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Adventures in the "Immigration Issue" from My Past

I have ducked the "immigration issue" thus far, partly because of strong feelings left over from many years ago when I imported my high-school boyfriend who later helped found Microsofts's  International Sales Division and went on to become a Microsoft exec and Microsoft's first "Evangelist."

I had been an exchange student in Germany my senior year in high-school. And after I came back to the US, we didn't really want the relationship to end. He came to visit during the spring of my freshman year of college. And on whim, I married him. (It seemed like a good idea at the time.)

I was really appalled by the whole experience with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, but most notably by the arbitrariness. When nineteen-year-old me finally tried to get her husband a Green Card, I had one of the more insulting conversations I'd ever had in my life with the woman at the INS who wanted to know if I'd ever met my husband before. We walked straight from the offices of the INS to the offices of the ACLU in Seattle's Smith Tower where I peppered the ACLU guy with all kinds of questions about whether immigration officials had any right to behave that way. He explained to me in tiresome detail that, actually, yes they did.

A few months later, when my mother got fed up with the situation and hired us a lawyer, it was a whole different experience. We were seen right away rather than having to wait a couple of hours. Only the most perfunctory questions were asked of us and our lawyer and the INS guy spent pretty much the whole time talking about hunting and retirement. It helped that my husband was German and not, say, Chilean. And he spoke pretty good English by the time we got in there. (I'd spent months honing my skills in simultaneous translation prior to that; but even before he spoke fluent English, he could spell it better than I could because at the Gymnasium in Braunschweig he'd taken Greek and Latin.)

Thus, when I first heard it, I found Richard Shidell's song "Fishing," subsequently recorded by Joan Baez, quite uncanny. I could see in retrospect that there was a kind of game being played in that conversation I had labeled as an icon of upper-middle-class privilege: there was a whole other trajectory than conversation could have taken in which the would-be Green Card holder becomes the quarry.

But we dodged that. Somehow. I'll never really know how. At the time my husband was a professed Communist (though he never joined die Partie); he became a Republican shortly after joining Mircosoft, something I found quite bewildering. (Me, I'm a hereditary Democrat.) Funny how his revolutionary fervor was coopted so easily; to be replaced by evangelism for Microsoft's plan for World Domination.

In the last presidential cycle, my ex-#1 gave two grand to George W. Bush. I thought it was terribly unfair that he had taken all the Wolf Biermann and Franz-Joseph Deganhardt records, given that he'd gone and become a Republican, but I attributed this contradiction to the fact that he was a Prussian: it was never about philosphy; it was about control. Trust is good, he said once over dinner. Control is better. He was quoting Stalin, though he didn't say so.

Back when I was young and naive and he lectured me about Marx and Lenin, I signed up for a philosophy class on the Philosophy of Marxism and I read all that. And then I discovered that his Communism was not about philosophy at all, but about lecturing to a young blonde who hadn't read what he'd read. Once I'd stolen that high-ground and started asking questions about the base and the super-structure, he retreated into computer stuff, which he was much better at than I was.

I took the Fortran course; he got the point. I decided that he was good at computers and I wasn't. He won. I lost. He went to work for Microsoft. I left him and left Seattle. We had a little court battle about whether Microsoft stock options were marital property. He won. I lost. He helped found Microsoft's international sales division. I went to Columbia, though not at his expense.

So how do I see the immigration issue? I see immigration officials as arbitrary bastards with more authority than they know what to do with, without the sense to use it properly, or maybe just without the computer skills or the database. Most of what I have read about the issue has been one kind or another of nonsense.

Finally today I read something that made at least a little bit of sense. Lou Dobbs: Dobbs to President: Do you take us for fools?

President Bush continues to push his guest worker program and amnesty for anywhere between 11 million and 20 million illegal aliens, and he insists still that nothing less than what he calls comprehensive immigration reform is acceptable.

And the lies keep coming from both political parties. This president is not enforcing the immigration laws enacted by Congress, and this Congress is failing in its duty of oversight to demand that those laws be followed.

Only a fool, Mr. President, Sen. Kennedy, Sen. McCain, would believe you when you speak of new legislation. You don't enforce the laws now.

I would modify Dobb's sentiments a little: Whether what Bush was proposing was an actual amnesty program is debatable. But in my experience what there was was class-based and race-based arbitrary enforcement of immigration laws. If the existing laws were enforced and enforced even-handedly, we wouldn't need to have this conversation. Dobbs is echoing what I said to my current husband in the car the other day. There are plenty of immigration laws; plenty of disincentives for people from other countries to come forever to the US. Enforce them even-handedly, THEN find out what other laws are needed. Why make new laws, when enforcement of the current ones is up for sale?