Saturday, September 3, 2011

Brief moment on the soapbox

I dislike bringing politics into anything at all, though I grudgingly recognize its necessity from time to time.

This will probably cost me what few readers I have, but I feel compelled to respond to the American Anthropological Association's recent decision to boycott Arizona and Georgia as potential conference locations because of their legislative action to combat illegal entry into the United States. I realize that the AAA doesn't care what I have to say, because professionally and academically I am essentially nobody, but the benefit of having my own blog is that I'm going to say it anyway and maybe someone, somewhere, will at least notice for a moment.

Absolutely nothing in an anthropologically-informed worldview compels denial of a nation's right to enforce its own laws or to define and subsequently protect its own borders. Rather, the historical perspective that should accompany a background in anthropology (remembering that the holistic perspective is temporal as well) should reinforce the validity of those rights. As an anthropologist, I find it frustrating that so many of my colleagues overlook this.

There is also nothing in an anthropologically-informed worldview that should compel and individual to feel that access to social services in a country one has entered illegally, from a government to whom one contributes no taxes, are a basic human right. The social contract works in two directions- government's end of the deal involves maintaining order, peace, and essential security; the people's end of the deal involves abiding by the laws passed by their representatives, working within the system to change them as needed, and paying for certain services by way of taxation. If the social contract has been breached by one party- someone who chooses to disregard this country's laws and enter it illegally, continue to reside here illegally, and pay no taxes- then there is no obligation on the part of the government at any level to uphold its end of the contract for that individual, up to an including permitting them to remain in the country.

I object to one anthropologist's (whose work I respect greatly but who I disagree with on this matter) characterization of Arizona's laws as "draconian." As a lifelong border-state resident, I have had ample opportunity to observe the worsening effects of the rise in illegal immigration, in the form of increased crime rates, drastic overburdening of social services, and increased competition for already-scarce employment; having seen and experienced the realities of the situation, I applaud Arizona for acting in its citizens' interest. How many of the AAA's board members have descended from the ivory tower recently to conduct some honest, open-minded participant observation, especially in the border states, to gain a more informed understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political realities on the ground before passing their resolutions? If the answer is less than "all of us," then the AAA board acted very irresponsibly and not at all like thoughtful, serious anthropologists.

By the way, any and all members of the AAA have an open invitation to visit my husband and I once we complete our PCS move to El Paso (where, by the way, many members of my husband's unit are not taking their spouses and children because they consider the crime rate and risks of Mexico's overflowing drug war too great) to conduct such observation.

Neither Georgia nor Arizona nor the overwhelming majority of those speaking out against ILLEGAL immigration is seeking to close this country's borders entirely to LEGAL entry, ban or repress Hispanic culture, etc. The issue here isn't one of racism or cultural sensitivity; it's a simple matter of not permitting, rewarding, and encouraging violation of this country's laws, and of not tolerating people who want to reap the benefits of a system they aren't willing to contribute to and whose rules they aren't willing to abide by (where I grew up we called that freeloading). Anthropologists, and any other enlightened and decent people, have an ethical and moral obligation to oppose cultural oppression, racial discrimination or subjugation, and other social injustices- but treating people who break our country's law like people who have broken a law instead of like honored guests is none of those things.

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