One of the best ways to mask a bad argument is to conflate similar, yet entirely separate ideas, one of which is valid, one of which isn’t. Juggle these ideas around often enough and your reader will lose track of their separate identity and eventually give to both a status that can legitimately only be granted to one. The New York Times did just this in an
op-ed editorial it wrote a few days ago about the illegal immigration problem. From the first paragraph, the Times seeks to conflate legal and illegal immigration, which are two very different animals. Take the opening paragraphs:
Almost a year ago, hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers and their families slipped out from the shadows of American life and walked boldly in daylight through Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago, New York and other cities. “We Are America,” their banners cried. The crowds, determined but peaceful, swelled into an immense sea. The nation was momentarily stunned.
A lot has happened since then. The country has summoned great energy to confront the immigration problem, but most of it has been misplaced, crudely and unevenly applied. It seeks not to solve the conundrum of a broken immigration system, but to subdue, in a million ways, the vulnerable men and women who are part of it. Government at all levels is working to keep unwanted immigrants in their place — on the other side of the border, in detention or in fear, toiling silently in the underground economy without recourse to the laws and protections the native-born expect.
To the extent that these people were in “the shadows of American life,” they were keeping to those shadows because they’re illegal. They are not America. They are people who came here in violation of American law. They have no green cards and no visas. The NYT’s glowing first paragraph somehow glosses over that fact, and the second paragraph doesn’t do any better. In speaking generally of immigrants, it attempts to make many of us remember the fact that we too are immigrants, or the children of immigrants. But my parents came here legally, as did all of my friends or their parents. For that reason, we weren’t pathetic people who lived in shadows “without recourse to the laws and protections the native-born expect.” Laws and protects in America aren’t limited to only native-born people, they’re extended to all people who are here legally, whether native-born or not. Only in Times-land does this type of mystical xenophobia exist.
The rest of the
op-ed editorial whines about the fact that the feds and local governments are just doing it wrong and are unfairly harassing people. It also notes, correctly, that when there is an illegal labor supply, those laborers inevitably get channeled into the worst types of jobs, such as meat packing plants. Being the Times, the op-ed editorial wants us to go after the meat packers. Here’s an alternative: How about keeping the illegals out of this country? Then they wouldn’t have to take those rotten jobs. As it is, quite sadly, illegals take those rotten jobs because the situation here is still better than there (usually Mexico). And if the Times really thinks through the whole problem, it might wonder whether Mexico is never going to have an incentive to reform, that is, to make itself tolerable for its own citizens, as long as we provide an unlimited safety valve.
As it is, the whole
op-ed editorial irritated me because of its fundamental dishonesty in trying to merge in the readers’ mind illegal and legal immigrants, but one paragraph particularly irked me because it was so blatant in this effort. Here’s the paragraph:
The Justice Department wants to expand routine DNA collection to include detained illegal immigrants, creating a vast new database that will sweep up hundreds of thousands of innocent people. DNA, far more than fingerprints, is a trove of deeply personal information. Its routine collection from law-abiding citizens is considered an outrageous violation of privacy rights. In the belief that illegal immigrants lack such rights, DNA swabs and blood would be collected even if a detainee is not suspected of a crime. This reinforces the notion that immigrants should be treated as one huge class of criminal suspects.
As y0u can see, the Justice Department wants DNA from detained illegal immigrants. In other words, it wants DNA from people the Feds have arrested for breaking the law — in this case, the law against breaking and entry into the United States of America. While I freely admit that those arrested are not murderers or rapists (at least not most of them), they’re still criminals. Which is what makes it so disingenuous for the Times, in the same paragraph, to say that Justice wants to create a database with information from “hundreds of thousands of innocent people” or that this policy “reinforces the notion that immigrants should be treated as one huge class of criminal suspects.” Considering that their very first act upon entry into this country is to break the law, these illegal immigrants are not innocent and they are criminals. Under those circumstances, DNA gathering is just one of the consequences that leads to the saying that crime doesn’t pay. (By the way, I’m not arguing here for or against DNA gathering; I’m just arguing against the Times’ dishonest approach to the issue.)
So, next time you read one of these tear-jerker
op-eds editorials about pathetic immigrants, read it a second time, to make sure that the paper isn’t playing a little bait and switch. No matter where you stand on the illegal immigrants issue, you should resent it when a major newspaper sets out to trick you.
UPDATED: DQ reminded me that I carelessly conflated two ideas: op-eds and editorials. This was an editorial, meaning that it reflects the Times‘ official position on an issue. I’ve corrected the post accordingly. [And I corrected my corrections. You can always tell when my kids are around, since everything I do is carelessly done. I simply cannot work between the “Mommy” calls of my kids, and the “Mrs. Bookworm” calls of my husband. They fragment my brain.]