The Nation's Pulse

Primo de Mayo

In endorsing the proposed May Day strike, California Democrats will succeed only in producing a significant backlash against illegal immigrants.

By 5.1.06

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In endorsing the proposed May Day strike by all illegal immigrants and their political allies, the Democrats in the California State Senate may have thought they were taking a principled stand "about the tremendous contribution [illegal] immigrants make on a daily basis to our society and economy." Ironically, however, by supporting the boycott, its proponents have called for an action that will succeed only in producing a significant backlash against the cause they purport to advance.

For the proposed strike is un-American at its core. Some European countries, and some in South America, may agitate for social change through large-scale general strikes that seek to disrupt the country as a whole. That has never been the American way, in part because our democratic republic has been quite effective at giving a voice to those who are, in fact, eligible to participate in it. In the United States, strikes are narrowly targeted to the industry engaging in collective bargaining with the striking union -- and, in fact, workers and management alike largely try to minimize inconvenience to unrelated third parties. In contrast, the point of Monday's exercise is to maximize the inconvenience to American citizens as a whole.

Through seeking to establish a new practice of taking to the streets -- not simply as a way to voice a point of view, but with an explicit goal of causing damage to the economy -- illegal immigrants and their allies send precisely the wrong message. Rather than emphasizing their love for and loyalty to America, the strike stresses participants' hostility to or alienation from mainstream American political practices and traditions. That's hardly an effective tactic for engendering broad-based support for a path to American citizenship.

Nor are many Americans likely to be swayed by the unspoken threat behind the boycott: That the United States can't function without illegal immigrants. Whether it's a result of our cowboy heritage or pioneer past, anyone with a clue about the heart of America would realize that its citizens don't respond well to intimidation, implicit or explicit.

In fact, the tactic of employing threats to make a political point shows a fundamental ignorance of the basically generous, decent and just nature of the American people. Proponents of legalization would have been much better advised to walk in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King -- who realized that the best way to obtain redress of much more severe and longstanding social injustices was through appealing to Americans' better natures.

But illegal immigrants and their allies have, in large part, chosen a different path. And as a result, they've placed themselves in a difficult position, whatever the outcome of Monday's general strike. If the boycott is highly effective and results in economic damage, underserved emergency rooms and other significant social dislocation, illegals will have only succeeded in exacerbating distrust of their motives and unease about their presence in this country. On the other hand, if nothing much happens, the message will be quite the opposite of what they intended: That America can function quite nicely without them, thank you.

Perhaps it's time for proponents of legalization to rethink their approach to the entire debate. Through their strike, illegals betray a mindset suggesting that their contribution to America is, and would be, primarily economic. What they don't seem to understand is that many, many Americans are willing to give them a full hearing and a fair shake -- but only if we are convinced that the people seeking to earn citizenship in the United States are doing it, not for a paycheck, but out of a real love for this country and a sincere desire to become proud, patriotic Americans.

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