On the Border of Discussion
Anybody who’s truly interested in the immigration debate should skip Charles Bakst’s typically useless column in yesterday’s Providence Journal and turn instead to the Money & Business section, in which one can read John Kostrzewa’s inquiry into the difficulties that the E-Verify mandate imposes on businesses:
To try to sort out some of the issues, I talked with Christine Cunneen, co-owner of Hire Image, a background-screening company based in Johnston.
She said that right now there are only 75 Rhode Island companies registered to use the E-Verify system.
Employers who want to use it have to sign up for a five- to six-hour online tutorial. Then the user has to pass a test showing mastery of the system. …
Using the E-Verify system also opens the employer to an audit by the Department of Homeland Security.
Cunneen said the verification process can be confusing and cumbersome.
She added, “There have been some troubles with the system.” For example, if a person gets married and the name hasn’t been changed with Social Security, the E-Verify system may not verify the eligibility of the worker.
Kostrzewa’s right that the entire debate has been conducted in an atmosphere of contentiousness and suspicion, although I’m not as quick to blame the governor; this fight’s been long and broad in its approach. Consider this interesting nugget from an Andy Smith piece on the problems that Congressional inaction on immigration (specifically with reference to temporary work visas) is creating for Rhode Island’s tourism industry (emphasis added):
In the House of Representatives, Langevin said he is also cosponsor of legislation that would allow more H-2B workers into the country. “I’ve heard a lot from the business community [in Rhode Island] and this is a major priority for them,” he said. “This is an issue that directly affects the tourism and hospitality business in Rhode Island.”
Langevin said the Hispanic Caucus would prefer the “whole package” when it comes to immigration reform, although he stopped short of saying the caucus was opposed to H-2B measures. He said the House bill, currently in the Judiciary Committee, may shortly be the subject of hearings in the immigration subcommittee.
That sounds like a little bit of the ol’ “un pueblo unido” — in this case holding up desirable, even necessary, legal immigration legislation in order to gain leverage for the only part of the larger issue that encounters real disagreement: illegal immigration. One finds it necessary to continually consider which side benefits from the conflation of the illegal with the legal, and doing so makes it increasingly clear that xenophobia is not the villain.
I’m not sure whether to find it surprising that Kostrzewa finds the following significant:
During last week’s debate, 25 Latino and Anglo business owners, bankers, buyers, managers and consultants gathered at the old Hope Club in Providence at a networking meeting of the World Affairs Council Of Rhode Island, a nonprofit group.
They shared and discussed ideas about marketing, media and how to reach customers to expand their businesses. They laughed about language mistakes when people from different cultures interact. They all left a lot smarter, with new ideas for making money.
The true contrast of this vignette with the governor’s travails isn’t so much one of facts versus no facts as it is one of joint cooperation toward a separate end versus wrangling over policy with different ends in view. When business people — any people — get together, superficialities like language recede into the scenery. When special interests and racial demagogues refuse to treat illegal immigration as a discrete issue, they make superficialities central in order to hide the important distinctions.