Thursday, October 29, 2009

Edward Abbey on Immigration

Edward Abbey [1927-1989], the late novelist, essayist, and environmental activist, was a confirmed political "liberal" (perhaps even an extremist), who believed that the degradation of the land and culture of the American Southwest was a crime against nature, and that the least any one of us could do was to try to defend it from the resource exploiters and population pressures which endangered it.  

In an essay written for (solicited, actually, by) the august New York Times, Abbey took the contrarian position regarding Mexican immigration. The Times refused to publish it, or give Abbey his "kill fee"--perfect proof that he'd stepped over the line. Rather than publish the "embarrassing" article, they pretended that it hadn't ever been written. It didn't matter whether Abbey was right or wrong--a figure of his authority disagreeing about immigration was just too potent a threat to the liberal biases the Times felt bound to observe. In the long run, however, as always, trying to resist the truth is always a bad strategy, as Abbey's essay has continued to be a cautionary document for those who get too caught up in the apologetics of unfettered (and illegal) immigration. I'm reprinting the essay in toto here, since it appears several other places online, copyright fears be damned (at least until someone threatens me with a lawsuit). 

                "Immigration and Liberal Taboos" [Reprinted in 1988]

In the American Southwest, where I happen to live, only sixty miles north of the Mexican border, the subject of illegal aliens is a touchy one. Even the terminology is dangerous: the old word wetback is now considered a racist insult by all good liberals; and the perfectly correct terms illegal alien and illegal immigrant can set off charges of xenophobia, elitism, fascism, and the ever-popular genocide against anyone careless enough to use them. The only acceptable euphemism, it now appears, is something called undocumented worker. Thus the pregnant Mexican woman who appears, in the final stages of labor, at the doors of the emergency ward of an El Paso or San Diego hospital, demanding care for herself and the child she's about to deliver, becomes an "undocumented worker." The child becomes an automatic American citizen by virtue of its place of birth, eligible at once for all of the usual public welfare benefits. And with the child comes not only the mother but the child's family. And the mother's family. And the father's family. Can't break up families can we? They come to stay and they stay to multiply.

What of it? say the documented liberals; ours is a rich and generous nation, we have room for all, let them come. And let them stay, say the conservatives; a large, cheap, frightened, docile, surplus labor force is exactly what the economy needs. Put some fear into the unions: tighten discipline, spur productivity, whip up the competition for jobs. The conservatives love their cheap labor; the liberals love their cheap cause. (Neither group, you will notice, ever invites the immigrants to move into their homes. Not into their homes!) Both factions are supported by the cornucopia economists of the ever-expanding economy, who actually continue to believe that our basic resource is not land, air, water, but human bodies, more and more of them, the more the better in hive upon hive, world without end - ignoring the clear fact that those nations which most avidly practice this belief, such as Haiti, Puerto Rico, Mexico, to name only three, don't seem to be doing well. They look more like explosive slow-motion disasters, in fact, volcanic anthills, than functioning human societies. But that which our academic economists will not see and will not acknowledge is painfully obvious to los latinos: they stream north in ever-growing numbers.

Meanwhile, here at home in the land of endless plenty, we seem still unable to solve our traditional and nagging difficulties. After forty years of the most fantastic economic growth in the history of mankind, the United States remains burdened with mass unemployment, permanent poverty, an overloaded welfare system, violent crime, clogged courts, jam-packed prisons, commercial ("white-collar") crime, rotting cities and a poisoned environment, eroding farmlands and the disappearing family farm all of the usual forms of racial ethnic and sexual conflict (which immigration further intensifies), plus the ongoing destruction of what remains of our forests, fields, mountains, lakes, rivers, and seashores, accompanied by the extermination of whole specie's of plants and animals. To name but a few of our little nagging difficulties.

This being so, it occurs to some of us that perhaps evercontinuing industrial and population growth is not the true road to human happiness, that simple gross quantitative increase of this kind creates only more pain, dislocation, confusion, and misery. In which case it might be wise for us as American citizens to consider calling a halt to the mass influx of even more millions of hungry, ignorant, unskilled, and culturally-morally-genetically impoverished people. At least until we have brought our own affairs into order. Especially when these uninvited millions bring with them an alien mode of life which - let us be honest about this - is not appealing to the majority of Americans. Why not? Because we prefer democratic government, for one thing; because we still hope for an open, spacious, uncrowded, and beautiful--yes, beautiful!--society, for another. The alternative, in the squalor, cruelty, and corruption of Latin America, is plain for all to see.

Yes, I know, if the American Indians had enforced such a policy none of us pale-faced honkies would be here. But the Indians were foolish, and divided, and failed to keep our WASP ancestors out. They've regretted it ever since.

To everything there is a season, to every wave a limit, to every range an optimum capacity. The United States has been fully settled, and more than full, for at least a century. We have nothing to gain, and everything to lose, by allowing the old boat to be swamped. How many of us, truthfully, would prefer to be submerged in the Caribbean-Latin version of civilization? (Howls of "Racism! Elitism! Xenophobia!" from the Marx brothers and the documented liberals.) Harsh words: but somebody has to say them. We cannot play "let's pretend" much longer, not in the present world.

Therefore-let us close our national borders to any further mass immigration, legal or illegal, from any source, as does every other nation on earth. The means are available, it's a simple technical-military problem. Even our Pentagon should be able to handle it. We've got an army somewhere on this planet, let's bring our soldiers home and station them where they can be of some actual and immediate benefit to the taxpayers who support them. That done, we can begin to concentrate attention on badly neglected internal affairs. Our internal affairs. Everyone would benefit, including the neighbors. Especially the neighbors. Ah yes. But what about those hungry hundreds of millions, those anxious billions, yearning toward the United States from every dark and desperate corner of the world? Shall we simply ignore them? Reject them? Is such a course possible?

"Poverty," said Samuel Johnson, "is the great enemy of human happiness. It certainly destroys liberty, makes some virtues impracticable, and all virtues extremely difficult."

You can say that again, Sam.

Poverty, injustice, over breeding, overpopulation, suffering, oppression, military rule, squalor, torture, terror, massacre: these ancient evils feed and breed on one another in synergistic symbiosis. To break the cycles of pain at least two new forces are required: social equity - and birth control. Population control. Our Hispanic neighbors are groping toward this discovery. If we truly wish to help them we must stop meddling in their domestic troubles and permit them to carry out the social, political, and moral revolution which is both necessary and inevitable.

Or if we must meddle, as we have always done, let us meddle for a change in a constructive way. Stop every campesino at our southern border, give him a handgun, a good rifle, and a case of ammunition, and send him home. He will know what to do with our gifts and good wishes. The people know who their enemies are. 

--Edward Abbey


Ed Baker said...

this was written about 25 years ago!?

seems like if our current police/military/political
establishment wasn't over-armed there wld be an open bloody (again) revolution...

maybe it is going on now... via that swine flu from Mexico (?) and non-stop paying-out of Green-backs.

we need to separate out the real issues from the romantic myths...

I mean:

"there are no illegal people" isn't the same issue as "there are illegal immigrants" ...

so let us.... write another poem!

jh said...

just a couple initial thoughts while i ponder this today

los latinos are intelligent people for the most part due to their status as survivalists they size things up pretty well

abbey comes to a poorly thought out conclusion and his cynicism in the end can be nothing short of disturbing...go back to your own country kill the despots and start your own democracy..o sure 100s of thousands may die in the cause but at least you're doing you're just weeding cabbages

los latinos see that in usa there is more more more than enough more than anyone can use more than anyone can digest...they know we throw away as much food as we eat every day...what's a few more tortillas and rice and beans

to say well we should do with the hispanics what the natives should've done to us is interesting
but perhaps a more realistic take would be to realize that all human settlement is in motion it is all always being transformed...what we think it is or would like it to be is a fleeting thing

i agree that an inward domestic focus of real humble but durable survival is important for USA...but to propose a historical disconnect in favor of one vision over another is a bit ridiculous

maybe we should just acknowledge that now we are a hispanic culture
i mean salsa is making the play for most interesting dining and dancing right here in minnesota

when i lived on the border i was aware of the predominant thinking which held - when the border was porous things were OK not perfect but OK people came and went stayed worked sent money back went back themselves and returned

life is pilgrimage not a lot in a subdivision with a huge golf course

let the people move if they need to

abbey sounds a little like mao here
let's hope his final solution was not as drastic


Curtis Faville said...

I think that, at the very least, there are limits--or should be--to how much generosity any country can exercise.

Our coffers are empty--in fact our accountants tell us we now may never catch up, we'll be in debt forever. We literally can no longer "afford" to "save the world" for democracy, or god, or whatever cause you may raise your glass to.

American capitalism has been imploding for the last 30 years--exporting capital, jobs, mounting foreign wars, aid, eluding tax obligations--and we're fast approaching an economic precipice.

We can't "afford" to "save" Central and South America and Southeast Asia. We're still a world of nations. Each nation takes responsibility for its own people, its own land. If we voluntarily "give" this away, by welcoming the hoards of poor, sick, unemployed, uneducated, neglected from outside our borders, we can rationally expect our society ultimately to deteriorate to the extent that we now see it in the worst of the Third World.

Is being "generous" in this way worth sacrificing all the best aspects of our life? Nothing is free in life, though many may benefit from the sacrifice of others. Our prosperity is fragile, just as our democracy is. If we turn into a huge nation of poor, struggling, disenfranchised, we can expect our government to descend into oligarchy. That's Abbey's ultimate message: Democracy requires freedom and a measure of prosperity to function. Take that prosperity away, and our freedoms will go with it.

Curtis Faville said...

America has recently declared itself a builder of nations. We're "nation-building" in Asia.

We could as easily and with as much justice say that we need to install a new government in Mexico, in place of the corrupt, outlaw system that currently exists there. How much would that cost?

What we are learning is that until a people feels strongly enough about their own land, their own culture, to take a stand, put their own lives and principles on the line, there is little hope for self-determination. You can't install a better government on behalf of another nation, especially if they're not on board with the idea.

If Mexico is so terrible a place to live that people are desperately fleeing, maybe Mexicans need to look inward and solve their own problems. America isn't an "overflow" facility for corrupt nations. We don't deserve to be forced to be a de-facto proxy "welfare" state for Central and South America. The disequilibrium between our respective nations isn't the occasion for a liberal "guilt" for which we "save face" by letting in millions of needy refugees. That's idiotic.

Unknown said...

Not quite a "perfect proof." This is really a shamelessly silly rant. The Times may have felt some embarrassment on that account.

Curtis Faville said...

I think that a lot of the PC attitudinizing about immigration originates from people who have had little direct experience with the problems that immigration brings.

Living in Pennsylvania, or Washington State, it is perfectly possible to think of immigration as a trivial issue. People there tend to see it in terms of the European diaspora into America at the beginning of the 20th Century, to think of everything West of Chicago as an emptiness, broad, corrupt, and open-ended, somehow unreal. People in the Southwest are seen as wild, naive, and selfish.

Abbey actually grew up in Pennsylvania, and came West as a young man. In other words, he was an adopted Southwesterner. Those who "convert" to a religion are often credited with having the greatest devoutness, and Abbey's devotion to the Southwest was of this kind.

There are a dozen logical "weaknesses" in Abbey's essay, which he dutifully acknowledges. The American Indians relinquished--though not, of course "voluntarily" for the most part--the lands they occupied in North America. Does our recognizing this imply that we should follow suit?

It's convenient to think of people "across the border" as having an equal right to everything which we possess here. That's a generous, easy-to-credit sentiment; it sounds humanitarian. But the reality is that our relations--as a sovereign, self-contained nation--are determined by our lawful treaties and the open acknowledgment of our separate sovereignties and jurisdictions. If you pass over the border into Mexico, you cannot, and should not, expect any privileges or benefits not specifically authorized under law. Every nation undertakes to legislate passage and access along its borders, the conditions under which individuals may stay, or not, within its jurisdiction.

America's immigration policies have changed, over time, to meet changing conditions. We've gone well beyond a condition of "emptiness" in which we "need" people to "fill up" the country. That's well in the past. The priority, today, for every nation on earth, is to temper its growth, to limit population, and to husband its resources for an uncertain future. To do otherwise is folly.

The Time refused to publish the essay (article) because they felt it would be "implicated" in its content, almost as if it would have to run a disclaimer--"the views expressed herein..." etc.--to distance itself from the association. Abbey, after all, was presumed to be a liberal champion, and predictably PC.

But Abbey was essentially correct in his position, as anyone who has direct experience of the Mexican immigrant problem knows.

Our media has been overly tolerant of the "generous" interpretation of illegal immigration for some time. There are always two sides to every argument, and no one has all the right answers. But the majority of Americans across the political spectrum, generally acknowledge that we do need to have better control of our borders, and that we can no longer "afford" to believe that we can welcome everyone who wants to come here. You can disagree about the particulars of that, and about Abbey's "silliness"--but not the simple realities of his assertion. Mexican immigration needs to be controlled.

Unknown said...

"Controlled" by handing out guns at the border? That's silly. Profoundly silly. Any disagreement there?

I've lived in California all but six of my 59 years. Fourth generation on my mother's side. Which proves nothing. "Attitudinizing" in all its various forms doesn't seem to be particularly constrained by state or national borders. "Latitudinizing" either. Abbey has plenty of both. So does any blowhard on a corner stool. I'd pay every one of 'em a "kill fee" if I could. And chalk it up to "badly neglected internal affairs."

Curtis Faville said...

Obviously, the United States has literally been "handing out guns" to foreign nationals for the last 100 years. That's what we're doing presently in Afghanistan, just in case you'd forgotten. In addition to buying off local warlords. Reagan was vilified for fronting the Contras. How different is this from what we're doing in the Asian outback?

My point in bringing up geography. Our nation is divided in several ways. Red states versus blue states. Coastal versus interior people. I'm particularly bothered by people who "theorize" about the problems of absorption and assimilation without having to experience it up close and personal. Uncontrolled immigration isn't just about good burritos and smooth beds at the Motel 6. It's about union-busting, hospital busting, school busting, environmental exploitation, crime, ethnic friction, and losing the cultural battle to outsiders. If you feel so much self-loathing (or cultural guilt) that you literally would prefer to see California (and Arizona and New Mexico) returned to Mexico, then bully for you. You may get your wish. In the meantime, I don't think so.

Your condescension takes the form of hostility and censure. You'd like to shut people like Abbey up because they're not toeing the line. How dare he say exactly what's on his mind, prejudice included! Of course, some of us are prejudice-free (we'll tolerate anything, as long as we're sufficiently insulated consequences). My sympathies are perfectly selfish; I believe in things getting better. I'm not my brother's keeper.

Unknown said...

"Condescension" implies either descent or patronage. Neither's here.

You'd like to see Abbey as a bold brash "contrarian." I suppose he thought of himself that way, too. Tickets on sale at the door for those who choose to attend. To patronize, as they say.

I don't buy it, and you do. That's one of your lines, and you toe it from time to time. And sure, there's a certain rugged swagger to the pose.

What I miss, when you do, is the elegance and subtlety of mind you bring to, say, the Frost poem above or the Blackburn piece below. No one need condescend to those; they are your true contraries.

Curtis Faville said...



Well, I don't know, I suppose that label would fit one side of Abbey, the side that understood how to drum up interest and support for causes, to romanticize sentiment. That's the novelist's gift (Steinbeck had it), and it doesn't always ring true. Today I re-read The Grapes of Wrath, and I find my sympathy getting a little threadbare after 40 years.

The side of Abbey I do like was the solitary guy, skeptical, amusable, patient, suspicious of power and salesmanship. I remember how when I read Desert Solitaire I liked him immediately. My kind of man. The sort you'd like to hike with, maybe to prospect a good canyon with. Maybe even get drunk with, maybe.

I bear no individual man hatred, or disrespect. My dislike of illegals is generic. Any man I know, I share a bond with. Anyone strong, or desperate enough, to walk through the desert for 50 miles, without papers, to find work, is a man I admire, and have sympathy with.

But this mass influx has got to stop. Not because Mexicans are bad people, or because any individual one of them is immoral, or selfish, or criminal, but simply because too many will bring only hardship and more troubles, for us, for our country. It's a matter of numbers, sadly, and numbers and the effect of mass movements do have serious, often ghastly, consequences. Europe is experiencing the very same problems, and is struggling to deal with them.

This isn't a matter of "buying" what Abbey is selling, but of acknowledging that intelligent, sensitive people are willing to stand up to the Latino lobby and speak truth, instead of appeasing, and kicking the can down the road for the next administration (or generation). The Republicans want illegals because big agriculture and a few big corporations like having cheap, docile labor. The Democrats want them because they want more constituents--it's really that simple. Neither side acknowledges the harm that's done, and neither one has any desire to address it. That's corruption in its purist form.

We've had enough corruption, already. How about closing the border, addressing all the illegal residents on a case by case basis, and setting manageable limits on new quotas. Do you honestly think we can't or shouldn't do that.

People say we shouldn't because we can't. Or we can't because we shouldn't (take your pick). That's circular thinking at its best. And it makes absolutely no sense.

If you're a rational man, what's your solution? Or do you have one (other than throwing up your hands)?

Kirby Olson said...

I read a piece by Abbey years ago about how he wanted the elk to survive, but not the deer. Is that right? I was kind of appalled, but he had a clear preference and voiced it. That was permissible, but not this.

It would be interesting to make a list of articles that the New York Times (all the news that fits our viewpoint) will not run.

I was astonished by the clarity and force of the argument.

One thing even he couldn't say: South America stinks because it was anti-Reformation. North America functions because it was pro-Reformation.

Catholics were corrupt then, and their legacy remains corrupt. Mexico quite simply is totally corrupt. They have only the most rudimentary notions of law and order. This makes life impossible, and so people leave.

The New York Times would never allow the deeper paradigmatic aspects of the problem to be stated.

The truth is very difficult to state, but unless the description is accurate, the prescription can never come. Mexico needs to turn Protestant.

In those Hispanic speaking populations that HAVE turned Protestant (growing numbers of immigrant Puerto Ricans are evangelical Protestants) one never hears about any problems. They come up into the Catskills and take over towns, and the towns still function.

Because they're Protestants.

"Looking inside" is a Protestant feature.

Curtis Faville said...

Not a very pertinent take on the problem, Kirb.

You could make a case for the corruption in Latin America being at least partly caused by Catholic corruption, but people streaming North from Mexico is an economic fact, not a cultural one. Any corrupt nation breeds cynicism and pragmatic attitudes towards law and order. Any average Mexican is my friend, but illegal mass immigration is a disaster for any nation. You can call them undocumented workers, or you can call them refugees. The problems they cause don't change simply as a result of what we call them.

It's amusing that people get mad at me, instead of Edward Abbey. That's exactly what I predicted, and what I want(ed). When high profile people take unpopular or un-PC positions, then they have to be vilified. We can't have the right people saying the wrong things!

The New York Times censured Abbey because he wouldn't second their liberal biases. The editors at the Times had no idea or experience of the effects of illegal immigration; it was not their problem, so they could afford to be indulgent and generous and superior. Anyone who actually lived/lives with the problem didn't/doesn't have that luxury. There is nothing like freedom of the press in this country--we have only competing partisanships.

jh said...

kirby the stench of south africa had little to do with catholicism or sentiments about reformation it has more to do with racist policy which derive from protestant thinking the boers were protestant the dutch and germans of south africa were almost all protestant

in mexico the decadence didn't come from the churches it came from ideas which were derived from early 20th century adaptations of 19th century social philosophy which were in effect bolstered on the principles of protestantism and the notions of progress and of course marx can never be ignored anymore

after 1910 it was illegal for priests and nuns to be seen on the streets of mexico in their religious habits...whatever strength anyone was getting from the church there in the past 100 yrs had to be gotten rather clandestinely...only with the last president FOX before the present one was the social policy rescinded

the unknown story of success in s africa is the quiet way in which catholics interceded on behalf of everyone joined to the cause of a better was largely a quiet affair no press just daily persistent working for justice with the people who were in most need...most catholic prelates expressed irritation with desmond tutu because he appeared as a real troublemaker and the way things backfire in social conflict was enough for him to be cast in the light of a troublemaker

it is a little surprising to me to read the words of entrenched xenophobia expressed herein
i mean
who's the intruder who is the problem
mightn't the pretensions of american culture be as much to blame as the cultural desperation of the hispanics

curtis you seem to be reading the whole problem along with abbey as one akin to a serious medical condition one calling for amputation or radiation treatment something to curtail the problem like chemotherapy or something

i realize you live in the midst of the dramatic hotbed of latino american social conflict but it would seem that the real work is for people to think beyond radical cure-all measures and accept the reality as it is today it ain't going to change and i rather doubt that the severests surest policy is going to impede the force of immigration common to humanity...i'd like the UN to get to work to make immigration more a world wide motion people should be able to go anywhere with relative ease

mexico should make it really easy for americans to go and stay there

mexico as a culture is fully 200 yrs older than what we call american...mexico never had a policy of placing the natives on reservation...they were permitted to live as they wanted...many of their (the indigenous) cosmic agrarian rituals survived within the context of roman catholic ritual

where i agree with you on this whole thing curtis is the idea that we have a lot of work to do right here in our own yard
and i would take it one step further
the problem lies more with us
than it does with the hispanic people

sometimes the doctors set out to cure the cancer and lo and behold it was only the flu
sometimes they amputate the wrong limb
sometimes they harvest the wrong organ

groups of hispanics could take up residence on farms from texas to minnesota and cultivate what they need to survive and thrive and we'd all probably eat better food

were to to pause and learn form our south of the border neighbors we'd be a bit more humble and we woudl not shy away from hard work adn we'd know how to retain our dignity in the most wretched of human circumstances...and we'd dance the salsa


Steven Fama said...

If I was editor of the NY Times (ha ha ha) I'd sign off on printing this as an op-ed piece, on a free-speech type basis, even with its fallacies and screwy viewpoints, right up to the final paragraph.

That direct suggestion that we take action to help people go kill other people is extremely disturbing. I wouldn't print it.

Unknown said...

I'm trying to picture myself toeing the line and throwing up my hands at the same time. It's a comical picture, but I'm not sure it's entirely accurate.

From a rational point of view, I'd start by taking an objective look at the true extent of the problem. I'm not an economist by trade, but the major studies I've seen seem to suggest that the costs (in terms of social services and the like) are more or less a wash compared to the benefits (increased productivity and so on). It's reasonable to dispute the meaning or the validity of the figures involved, or to argue that the trends may have a negative direction, but overall, from a purely selfish point of view, it doesn't appear like illegal immigration is a particularly urgent crisis or significant current threat to our economic well being.

Second, again from a rational point of view, I'd consider the billions of dollars of imports to the U.S. from Latin America. We import because the goods are cheap; the goods are cheap in no small part because, by our standards, working conditions and compensation are substandard. Export growth is a two-edged sword in developing countries. The economy grows, but traditional ways of life and previously self-sustainable local economies are often disrupted. The environmental costs that I'm sure Mr. Abbey would have noted are also fairly evident. The role of the IMF and the WTO in exacerbating these trends is well documented. On the whole, profits flow north and poverty flows south; when that flow is disrupted, we tend to "meddle," as Mr. Abbey notes. You and I benefit from the goods that ship and from the increased wealth that results. We prosper from it. It may be rational, again from a selfish point of view, to say we want to keep our gains. But it's a bit disingenuous to say that what goes on on that side of the border or the poverty that sends some undocumented workers north isn't partly our responsibility, or that the whole multi-national operation reflects some sort of generosity on our part.

All told, if the economic issues aren't all that harmful to us, then the amount of attention the issue receives must have some other source. Some politicians get elected on anti-immigrant rhetoric. That's a an old standby in American politics. My mother gets annoyed and complains when her neighbors speak Spanish. Of course, she's never gotten along well with her neighbors and likes to have something to complain about. For some of our fellow citizens, the complaints take an uglier tone. White votes have value; so do Latino votes. I suppose that's a rational calculation on both sides of the political aisle.

In the end, like Mr. Abbey, I'd like to see more social and economic justice in our neighbors' houses -- though I don't think that handing out firearms at the border is a practical solution. I'd like to see more justice in our own house, for that matter. I don't think it's entirely irrational to believe or perhaps hope that the poor are not necessarily poor in spirit. I wish them well in their struggles, and I hope they wish us well in ours.

Curtis Faville said...

Steven: I think we have to take that last paragraph in the spirit in which it's written. Abbey is saying, in effect, that if we can't deal in an effective and positive way with a neighboring government, we're not in a position to take responsibility for all their refugees. Refugees are a serious international problem--there's no use in our not admitting that this is basically what we're dealing with here, i.e., people living in such dire poverty that they're almost literally migrating in order to save their lives, if not find something like naked hope in face of social hopelessness. Mexico has in effect said to the international community "fuck these stupid peasants, you can bloody well take our excess poor legally or illegally, we wash our hands of the matter." The answer to that should be "oh, yeah, then we'll support a revolution to depose your asses!"

That sounds swaggery enough, I'd guess, but the gruffness of it more or less equates to the enormity of the problem. Taking de-facto "stateless" (i.e., people whose country has abandoned them) in and giving them new lives and help and everything else is a huge burden, and not to taken lightly. The numbers we're talking about are staggering. When you think about it this way, guns don't sound out of the question at all.

If you disagree with someone, the best way to print every single word they say: If it's as absurd and impractical as you believe, that will come out in the end. Censoring--except for sex on children--is just stupid.

Kirby Olson said...

The real story of s. Africa that also isn't reported in the NYT is that the place has more or less fallen apart. Everyone who can get out does. Crime has shot up. The place is a misery fest.

It's not Mexico yet, but most people who've been there inform me that it's well on its way.

Curtis Faville said...

Kirk: Your post betrays your ignorance of the facts. You repeat the usual litany of vague apologetics about the real impact of Latin American immigration upon America.

I could link you to some interesting immigration information sites, but I suspect you'd find them unpleasant and a little urgent-sounding for your taste. One of them is here ( The best parts are the facts and figures--check out the "facts, figures and addendum" section.

I'm not looking for converts, I'd just like to see people demand answers and open debate, instead of clamming up in fear of reprisal from immigrants' rights figures and organizations, which accuse Americans of racism and selfishness whenever the subject of immigration control comes up.

Like most educated people who live in relative prosperity, you're unlikely to feel much concern or interest in the effects of illegal immigration. You feel insulated and safe. You turn on the television and hear stories about Iraq and Afghanistan. A little boy in Northwest Pakistan goes without diapers for a week; another has an eye out from a wayward explosion. These are heart-wrenching stories. Americans are dying to save the world for democracy.

But here at home, things are changing. The middle class is disappearing. The standard of living is sinking. Our population of poor is growing fast. National, State and local budgets are collapsing. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Meanwhile, we're worried about the poor in Asia.

We have the same problems here in this hemisphere, and they're rapidly infiltrating this country. Wake up and educate yourself. Don't sit idly by, nursing your comfortable assumptions.

If you prefer to pretend that these problems will simply take care of themselves, that's your privilege. But at least keep yourself informed.

Steven Fama said...

It's the NY Times, not the government, that didn't print this. You can call it censorship, but it's a different kind. As a private company, they can do what they want. You can take the final 'graph iun any type of spirit you choose, but it still it comes down to a call to kill. Sorry, I wouldn't print it for that reason, and it'd be an easy decision.

Curtis Faville said...

Steven: Not because they can, but because they shouldn't. That's the difference.

They didn't censure it because it incited violence--they censured it because it violated their sub rosa editorial assumption. They couldn't be "seen" to be authorizing a difference of opinion by someone who was otherwise "clean." But by doing so, they merely made themselves look silly. Not running the story was worse than running it. If they had run it, people would probably have been as embarrassed for him (and his assertions) as the Times was of its own potential association. The Times blew it. Abbey called their bluff, and he won. Censorship of political opinion is worse than any opinion, especially in a case like this, where the opinion has a strong current of sense.

jh said...

that is a great insight curtis the whole bluff calling i could imagine abbey doing that forcing the absurdity of the issue that way

good call and i re-read the essay in that light

cormac mccarthy's insights on the american immigration into mexico are instructive as well

i don't mean to belittle the problem i do perceive it more as a very difficult marriage from which there will be no easy divorce or seperation for that matter

all your posts are great


Kirby Olson said...

I liked the article but hated the idea of giving rifles to those unable to cross the border.

Better to give them a Martin Luther compendium.

Rifles wouldn't change the manner of thinking of Mexico.

Martin Luther, would.

Dillenberger's Selections would be a good start.

Unknown said...


I visited the website you linked. It’s true, I didn’t find it to my taste. I found a good many predetermined conclusions, set out in a jumbled conflation of poorly sourced statistics. Most disturbing is a pervasive sleight of hand which attributes every cost that can possibly be associated with resident Hispanics or other foreign-born residents to illegal immigrants.

One example: the site claims that an unsourced "report" notes that some $45 billion was sent "south" by illegals in 2006. A somewhat improbable figure, given that in order to save that amount of cash the entire population of illegal men, women and children would need to be fully employed at twice the minimum wage and to be so thrifty that they save at at least 10 times the rate of the rest of the U.S. population.

It's easy enough to discover from other sources (e.g., the Inter-American Development Bank) that the $45 billion is an estimate of the total of immigrant remittances to Latin America. No doubt, illegals contribute some of that amount. But the website’s figure is entirely misleading as any sort of measurement of the actual cost of illegal immigration.

Similar distortions and exaggerations appear to underlie many of the other figures. Most grownups of my acquaintance view such obviously biased sources with the skepticism they deserve. But if misinformation of this kind is the true source of your concern, I can see why your alarm has risen to such a pitch.

It leads you to accuse me of indifference, or worse. I’d think it’s equally irresponsible to take convenient fictions for fact, or to encourage others to share in your own apparent gullibility. The danger of this kind of fear mongering is that the true dimensions of the problem disappear behind clouds of fabricated hysteria and manufactured crisis.

Of course, you're free to ride this hobbyhorse as often as you like. And to do so uncensored by the limits of common sense or grade school mathematics. I fear, though, that you’ll need to do a good deal better if you expect your readers to take you as a source of informed opinion on the subject.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for the considered reply--I might have said considerate, but your august condescending tone doesn't warrant that level of gratitude.

You're right--I wouldn't ordinarily feel comfortable referencing an amateurish informational website of the kind I gave you, but like all forms of true propaganda, it's full of exaggerations and platitudes. Nevertheless, it approaches the subject from the opposite point of view of the prevailing media organs of our day, and serves the purpose of offering a contrary argument to the complacent, apologetic drivel we're mostly given by the alphabet networks.

You should understand that I'm under no obligation either to defend Abbey's essay, or to help you understand a problem, or set of problems, which have proven so far to be largely insoluble by our Federal and State governments. That's your job, not mine. Abbey's essay--his opinions--comes from a better informed source than either of us; he lived for decades in the desert states, and was intimately familiar with the immediate realities of uncontrolled immigration. He understood its historical roots, and the ways in which it had changed over time. The fact that there may be some exaggerated numbers being thrown around does not suggest that my concern is either hysterical, or that I'm attempting to engage in fear mongering. I don't want any followers, thank you very much.

Statistics can be made to lie. The point about these is that--even at a fraction of the totals cited--for instance, regarding the $45 billion being sent south: Reliable figures I've seen put that number at $25 billion--these are disturbing numbers. Exaggerated statistics should not suggest, on the contrary, that there is nothing to be concerned about.

"Most grown-up"...well, most grown-ups don't care about illegal immigration, because they think it doesn't touch them. And they may well be right. Leg me give you an example of how it touches me.

Over the last 25 years, the construction trades organizations in this region have largely disappeared, or fallen into obscurity. Carpenters, electricians, brick-layers, roofers, plumbers, sheet-rock installers, painters, pipe-fitters, welders--all the usual skilled labor positions--have been beaten back by the availability of dirt-cheap, untrained, unregulated illegal laborers. These people will work for a fraction of what tradespeople would traditionally accept, though they have no legal rights, no identity papers, do not pay taxes, social security, etc.

End Part I

Curtis Faville said...

Part II

Americans still think that Mexican "farm workers" will do work "Americans won't do". But the building trades once were the backbone of the local economy. Outside of factory work, these jobs were what kept capital moving. Tradespeople were skilled, insured, responsible members of American society. They spent their money here, paid their taxes, and belonged.

But the illegals changed all that. Once confined to farm work, Central American immigrants now compete for all un-, semi- and skilled labor jobs throughout the economy.

This breeds several kinds of corruption. Unscrupulous American contractors, driven out of business themselves, hire "street" laborers, then contract out to customers for the work that once was done competently by qualified tradespeople, pocketing the difference between what the scabs are paid, and what these "business owners" charge their middle-class customers.

It's become very difficult to find competent workmen to perform any task. I've been unable to get a fence built, re-dig my sewer line, fix my shower, or re-roof my house, because it's nearly impossible to find a bonafide American who will do the work. Invariably, one meets an American who bids the job, then "delivers" the workers (picked up on the street in the morning), usually a scraggly bunch, unshaven, dirty, shiftless, who are then "supervised" to do the job.

There is nothing particularly noble about poverty. These people want the same things that you and I want, but they happen to live in the wrong country. That's a problem which neither you nor I is in a position to remedy. We can't transform the Mexican (and other Central and South American) government(s) into something more satisfyingly democratic and responsible--even if we wanted to. But we do live in a sovereign nation, and our government has laws and regulations which address the issue of immigration.

Granted that you probably haven't thought about theses problem much--after all, it's a pretty boring topic when compared to literature--are you willing to engage it sufficiently even to have opinions that aren't simply reflexive tactical maneuvers (like calling people "racists" and "fear mongers")? If so, then perhaps you'd like to address them in a constructive way. If your answer is that you're too busy to do this, then you might consider not weighing in on at all, since your opinions aren't likely to be of much value in a debate. I'm not claiming that mine are either, on the contrary. But at least I don't resort to pat homilies and a vague sense of "intellectual skepticism" to shield myself from doubt and argument.

Politically, I've been a liberal Democrat all my life, but the immigration issue is where I change allegiance. I've seen the consequences up close and personal, and I'm tired of people pretending and equivocating, in an effort to seem empathetic and objective. The time for that kind of vacillation is long past.

Unknown said...

For Christ's sake, Curtis, no one here has called you or anyone else a racist. I'm sorry about your home improvement problems, but they aren't exactly the end of western civilization as we know it.

Curtis Faville said...


If I can set your sarcasm aside for a moment....

The point of my example of PERSONAL FIRST-HAND experience was to furnish some evidence that I might have some justice for my opinion.

I remember I was photographing with my large format camera up on the Olympic Peninsula once, and a family of 5 or 6 came hiking along, and we exchanged a few words. "Where are you from?" they asked. "California," I replied. "Ugh," they almost said in unison, "why do you keep sending up all these darn Mexicans?"

I thought: Now that's an interesting turn. Being held accountable for those darn Mexicans migrating up into apple-picking country.

Let's lighten up a little.

You as good as called me NOT a grown-up, a fear-monger, naive without common sense or a knowledge of grade-school mathematics, riding my hobby horse of bias and irresponsibility.

You don't address the issue (illegal immigration); it's really of no interest to you. You're not curious or interested in it. You've never investigated the data on the subject, but you don't need to. You're always right because you're an intelligent guy. Intelligent guys don't have wrong opinions.

If you were a union carpenter who'd lost his livelihood to Mexican scab labor, you wouldn't be quite so sarcastic. The point about this isn't my difficulty in finding a contractor, but the real damage illegal scab labor causes in our society as a whole. I'm giving you first-hand evidence, but that's just trivial whining to you. You're above such things.

Your attitude about that is sheer contemptuous belligerence. That's your ego speaking, not your intelligence. Your haughty superciliousness betrays you.

Try being practical, instead of theoretical. Can this problem be remedied? Who's responsible?

But that's not your affair.

I care about my fellow citizens. I don't think you do.

Unknown said...

Well, Curtis, ad hominem attacks seem to be quite a speciality of yours as well. If you'll stop analyzing my character, I'll leave yours to improve itself as best it can.

In point of fact, I have studied the issue. Studied it enough to conclude that if it does have a negative economic impact, that impact is a very small part of the problems that do threaten my fellow citizens. I said as much more than a few posts ago. I'm not an economist, but I do work with money and I have reason to believe I can tell the difference between sound economic analysis and political rhetoric. I tend to agree with economists like Gordon Hanson and Philip Martin at UC Davis who conclude that labor migration is a process to be managed, not a crisis to be solved. That's not indifference or laziness or condescension or political correctness or superciliousness or any of the other labels you've pasted on me. That's a considered and diligently informed judgment, and I didn't find any facts or opinions on the website you linked that would lead me to change it.

Here's your opportunity to tell me again how ignorant and incurious and close-minded I am and all the rest of it. Take it if you must.

I've also formed the conclusion that illegal immigration is a political red herring. A distraction that puts people in office who prevent meaningful progress on issues I consider more important to myself, and, again, my fellow citizens.

In further point of fact, I come from a blue collar background. I'm all for decent work and decent wages. I have friends who are carpenters and union organizers and professionals with expertise in immigration issues. I haven't sat idly by; over the years, I've volunteered my time and support to organizations that I believe will help improve the lives of working people. I'm prepared to believe that you've done the same. I'm perfectly willing to acknowledge the shared concern, concede sincerity on both sides, and let the differences in judgment pass without further insult or exaggeration.

Curtis Faville said...

The proverbial dead horse has begun to smell, Kirk.

Let's call it a day.

Citizenship Application said...

"Or if we must meddle, as we have always done, let us meddle for a change in a constructive way." It was well said. I mean generally, anything can be settled rightly only if we know the best way for everyone.

Anonymous said...

The Latino immigrants I know are bringing with them the same problems they've tried to escape while coming here.

They work for peanuts. No effective trade unions can last while employers have this bountiful supply of, as Abbey said "cheap, frightened and docile" workforce. To break unions and strike fear into native born workers.

I also have not seen Latinos moderate their propensity to breed more children than the economy has room for. Their are after all predominantly Roman Catholic. Perfect for our oppressors. Those who own real estate love them for driving up rents and property prices. And as stated before employers, corporations LOVE the ruination of the living wage economy.

And the three out of four Latinos I know are more racist than the Ku Klux Klan. They really like to think they're smarter and superior than White people. Even as their timid presence and wholesale priced labor drives the living standard of the USA into Third World territory. I suggest that those who doubt me work a year or so in close contact with Latinos. With just a few honorable exception you will find that they are clannish and will refuse to socialize with you if you are not one of them.

They don't like you.

In short? Abbey was 100% dead right on. Close all borders to immigration legal or otherwise.

Anonymous said...

"But the Indians were foolish, and divided, and failed to keep our WASP ancestors out."
Sadly he was misinformed about the basic history of America. Good example of what a life of drugs and alcohol can do to you.

Curtis Faville said...

Dear Anon:

I'm against anonymous comments, but I put yours up there just as an example.

If you don't have the courage of your opinions, why hide behind anonymity?

You offer no explanation about why the writer is wrong, and accuse him (without proof) of substance abuse.

You are stupid, and unprincipled.

Anonymous said...

If only Abbey had lived to see Trump!

Andrew said...

This is actually a great thread.

Abbey provides no reasons for his position other than too many people make things bad. His only experience seems to have been with Mexicans, though now people are complaining about Indians, Chinese, Sudanese, Bangladeshis, Salvadorans, etc.

Curtis' arguments are kind of funny: that he can't get people to come and fix his shower who aren't scraggly and dirty. I fail to see how the presence of immigrants prevents any native born from attending to his leaks. Perhaps he could, well, learn to fix his own shower?

Anti-immigration sentiment has little to no economic basis. El Paso is doing just fine, thank you. As is pretty much all of California and Chicago and New York and Washington, D.C. and all the cities that seem to draw immigrants, illegal or otherwise. For a clear example have a look at the small cities that have accepted packing plants and the immigrants that come with them and compare them to the cities that said "no". People beget economic activity.

But back to Abbey. The problem that he was worried about -- too many people -- is taking care of itself. Birth rates are falling the world over and especially in rich countries. Statistics project that without immigration into the US, the population will have noticeably fallen, not risen, by 2035. Falling populations may have pleased Abbey in that his beloved wilderness would see less destruction and fewer interlopers, but for a modern society, it creates real problems. Those problems aren't insurmountable, but they will take a change in attitude to address. See Japan as a most relatable example.

Kirk was right. Immigrants are used as a scapegoat for the problems in the US. My parents used to live in a location where they had trouble finding good help to fix showers and such (mostly because it was remote). I suggested that they sponsor someone to go to trade school conditioned on staying put for some length of time. They thought it was a good idea, but they did nothing about it. Why some think others should hang around to serve their needs without real incentive to do so always struck me as strange. That people don't want to do sewer work for someone else says something about the pay for the work and the privileged expectation that someone should be around to provide the service, but not much about immigration.

Curtis Faville said...


Thanks for your comment.

I wish you'd identify yourself, because talking to anonymous strangers is a little frustrating.

You say--

"Immigrants are used as a scapegoat for the problems in the US. My parents used to live in a location where they had trouble finding good help to fix showers and such (mostly because it was remote)."

By "remote" you must mean some place with a small population. There never used to be problems getting contractors in small towns. In fact, most people tended to be a bit more self-reliant. In addition, people in rural places tend to hire out for labor jobs, since work can be hard to come by otherwise.

But your argument is dumb in other ways. If my automobile engine goes on the fritz, I have every right to expect that I can hire someone to fix it, not some uneducated scab who never had any training, who was not authorized to work, who was living illegally in this country, who had no insurance, etc. You wouldn't expect me to fix my own car. I wouldn't expect you to do your own plumbing, or to install your own roof. Increased self-reliance isn't the answer to illegal scab labor.

"Curtis' arguments are kind of funny: that he can't get people to come and fix his shower who aren't scraggly and dirty. I fail to see how the presence of immigrants prevents any native born from attending to his leaks. Perhaps he could, well, learn to fix his own shower?"

There isn't anything funny here. If I need to get a plumber to fix my sewer line, I have every right to expect that a legal contractor with training and expeience, can repair it. It would be stupid for me to try to do this job. It's not my trade. I very much doubt whether you, Andrew, would be able to fix anything where you live. That isn't funny.

The decimation of the building trades as a result of scab illegal laborers by unscrupulous exploiters is a real problem. It takes jobs from Americans, degrades the quality of the trades, and is the occasion for all kinds of illegal activity. Cheap labor is always the aim of unscrupulous business-people, and of the Republican agenda. Union busting, scab labor, illegals--they're all expressions of the same brand of corruption. That you don't understand this simple relationship is astonishing. In a larger sense, it's part of a larger problem which we cal "globalization."

"Why some think others should hang around to serve their needs without real incentive to do so always struck me as strange. That people don't want to do sewer work for someone else says something about the pay for the work and the privileged expectation that someone should be around to provide the service, but not much about immigration."

Artificially low-paid labor was a problem that was addressed in the 1930's and 1940's. Most of the benefits of strong, legal labor were achieved through hard work and sacrifice by our parents and grandparents. Where did your people come from, Andrew? Many of the "dads" who lived in the neighborhoods I grew up in were tradespeople and contractors. Those legitimate "legal: jobs don't exist in our economy any more, because cheap illegals have moved in and usurped them.

You're just another complacent liberal slob. Get a mind. Get a life. Get a clue.

Robert said...

It's 2020, and we now know every single thing Abbey printed in this 1988 is true and accurate, and has largely come to pass.
Thank you so much for reposting this article.

Anonymous said...

1. I have yet to meet a Latino who supports public lands.
2. It wasn't that long ago that Pope John Paul II, while on a tour of Latin America, asked the question, "why is Latin America so poor?" Why indeed?