportations are anti-life for other reasons. As I wrote of it months after the incident, there was a time around late 2015 — as the Syrian refugee crisis was beginning to make headlines — when I was reading Rebecca Stott’s book Darwin’s Ghosts, about thinkers who had laid the intellectual groundwork for the theory of natural selection. Near the beginning, Professor Stott points out that because so many Athenians feared Aristotle as some sleeper agent for their military enemies, Aristotle had to flee Athens as a “political refugee.” This struck me because, although I had previously read of Aristotle leaving Athens for this reason, it didn’t dawn on me that the term “political refugee” applied to Aristotle, and yet, upon reflection, it fit. Not thinking that it necessarily had any implications for the Syrian refugee controversy, I tweeted out that there was a point in Aristotle’s life when he was a political refugee. Evidently finding the idea interesting himself, Prof. Glenn Harlan Reynolds, “The Instapundit,” retweeted me. I was then barraged by a number of belligerent tweets from generally right-wing people who presumed that my tweet was some thinly-veiled defense of the Syrian refugees. The belligerent tweets were along the lines of, But Aristotle was a civilized man; Syrians are congenital savages and And there is not one scientist among the Syrian refugees, is there?

It had not occurred to me that my tweet could be misconstrued as me sticking up for them, but, after reading the bigoted derision of them that was directed toward me, it ironically became easier for me to sympathize with the Syrian refugees. Incidentally, there are scholars among the Syrian refugees. Rolling Stone magazine chronicles the travails of one of them, a former agricultural engineering major trying to finish his education. One Syrian refugee who did complete his education is Nedal Said, now a microbiologist at the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research. Frankly, though, if there were zero scholars among them, the Syrian refugees would still be deserving of our sympathy. If a group of people are to be kept out of the USA on the basis that the USA is presently at war against their country, that is one matter. Even in that case, though, it would not be just to attempt to write off everyone from that country and of that ethnicity, with a broad brush, as inhuman. After all, there was a moment in history when the wartime enemies of the United States looked a lot like me.

Nedal Said’s story reminds me of another. Decades ago, an impoverished boy in Mexico named Alfredo illegally climbed over a fence to get into the USA. Consistent with the stereotypes, he started out as a migrant farm worker. He saved his money and sent himself to medical school. This was Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, and he is presently one of the world’s foremost brain surgeons. Prolific in the number of operations he has performed, he has saved the lives of native-born Americans. These are native-born Americans who might have died had it not been for Alfredo illegally entering our country years ago. Coercive deportations of nonviolent immigrants may not only result in the deaths of more immigrants, but also of more native-born Americans.

Many people who come to the USA without visas have committed no felony other than the ones directly concerning their having come to the USA without a visa.  For instance, Andres Magana Ortiz — who owned and ran successful coffee farms in Hawaii — is under threat of deportation when, aside from having arrived in the USA without a visa, his only brushes with the law involve two charges of having driven under the influence. Similar to this is the case of Joel Colindres, who faces deportation when his only instances of lawbreaking were (1) migrating from Guatemala to the USA without a visa and (2) missing a court date. Contrary to hysterical right-wing scare stories, you are statistically likelier to be killed by a native-born American than you are by an undocumented immigrant to the USA. Therefore, a legal system committed to freedom and justice — one that serves its original purpose of protecting the peaceful from the violent — would refrain from sending armed men to detain and deport peaceful persons whose acts of lawbreaking all pertained to the mere act of coming to the USA peacefully without a visa.

Yet I frequently come across anti-immigrationists on the political Right — Rush Limbaugh is one of them (I take him to task for it here and here) — who insist that simply coming to the USA without a visa is an act of evil that warrants condemnation and violent retribution on the part of the U.S. federal government. Apologists for that viewpoint shout, “Do you think people should be able to break the law with impunity? The Law is The Law and we gotsta follow The Law!” I remind such people that deportations are backed by armed force. Suppose I invite a Mexican to lodge on my land in the USA. That Mexican agrees. But that Mexican crossed the border without having a visa. Enforcing the law in this case means that armed government agents come onto my land and abscond with the Mexican. When they transport that Mexican back to Mexico, they have their guns at the ready in case he tries to flee their custody and return to my private plot. Deportations are backed by armed force. Again, the anti-immigrationists merely chant that The Law is The Law and we gotsta follow The Law!

People who preach that someone coming to the USA long-term without a visa is sufficient grounds for sending armed men to detain and deport him are practicing their own symbolic ritual, one not unlike Governor Jerry Brown’s. They shout about the need to respect and enforce the law because this ritual of chanting about it has symbolic significance for them. They say that it is their way of reminding everyone of the importance of the law — that if people can flagrantly disregard the statutes, then all order and society breaks down. But that assertion is disingenuous; those who keep chanting about the need to crack down on illegal aliens are not primarily reminding other people about anything. Rather, these people partake in this symbolic ritual — the ritual of reciting their platitudes about the sacredness of federal law — to convince themselves that they passionately care about the law and everything the law represents.

And yet they don’t. The law is not the end but the means to a greater end that the law is to serve. That greater end is the principle that no peaceful person is to be subjected to the initiation of the use of force by any party, least of all by the federal government. If you do not value the greater end that U.S. law was first established to serve, then you do not understand what U.S. law is about. In proclaiming their love for American law, many people are asking that American law violate the moral principle that American law was initially established to uphold: to prevent the initiation of the use of physical force upon peaceful people. Those who demand a government crackdown on undocumented immigrants qua their lack of documentation, are those calling for violence against peaceful human beings for the proclaimed purpose of defending an institution whose only justification was to prevent violence against peaceful human beings.

Of course, anti-immigrationism has its arsenal of rationalizations for this. Stefan Molyneux rationalizes that people from Africa and South America are just programmed to go on welfare, and, by collecting welfare, such immigrants are the ones initiating the use of force against native-born whites. This is just another instance of Molyneux’s ignorance and presumptuousness (a more polite way of referring to Molyneux’s prejudice).

When you say “welfare” in the United States, the first program that normally comes to mind is federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, formerly Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and, since 1996, an immigrant needs to be a U.S. resident for five years before so much as applying for this.

Moreover, the biggest entitlement program in the USA is, by far, Social Security. At $800 billion per year, it’s the only program that rivals the U.S. military in annual cost. Because undocumented immigrants use fake Social Security numbers, the farms and other businesses employing undocumented immigrants take money out of their pay and put it into the Social Security system. (If you object to how an impoverished immigrant fleeing the high murder rate of his country of origin is using a fake Social Security number to obtain employment, remove the legal barriers that drove him to this desperate resort in the first place.) And this is Social Security that the undocumented immigrants will not collect — the recipients of the undocumented immigrants’ money are retired native-born Americans and retired naturalized citizens, the native-borns greatly outnumbering the naturalized. It is therefore, on a net balance, the undocumented immigrants who are paying taxes to support welfare that goes to native-born Americans.

Among the recipients of taxpayer money, native-born citizens outnumber immigrants by far; it is therefore disingenuous to single out undocumented immigrants as being the major contributor to the rising costs of the welfare state. If collecting taxpayer money is an initiation of the use of force, then repelling it would mean cutting taxpayer funding for all private parties; to target immigrants, on the pretext that they are primarily what drive up government spending, is to prioritize one’s hostility toward immigrants over any lightening of the tax burden.

Nor is there a long-term threat of mass migrations causing overcrowding throughout the country; people underestimate the quantity of land available in the United States. If there were eight billion people on Earth and they all relocated to Texas, Texas’s population density (27,923 people per square mile) would be less than the present population density of the city of Paris, France (55,673 people per square mile). At present, no more than twelve percent of the land in England is developed for urban use and no more than nine percent of the land of the United Kingdom is.

To demand that an immigrant having arrived in the USA without a visa is sufficient grounds to send armed agents after her, out of a purported respect for American law and order, is therefore a symbolic ritual paid to American law and order that, in practice, disrespects the greater value that American law and order were designed to safeguard. It is a symbolic gesture that pretends to pay heed to American law and order as it desecrates the basis of that American law and order. To do this, one must love the symbol of a particular value more than one loves the concrete existence of that very same value.

The stolen concept and stolen value is “American law and the very basis of American law.” By supporting governmental initiations of the use of force against undocumented, nonviolent immigrants, these right-wingers have relinquished any rightful claim to the concept and value of “American law and the very basis of American law.” Yet, as they do this, they try to claim custody over the concept and value of “American law and the very basis of American law.” As Limbaugh has done this, he is not innocent of the very charge he lays at the feet of left-wingers, of putting symbolism over substance.

Sadly, too many people who call themselves Objectivists also do the same.


Part One | Part Two | Part Four | Entire Essay on One Page

On July 28, 2017, I added the part about the Joel Colindres case.