Frank DeFilippo: Coming to America

U.S. Customs and Border Protection photo

Pepe can still cut grass and hang drywall and Lupe can still make beds and pick crab meat. But legal or illegal, they’ll have to be careful and come at their own risk. President Trump is watching and counting, even those who work at Mar-a-Lago.

To accomplish the massive blockade and, perhaps, deportation or detention of undocumented immigrants Trump declaims, the roundup would have to stretch from Mexico to Canada and then some, because, as the tempestuous Trump sees it, nobody really knows how many illegal immigrants there are in America and how many are crushing the southern border. America is full.

But somebody in the White House had a novel idea, a wisecrack, probably, to relieve the tension at one of those very serious high-level policy meetings: Let’s spread the unwanted and unwelcome brown people out among those liberal sanctuary cities and states that claim to openly embrace and welcome undocumented immigrants. Hah, hah! A little laughter, the joke’s over and the meeting moves on.

Except that the passing comment leaked to the press and became a headline. Trump saw, or, more likely, heard it on Fox News and it became a Tweet that morphed into a brain(?)storm. Next, he wiped out the top echelon of the Department of Homeland Security for its inept management of the unwanted and unwashed.

And then there was the ever-so-slight pushback by his policy people against population deployment. And finally, Trump relented and decided to give Mexico one year to mend its ways and deal with the mass of humanity stuck at its border. And only then, if there were no solution, would he begin to shift bodies around the way it’s done in China and Russia, with one-way bus fare to sanctuary cities – likely more bluster for the base.

And that’s the point. America is not full. Only 330 million of us populate the country. Many of those scheduled for Trump’s dragnet are here, there, settled, and contributing workers and members of communities. Drive across Baltimore’s Eastern Avenue, through Fells Point, and the lyrical sounds of Greek and Polish have surrendered to salsa-spiced Spanish in its many derivations, known colloquially as Spanglish. Dozens of new and unfamiliar languages are spoken at the Johns Hopkins Hospital and across its East Baltimore environs. Eastern Avenue is a boulevard of emporiums for cheap mattresses, money orders and toss-away cell phones.

Take the MARC train over to Washington and you’re in the middle of the fastest-growing Hispanic population in the region, much of it in uppity Montgomery County (17 percent) which was originally zoned to keep outsiders exactly that – out. In Gaithersburg, city officials built an employment center for immigrants, legal or illegal, no questions asked. Maryland long ago passed its DREAM Act, allowing full participation of children of illegal immigrants in the state’s educational system. This year, the General Assembly expanded it.

Over-the-fence immigrants in fast-changing Northern Virginia may soon outnumber those in Maryland. But life is not always sunny-side-up. In Herndon, lawmakers who supported the designation of a central gathering place for Hispanics seeking employment were defeated in local elections a while back.

And in the Washington metropolitan area, there have been barbaric murders and mutilations connected directly to the violent el Salvadorian M13 gangs. (MS-13 had also staked a strong gang presence in Baltimore City, and Prince George’s, Montgomery and Harford counties in Maryland.)

This represents an idea of the group that Trump had identified for speedy deportation – “My first day in office those people are gone.” He equates asylum-seeking families with drug dealers and criminals, although deportation has been replaced with encampment and separation of children from mothers.

There are 690,000 illegals in the U.S. that have committed serious crimes, according to the Migration Policy Institute. Another organization pegs the figure at two million. Trump, though, had targeted fully six million illegals for immediate expulsion, which includes those who overstayed their visas. That’s better than half the 11 million undocumented aliens estimated to be in the country.

While Trump criticizes President Obama for his accommodation of immigration policies, he fails to mention that the Obama administration had deported more undesirable illegals than any previous administration, as many as 289,000 a year, and, in fact, more than Trump.

But from the Olympian perch of the White House, Obama had been determined to clear a pathway toward earned citizenship for those who are in America illegally if they had met certain conditions. He held harmless, by executive order, the children of undocumented immigrants, though that action had been rebuffed by the courts. But Trump, true to his fashion, blames Democrats for failing to adopt effective immigration policies.

The reverse is true of Trump. He has been rebuked at least 25 times by the courts, by one count, for trying to block or expel illegal immigrants by executive order, especially Muslims, at one point stating a preference for immigrants from Norway, among the whitest people on earth. Make America Great Again.

Trump’s battle cry is his solemn pledge to partition off Mexico at any expense, if not from Mexico preferably aid money earmarked for Puerto Rico and three Central American countries – Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras – he has told to disband caravans headed for the U.S. border. In a pinch, he’ll take money from the Pentagon, too.

The elusive wall, barrier, fence or any other obstruction, is the emblem of this symbol-minded president and his nascent reelection campaign, by some estimates to cost $25 billion for a 2,000-mile ego trip. Trump cares not a whit what he says or where he says it, so long as his base of 39-percenters is listening and Fox News is re-playing it on a continuous loop.

Mexican officials have a point in defending cross-border migration, legal and illegal. The money Latino workers send home to their families is among Mexico’s largest sources of revenue. At last count, Mexican workers in America money-order home $23 billion a year, dollars that are not re-circulated in this country. That cash is part of the $120 billion a year that foreign workers in America send back to their native counties, with China, India and the Philippines the largest recipients, followed by Mexico.

There have been racial flare-ups, too, when civil rights activists in an unnatural alliance joined with the Minutemen to help block illegal entry by Hispanics across America’s borders. They claimed that illegal immigrants were infringing upon entitlements that rightfully belong to blacks. Besides, they claimed, the civil rights franchise belongs to blacks and not to foreign interlopers.

And it’s a miracle of democracy when hundreds of thousands of people who are in America illegally could take to the streets of the nation’s capital and other major cities to demand the same inalienable rights that come with Americans’ birthright.

Maryland, after all, is where former Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., a Republican, once dismissed multiculturalism as “bunk” and “crap.” The word itself has fallen out of use, along with “quota,” and both have been replaced by the more benign “diversity.” The new wave of immigrants has been proclaimed as a way to repopulate Baltimore after years of a declining population. Last year the city lost more than 7,000 people, its greatest decline since 2001.

According to the latest census figures, Maryland has a total population of 6.006 million – 58 percent white, 29 percent black and 8 percent Latino. Another set of figures puts Maryland’s Latino population at 6 percent. Take your pick. In the Washington metro area, the wealthiest concentration of Latinos in America, there are an estimated 807,000 Hispanics, and in Virginia alone, there are 394,856 Latinos.

The Maryland Hispanic population is 557,371. Most Hispanics in the Washington region are from El Salvador, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Guatemala. In Baltimore City, the Hispanic population is a fractional 4 percent, while blacks make up 64.3 percent and whites, 31.6 percent. On the polyglot East side of Baltimore alone, there are at least a couple dozen languages romancing the neighborhood on any given day. The largest populations of Hispanics are in California, New York and Texas.

While Trump debates with himself over how to build a protective fence, the Mexican governor tacitly considers the United States essentially an extension of its workplace while extremists even make territorial claims on parts of the U.S., i.e., Texas and California, as native Mexican turf based on occupations and wars of a couple of centuries ago.

Unlike the previous waves of immigrants who came to America legally, the newly arrived, whether over the fence or through an airport or port of entry, are no longer inclined to assimilation but are more satisfied with living within a blocked-off ethnic mosaic and preserving their own cultures.

Earlier immigrants, for good or ill, were hell-bent toward Americanization and blending in, if for no other reason than survival against the unwelcoming bigotries of the era. Nor a century ago when the stream of Irish, Italian, German (including Trump’s ancestors) and Jewish immigrants arrived in the forbidding new land was there a social welfare support system, private or public, to provide sustenance and care, though illegals are not entitled to direct government benefits.

Immigrants have never had it so good, and that’s a good enough reason for wanting to come or stay.

 

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Frank A. DeFilippo
Frank A. DeFilippo is an award-winning political commentator who lives and writes in Baltimore. DeFilippo has been writing about the comic opera of politics for more than 50 years. He reported on the Maryland General Assembly for 10 years before joining the administration of former Gov. Marvin Mandel (D) as press secretary and speechwriter. Between times, he was a White House correspondent during the administration of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, and he has covered six national political conventions. DeFilippo is the author of Hooked, an alleged work of fiction, and an unpublished manuscript, Shiksa: The Rise and Fall of Marvin Mandel.

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