Tag: illegal immigration


I’m a big fan of ideas that are supported by hard data. In fact, if you’ve read a few of my posts, you’ve seen that I don’t just assert that climate change is real, vaccines are safe and effective, and that immigration is down. I back up these claims with facts.

So it’s no surprise that I listen to the Freakonomics podcast, where a couple of academics analyze and verify and quantify all kinds of concepts that are supposedly unquantifiable.

That’s where I found out that free parking is a scourge, tipping is racially motivated, and learning Spanish is a waste of time.

Wait, what was that last one? It’s a shocker.


Well, the researchers at Freakonomics discovered that learning Spanish increases your income by less than 2 percent. They concluded that the effort you put into learning how to conjugate “decir” doesn’t justify a measly 2 percent income boost. It constitutes poor ROI (that’s “return on investment” for you non-economist types).

Now, it’s depressing to think that nativists have a fact-based argument for dissing Spanish. So you’ll be relieved to hear that there is more to the story.

Additional research has shown that learning a second language (it doesn’t have to be Spanish) has advantages that go beyond income.

For example, bilingual people have more nimble brains and seem to ward off Alzheimer’s more effectively. And Americans who speak another language appear to display greater awareness and empathy for other cultures.

So it just might be worth it to learn Spanish, after all. But the key is to learn is while you are young, so that the process is quicker and less labor-intensive, thereby leading to greater ROI.

OK, that last sentence has convinced that maybe I have been listening to far too many economists lately.


WTF, Indeed

Yes, that was me driving down Sunset Boulevard while listening to a podcast on grammar. I was keepin’ it real.

Although I’m usually blaring an audio book, I’ve recently gotten into listening to podcasts, which I know puts me behind the curve, but who’s keeping track of such things?

In any case, I tuned into a few episodes of Marc Maron’s WTF. I listened to the much-hyped interview with President Obama (very cool to hear the leader of the free world in a relaxed setting) and also tuned into the Robert Rodriguez interview (that guy is a one-man Latino empire).

But for me, the most intense moment of my WTF crash course was Maron’s interview with Sir Ian McKellen.


I’m a big fan, of course. In fact, if I had to have my life narrated, I would choose his voice to do the honors.

McKellen ended his interview by performing a Shakespearan monologue. And he didn’t go with an old favorite like Richard III’s opening speech or King Lear’s crazy talk.

No, he picked an obscure passage from Thomas More (not really a Shakespeare play) that was all about… wait for it… immigration.

I have to believe that someone has socially conscious as McKellen did not pick this speech by accident.

As others have pointed out, McKellen “managed to make a strong moral point, important to the current social and political situation… merely by doing what he is most famous for, reciting Shakespeare beautifully.”

Here is the beginning of McKellen’s monologue:

Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,

Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,

And that you sit as kings in your desires,

Authority quite silent by your brawl.


It goes on, asking the listener what he would do if he had to leave his country:

As but to banish you, whether would you go?

What country, by the nature of your error,

Should give you harbor?


And it ends in breathtakingly powerful fashion:

Would you be pleased

To find a nation of such barbarous temper,

That, breaking out in hideous violence,

Would not afford you an abode on earth,

Whet their detested knives against your throats,

Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God

Owed not nor made not you, nor that the elements

Were not all appropriate to your comforts,

But chartered unto them, what would you think

To be thus used? This is the stranger’s case;

And this is your mountanish inhumanity.


The Paranoia Cha Cha

Recently, I wrote about the fear and loathing that many Americans have for immigrants in general and for Latino immigrants in particular.


Hispanic immigrants are, to hear some people talk, hell-bent on bringing death and destruction across the border. Well, as we all know (or should know), immigration — both legal and undocumented — is way down over the past few years. So that surge at the border is greatly exaggerated.

Furthermore, numerous studies have found that “immigrants—regardless of nationality or legal status—are less likely than the native population to commit violent crimes or to be incarcerated.”

The nativist ignores that part about “regardless of nationality or legal status,” and says, “Well, sure. Those good immigrants from Europe and maybe India aren’t committing crimes. It’s the illegals!”

Sorry, but the data shows that while the undocumented population more than tripled between 1990 and 2013, the violent crime rate declined 48 percent. And violent crime continues to go down across America.

In addition, a separate paper explains that it’s not “well-behaved, high-skilled immigrants from India and China offsetting misdeeds of Latin American newcomers.” The study shows that “for every ethnic group without exception, incarceration rates among young men are lowest for immigrants.” And in a stat sure to annoy conservative alarmists, this “holds true especially for the Mexicans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans who make up the bulk of the undocumented population.”

Digging deeper into the data, we find that immigrant adolescents — often portrayed in the media as a swarm of Latin King gangbangers — are in fact, “statistically less likely to engage in delinquent behaviors, such as fighting, selling drugs, binge drinking, carrying guns, or using marijuana and other illegal drugs” than their peers.

So if immigrants — even the undocumented Hispanic ones — aren’t committing all these crimes, who is? Or to paraphrase a not-so-wise man, “Who is doing all the raping?”

The answer seems to be, “Americans.” The immigrant boogeyman is no match for born-and-bred craziness.

Now, if we eliminate the immigrant subcategory and look at crime rates among Hispanics, we get a more nuanced picture.

A study shows that Latinos made up about 16.6 percent of all arrests, comparable to our percentage of the US population. We are sadly overrepresented in some categories (e.g., motor vehicle theft) and underrepresented in others (e.g., there are few Latino embezzlers). One stat I found interesting is that Hispanics have a very low rate of offenses against family members and children (6.2 percent of all arrests). Clearly, the legendary emphasis that Latinos place on family isn’t just talk.

In any case, one of the more disturbing aspects of the study is the following: For all the fears that white people have about being victims of crime (often at the hands of some swarthy minority), it is Hispanics who should be concerned.

For example, the homicide rate for Latinos is double the rate for white people.

And Latinos experience a higher rate of hate crime than whites or blacks. The data shows that the rate of hate crime incidents against Latinos is slightly higher than the rate for blacks. And the Hispanic rate is more than triple that of whites.

So perhaps it is we Latinos who should be saying, “Crime is out of control” and locking ourselves up in gated communities.

Hey, don’t rule it out.



A New Wave

A subtle shift is taking place. I’m referring, of course, to the news that Asians will eventually overtake Latinos as the largest source of immigration.

Yes, recent data shows that fifty years from now, “Hispanics are expected to make up 31% of immigrants. Asians, on the other hand, will outnumber Hispanics and make up 38% of immigrants.”

Wow, this is news. After all, the words “immigrant” and “Hispanic” have been interchangeable for decades now, at least in the minds of many Americans. And to be clear, Latinos are still the largest immigrant group, making up almost half (47 percent) of all immigrants in the United States.

But as we all know, immigration from Latin America has slowed in recent years. In fact, a steep decline began in 2007, mostly because the Great Recession had kicked in, and El Norte looked a lot less appealing that it had previously.

What this all means is that the percentage of new arrivals who are Hispanic is actually smaller than it was 50 years ago. Yes, despite all you’ve heard about the border being overrun, the fact is that immigration — both documented and undocumented — is down over the last decade. And in a shocker, “the percentage of the total U.S. population born outside this country was higher in 1890 than it is today.”

So what does this mean for Asians, who are the new face of immigration? Well, they appear to be in pretty good shape.

A recent poll found that “immigrants from Asia fare best when it comes to how Americans view them, with 47% seeing them in a positive light. Only 11% see Asians negatively.”

In stark contrast, “immigrants from Latin America are viewed positively by only 26% of those surveyed and are seen negatively by 37%.”

A natural question, of course, is why are Latino immigrants the object of so much loathing?

Well, there are the usual strands of xenophobia based on skin color, language, and cultural differences. But if I had to pick the biggest reason for the disgust many Americans feel for Hispanics, it is the perception, fueled by certain presidential candidates and professional buffoons, that Latinos are a pack of bloodthirsty, sociopathic criminals.

It’s what marketing pros call a branding issue.

And how bad, and ultimately misguided, is this perception?

Well, that’s a whole other post (yes, coming soon).


Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.


Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.


Wishing and Waiting

I’ve edited over 100 books, from thriller novels to dense histories to self-help diatribes. Only a few of those books have lodged in my memory.

Among them was a manual written by a prepper. If you don’t know this term, it refers to someone who makes active plans to survive a catastrophic disaster, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies, and/or by creating some kind of well-protected shelter.

Preppers anticipate calamities ranging from a worldwide economic collapse to a military coup d’état to a Katrina-style cataclysm to, well, just about anything big and scary.

The book was well-written, and the author was intelligent and polite. And even if I found his worldview to be a bit, shall we say, paranoid, it would be incorrect to write him and his peers off as lunatics.

After all, if there’s ever an extinction-level asteroid impact or a zombie attack, then preppers will have the last laugh.



But what struck me about the author’s mindset wasn’t his fear-based attention to detail and insistence that sooner or later, all the shit will hit all the fans.

No, it was my realization that at a certain point, he was no longer preparing for a worst-case disaster. He was actively hoping for it.

You see, if his doomsday predictions never materialize, he has wasted a great deal of time, money, and effort for absolutely nothing. Indeed, he will have squandered a solid chunk of his life, while pinning his very self-identity on nonsense.

So a lot of preppers aren’t just waiting for end times. They are counting on catastrophe to justify their life’s work, even if this wish is subconscious.

How does this relate to the current political climate?

Well, look no further than the renewed demonization of immigrants and, by extension, all Latinos.

We have major political candidates (who shall not be named) who imply hordes of Hispanics are swarming into this country for the express purpose of raping and murdering Americans — that is, when they’re not pumping out “anchor babies” and stealing jobs.

Of course, fear-based campaigning — especially among conservatives — has a long and effective history.


And it’s tempting to dismiss GOP shrieking as a side effect of the party’s reliance on religious fervor and apocalyptic thinking. Keep in mind that about 20 percent of Republicans honestly believe that Obama is the antichrist.

But while building upon those ignoble foundations, this new conservative mindset amounts to something else.

You see, those on the right wing who despise Latinos (and there are many) aren’t just motivated by personal gain. They are true believers, who sincerely think America is doomed if Hispanics continue to increase their political, cultural, and demographic influence. To this contingent, the “browning” of America is the beginning of its end.


But what if this never happens? What if recent Latino immigrants become an integral and beneficial part of American society, just as so many other immigrant classes have?


In that case, a lot of conservative leaders have wasted a great deal of energy on nothing. Their predictions have failed to come true. And all that screaming and ranting and raving added up to nada.

Nobody wants to see his or her life’s work rendered irrelevant, or worse, dismissed as histrionic, wrong-headed idiocy.

To prevent that, many conservatives have morphed into extreme preppers, warning everyone of the coming Armageddon, while secretly hoping that it will arrive right on time to prove them correct.

The good news for right-wing preppers is that they have an inexplicable degree of influence in this country. So instead of working to prevent the coming apocalypse, they can help to usher it in, via self-fulfilling prophecies and overt policy decisions.

For example, Latinos have lower graduation rates than other ethnicities, so rather than improve public education, right-wing preppers try to gut it.


Hispanics have higher rates of poverty, so rather than balance the playing field, right-wing preppers reinforce an economic system that is rigged for the upper classes.


Latinos have limited socioeconomic power, so rather then look at institutional barriers, right-wing preppers deny that racism even exists.

Yes, there’s lots of ways to ensure that we get the America that some conservatives envision — the future that they supposedly fear but are weirdly attracted to at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve made back-up plans. You see, I’ve recently built this secret bunker stocked with guns and water, and when the time comes…

Never mind, I’ve said too much.

How Very Droll

By now you’ve seen that infamous photo in a Florida high school’s yearbook. The shot pictured six students dressed in ponchos and sombreros and wearing fake mustaches, with one student wearing a shirt labeled, “border patrol.”

It’s offensive and idiotic, of course. But that’s not really the point.

Kids do dumb things, and rather than lambast the students in the photo, it would be better to point out to them that such behavior has no redeeming value. If that doesn’t convince them to be a little more aware of the culture in which they live, let them know that thanks to social media, such ill-conceived photos will haunt them for years to come.

No, the issue here is not the kids.

The problem is the adults. I’m taking about the parents who raised their kids to think it’s hilarious to embrace racial caricatures. And yes, I’m aware that some of the students in the photo are Latinos. If anything, that’s even worse.

And I’m talking about the yearbook advisors who saw nothing wrong with the photo. Hey, I was on my high school yearbook’s staff, and our advisor vetoed things left and right. I can’t imagine the teacher who looked at this and said, “Eh, a pointless and mean-spirited jab at Hispanics. Whatever.”


More than anything, I’m talking about the defenders of the picture, who are out in force on the internet. So let’s look at some of the adult excuses we’re hearing over what should be a pretty clear case of foolish, needlessly hurtful adolescent behavior. Here are some of my favorites:

It was only a joke. If you’ve ever said this to justify an insult, you have either never been on the receiving end of a verbal assault, or you are too dense to realize when someone was attacking you under the guise of humor. In either case, you were probably able to shrug it off because you are in a position of social power (racially, economically, etc). It’s a tribute to your lack of empathy that you figure everybody shares your charmed life.

Lighten up, it was funny. This is an amped-up version of the previous excuse. To any adult who actually thought the photo was hilarious, here are a few pointers about humor, before you really kill ‘em at your next stand-up routine. Humor tends to work when it’s directed at those in authority (rather than at a demonized underclass). It also works when it reveals profound truths or upends convention (rather than wallow in hackneyed, false stereotypes). In brief, the picture was about as witty as frat boys lighting their farts.

I’m German, and people have called me a kraut. I’m continually stunned that people believe all ethnic terms have the same resonance. No one hurls “kraut” as an insult in 2015 America. Now if you were bombarded with this term in, say, 1944, it might be different. In any case, terms that call out your European heritage bounce off a shield of cultural power, based on sheer numbers and societal influence. You can easily laugh them off. But don’t worry. In the future, when Hispanics are more than a quarter of the U.S. population, maybe we’ll smirk in smug condescension at “wetback.”

People are too sensitive. Yes, how great it was to live in the good old days, when offensive comments were met with forced laughs and seething hatred. Well, I have news for you. Society isn’t any more sensitive than it ever was. But people who gritted their teeth and let it go in the past are sick of your bullshit. So now you’re going to hear about it. And I can say—with a bit or irony—that if you don’t like it, tough.

Those kids shouldn’t apologize. It’s the illegal immigrants who should apologize. Hey, thanks for verifying that your issues with undocumented people have absolutely nothing to with race or ethnicity. Nope.

Soon we won’t be able to say anything out of fear of offending someone. If you mean that you can’t pull out tired racial stereotypes and rub them in people’s faces, well yes, I weep for your lost world.

Finally, there is the issue that the Latina student who called attention to the photograph, Jessica Morales, has been insulted, denigrated, and mocked for her decision to speak up about the picture. To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t scream that her fellow students were racists or demand a cash payment for pain and suffering or get all histrionic.

Her critics, however, are content to sit behind their keyboards and attack her, mostly under a cloak of anonymity of course.

Yes, kids being unintentionally offensive is bad. But adults being loudmouthed bullies is a hell of a lot worse.

Maybe He Had It Coming

So if I haven’t mentioned it lately, I’ve published a mystery novel featuring a Latino detective.

Although there are plenty of book series with Hispanic sleuths, none of them have really broken through to the mainstream (so you gotta love my odds of being the first).

In any case, I read a lot of mystery novels, the better to study and learn about the genre.


Recently, I was reading a bestseller from a few years ago, by an author I don’t want to mention, because I might, you know, need a blurb someday. The detective in the book is white, of course, and oh so very angsty and tortured.

About halfway through the novel, the detective is doing something shady and illegal, but as is often the case with flawed anti-heroes, it is in the service of uncovering a sinister truth, so as readers, we let it slide.

However, in the process of committing this ethically dubious act, the hero is stopped by a Latino (the first one to appear in the book). So what happens?

Well, our main character insults and threatens the Hispanic guy, demanding that he get the hell out of the way. Then threats are made to call immigration and get him deported. When this fails to dissuade the Latino character — who, it is important to remember, is actually trying to do the right, legal thing — the hero pistol-whips him.

I’m not kidding. The sole Hispanic in the book… trying to be good and pure… gets degraded and physically assaulted by the white hero.

It’s not hard to read the subtext in this one.

I’ll also mention that in the next chapter, the hero narrates how that illegal action saved the life of a pretty white girl and how this proves the detective isn’t such a bad person after all.

No mention of the Latino who got his meddling ass pistol-whipped.


Publish or Perish

It may be apocryphal. But supposedly an unnamed New York publishing executive was once asked why there were so few books by Hispanic authors, or novels featuring Latino characters.

His response was a blasé “Hispanics don’t read.”

This is indeed bad news, as apparently none of you Hispanic readers are literate enough to even comprehend this article. And I’m not literate enough to write it, which is quite the paradox.


In any case, that publishing exec was clearly not familiar with Latin America’s rich literary tradition, exemplified by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the greatest writer of all time (let’s not debate this). He also didn’t know that one Latin American country, Cuba, has the highest literacy rate in the world.

But closer to home, why hadn’t this exec heard of the brilliant Junot Díaz or the groundbreaking Sandra Cisneros? Or did he believe only white people were reading those authors?

For whatever reason, our anonymous publishing executive refused to believe that the largest ethnic minority in America was interested in books. And in this refusal came justification for the continued blackballing of Latino authors.

“There are several factors contributing to the paucity of published books written by Latinos,” says Marcela Landres, an editorial consultant who publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad and co-founded the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference.

“Primarily, we need more Latinos on the inside working in key positions, such as agents, publicists, sales reps, bookstore owners, and especially as acquisitions editors,” she says.

Landres adds that Hispanic culture itself is another barrier.

“Latinos immigrated to the U.S. so their kids could live the American Dream, which is defined by financial security,” Landres says. “Writing generally does not pay well, so our parents understandably pressure us to choose more sensible careers. In order to be successful as artists, Latinos need to respect our parents but perhaps not obey them.”

As any Hispanic can tell you, disobeying your parents is a tall order. But that is another story.

In any case, some Latino advocates believe that the big publishing houses have hoodwinked us into buying their mainstream books, giving them little impetus to change the formula.

Of course, one strategy to force change is to bypass the big publishing houses altogether. That’s what I did with my novel Barrio Imbroglio.

After some nibbles of interest from the majors, I got the picture that my black comedy tale — about a reluctant detective named Hernandez — didn’t fit in with the preconceived notions about Hispanic literature. Yes, I had the word “barrio” right there in the title, but where were all the undocumented immigrants and magic realism and metaphors using avocados? It was a little too different. So I’ve done what more and more authors — Latino and otherwise — are doing, and publishing directly to Amazon.

But this end run has its drawbacks.

“There are few Latino self-publishing success stories,” says Landres. “I have yet to see literary writers, and/or writers who take years to produce a single manuscript, whose self-published books have sold well. If you write genre and have a bunch of books ready to go, the odds are in your favor. If you’re a literary writer who spends years polishing a single manuscript, not so much.”

In addition to the self-publishing crapshoot, there is the unpleasant fact that — like it or not — the NYC houses still have the most influence on what people read. And they are not packing the midlist with Hispanic authors.

Now, this isn’t just a matter of fairness, nor is it even all about artistic integrity and the myth of meritocracy. A more fundamental reason becomes clear when one considers that “Latino children seldom see themselves in books.” Education experts say, “the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.”

Basically, there are only so many tales of brave and adventurous white people that Hispanic kids can read. At some point, they disconnect.

And if that is the future we want — a self-fulfilling prophecy where Hispanics truly don’t read — then we should just preserve the status quo.


All You Need Is… Wait, You Need More Than That

In the realm of simplistic nonsense, few ideas are more insidious than the claim that you don’t need money if you just, well, love each other a whole lot.


This sentiment has lived on despite the well-documented fact that the number-one cause of marital tension is money. It also ignores the overwhelming financial stresses that clobber poor people every day.

And as for how poverty affects children, well, the data is just too depressing to mention.

And now a study has verified what we all suspected, which is that a family’s income level is a better indicator of the overall well-being of children than other factors. The research “cuts against the grain of oft-stated public opinions on traditional family composition,” which is a nice way of saying that being married doesn’t matter much when it comes to raising kids. Having bucks is vastly more important.

For example, the study found that just 9% of children from the lowest income bracket go on to earn college diplomas. But 77% of children raised in the top quarter of income eventually graduate college.

Take a look again at those numbers. They basically say that if you come from a poor family, you almost certainly won’t go past high school. But if your parents are somewhat well-to-do, you have a great shot at snagging at least a BA.

The researchers believe that richer parents — whether they are married, divorced, or single — can afford to provide their kids with certain advantages, like the best pre-schools, trips abroad, and extracurricular activities.

Hispanic parents often do not have the financial ability to offer their children such resources. So while our strong familial bonds help kids develop into responsible adults, it is no match for the dollars that rich people can spend on their offspring, who will almost inevitably do better in life.

Of course, a rugged individualist is bound to say, “Tell those lazy Latinos to work harder and get out of poverty.”

And this brings us back to simplistic nonsense.

You see, another study says that roughly two-thirds of low-income Latino children have at least one foreign-born parent. This isn’t surprising, as recent immigrants are often poor. But what’s interesting is that low-income Hispanic children are also more likely to have at least one employed parent, compared to other low-income children. This means Latino immigrant parents are more likely to fall into the category of the working poor.

So Hispanics, especially immigrants, are already working harder than many poor people. And yet they are still broke.

The study points out that poverty hits Latinos disproportionally. In addition, poverty often plays out differently in Hispanic households, in that the influence of extended family and community is stronger, which can be an asset.

However, it can also be a hindrance, in that low-income Latino homes often have different structures than the general population. For example, low-income Hispanics may have to set aside money for elderly parents or for remittances back home, which can cut into funds for childcare.

The study also found that among Latino children with a foreign-born parent, just 36% live with parents who are married. But of course, that doesn’t matter much, does it?


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